The SWP/NUT/Guardian “line” on Islamist influence on Birmingham schools – that it’s all an “islamophobic” campaign – is no longer tenable.
Even Rick Hatcher of Socialist Resistance, which is broadly sympathetic to the Graun/SWP line, has cast doubt upon their claim that there are simply no problems in Birmingham schools.
Just for the record, let me remind you of what the Graun‘s education editor, Richard Adams, had to say about this matter: “Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?”
This shabby article by Adams was not a one-off: he had previously reported on Park View School (the academy at the centre of the allegations) following a visit that was quite obviously organised and supervised by the school’s ultra-reactionary Islamist chair of governors, Tahir Alam. In short, Adams has been a mouthpiece and conduit for the Islamist propaganda of people like Alam, Salma Yaqoob and the SWP.
Yet now, even the Graun has had to face reality, and last week leaked the conclusions of the Peter Clarke enquiry (commissioned by the government) and then gave extensive and detailed coverage of the enquiry led by Ian Kershaw, commissioned by Birmingham City Council.
Both reports backed the main thrust of the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations – that there had been (in the words of Ian Kershaw, quoted in the Graun), a “determined effort to change schools, often by unacceptable practices, in order to influence educational and religious provision for the students served.”
Kershaw differs with Clarke only in nuance, with the former finding “no evidence of a conspiracy to promote an anti-British agenda, violent extremism or radicalisation of schools in East Birmingham”, while the latter found there had been a “sustained and coordinated agenda to impose upon children in a number of Birmingham schools the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strain of Sunni Islam.”
Clarke uncovered emails circulated amongst a group of governors and others, calling themselves the ‘Park View Brotherhood’ which he describes thus: “The all-male group discussions include explicit homophobia, highly offensive comments about British service personnel, a stated ambition to increase segregation at the school, disparagement of Muslims in sectors other than their own, scepticism about the truth of reports on the murder of [soldier] Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings, and constant undercurrent of anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.”
Both reports also agree that Birmingham City Council, on grounds of “community cohesion” chose to ignore evidence of headteachers and other staff being bullied and driven out in order to turn what were supposed to be secular schools into de facto Islamic schools. The Council preferred a quiet life and turned a blind eye in the name of “community cohesion.” Council leader Albert Bore has since apologised “for the way the actions of a few, including some within the council, have undermined the great reputation of our city.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the Gove-commissioned Clarke report makes the obvious, but politically inconvenient, point that the academy status of many of the ‘Trojan Horse’ schools made them especially vulnerable to extremist influence: “In theory academies are accountable to the secretary of state, but in practice the accountability can amount to benign neglect where educational and financial performance seems to indicate everything is fine. This inquiry has highlighted there are potentially serious problems in some academies”
So we now have a situation in which the two reports commissioned into ‘Trojan Horse’ have both concluded that there was a real issue of organised, ultra-reactionary Islamist influence in some Birmingham schools. The newspaper at the forefront of the campaign of denial that followed the allegations has now relented and faced reality. The leader of Birmingham City Council has acknowledged what happened and apologised. But will those on the left (in particular, but not only, the SWP), who took the Guardian ‘line’ now admit their mistake? More importantly, will the NUT leadership, instead of prevaricating on the issue, now take a clear stand in support of secular education?
In Australia, there is an event called the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, with some high-calibre contributors, like Salman Rushdie and Steven Pinker. One of the speakers they invited was one Uthman Badar, of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The title of the speech was Honour Killings are Morally Justified.
Badar says he did not choose the topic himself, but accepted it upon the urgings of the board. The festival’s co-curator Simon Longstaff said he had nominated the topic for six years in a row, because the point of the festival is to push boundaries ”to the point where you become extremely uncomfortable”.
Yet again, misogyny, racism and violence against minoritised women is considered edgy, rather than banal and conservative.
What’s more edgy and dangerous and uncomfortable than suggesting the world is a better place because a Tunisian father burned his 13 year old daughter alive? What’s more edgy and dangerous than saying certain women and girls don’t deserve to live?
For Aya, it was ‘dangerous’ to walk home from school with one of her classmates, and no doubt somewhat more than ‘extremely uncomfortable’ to die of burns a few days later.
It is a wonder that Longstaff didn’t realise that other speakers had balked the topic for six years in a row not because it was “uncomfortable”, but because it was morally repugnant: hate-speech as clickbait, where the names and faces of the victims are erased for the sake of a headline.
Enter Uthman Badar, the only man vainglorious enough to make the attempt. There are, of course, many experts in ‘honour’-based violence, people who have dedicated their careers to exploring its dynamics, conducting research, developing protection measures, supporting victims. Badar is not one of them. According to his Academia.edu page, he’s an economist (although apparently, he is not actually a student of the university that he claims to attend).
Even Badar doesn’t seem to have wanted to defend the murders of girls and women and young men: his preamble suggests he’s not even going to try and justify ‘honour’ killing. Let’s look at what he was going to say:
“Overwhelmingly, those who condemn honour killing are based in the liberal democracies of the West.”
This is untrue:
We in the West know about ‘honour’ killings only because they were brought to our attention by local activists: it was Asma Jahangir‘s decision to exceed her brief as Special Rapporteur into Extrajudicial Executions that brought the subject up; it was Rana Husseini‘s activism against the laws of Jordan that told us how embedded such crimes were in their societies, and it was Fadime Sahindal‘s prediction of her own death that raised the topic as something which occurred in the West.
Perhaps it is true that many of those who commit honour killings may not be based in the liberal democracies of the West but that doesn’t mean that they are accepted within their societies. Of all the Muslim countries surveyed by Pew, only in two did more respondents approve than disapprove of ‘honour’ crimes. Overwhelmingly, the scholars and activists who work against ‘honour’-based violence are people working in their own countries and communities, both within and outside the ‘West’. To ignore this fact demonstrates a strangely Eurocentric world view.
Aya’s father is taken as an exemplar of Tunisia: Aya herself is erased, the 300 Tunisian protesters are erased, Tunisian women’s rights activists are erased, the fact that ‘honour’ killings are vanishingly rare in Tunisia is erased. And this is all done in order that Badar can synechodically present ‘honour’ killers as the true representatives of ‘Eastern’ culture. This smacks of orientalism in itself: the presentation of a diverse culture and people as homogeneously violent, and obsessed with ‘honour’, against reams of evidence to the contrary.
And so, the next sentence:
“The accuser and moral judge is the secular (white) Westerner and the accused is the oriental other: the powerful condemn the powerless.”
The person at the actual nadir of powerlessness, the victim, is totally absent from Badar’s analysis. The actual situation — where the accuser and moral judge is the enculturated (brown) Easterner and the accused is the feminine other: where the powerful not only condemn, but slaughter the powerless – is erased. The victim is erased, and the murderer is granted victimhood in her stead.
“By taking a particular cultural view of honour, some killings are condemned, while others are celebrated: in turn, the act becomes a symbol of everything which is wrong with the other culture.”
Let’s ignore this strange position where we are led to believe that some killings are celebrated, which seems to be an attempt at whataboutery and decontextualisation too vague for me to parse. On the other hand, his point that the discourse of ‘honour’ is used to demonise the ‘other’ culture is unavoidably true. However, there are many more people who are far better qualified to argue this than Badar. Aisha Gill and Avtar Brah have done this excellently, and are feminists to boot.
Katherine Pratt Ewing, to give another example, has written an entire book on the topic, and a speech by her on how ‘honour’ crimes are used to stigmatise minorities would be informative, and moreover, informed by research. That is not what Longstaff wanted though: it wouldn’t have have got him in the headlines.
After the cancellation of the speech due to public outcry, Badar produced a petulant statement which attributes the outcry to Islamaphobia, as did Longstaff: ‘Have not the ‘Islamophobes’ already won the day when a person dare not speak on controversial matters because he is Muslim?’, he tweeted, rather pompously.
Let’s consider this charge for a second. Almost all Muslim organisations take pains to distance themselves from ‘honour’ killings. Almost all serious scholars address the issues of culture with caution, and with due attention to the worrying levels of xenophobia in the West. Training materials in use by professionals to help them respond to ‘honour’-related violence in the family stress the importance of not making cultural assumptions.
Just as a thought experiment, consider this: if you really hated Muslims and Islam, what would be the best way of overturning all this good work done in balancing the rights to life and freedom of young people (many, but not all, of whom are Muslim) with respect for the culture of their families? How about promoting a speech called ‘Honour Killings are Morally Justified’, and getting a speaker whose only qualification is being a Muslim to present it? Would that work? I think it would.
H/T: KB Player
JK Rowling has donated £1 million to the Better Together campaign. Rowling is a long-standing Labour supporter
By Rosie Bell (via Facebook):
When J K Rowling wrote best-selling children’s books that even children who didn’t read, would read, she was a force for betterment.
When she showed that a writer could hit the jackpot she was a creatives’ beacon of hope.
When she insisted that the popular film adaptations or her books should not be Hollywoodised she was a patriot.
When she recalled her own years of being a single mother dependent on welfare payments and reiterated her support for Labour she was a good socialist.
When she donated considerable sums to clinics treating multiple sclerosis and campaigned for research on the disease because of her own mother’s illness she was a heart-string puller.
I think Scots may have even been a wee bit proud that this unassuming woman of considerable achievement chose to live in Edinburgh. At least one coffee house has put up a plaque noting that she used to hang out there.
But now she is a bitch; a whore; a traitor; a Tory; a deluded wee hen, all with added sweiry words. Oh, and English as well.
All because she wrote a sane, reasoned article on why she thought Scotland should not go independent and contributed some money to a campaign she believed in.
No wonder I hate this referendum.
Since Game of Thrones has come up in the comments thread, here’s a video which covers both Game of Thrones and Edinburgh:-
By Sean Matgamna (re-blogged from Workers Liberty)
A group of three academies, one other academy, and one council-controlled school in Birmingham have been put into “special measures” by Ofsted government inspectors for allegedly acting like “faith schools”.
Ofsted complains that Park View school has weekly “Islamic-themed assemblies”, with invited speakers “not vetted”, and that from year 9 onwards religious education is almost all Islamic. Faith schools are explicitly allowed to have their assemblies, and their religious education, organised around their chosen religion, and to imbue other subjects with religious ideology.
Over 35 per cent of all state-funded schools in England are “faith schools”. They can freely do all or most of what Ofsted complained of in Birmingham.
The furore about an alleged “Muslim plot” to turn the Birmingham schools into indoctrination centres for “extremist” Islam rips the covering right off one of the great scandals in British life.
The scandal is not about Muslims, but goes right across the spectrum of the religious indoctrination of children in Britain. The huge majority of faith schools are Christian. Some of them are bland about their religion, and some of them militant.
It is not only about the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition administration. Faith schools increased under Labour from about a quarter to over 35% of schools.
The Government’s answer is that faith schools should continue, but they must be obliged to teach “British values”.
That is dangerous nonsense. The real answer is that all schools must be secular. Religious preaching of all sorts must be taken out of them.
The problem is in part the marshmallow language the Government uses — “extremists” and “moderates”. It is also that much of the Government’s talk about “British values” is “spin” rather than something that has or will have substance to it.
The government lists among those values “tolerance” and “respect” for those of different faiths.
When a school is run by vigorous, convinced, ardently religious people, mandating “moderate” values is either an infringement on religious freedom, or a nonsense, or both.
All serious religious people believe, and in the nature of religious belief must believe, that their own faith is the one true faith. All of them teach that. Explicitly or by implication, they believe that other religious beliefs and practices are wrong, pernicious, even the work of the Devil.
When a religion ceases to think it bears the only real truth, it is on the road to self-weakening and dissolution, at a quicker or faster pace. Anglicanism is an example. Serious belief in the truth and godly inspiration of one’s own religion implies intolerance and contempt for, and desire to subdue, the false religion.
Now the Government says that devout Muslims — often the most convinced and most militant of contemporary religious people — must be “moderate”, and must have “respect” and “tolerance” for those whom their religion tells them are mistaken and sinful.
No doubt the majority of British Muslims do not hold the “extreme” positions, but those who do have the moral high ground, appealing to precedent, age-old tradition, and sense of historical identity and affinity.
Governments should enforce the law against, for example, those who plot religiously-motivated bombing campaigns. And governments have a right and a duty to interfere with what religious people do when they break the social code — for instance, ill-treatment of children by Christian sects, such as the one Victoria Climbie’s murdering religion-crazed aunt belonged to, or mutilation of the genitals of young girls.
But there is no way a government can tell a religious community what to think and believe and pass on to young people. How can a government eradicate the belief of its devotees that a religion or a sect is the only right one, that its devotees are the only “saved” people? It cannot, not without enormous repression; and that would not succeed either. The opposite: it would drive adherents of the faith being targeted into the camp of the “extremists” and “martyrs”.
What follows? That we should “defend” those who might want to indoctrinate children with beliefs and practices that are foul and might point some of them towards jihadism? That we should focus on the demand for “extremist” Muslims to be treated not with suspicion but like bland school-running Anglicans?
That would be absurd.
In the name of religious freedom and the equality of all religions before the law and the state, it would be to “defend” vigorous religious education of all stripes, at whose heart is the systematic and long-term psychological abuse of children. Religious education implants intense emotions, fears, and beliefs in children who as yet have little power of reason and judgement. It is vicious child abuse.
No, the Government has been drawn onto the dangerous ground of threatening to impinge on the freedom of religious belief because its scheme makes no sense.
The real solution is to make all schools — including those now Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, etc. — into secular schools, places where religion is studied only in the cool comparison of different religions, their histories, the origins of their sacred books, the derivation and evolution of their core beliefs, etc.
That would give the children some secular space to retreat to in face of bullying, insistent parents or religious officials, and give them different values to counterpose to the religious values of homes which may be spiritually from a different age and very different societies.
The children of religious parents are entitled to the protection of society and the social institutions.
In some faith schools today small girls go about covered from top to toe in Islamic religious dress. A society that does not win children freedom from such impositions is obscene, and if it does not use the law to stop them will be convincing neither to itself nor to the serious religious people who have contempt for modern commercial society and for those who would regulate and “moderate” them.
The possible social consequences of the continued development of faith schools are dreadful to contemplate. Faith and ethnicity here often go together. Faith schools are also often race-segregated schools. Instead of schools being a force for integrating communities, they entrench social, ethnic, and religious antagonisms. Children are moulded and narrowed in one outlook.
Faith schools in Northern Ireland played an important part in maintaining, reinforcing, and perpetuating Protestant-Catholic sectarianism. It was the Catholic Church, the church of the most oppressed people in Northern Ireland, which insisted on faith schools — or rather, on its own right to indoctrinate children with its beliefs.
At the height of the Troubles, a small group of people started “mixed” schools, as a means of helping to destroy sectarianism. The movement has so far had little success. It would have been better to have had “mixed” schools before sectarian conflict had ripped the society apart.
What all this means for Britain now and for what sensible people should advocate for Britain now is plain: take religion out of our schools. Make education public and secular. Make religion a private matter.
Adams of the Graun: evasion and waffle
When Ofsted publishes its reports into the Birmingham schools involved in the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations of the islamisation of nominally secular state schools in that City, it will censure six schools for failing to provide a “rounded education” or prepare pupils “for life in modern Britain.” In other words, the essential claim of the ‘Trojan Horse’ document – that Islamists have been organising to impose their fundamentalist agenda on schools in Birmingham – is true.
Since the ‘Trojan Horse’ document appeared in March, and the Ofsted inspections were ordered, Tim Boyes, the Head of Queensbridge School in Moseley, Birmingham, has come forward to claim that in 2010 he warned the Department of Education that in some Birmingham schools, pupils and staff were displaying “racist, aggressive and disrespectful behaviour” and that “I and a whole series of colleagues … were reporting concerns about governance and things that weren’t going well … tensions and politics have exploded and as a result head teachers have had nervous breakdowns, they’ve lost their jobs, schools have been really torn apart.” Gove’s department failed to act, says Boyes.
Very similar claims have now been made by a prospective school governor, Keith Townsend, who told Monday’s Radio 4 Today programme that a small group of governors had “infiltrated” the governing body of an un-named Birmingham school (thought to be Golden Hillock School in Sparkbrook), demanded a stricter Muslim regime, and set about driving out the non-Muslim headteacher. Townsend says he reported his concerns to Birmingham City Council in 2008 (when it was controlled by a Tory-Lib Dem coalition) but received a “dismissive reply.” Labour MP Steve McCabe says he can recall having a conversation with Mr Townsend at that time and taking his concerns to an assistant director at the City Council.
All of which puts the Guardian in a bit of a spot. All the Graun‘s coverage to date has concentrated upon suspicions about the provenance of the ‘Trojan Horse’ document, rather than the question of whether or not the allegations of an organised Islamic fundamentalist campaign to take over some Birmingham schools, are actually true. The logic put forward by the Graun is that because the ‘Trojan Horse’ document may well be a hoax, therefore the claims made in it must, of necessity, be untrue: an argument that simply doesn’t follow, if you give it a moment’s thought. At times, the Graun and its Education editor Richard Adams, seem to have been acting as little more than a mouthpiece for the ultra-reactionary Islamist Tahir Alam, Chair of governors at Park View School, and influential at its sister schools Golden Hillock and Nansen. Adams even wrote a glowing report of a visit to Park View, that was clearly arranged, organised and supervised by Alam himself!
How will Adams and the Graun react when the Ofsted reports show them to have been so completely and egregiously wrong about what’s been going on in Birmingham?
Well, we were given a foretaste yesterday, in a typical piece of evasion, double-speak and waffle from Adams. The article’s wretched nadir must surely be this:
“The tranche of reports on 21 state schools, which could be published as early as this week, say there was scant evidence of religious extremism on a daily basis in classrooms, with most criticism reserved for school management and cases of overbearing behaviour by school governors.
“Ofsted’s inspectors appear to have been unable to find much evidence of claims of homophobia or gender discrimination, which have been alleged by anonymous former teachers at some of the schools” (my emphasis -JD).
Now, try a little experiment: try substituting the word “racism” (or, indeed, “Islamophobia”) for “religious extremism” in the first paragraph, and, again, for the words “homophobia or gender discrimination” in the second: then see how it reads.
This isn’t exactly a new low for the Graun (there’ve been too many of them to keep up with), but it’s one more depressing example of that paper’s miserable descent into relativism, pro-Islamism and a complete betrayal of secularism and enlightenment principles.
My body my rights
Being able to make our own decisions about our health, body and sexual life is a basic human right. Yet all over the world, many of us are persecuted for making these choices – or prevented from doing so at all.
A woman is refused contraception because she doesn’t have her husband’s permission. A man is harassed by police because he’s gay. A teenager is denied a life-saving termination because abortion is illegal in her country. Whoever you are, wherever you live, you have the right to live without fear, violence or discrimination. It’s your body. Know your rights. Act now.
Around 1.8 billion young people worldwide are at risk of having their sexual and reproductive rights ignored. Call on world leaders today.
For once, the Guardian is on the right side…
Glyn Harries (via Facebook) writes:
Respect due to Fahma Mohamed (above)
She started this petition and got nearly 250,000 supporters and forced Michael Gove to take action. Ok that will not stop the abuse of FGM but it is a start …
“You wouldn’t think school girls in the UK have to worry about female genital mutilation (FGM), but we do. Although it is illegal in the UK, it is still happening – 24,000 girls in the UK are currently at risk of FGM. People just don’t talk about it, doctors don’t check for it and teachers don’t teach (about) it
FGM is child abuse. It forces girls into a future of pain from the moment they are cut. They face the risk of infertility, pain during urination, menstruation, childbirth and sexual intercourse. The pain doesn’t go. It’s a traumatic experience they have to live with every single day, physically and emotionally.
That’s why I’ve started this campaign with The Guardian.
I know of people who have been cut – anyone who knows girls from FGM affected communities will know girls who have been cut. We were told Ofsted would be asking schools what they are doing to protect these girls from FGM, but it never happened.
Me and my classmates campaigned for our school to do more on FGM. Now all the girls at school know the risks of FGM and feel able to talk about it. But this is one school. We need this to happen at every school in the country – so that no girl is missed.
We need to act now. Many girls are sent away to be cut over the summer holidays. Some are cut at home. They call it the ‘cutting season’. If every headteacher was given the information they need to talk about FGM to students and parents we could reach every girl who is at risk before the holidays. We could convince families not to send their daughters to be cut and we can help girls who are at risk. We could break the cycle so the next generation is safe.
That’s why I’m calling for Michael Gove to get schools to teach about FGM before the summer holidays.
Michael Gove — we’re serious, we’re not going to back down and we won’t go away.”
Latest: “We did it! We met Education Secretary Michael Gove and he agreed to write to all primary and secondary headteachers in England about female genital mutilation” says Fahma.
The Lib Dem’s present shambles over Lord Rennard is the direct result of a botched attempt to fudge the issue of the sexual harassment allegations against this powerful and influential figure whose behaviour has been covered up by the leadership for years.
The inquiry led by Alistair Webster QC created total confusion – and gave Rennard and his supporters plausible grounds for crying ‘foul’ – by concluding that the case against Rennard was unproven, and yet also calling upon him to apologise in the light of “broadly credible” claims against him by 11 women.
Crucially, Webster’s report (though it hasn’t been seen by Rennard, or indeed Clegg, due apparently, to mysterious “data protection” concerns) seems to have blurred and confused two distinct standards of proof: Webster says the case against Rennard does not satisfy the “beyond reasonable doubt” (ie being at least 99% sure of guilt) standard required for criminal cases, and which is also, it seems, required before disciplinary action can be taken under the Lib Dem’s rules. But Rennard’s supporter and legal adviser Lord Carlile QC claims that Webster told him that even the civil “balance of probability” standard of proof could not be met. This seems incredible, given Webster’s statement that in his opinion “the evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants was broadly credible.” Remember, that the “balance of probability” test (ie being 51% sure of someone’s guilt) is considered sufficient for an employer to dismiss an employee for gross misconduct and is the test that employment tribunals apply when considering cases.
It turns out that what Webster meant was that he didn’t think there was a 51% chance of satisfying the “beyond reasonable doubt” test, which is, of course, not what the “balance of probability” test means – something that both Webster QC and Carlile QC must surely understand.
With Rennard threatening legal action, 100 women members signing a letter demanding “no apology, no whip” and the party split on generational lines, the Lib Dems are well and truly in the shit over this. Not only has their claim to be a party that takes equality seriously been destroyed: they’ve shown themselves to be a total shower who can’t even organise an effective fudge.
The article that follows (‘Pussy Riot Roars Out of Prison’) appeared in The Daily Beast on 23 December: I can’t improve on it. Photo by Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters
By Anna Nemtsova
Maria Alyokhina showed no mercy for Vladamir Putin when she walked out of jail, saying his performance felt like a”dark art of performance”:
They went behind bars as feminist artists and came out as human rights defenders. Both Pussy Riot performance group members, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina qualified for amnesty last week but they were only officially told on Monday and freed the same morning. Maria Alyokhina immediately spoke to The Daily Beast about being Vladimir Putin’s pardon, the tactics of the Russian penal system, and more.
Alyokhina said her release from jail felt more like “a secret special operation” than an act of humanism. Monday morning, prison guards told her that she had been pardoned but did not let her walk free on her own. Officials hurried to pack her belongings without letting Alyokhina decide what she wanted to bring with her or what to leave for her friends. A prison convoy led the artist to a black Volga car and drove her away from prison in unknown direction.
With this amnesty, people are given some freedom but not all of it. Last week, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was awoken in the middle of the night and taken away from his prison. Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny commented on Twitter that he could not understand such amnesty accompanied with “idiotic abductions, flags and black Volgas.” Alyokhina had no chance to say a proper goodbye to her friends: the other inmates. Officials brought the artist to the Nizhny Novgorod railway station and left her there. Alyokhina still wore her prison coat with her name written on it. She could not wait to see her little son Fillip and “was dying to take a shower,” she said. Alyokhina also felt worried about the fate of 20 women, fellow inmates who supported her in prison.
Alyokhina said after the “endless humiliations” in prison, what had happened to her this morning seemed like “ a dark art performance.”
In phone interview, Alyokhina said that after all “endless humiliations” she had experienced in prison what had happened to her this morning seemed more like “ a dark art performance.” Looking for a place to go, Alyokhina called her friends at a local human rights center, the Committee Against Torture. One of the activists at the center, Stanislav Dmitriyevsky said that officials “secretly sneaked Masha out of jail” so she would not walk free to meet with her family, friends and reporters.” To Alyokhina, who spent almost two years in jail, the prison’s behavior was no surprise: “This is typical act for our penitentiary system, close and conservative as jail itself—their methods are all about secrecy, no information and zero transparency,” Alyokhina said. Nobody would tell that she had just walked out of prison. Even in her green prison overcoat and uniform skirt Alyokhina looked as any young woman, “except that she is extremely intelligent, brave and stable for a 25-year-old woman, who spent over 1.5 years in jail,” said human-rights activist Igol Kalyapin.
Kalyapin visited Alyokhina in her Ural prison colony last spring. The system applied methods meant to break any man’s courage to Alyokhina, Kalyapin said. “She would call prison guards ‘personnel’ and demanded they respect her rights, at the time, when she knew she could be murdered any night; her life was threatened several times. She was punished by isolation in a single cell but Masha stayed unbreakable; she is a well-mannered, intelligent and very respectable woman, “ Kalyapin said.
Meanwhile, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova called for a boycott of the Olympic games in Sochi as soon as she had a chance to speak to press waiting for her outside the hospital where she had been kept.
In view of some appalling tripe that’s appeared recently on the subject of gender segregation, cultural sensitivity and (alleged) racism, this 2001 Graun article by Polly Toynbee is worth revisiting. Come to think of it, it’s probably the best thing she’s ever written, and quite surprising that the Graun agreed to publish it:
Above: the traditional custom of Suttee
Limp liberals fail to protect their most profound values
A 19th-century general in India confronted an angry delegation complaining that the suppression of suttee was an attack on their national culture and customs. He replied: “It is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and hang them. Build your funeral pyre and beside it my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your national custom – then we shall follow ours.” No moral or cultural relativism there: a burning widow feels the same pain whatever her culture.
Swirling about in the sea of debate on this war there is a fuzzy idea on the soft left of an Islamic cultural otherness that supersedes basic human rights. There is a plea that in respecting certain customs, beliefs and punishments in some Muslim countries, we should somehow overlook the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Some on these pages protest about “intolerant liberalism”, calling for greater understanding of other cultures and accusing secular liberals of neo-colonial, cultural supremacist attitudes towards some Muslim countries. But that risks something worse – a patronising anthropological view of interesting natives who are not people like us, quaint in their time-honoured habits that must remain undisturbed by outside influence. This soft tolerance permits faraway peoples to persecute women, gays, free-thinkers or unbelievers as part of a way of life to be respected and preserved. Apologetic about the brute force of the west, those who themselves enjoy freedoms of every kind excuse the inexcusable in other cultures, romanticising them as more spiritual, less materialist. It is a kind of limp liberalism that will not defend its own most profound values.
Hard-headed liberals have no problem in opposing the Taliban, Bin Laden and equivocators who start with a cursory side-of-the-cigarette-pack homily that says September 11 was atrocious before piling on the “buts” that imply the US had it coming. Hard liberals have always been very tough on the moral failings of the USA at home and abroad – without blurring distinctions between the Taliban and America. Hard liberals hold basic human rights to be non-negotiable and worth fighting for. They do not turn the other cheek, understand the other guy’s point of view or respect his culture when it comes to universal rights. Promoting liberal values everywhere from Burma to Saudi Arabia, Iraq to Chechnya is not neo-colonialism, but respect for a universal right to freedom from oppression. That was what Tony Blair’s conference speech implied.
On Afghanistan, limp liberals only distinguish themselves from the old left by adding rather more hand-wringing. Limp liberals are always on the side of peace because it is more morally comfortable. They claim a monopoly of pity, castigating the other side as heartless armchair warriors. They hesitate because the outcome is uncertain: no one can guarantee things will end well. But they will never be to blame for anything, because they never stood up for anything, always seeking third way escapes from hard choices. “If only people would just sit down and talk…”, though conversation with Bin Laden is not on offer. All sane people worry that this war may not be proportionate, may not stop terror attacks or make life in Afghanistan better. But the pacifist position this time is exceptionally odd. What would they do? When G2 asked a string of people recently, the alternatives were hopeless to non-existent. On these pages, there has been much flailing about, lack of alternatives hiding in anti-US bluster. A Gandhian response is a possibility – until you listen to Bin Laden. Understanding racial and cultural diversity is essential, but this time understand what?
What is now alarming is the united opposition to the war from almost all British Muslims. The shocking fact is that barely a single leading Muslim is to be found who supports it. Thought for the Day speakers (always the moderate of every faith) are against it. One of them, Dr Zaki Badawi, president of the Muslim College, calls Bush a warmonger, says Bin Laden is a random target picked off a shelf and no good will come of it: he fears greatly for relations between Muslims and others when this is over. The head of the moderate Islamic Council brought into Downing Street with the archbishop and the Chief Rabbi came out declaring the war unjustified. The Muslim News, which features pictures of Tony Blair giving away their annual awards, is full of nothing but angry opposition to the war, (plus the suggestion that Israel attacked the World Trade Centre). So however often the prime minister declares this is not a war on Islam, to them it feels so. However much they detest the Taliban, they cannot support an attack even on these hated Muslims.
Despite sects and schisms, Islam is united in feeling threatened and it is not just extremists on the streets of Pakistan and Palestine, it is almost everyone. For Britain this has a lethal potential. It underlines how alienated most still feel from the mainstream, how threatened, how culturally uncertain. Unfortunately it unites the peaceful with the violent. On my screen emails full of casuistry attempt to explain away warlike parts of the Koran as allegory: “In classical Arabic idiom the ‘cutting of hands and feet’ is often synonymous with destroying one’s power.” That is not how the Taliban read it, hacking away at limbs. So while the peaceful fail to separate their faith utterly from this violence, Bin Laden gets perilously close to creating his Armageddon war of the cultures.
What went wrong? Why was the Downing Street/ White House tea and sympathy with Muslim leaders of no avail? The crucial missing ingredient was turning on Sharon and Israeli extremists at the same time as the onslaught on the Taliban. What is needed at once is this world coalition to press Israel back inside internationally agreed borders, to shut down the settlements and to establish a permanent UN force along the border with a free Palestine. Then it is for Palestinians to create a non-corrupt government that will not waste the generous aid they need. No doubt horrific suicide bombings of Israelis would try to destroy any peace, but reprisal by Israeli tanks would be forbidden and prevented. The world would again guarantee in blood and money the rights of both the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. Like Northern Ireland, it wouldn’t work any magic: fighting would continue, but little by little, despite recurring outbreaks, it would gradually subside over the decades.
What matters is that the Islamic world should for the first time see the west act even-handedly. It matters that the west admits its past errors and draws a line under much shameful history. This shaky global coalition offers a chance to do better in many places, through international joint action. It means demonstrating that human rights values are indeed universal and not western.