The kneejerk reaction to violent crime often seems to be a call for illiberal restrictions on freedoms. Arguing against such responses can be difficult, particularly when the crime is the sickening murder of a small child. But the message in the Guardian editorial (31.05.13 in print edition) does, I think, need to be firmly resisted.
“Internet pornography is usually abusive and often violent. Mark Bridger, convicted yesterday of the murder of April Jones, had compiled a store of it. Pornography is easily and freely accessible, and at most requires only a credit card.”
The editorial goes on to describe the apparent link between pornography and violence. There are correlations between all kinds of activities and negative outcomes, but that doesn’t mean a ban is always the answer. Pornography comes in many different forms. Either the content or the production may be exploitative, certainly. It would be good to tackle the factors which drive people to seek work which exploits them – which is not to say that all who are involved in the industry are exploited (or exploiting). To claim that pornography, all pornography, is an ‘incitement to hate’ seems over the top. (Otherwise surely there’d be a lot more hate around the place.)
Taking measures to prevent children accessing pornography is fine, and obviously child pornography should be clamped down on ruthlessly. But measures such as those suggested in the Guardian’s editorial – such as preventing UK credit cards being used to view pornography on line – seem like a massive over-reaction.
NB: since the print version of the Guardian editorial appeared, it has been amended online, and the following addendum has been posted:
• This article was amended on 31 May 2013 to clarify that the intention of the editorial was to propose restrictions on violent and abusive pornography, as opposed to pornography in general. The original also incorrectly stated that it was Dutch members of the Pirate party who brought down attempts to insert a proposed ban on pornography into European equal rights legislation.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Stephen Hawking, explaining his decision to boycott the Shimon Peres Presidential Conference in Israel, describes what he had planned to say:
“Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”
That is a strong statement, but it’s not an eccentric or hateful view – and you certainly don’t have to be an enemy of Israel to share it. Yet although I can understand why some (particularly Palestinians) have urged Hawking to boycott this event, I very much regret his final decision. There are many countries which would not have allowed him to strike his planned dissenting note – and where requests for solidarity from those considering themselves oppressed could not even have been articulated. Here is Omar Barghouti’s response:
But Palestinians welcomed Hawking’s decision. “Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking’s support for an academic boycott of Israel,” said Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
I believe Barghouti is still registered as a PhD student at Tel Aviv University. That doesn’t mean that he can’t speak out against the injustices of occupation, checkpoints, detention or any other topic, or indeed call for boycott. Clearly he can. And that fact in itself might make one wonder, not whether Israel should be protected from robust criticism over its policies, but whether it is really the one country in the world which deserves to be the focus of such a very concerted boycott campaign.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
The acronym TL:DR might have been invented for the prolix Glenn Greenwald, but I’ve decided to try to answer Jim’s challenge at the end of his post of April 23 and see what Greenwald might be getting at here. Is it, as Jim was inclined to think, just ‘incoherent gibberish’?
To my slight annoyance, I think Greenwald may have some fraction of a point. I suspect that, rather than having a well worked out and coherent definition of terrorism which we apply impartially to every possible case, many of us may decide whether or not something is a ‘terrorist’ act for less objective reasons. And it can’t be denied that the words ‘Islamic’ and ‘terrorism’ are often associated together.
It is for this reason, Greenwald argues, that people have been quicker to use the word ‘terrorism’ about the Boston bombers than about, say, the Aurora cinema shooting. He cites Ali Abunimah’s argument that the ‘terrorist’ label may not be an accurate one:
“Abunimah wrote a superb analysis of whether the bombing fits the US government’s definition of “terrorism”, noting that “absolutely no evidence has emerged that the Boston bombing suspects acted ‘in furtherance of political or social objectives’” or that their alleged act was ‘intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal.’”
But even Greenwald himself can’t avoid the evidence that at least one of the brothers was very likely influenced at some level by an ideology with clearly defined goals:
“All we really know about them in this regard is that they identified as Muslim, and that the older brother allegedly watched extremist YouTube videos and was suspected by the Russian government of religious extremism”
He tries to argue that just because someone is strongly Muslim that does not mean that the acts of violence he commits inevitably spring from his faith, asserting that “the mass murder spree by homosexual Andrew Cunanan was not evidence that homosexuality motivated the violence.” This is a pretty weak argument because there is no pattern of terrorist acts committed in the name of homosexuality, no series of YouTube videos encouraging such crimes.
But Greenwald perhaps misses a trick here:
“It’s certainly possible that it will turn out that, if they are guilty, their prime motive was political or religious. But it’s also certainly possible that it wasn’t: that it was some combination of mental illness, societal alienation, or other form of internal instability and rage that is apolitical in nature.”
It may not be appropriate to draw such a clear distinction between mental illness on the one hand and politics and religion on the other. Alienated and unstable people may be attracted to extreme ideas or ideologies
A pretty obvious focus for a disturbed young man who happens to be Muslim is jihadist extremism. Now if your focus is instead, say, the Knights Templar or fantasy role playing games and you go on a random killing spree, then no one is going to link your acts to videos preaching violence in the name of your pet obsession. So – to sum up – the unhinged actions of a deranged young Muslim are more likely to associate themselves with an ideology linked to several recent politically motivated and well organised acts of terror –and thus Greenwald may be correct, in a sense, in arguing that Muslims are more likely to be labelled terrorists.
Cartoon by Gerald Scarfe
Guest post by Dr Ian Taylor
Some will say this is too soon, and others will say it’s a bit late, but in my judgement now is probably the most appropriate time to look back on the Thatcher years and decide whether they were good or bad for Britain. I guess it’s fair to say that the title I’ve gone with gives a fairly big clue as to where I stand on this one. Nonetheless, I seize on her incompetence for a reason: Her supporters will often concede that she may not have been the nicest person in the country, but argue that at least she turned this place around. The fact that she made a difference can hardly be disputed. But it certainly wasn’t for the better.
All I really want to do with this posting is present a few facts about the economy which is where her greatest achievements were supposed to lie. I’ve also given the crime figures. If the analysis that follows seems somewhat detached and dispassionate, that too is for a reason. My intention is simply to get a few important facts into the public domain to provide some ammunition against the ‘wasn’t she wonderful’ crap that we’ve had to endure over the past fortnight or so. As a middle-class teenager in the 1980s I can certainly remember her reign, but I am sure that others can speak with far more authority about what it was like to endure record levels of crime, poverty and/or unemployment. If not, I leave it to the reader’s powers of empathy and imagination to figure out what that must have been like.
On average the economy grew by about 2.3% from 1979 to 1990. This is hardly an amazing achievement: Tony Blair (of whom I am no fan) averaged 2.5%; while the average during the post-war Keynesian era was closer to 3%. And of course, Thatcher’s Premiership coincided with a time when Britain was best placed to exploit North Sea oil reserves. In terms of pure economic performance her record is distinctly unimpressive. Nonetheless, growth of 2.3% wouldn’t be so bad were her years in office not bookended by two recessions that gave us unprecedented levels of unemployment.
In 1979 unemployment stood at 1.5 million. Within a year of Thatcher coming to power it had rocketed upwards, and stayed at above 3 million from 1983 to 1987. Thereafter it fell slightly, although not below 2 million – a figure that would have been unthinkable in the ’50s, ’60s or even the ’70s. Unemployment then rose up again past in the 3 million mark in the recession of the early ’90s.
Thatcher’s apologists, like former Telegraph editor Charles Moore, like to point to the reduction in the number of days work per annum lost to strikes during her Premiership: down from 29.5 million in 1979 to 1.9 million by 1986 he says. What he’s rather less keen to talk about is the number of days’ worth of productivity lost in that year (or any other) due to unemployment. 3.2 million out of work that year multiplied by 240 working days a year amounts to 768 million days lost in 1986 alone.
In the 1980s interest rates rose to double figures – higher than they’d ever been before, or since.
This is something that her supporters like to harp on about, albeit without uttering the word ‘poll’. In truth, she cut taxes for the rich, whilst increasing them for the poor with the poll tax and through VAT rises.
This was, apparently, another big triumph of her economic policy. In truth, inflation rose to 18% in 1981, and moreover, was higher when she left office than when she came in: 11% compared to 10.3%. It’s true that on average inflation was lower in the ‘80s than in the previous decade, but then again inflation fell around the world during the 1980s: Given that inflation is largely determined by the price of raw materials the fall hardly seems like a major achievement, particularly in the light of the aforementioned figures.
Where to begin on this one? The proportion of children living in poverty in this country more than doubled under Thatcher: rising from 14% of children in 1979 to 31% by 1990. Meanwhile, according to a recent Guardian ‘Data blog’, the number of people living below 60% of medium income rose from 13.4% to 22.2% under Thatcher. These figures continued to rise under John Major, but when seen in comparative context it ought to be understood that they were far from inevitable. The number of people living in poverty had been falling throughout the 20th Century up until 1979, and, to give credit where it is due, the number of children growing up in poverty also fell slightly during the New Labour years.
In 1979 there were 2.5 million crimes recorded in the UK; by 1990 that number stood at 4.5 million. The 1980s also saw some of the worst rioting in British cities of the 20th Century. You’d think that things like this would embarrass the ‘party of law and order.’
In short, Thatcher’s legacy is a thoroughly shameful one.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
This morning I discovered that the PCC had determined that Julie Burchill’s disgusting transphobic rant in the Observer did not breach their code of practice. Now I have just read about the death of Lucy Meadows, a transsexual woman who was the subject of a hostile article by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail. (This is no longer available on the Mail’s website). He sneered:
“Mr Upton/Miss Meadows may well be comfortable with his/her decision to seek a sex-change and return to work as if nothing has happened. The school might be extremely proud of its ‘commitment to equality and diversity’.
“But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.
“Pre-pubescent boys and girls haven’t even had the chance to come to terms with the changes in their own bodies.
“Why should they be forced to deal with the news that a male teacher they have always known as Mr Upton will henceforth be a woman called Miss Meadows? Anyway, why not Miss Upton?”
The precise circumstances surrounding Lucy Meadows’ death are still not certain [but would appear to be suicide - JD]. However it is clear that many people, including those whose views are otherwise liberal, have a higher tolerance threshold for transphobia than for just about any other kind of bigotry.
To be fair, the PCC, in giving Burchill’s article a clean bill of health, are only following their own guidelines, according to Pink News:
“The PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice states in a clause on discrimination that the press ‘must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.’
“However, in its ruling of the Burchill article, the PCC acknowledged that it had caused offence but declared the decision to publish was not in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice…
“It said: ‘the clause does not cover references to groups or categories of people. The language used in the article did not refer to any identifiable individual, but to transgender people generally. While the commission acknowledged the depth of the complainants’ concerns about the terminology used, in the absence of reference to a particular individual, there was no breach of Clause 12.’”
In theory this would seem to imply that it would be ok to propagate ideas straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – as long as no individuals were named. Of course in practice, despite concerns about (for example) Islamophobia, even the tabloids usually avoid the crudest expressions of bigotry, despite their selective, and often factually incorrect, reporting. This makes the publication of Julie Burchill’s disgusting article by the liberal Observer all the more noteworthy. Here’s a reminder:
“She, the other JB and I are part of the tiny minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street and I think this partly contributes to the stand-off with the trannies. (I know that’s a wrong word, but having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as ‘Cis’ – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff – they’re lucky I’m not calling them shemales. Or shims.) We know that everything we have, we got for ourselves. We have no family money, no safety net. And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs…
“To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – above natural-born women, who don’t know the meaning of suffering, apparently – is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan.”
Finally, as Lizzie c notes on Twitter:
“just a thought: it’s probably harder to explain to your child why their teacher is dead than why they are now a woman. #lucymeadows”
Guest-poster Roger McCarthy did some canvassing for Labour in Eastleigh last week and is active in a not dissimilar southern seat:
1. UKIP’s breakthrough
First and foremost UKIP bucked a very clear general election trend of right-wing voters only giving them a significant (say 10%+ rather than <3%) share in seats where the MP (of whatever party) is so safe that a protest vote can be delivered without endangering the Tory’s chance of winning.
Now while Eastleigh is UKIP’s best parliamentary result ever it is presaged by previous recent by-elections where right-wing voters have deserted Conservative candidates for UKIP in significant numbers across multiple types of seats gaining 21.7% in Rotherham (safe Labour), 14.3% in Corby (Tory-Lab marginal) and 12.2% in Barnsley Central (very safe Labour), 11.8% in Middlesbrough (safe Labour)
Having said this they did not do anywhere near as well in Oldham (5.8%), Leicester South (2.9%), Manchester Central (4.5%), Feltham (5.5%) Bradford West (3.3%) or Croydon North (5.7%) all of which were safe Labour seats.
(there is probably also a strong correlation with ethnicity as well with UKIP doing – surprise, surprise – well only in very white constituencies and failing in those with significant BAME populations – even when as in Leicester and Croydon they somehow managed to rustle up an Asian or Black candidate themselves).
This brings out an interesting anomaly that of a historically very high 15 by-elections in just this first half of a parliament only one has been in a Conservative-held seat and 11 were in Labour-held seats (in comparison there were 14 by-elections over the whole 2005-10 parliament of which 3 were in Tory seats)
So we are not being given a real chance to see how deep UKIPs new found support is in Conservative and Conservative-targeted marginals as only two of the 15 by-elections have been in seats where the Tory had any chance of winning.
But with that note of caution this does raise the interesting possibility that the constant obsessive propaganda on immigration by the right wing media may have finally created a right-wing populist monster which they no longer can properly control electorally and that as has happened with the Tea Party in the US there are now significant numbers of right-wing voters so lost to elementary logic and reason that they will throw winnable elections rather than support candidates who are not right wing enough for them.
And as the only way the Tories can control immigration and give the base what they crave is by leaving he EU and this is not at all on the agenda of global capital this may create a UKIP threat which just could lose them the next election by splitting the right-wing vote in their target seats.
2. The Lib Dems hang on by their fingernails
Again the result seems to show a general and under-reported trend that the Lib Dem collapse in national polls is not being reproduced in those areas where they actually hold parliamentary seats and control councils – and that while they lost a great many votes in Eastleigh this time there are still people (and we met them on the doorstep) who believe that the Lib Dems are a restraining force on the Tories and cannot be persuaded otherwise despite all the evidence that the Tories have got through every single important item from their manifesto.
And we can’t discount the Lib Dem machine in their seats – clearly they were out in force and seem to have been particularly good at collecting postal votes and that these pushed them through the final barrier,
3. Labour disappointment
Increasing the historically very poor 2010 result by 0.2% to 9.8% is of course a real disappointment for Labour as people in the campaign office genuinely believed that they could raise it significantly toward the 1997-2005 levels of 20% and local polls all showed us doing somewhat (although not that much better) than we did on the night.
And we did run a serious campaign with an excellent candidate (Whatever one thinks of John O’Farrell’s New Labour politics he clearly was by far the brightest and most personable of the candidates) many MP and front-bench visits, hundreds of volunteers and 20,000 voter ID visits – a level of activity which compares favourably with that we put into key marginals and which seems to have been almost entirely wasted and goes some way to validating the views of Miliband-haters like Dan Hodges that we should have run no more than a token campaign.
But under this was a complete absence of any real Labour party on the ground – with just 158 members in summer 2010 (the last date for which CLP membership is available), Eastleigh was the 534th smallest CLP in the UK and they really cannot have had much more than a dozen or so even semi-active members before region and national HQ started busing in volunteers.
And like my CLP they have no councillors even in deprived urban wards (and Eastleigh has them with much of the town centre being visibly run-down) which should have vote Labour and this is a huge handicap on the doorstep – while the Lib Dems have 40 out of 44 borough seats (with the Tories holding the remaining 4).
On the plus side they were close to two of the exactly 4 Labour-held seats in the South East region and which do have active and effective CLPs – but Southampton activists are unlikely to have had much more grasp of local issues than those of us who came from further afield.
4. So much for the NHA…
This was the first real test for National Health Action which was rewarded with just 392 votes or under 1% and shows them to yet another clown party which has zero real support and if it did could only threaten Labour.
But even this was better than the wretched Trade Union and Socialist Coalition candidate who got just 62 votes and was soundly beaten by three genuine clown parties.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: “Islamophobia” or “legitimate criticism”?
In a recent article, Dr Leon Moosavi asserted that Muslims in the UK face “stereotyping, discrimination and even harassment.” Anyone who has glanced at tabloid headlines much over the last few years, or who follows organisations and blogs which seek to counter this bigotry, will probably agree that Moosavi has a point. He continues:
‘For example, in November 2012, the Leveson Inquiry which examined news media conduct from many angles concluded that Muslims, along with asylum seekers, immigrants and travellers, are commonly derided in the mainstream press.
‘ More recently, a couple of weeks ago, Keith Vaz MP tabled an Early Day Motion in Parliament suggesting that Islamophobia be recorded by police forces across Britain so that it can be better understood.’
Towards the end of the article I began to question elements of Moosavi’s argument:
’There are also protagonists who actively seek to dismiss Islamophobia as a concept because they claim it is one that prevents free speech and criticism of Islam as a religion.
It is important here to distinguish between legitimate criticism of a religious ideology and generalisations and attacks against those who have a Muslim identity. Just like it is possible to disagree with Jewish theology without being anti-semitic, it is possible to disagree with Islamic theology without being Islamophobic.’
Is Moosavi right to say that “legitimate criticism” of Islam is not in itself a problem? I suspect that many commentators Moosavi would consider Islamophobic manage to avoid even verbal, let alone physical, “attacks against those who have a Muslim identity.” But when people criticise Islam with single-minded and passionate dislike, when they cherry pick sources to exclude less conservative interpretations of the religion, then it is hard to say that such discourse doesn’t have an impact on people’s treatment of individual Muslims.
However Moosavi is also in danger of making “Islamophobia” embrace much that one wouldn’t want to ban or even censure. There is a potentially huge contested area between “legitimate criticism of a religious ideology” and “attacks against those who have a Muslim identity.” What about illegitimate criticism? And who gets to decide what is legitimate? Some people, for example, took great exception to Tom Holland’s documentary about Islam, based on his book The Shadow of the Sword. That was a serious project; but what about Charlie Hebdo, The Innocence of Muslims, Jesus and Mo? It would have been better (assuming this is what he thinks) if Moosavi had made a stronger and more unequivocal defence of freedom. And unfortunately some of the most vocal opponents of Islamophobia (though not, as far as I am aware, Moosavi) are happy to weaponise that word in order to smear leftists, liberals and secularists who would probably be very willing to make common cause with them against racists like the EDL.
But the EDM (945) Moosavi is urging MPs to support seems like a reasonable and limited measure, responding to a genuine problem, and I have asked my MP to support it.
Guest post by Robin Carmody
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Estimates for the number of Roma and Sinti victims of the Holocaust vary widely. Some put the figure as ‘low’ as 220,000 (roughly the population of Norwich) whereas others believe over a million were killed. This online exhibition focuses on some of the Roma and Sinti children who became victims, or survivors, of the Holocaust.
Recently a memorial to the Roma, designed by the Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan, has been unveiled in Berlin. This project has been subject to many delays, and involved several complex and sensitive decisions:
‘Another of Karavan’s proposals – to use Avraham Shlonsky’s poem “The Vow” – was also rejected, to Karavan’s disgruntlement. “This is a poem that vows to remember – and to forget nothing,” he says. He relates that when Romani Rose heard it for the first time, “His hair stood on edge.” However, when he discovered, two weeks after that, that the poem was already quoted at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the idea was abandoned.
The alternative proposed by the gypsies was a poem by a young poet from the community, Santino Spinelli. However, the poem was about Auschwitz specifically, and Karavan was concerned the memorial would become identified with the death camp and not with the gypsy genocide. The compromise was that the poem would be inscribed on a the floor of the pool, without the word Auschwitz, and with the remark: “Dedicated to [remembering] all the camps where gypsies were murdered.”’
Given the rhetoric and violence against the Roma in some European countries, one would hope that greater awareness of their experiences in the Holocaust – or ‘Porrajmos’ – might encourage people to think twice before demonizing a whole group. But the example of David Ward – who seems to think it’s ‘the Jews’ who needed to take lessons from the Holocaust – demonstrates that a fluent knowledge of historical facts doesn’t always go hand in hand with self-reflection.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco￼
There was a lively response to my earlier piece on Hope not Hate’s magazine – which made me reflect that it’s a pity anti-fascists seem to dissipate so much of their energy fighting each other rather than the far right. The magazine’s been going nearly a year now, and whenever it comes through my letterbox I look with interest at the contents page to see which issues are being flagged, and wonder just how much handwringing went into the selection process.
There’s a quite complex dynamic at work here. Hope not Hate’s main selling point is its combative stance towards the EDL, the BNP and similar groups. And, for the moment, the main enemy of these nationalist groups is Islam. Yet for some time now Hope not Hate has also had extremist, theocratic Muslim groups and individuals in its sights.
Hope not Hate’s stance brings some welcome nuance – and moral backbone – to these sometimes polarized debates. There’s no better antidote to people like Robert Spencer (I’m sure he has objections to the term Islamophobe so I’ll just call him a cunt) than this combination of reasoned and robust attacks on extremists combined with nuanced pieces by and about Muslims with a range of views: Julie Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Britain celebrating the Olympics, Sara Khan, the Director of Muslim women’s human rights group Inspire, reflecting on the grooming issue, and a cheerful story about Muslim/Christian interfaith work in Blackburn.
Hope not Hate is tough on haters of all kinds in this issue. The creepy Mosquebusters campaign is profiled in a good piece by Dave Porter. I was aware of this attempt to prevent planning permission being obtained for mosques, but didn’t know about one particular underhand tactic used by planning lawyer, Gavin Boby:
“He threatens councilors and officers that if they allow a mosque application to go through, they could be held liable personally in law because of their approval of a religious doctrine which advocates violence.”
There’s a chilling report from Norway about the way a journalist, Nina Johnsrud, was targeted for investigating a story about a planned anti-Semitic attack:
“In June 2006 someone most probably belonging to Jihadist circles fired four rounds at her house, and in September the same year someone fired multiple rounds at the Oslo synagogue with an automatic weapon. While Arfan Bhatti was convicted as a ‘mental accomplice’ for the synagogue shotting two years later , the shooting at Johnsrud’s home remains unsolved.”
And there’s an interesting article by Nick Lowles about Holocaust revisionism which will probably displease Lowles’s enemies on the far left and the far right in roughly equal measure.