We must all register our protests, as best we can. Staff at Channel 4 (including Jon Snow, below) made their feelings known this evening:
Excerpted from Press Gazette:
National Union of Journalists’ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet described the sentences as “outrageous” and called for the British Government to condemn the verdicts.”The NUJ condemns in the strongest terms these sentences meted on journalists who were merely doing their job,” she said. “This is an outrageous decision and travesty of justice made by a kangaroo court.”Al Jazeera has rejected the charges against its journalists and maintains their innocence. This is a brutal regime which is attacking and arresting many journalists to attempt to silence them and prevent them from reporting events.
“The British Government must immediately signal its opposition to this verdict and do all it can to have the sentences overturned. The NUJ is calling on all media organisations to register their protest in support of colleagues at Al Jazeera and all the Egyptian journalists who have been attacked and arrested by their country’s authorities.
“Governments must not be allowed to deny journalists, wherever they are, the right to be able to report independently and in safety. The freedom of journalists is an integral part of any democratic process.”
Free speech campaign group Index on Censorship said the verdicts sent a message that journalists “simply doing their job” was considered a crime in Egypt.
Chief executive Jodie Ginsberg condemned the verdicts as “disgraceful” adding: “We call on the international community to join us in condemning this verdict and ask governments to apply political and financial pressure on a country that is rapidly unwinding recently won freedoms, including freedom of the press.
“The government of newly elected president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi must build on the country’s democratic aspirations and halt curbs on the media and the silencing of voices of dissent.”
Ginsberg said at least 14 journalists remained in detention in Egypt and some 200 members of the press were in jails around the world, and that concerns are growing over the safety of media representatives across the globe.
“Index is deeply concerned at the growing number of imprisoned journalists in Egypt and around the world,” she said. “We reiterate our support to journalists to report freely and safely and call on Egyptian authorities to drop charges against journalists and ensure they are set free from jail.
“And we ask governments to maintain pressure on Egypt to ensure freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights are protected. Index joined the global #FreeAJStaff campaign along with other human rights, press freedom groups and journalists.”
The hashtags #journalismisnotacrime and #FreeAJStaff were trending on Twitter this morning after the verdicts came through.
Andrew O’Hagan tells a fascinating story of what it was like to ghost write Julian Assange’s autobiography. He did this under contract with Canongate Books, a hip publisher based in Edinburgh.
O’Hagan has got hold of a character who could be one of fiction’s great monsters with a toddler’s grasp of other people’s motives and rights. Assange holed up talking without interruption for 3 hours at a time is strongly reminiscent of Hitler in his table talk and his lashings out at everyone as he sits in one of his bunkers (Ellingham Hall, the Ecuadorian Embassy) has been portrayed in Downfall. He has real enemies and he has imaginary ones as well. The many people who fall out with him do so because of envy or malice.
His paranoia has its comic side:-
He appeared to like the notion that he was being pursued and the tendency was only complicated by the fact that there were real pursuers. But the pursuit was never as grave as he wanted it to be. He stuck to his Cold War tropes, where one didn’t deliver a package, but made a ‘drop off’. One day, we were due to meet some of the WikiLeaks staff at a farmhouse out towards Lowestoft. We went in my car. Julian was especially edgy that afternoon, feeling perhaps that the walls were closing in, as we bumped down one of those flat roads covered in muck left by tractors’ tyres. ‘Quick, quick,’ he said, ‘go left. We’re being followed!’ I looked in the rear-view mirror and could see a white Mondeo with a wire sticking out the back.
‘Don’t be daft, Julian,’ I said. ‘That’s a taxi.’
‘No. Listen to me. It’s surveillance. We’re being followed. Quickly go left.’ Just by comical chance, as I was rocking a Sweeney-style handbrake turn, the car behind us suddenly stopped at a farmhouse gate and a little boy jumped out and ran up the path. I looked at the clock as we rolled off in a cloud of dust. It said 3.48.
‘That was a kid being delivered home from school,’ I said. ‘You’re mental.’
There are some good moments with Assange, the expert hacker and courageous activist:-
At the time of the Egyptian uprising, Mubarak tried to close down the country’s mobile phone network, a service that came through Canada. Julian and his gang hacked into Nortel and fought against Mubarak’s official hackers to reverse the process. The revolution continued and Julian was satisfied, sitting back in our remote kitchen eating chocolates.
That is why I didn’t walk out. The story was just too large. What Julian lacked in efficiency or professionalism he made up for in courage. What he lacked in carefulness he made up for in impact.
But on the whole the Wikileaks endeavour suffered from that symptom of the internet age, the short attention span, the hook, the click-bait and the Twitter storm of petty feuds:-
He’s not a details guy. None of them is. What they love is the big picture and the general fight. They love the noise and the glamour, the history, the spectacle, but not the fine print. That is why they released so many cables so quickly: for impact. And there’s a good argument to support that. But, even today, three years later, the cables have never had the dedicated attention they deserve. They made a splash and then were left languishing. I always hoped someone would do a serious editing job, ordering them country by country, contextualising each one, providing a proper introduction, detailing each injustice and each breach, but Julian wanted the next splash and, even more, he wanted to scrap with each critic he found on the internet. As for the book, he kept putting it off.
Assange makes a virtue of scientific journalism, where readers take the raw data and process it for themselves. But of course we can’t do that any more than we can make our laptops from oil, metals and silicon. We need context and background information to gauge whether a piece of information is significant or trivial.
I thought, if Julian was serious and strategic, that WikiLeaks should not only bale stuff out onto the web, but should then facilitate the editing and presenting of that work in a way that was of permanent historical value. Perry Anderson of Verso Books had the same thought, and I put it to Julian that the WikiLeaks Map of the World should be a series which provided for a proper academic study of what the biggest security leaks in history had revealed, with expert commentary, notes, essays and introductions. It would provide the organisation with a lasting, grown-up legacy, a powerful, orderly continuation of its initial work.
Julian came to lunch at my flat in Belsize Park. Tariq Ali came and so did Mary-Kay Wilmers, the editor of the London Review, as well as an American editor for Verso called Tom Mertes. Anderson’s idea was that Verso would publish a series of books, or one book in which each chapter showed how the US cables released by WikiLeaks had changed the political position of a particular country. A writer who knew, say, Italy, would introduce the chapter and the same would be done for every country and it would be very meticulous and well-made. Julian gave a big speech at the beginning, the middle and the end. He clearly liked Tariq but had no sense of him as someone who knew a lot more about the world than he did. Although the idea for the book had come from Verso, Julian preferred to give a lecture about how most academics were corrupted by their institutions.
…. . Anyone else would have jumped at the chance of the Verso project but as Julian drove off in a taxi I knew he would never call Tariq about this or lay any of the groundwork they’d agreed. Julian was already more concerned about claiming the idea for himself, an idea that he would never see to fruition. The meeting had called for responsible action, when what Julian loved was irresponsible reaction.
Everyone has one rule for themselves and another for the rest of the world but Assange takes this to the nth degree:-
Julian was getting a lot of flak in the press for making Wiki-employees sign contracts threatening them with a £12 million lawsuit if they disclosed anything about the organisation. It was clear he didn’t see the problem. He has a notion that WikiLeaks floats above other organisations and their rules. He can’t understand why any public body should keep a secret but insists that his own organisation enforce its secrecy with lawsuits. Every time he mentioned legal action against the Guardian or the New York Times, and he did this a lot, I would roll my eyes, but he didn’t see the contradiction. He was increasingly lodged in a jungle of his own making and I told Jamie it was like trying to write a book with Mr Kurtz.
He was in a state of panic at all times that things might get out. But he manages people so poorly, and is such a slave to what he’s not good at, that he forgets he might be making bombs set to explode in his own face. I am sure this is what happens in many of his scrapes: he runs on a high-octane belief in his own rectitude and wisdom, only to find later that other people had their own views – of what is sound journalism or agreeable sex – and the idea that he might be complicit in his own mess baffles him.
He has the common tendency to fight far more bitterly with those who share his world view than those who outright reject it:-
the Guardian was an enemy because he’d ‘given’ them something and they hadn’t toed the line, whereas the Daily Mail was almost respected for finding him entirely abominable. The Guardian tried to soothe him – its editor, Alan Rusbridger, showed concern for his position, as did the then deputy, Ian Katz, and others – but he talked about its journalists in savage terms. The Guardian felt strongly that the secret material ought to be redacted to protect informants or bystanders named in it, and Julian was inconsistent about that. I never believed he wanted to endanger such people, but he chose to interpret the Guardian’s concern as ‘cowardice’.
He’s full of repugnant sexism and anti-Semitsm:-
They certainly had transcripts of our interviews, sittings in which he’d uttered, late at night, many casual libels, many sexist or anti-Semitic remarks, and where he spoke freely about every aspect of his life.
As well as wasting time to a heart-breaking degree, those who engage with Assange find themselves out of goodwill and out of pocket. Canongate tried to salvage the autobiography and published what they could.
Canongate Books, the Edinburgh-based publisher, has blamed Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s “failure to deliver” the book he was contracted to produce for plunging into operating loss.
Accounts, which have just become available from Companies House, reveal Canongate tumbled to an operating loss of £368,467 in 2011, from a profit of £1.08 million at this level in 2010. Canongate acknowledged this was its worst performance “in many years”.
For Andrew O’Hagan it hasn’t all been a minus. He came out with a great story to tell, and that’s enough pay off for any writer.
(H/T – HJ)
David Rich has a very good, and very depressing article on Dieudonne and his kind:-
“Making common cause” between Holocaust deniers, neo-fascists, the pro-Palestinian left, and the revolutionary Islamists of Iran is precisely what Dieudonné has spent the past decade trying to achieve. Originally from the political left, he has moved via anti-Israel rhetoric and the fascist Front National (FN) to the establishment of his own Parti Anti Sioniste (PAS, or Anti-Zionist Party). Alongside him in the PAS is essayist and filmmaker Alain Soral, who underwent a similar journey from the Marxist left to the FN before finding a political home with Dieudonné.
There are not many political movements that can embrace the neo-fascist right, the anti-capitalist left, and Iranian revolutionary Islamism. Dieudonné is close to FN leaders—Jean Marie Le Pen is godfather to one of his children—while also attracting fans who consider themselves to be left-wing radicals. He was a guest in Tehran of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and received Iranian funding for a film project. Historically, movements that successfully pulled off this kind of balancing act have tended to rely on anti-Semitism as their glue, expressed through the lingua franca of conspiracist anti-Zionism, and PAS is no different.
Strikingly, for a party that calls itself anti-Zionist, PAS’s political program makes no direct mention of Israel or Palestine. This is parochial, patriotic anti-Zionism, in which Zionism is portrayed primarily as a subversive, corrupting presence in French society.
Radio 4’s The Report had the journalist Helen Grady interviewing Dieudonne’s friends and followers. Sometimes they said “Zionist” where they obviously meant “Jewish” and sometimes they said, “I’m not antisemitic but Jews run everything”. Also, Dieudonne gave them the thrill of saying, or just hinting at, the forbidden. – not just “you don’t say that” but “you can’t say that” because it’s illegal in a state with laws against Holocaust denial. This was interpreted as special treatment for Jews while other minorities are fair game.
I was sorry the reporter didn’t ask them to explain who these Zionists are and what are these utterances that are so dammed by the laws – not that I agree with Holocaust denial laws or anti free speech and expression laws in general. In fact I would like to know how much these laws exacerbate the sense of resentment that is one of the emotional bases of Fascism. Certainly breaking them, or hinting that you were, gave the audience a lovely outsider frisson.
Some of these gagged folk came from immigrant communities – their parents from North Africa say – and they had good words to say of the Front National – at least they’re honest when the rest are hypocrites.
It was your worst gibbering blog thread taking flesh, with hideous whiffs of the 1930s, in all their bizarre irrationality.
Rich concludes with a warning for those who think It Can’t Happen Here:-
. .it would be complacent to assume that Dieudonné’s anti-establishment appeal, expressed through angry, transgressive satire and political stunts, could not find a British audience. The personal followings of Nigel Farage MEP and George Galloway MP demonstrate the appetite in the UK for charismatic, populist anti-politics. .. A Francophone comic with a taste for the surreal is likely to have trouble finding a mass audience in Britain; but his populist anti-politics, carrying a coded anti-Semitism and transmitted via social media, may have better luck in finding an audience..
The anti-establishment comedian who thinks all political institutions are a waste of time is Russell Brand, but to do him justice, he is nothing like as malevolent as Dieudonne, and I can’t see him doing Holocaust jokes or chumming up with David Irving. I can’t see him getting in bed with UKIP either, which is the closest thing here to the Front National. I don’t keep up with popular culture, and there may be obvious candidates for the Dieudonne role that I’ve missed.
Respect was a party that pulled in some of the political groups that are attracted to Dieudonne:- the pro-Palestinian Left and Islamists, and no doubt Holocaust deniers would pop up in such a crowd. Gilad Atzmon would be the obvious entertainer, but he’s not a man of any great charisma or the popular touch. However, it’s hard to think of the neo-Fascist right finding a home there, and Respect is now mostly a fantasy in Galloway’s head.
Channel 4 News’ disgraceful, craven censorship of ‘Jesus & Mo’ on Tuesday night…
…has received a splendid response:
You can find more Jesus and Mo: here
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: Maajid Nawaz
If a Muslim expresses some reservations about Quilliam’s rhetoric or strategies, I tend to assume, not that they are an Evil Islamist, but that – they have some reservations about Quilliam’s rhetoric or strategies. These are things reasonable people may disagree about. However some recent responses to Maajid Nawaz’s decision to tweet a Jesus and Mo cartoon go beyond reasonable criticism.
He tweeted the picture after it featured (on a T shirt) on BBC’s The Big Questions, where it was the focus of a debate about free speech. This is the offending image in question.
Nawaz’s tweet has apparently caused many Muslims, including Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadan Foundation, to make a formal complaint to the Lib Dems. (Nawaz is the Liberal Democrat PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn.)
Of course it is quite proper to draw attention to bigoted remarks made by politicians, and expect the whip to be withdrawn, or some other form of censure applied, depending on the level of offence. But the fact some Muslims think it is inappropriate to depict Muhammad does not make Jesus and Mo offensive. Non-Muslims, and Muslims (like Nawaz) who don’t think pictures of Muhammad are taboo, should not be bound by others’ religious dogma.
Reactions to Nawaz cover a spectrum ranging from death threats to warm support – and many of his supporters are fellow-Muslims. In the middle of the spectrum we find people who would certain not condone or incite violence but who demonstrate clear hostility towards the reformist Nawaz. Not all of his antagonists are Muslims. Here’s Gorgeous George’s response.
“No Muslim will ever vote for the Liberal Democrats anywhere ever unless they ditch the provocateur Majid Nawaz, cuckold of the EDL”
5Pillarz, a blog written largely by and for British Muslims, has decided that Nawaz should be their top candidate for ‘Islamophobe of the Year’. The EDL is mentioned at the bottom of their list of suggestions, as a kind of afterthought.
As Maajid Nawaz says:
“Why are many on the “Left” largely silent on Muslim reformers. Want to defend minorities? Well, we’re a minority within a minority, defend us”
As someone from the ‘Left’ I’m happy to defend and support Maajid Nawaz – though I’d draw the line at voting for him.
The present issue of the New Statesman carries a quite extraordinary example of special pleading and exaggerated claims of victimhood from the Catholic journalist and apologist Cristina Odone.
The starting-point for her long-winded whinge is the fact that a Christian organisation had difficulty finding a venue in London willing to accept a booking for a conference entitled “One Man. One Woman. Making the Case for Marriage for the Good of Society.” Both the Law Society and the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre cited their respective diversity policies as the reason for their refusals. Annoying for the organisers, undoubtedly. Excessive? Perhaps. But evidence of persecution (Odone doesn’t use that word, by the way, but it’s quite clearly what she means)? Don’t make me laugh.
If you can’t be arsed to follow the link above, here’s a representative taste of Odone’s pathetic bleating:
“Only 50 years ago, liberals supported “alternative culture”; they manned the barricades in protest against the establishment position on war, race and feminism. Today, liberals abhor any alternative to their credo. No one should offer an opinion that runs against the grain on issues that liberals consider “set in stone”, such as sexuality or the sanctity of life.
“Intolerance is no longer the prerogative of overt racists and other bigots – it is state-sanctioned. It is no longer the case that the authorities are impartial on matters of belief, and will intervene to protect the interests and heritage of the weak. When it comes to crushing the rights of those who dissent from the new orthodoxy, politicians and bureaucrats alike are in the forefront of the attacks, not the defence.
“I believe that religious liberty is meaningless if religious subcultures do not have the right to practise and preach according to their beliefs. These views – for example, on abortion, adoption, divorce, marriage, promiscuity and euthanasia – may be unfashionable. They certainly will strike many liberal-minded outsiders as harsh, impractical, outmoded, and irrelevant.
“But that is not the point. Adherents of these beliefs should not face life-ruining disadvantages. They should not have to close their businesses, as happened to the Christian couple who said only married heterosexual couples could stay at their bed and breakfast. They should not lose their jobs, which was the case of the registrar who refused to marry gays. When Britain was fighting for its life in the Second World War, it never forced pacifists to bear arms. So why force the closure of a Catholic adoption agency that for almost 150 years has placed some of society’s most vulnerable children with loving parents?”
You’d never guess, would you, that religious belief is given special protection under UK law (Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010, and the Employment Equality [Religion and Belief] Regulations 2003) in a way that, for instance, atheism is not. In fact, Zoe Williams, writing in today’s Graun, makes the point that atheists in Britain (and elsewhere) tend to lack the status and advantages taken for granted by the religious. She suggests an explanation that might help explain Odone’s shrill and self-righteous exercise in self-pity: “This systematic civil exclusion, I think, has rather shallow roots – not in a prejudice against the faithless, but in the loam of human politeness, where groups are accorded attention, respect and sensitivity in proportion to how much they will complain if they don’t get it. Something to think about heathens: maybe we are simply not complaining enough.”
Of course, there are many places in the world where religious people do suffer persecution – often by adherents of other religions. But nothing remotely like that happens in the UK, and anyone who suggests it does is either living in a paranoid fantasy world, or conducting a cynical exercise in bare-faced cheek. I’m not sure which category applies to Odone, but I’m damn sure one or the other does. Or maybe both.
Read this piece. Think about it. Share it:
Above: Kassim Alhimidi (left) and Trayvon Martin (right)
By Unrepentent Jacobin (Reblogged from Jabobinism):
On the Hounding of Adele Wilde-Blavatsky
There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that – like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought – urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power. The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction – from the powerful to the powerless – and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it – often, it is claimed, unconsciously – to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be ‘other’. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world’s wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.
Furthermore, racism exists independently of individual prejudice and cultural mores – like the power systems of which it is a part, it is abstract; metaphysical; unavoidable; unchanging. It is all-pervasive, ‘structural’, endemic, systemic, and internalised to such a degree that even (or especially) white liberal Westerners who perceive themselves to be broad-minded and non-prejudicial are not even aware of it. It is therefore incumbent on every white person, male or female, to ‘check their white privilege’ before venturing to comment on matters pertaining to minority cultures, lest they allow their unconscious ethnocentricity to reinforce oppressive power structures. Instead, moral judgement of minorities by universal standards should – no, must – be replaced by a willingness to indulge and uncritically accept difference.
In the view of this layman, this kind of thinking is wrong, both morally and in point of fact.
Postmodernism is notoriously unhappy with anything as concrete as a dictionary definition. However, the inconvenient fact is that racism remains clearly defined in the OED, and by the common usage its entries are intended to reflect, as follows:
Racism, n: The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Hence: prejudice and antagonism towards people of other races, esp. those felt to be a threat to one’s cultural or racial integrity or economic well-being; the expression of such prejudice in words or actions. Also occas. in extended use, with reference to people of other nationalities.
That the effects of this prejudice and antagonism are aggravated, perpetuated and sometimes institutionalized by the effects of power is undeniable, but this is a separate issue. Many unpleasant aspects of human nature and behaviour (greed, for instance) are also exacerbated by power, but that doesn’t change the ugly nature of the behaviour itself, nor allow us to infer that the powerless are incapable of making it manifest.
Efforts to effect an official change to this definition should be strongly resisted on grounds of egalitarianism (an idea the Left once cared about deeply). The difficulty with the power + prejudice formulation lies, not just in its dilution of what makes racism so toxic, but in a consequent moral relativism which holds people to different standards. It is manifestly unjust to hold some people to a higher standard of thought and behaviour based on their unalterable characteristics. However, it is far worse to hold others to a respectively lower standard based on those same characteristics, which insists on the indulgence of viewpoints and behaviour by some that would not be tolerated from others.
This separatist thinking has given rise to identity politics, moral equivalence, cultural relativism and what Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others have called “a racism of low expectations”. As Hirsi Ali remarked in her memoir-cum-polemic Nomad (excerpted here):
This Western attitude is based on the idea that people of colour must be exempted from “normal” standards of behaviour. There are many good men and women in the West who try to resettle refugees and strive to eliminate discrimination. They lobby governments to exempt minorities from the standards of behaviour of western societies; they fight to help minorities preserve their cultures, and excuse their religion from critical scrutiny. These people mean well, but their activism is now a part of the very problem they seek to solve.
Identity politics reinforces the racist argument that people can and should be judged according to their skin colour. It rests on the same crude, illiberal determinism, and results in what the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner has described as a “racism of the anti-racists”. This, as we shall see, leaves those vulnerable to oppression within ‘subaltern’ groups without a voice and mutes criticism of chauvinism and out-group hatred when expressed by minorities.
The alternative to this, now routinely derided as ‘Enlightenment Fundamentalism’, is a principled commitment to egalitarianism and universalism – the notion that what separates us (culture) is taught and learned, but that what unites us is far more important and fundamental: that is, our common humanity. On this basis, the same rights and protections should be afforded to all people.
This is what underpinned the idealism of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Declaration of Independence, two of the most noble documents produced by Enlightenment thought. It was the foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted and adopted in the wake of the carnage of the Second World War. And it is the basis upon which civil rights groups and human rights organisations have sought to advance the laws and actions of nations and their peoples.
The answer to prejudice, and to the division and inequality it inevitably produces, is not exceptionalism based on a hierarchy of grievance, but to strive for greater equality on the basis that we belong to a common species, divided only by our ideas. As Martin Luther King declared on the steps of the Lincoln memorial:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky’s post was a rebuke to those – on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left – who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West. Read the rest of this entry »
KB Player, December 20th 2013, (cross-posted from That Place)
The London School of Economics (LSE) has today issued a long-awaited apology to students Chris Moos and Abhishek Phandis, representatives of the student Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (LSEASH), who wore t-shirts featuring the popular Jesus and Mo cartoon at the SU Freshers’ Fair on 3 October, and who were asked to cover their t-shirts or face removal from the Fair.
The incident . . . was described as an “effective blasphemy law”, and said to be indicative of a wider trend around various university campuses across the country, wherein minorities are singled out and targeted under the guise of “political correctness”.
The LSE has published a statement (linked to above), including an apology for the disproportionate action and confirming that the students in question did no wrong. The British Humanist Association (BHA) and National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Students Societies (AHS), of which the LSEASH is a member, have both welcomed the LSE’s statement.
What with this, and the UUK “urgently reviewing” their guidance on gender segregation, it’s been a good week.
(Jim has already written on this below, but I want to add my piece.)
Well, can you believe it?. An illiberal piece of policy is advanced by a powerful body, against it comes a petition, a demonstration, media shouting and then the policy is withdrawn. Amazing.
To recap, Universities UK, (UUK) (formerly The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom) put out guidelines that allowed speakers at meetings in universities to insist women and men be segregated for “genuinely religious” reasons. Student Rights picked this up. The bloggers you’d expect – Maryam Nazie, Ophelia Benson, James Bloodworth produced angry posts. The mainstream media moved in – Nick Cohen in the Spectator, and Yasmin Alibai-Brown, finely furious, in The Independent.
Imagine the scenario:-
Sheikh Shifty is invited by some ISOC group to speak about Freedom and Justice at the University of Excellence. Sheikh Shifty will only speak if the women sit separate from the men.
Obvious answer – tell the misogynist theocrat to take a hike, in these words,
“I am sorry to inform you that it is against the principles of the University to allow meetings to occur with gender segregation.”
But not in the UUK’s horrible management speak:- .
if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely-held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully
There was a petition and a small demonstration which Channel 4 covered at length.
Then the BBC began to thunder. The Today programme (1:35) on 11th December had a long piece which started with the reporter regretting his old LSE, the one in the 1980s where students were raucous but not so ready to be offended, or offended on the behalf of putative others.
The next day the BBC got Nicola Dandridge, the Chief Executive of UUK, into the Today (2:10) studio. Regular Today listeners recognised the tones with which Justin Webb interrogated her. It’s the one which they use on a duplicitous politician who has no moral leg to stand on – who has, say, been fiddling her expenses. It’s the voice of outraged decency against a moral moron and it was music to my ears, an angry liberal telling off a squirming piece of inconsistency and illogic. (For a biting take down of Dandridge’s muddled defence, I would strongly recommend this.)
“If this is all that Dandridge means – that people have the right to sit where the hell they want and some will sit cliquishly by gender or other groupings, there is no role for Universities and no reason why the situation should ever be addressed in policy.
Worse, “If women want to sit where the hell the want”? IF? What is this world in which you live where women routinely have no desires and sit where they are told without a single thought disrupting the gentle currents of air between their ears?
All women always sit where they want unless coerced or forced. The fact that you can’t acknowledge this openly, that women naturally have desires and preferences, that we make conscious choices here-there-and-everywhere, speaks to a profound sexism whose paucity of respect for a woman’s mind truly challenges the ability of words to express. I can only repeat your own phrase:
If women want to sit where the hell they want
and goggle at your idea that you will only impose segregation in times and places where women have no preferences.
The politicians – Chuka Umunna , Jack Straw, Michael Gove, David Cameron spoke out. Under the threads of their statements in the Guardian commenters were saying, Bugger me, the horrible Tory creeps are right this time. I’d normally be spitting that politicians were interfering in University affairs – they really shouldn’t, you know – but I’m cheering them. If the representative body of the Vice Chancellors and Principals are so bloody clueless, and the NUS are so supine, they need to be kicked.
I think a lot of the response has been visceral. The suffragettes weren’t force fed for this, the women who fought a grinding battle to get entry into English universities shouldn’t be pissed on
So now the UUK has withdrawn gender segreation from its guidelines. It looks like the forces of light have won for once.
Congratulations to those who attended protests and wrote copiously. If only every campaign could be so successful. But what a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time and anger-fuelled action.
Flesh is Grass has a sane, thoughtful piece:-
Women always miss out when public spaces are segregated by leaders and organisers – even if voluntary, it’s a small change in culture, in the general view of what is acceptable. Authoritarians always use the values of open, pluralist societies against those societies themselves, and weaken them incrementally. Let’s stop this.
She also pointed out that feminists like Caroline Lucas, MP, Green Party and Natalie Bennett, Leader, Green Party did not speak out. I read that Caroline Lucas had said it wasn’t a priority. Also there hasn’t been a peep out of that clutch of feminist writers in The Staggers. Polly Toynbee, one of the old-guard Guardian, undid the miserable expectations we now have of her paper, by sticking to her old feminism and atheism. At least they didn’t publish any of their usual apologetics on these matters. The Observer has an editorial and a good piece by Catherine Bennett.
On the other side:-
Well, one is an article which looks like parody in the Huff Po by Camilla Khan, the Head of Communications,(!) Federation of Student Islamic Societies, who tries to wrap this up in a mixture of post-modernism and spirituality. She has managed to use every con-trick word – those words that irritate like berry bugs in a bra cup – “discourse”, “empower”, “nuanced” and “diversity, “
Firstly, the term segregation itself is highly problematic and acts to conflate the reality further. As Saussure theorised on syntagmatic relations, ‘within speech, words are subject to a kind of relation that is independent of the first and based on their linkage,’ and segregation connotes various forms of separation and oppression.
The problem is calling segregation, segregation. If you called it something else it would be fine. Telling Molly when she walks into a room that she can’t sit here because she’s a woman, isn’t segregation, just nuanced diverse empowerment.
Tendance Coatesey has a bit of fun with Khan’s linguistic studies – Saussure is old hat, I understand – but she really should read a bit of Orwell, and note that calling mass murder “liqudation of anti-social elements” doesn’t stop it being mass murder. But whoever has influenced her writing style, it wasn’t Orwell.
Her other con-trick is that very old anti-feminist ploy, that women taking a different (and different will mean inferior) place is a path to spirituality. So the anti-suffragists said that women agitating to take part in public life spoiled their purifying influence and their moral specialness. They were meant for a higher destiny.
As with life, Islam acknowledges that we form different groups who occupy various intellectual and social spaces. Diversity is celebrated with spirituality at the forefront, forming a broad frame of reference which is not always easily comprehensible to those outside of it.
No, I can’t comprehend how her spirituality is so much compromised when she takes a bus, goes to the cinema or sits in her cultural studies class. What about the diversity of those women who don’t want to be herded with other women, and men also. Is that celebrated? (Add “celebrate” with abstract nouns to my list of berry bug words). I think the “diversity” is a pretty damned narrow one.
Second is Shohana Khan. Khan is a member of Hitz ut-Tahrir, the fighters for a Caliphate where apostates will be killed.
Her argument boils down to:- Men and women must be separated because otherwise they will get sex on the brain and not be able to do something.
Rather the concept of separating men and women in public spaces in Islam, is part of a wider objective. Islam has a societal view that the intimate relationship between a man and a woman is for the committed private sphere of marriage, and should not be allowed to spill outside of this sphere. This is because in society, men and women need to cooperate to achieve things in society whether in the work place, in education, in interactions across the public space. Islam firmly believes if the sexual instinct is let loose in this public sphere, it can taint and complicate these relationships. Therefore Islam promotes ideas such as honouring women which are upheld in society, but alongside such ideas specific rules and laws are implemented to help maintain the atmosphere of healthy interaction between the sexes.
And if the woman breaks these rules, eg by not covering her head she’s fair game is she?
I think it has been observed that public school boys for instance, especially in times past, had a highly unhealthy attitude towards women because they weren’t used to them as normal human beings. So you’re talking garbage – and rather prurient garbage at that. Islamists are as sex obsessed as Hugh Hefner.
Now I won’t say I haven’t been at a public meeting and thought a chap in the audience was rather a dish. In fact, political meetings at universities is where many of us met our soulmates – that person who was highly vocal about the need to oppose nuclear proliferation and had lovely grey eyes. The partnerships of couples who fell in love with the shared ideals and the person can be highly productive. The Pankhursts were one such couple. Jennie Lee and Nye Bevan were another. So I can’t deny there is a sexual element at public meetings, as there is in the offices where we work.
But that it should dominate someone’s mind so much that it screws up their ability to act! What’s wrong with them? Knowing how to behave in public is part of growing up, as is concentrating on the matter at hand. The only people offering distractions who should be segregated are those twerps with buzzing mobile phones.
So a victory this time round. End with Any Questions (:38). Shami Chakrabati took what has been a common attitude – why on earth are we even talking about this?
Johnathan Dimbleby: Is there justification for segregation in an educational setting?
Amjad Bashir (small business spokesman for UKIP, Pakistani immigrant, from Bradford): No. The answer is no. Absolutely not. . . All through my life, and my children, my grand children are all mixing, all sexes, whether it’s primary schools, whether it’s secondary schools. whether it’s universities. There is no room. This is England This is the twenty first century. It’s not Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive, It’s not Saudi Arabia, where they are not allowed to have bank accounts. This is England. We should allow our youngsters to mix and decide their own future. This is the twenty first century. I am against this segregation.