On St Patrick’s Day, we bring you perhaps the most bizarre lyric ever sung by Louis Armstrong: “I was born in Ireland (Ha, Ha)”…
Louis Armstrong And His Hot Five, November 1926: Irish Black Bottom
Louis’s tireless biographer Ricky Riccardi writes:
Admittedly, this is not songwriting as its finest but as a novelty, it’s good fun. The “black bottom” was a popular dance of the 1920s so this tune humorously pretends that it’s also taken Ireland by storm. If Louis had to record something so silly in the 1950s, critics would scream at the producers for forcing it on him. But “Irish Black Bottom” was written by the aforementioned Percy Venable so more than likely, it was a staple of Louis’s act at the Sunset. And can’t you imagine Louis bringing down the house with that vocal? That “ha, ha” he gives after singing “And I was born in Ireland,” breaks me up every time. I can only imagine what it did to the audiences who heard him do it live.
The song begins with the funny sound of Louis and his Hot Five swinging through a sample of the Irish classic “Where the River Shannon Flows” before Louis swings out with the main melody, which is predominantly in a minor mode until the end. Louis’s lead sounds great and Dodds is bouncing around as usual but trombonist Hy Clark, a substitute for Kid Ory, sounds hesitant and doesn’t add much. After a chorus and an interlude by pianist Lil Armstrong, Louis takes the vocal. If you can’t make it out, here’s what he says:
All you heard for years in Ireland,
was the “Wearin’ Of The Green”,
but the biggest change that’s come in Ireland
I have ever seen.
All the laddies and the cooies
laid aside their Irish reels,
and I was born in Ireland
(Ha, Ha), so imagine how I feels.
Now Ireland’s gone Black Bottom crazy,
see them dance,
you ought to see them dance.
Folks supposed to be related, even dance,
I mean they dance.
They play that strain,
works right on their brain.
Now it goes Black Bottom,
a new rhythm’s drivin’ the folks insane.
I hand you no Blarney, when I say
that song really goes,
and they put it over with a wow,
I mean now.
All over Ireland
you can see the people dancin’ it,
’cause Ireland’s gone Black Bottom crazy now
I don’t know how you can’t get swept up in that offering. Armstrong doesn’t so much sing it as shout it, or talk it, but his spirit sure gets the message across (though sometimes, he’s so far from the written melody, it sounds like he’s singing a different song on top of Lil’s chording on the piano). After the vocal, Clark and Dodds take forgettable short solos and breaks before Louis carries the troops home with brio. Louis’s lip trill towards the end is particularly violent and right before his closing breaks, he dips into his bag for a favorite phrases, one that ended both “You’re Next” and “Big Fat Ma and Skinny Pa.” The concluding break is so perfect in its phrasing and choice of notes that I believe it might have already been set in stone by Pops during his live performances of the tune at the Sunset. Either way, that’s no reason to criticize him; it’s a perfect ending and puts an emphatic stamp on a very entertaining record.
That’s all for now. Have a happy St. Patrick’s day and don’t forget to mix in a little Louis with your Guiness. I hand you no blarney, it’s a great combination…
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
Citizen Khan (BBC 1, Mondays, 10.20 pm) has attracted formal complaints, and plenty of more informal negative comments too. It’s certainly neither subtle nor original – but I find it more difficult to be sure whether or not it deserves complaints because it is racist or anti-Muslim. The central character, ‘Citizen’ Khan, is a rather monstrous creation, and most of the characters seem stereotypical. But this is the case with many sit coms. Basil Fawlty and Alf Garnett were both grotesque. Khan’s prospective son-in-law seems a bit daft – but so was the ridiculous Alice in The Vicar of Dibley.
Of course Muslims are targets of bigotry, which does mean that Citizen Khan can’t be judged in quite the same way, perhaps, as a programme about a white, culturally Christian family. But it could be argued that the programme’s makers, by reducing the Khans to a set of cheesy stereotypes, have just helped pull Muslims more firmly into the mainstream in a way a more earnest and nervous programme couldn’t have done. Although a few complaints have focused on the disrespectful treatment of Islam, the character who uses a mask of piety to conceal her party going tastes – and gets away with it – could strike a chord with anyone who has sneaked their way round parental restraints, whatever their religious background.
It’s not a great programme. Goodness Gracious Me was cleverer and funnier. But I don’t think it’s going to be giving the EDL any comfort. As Adil Ray, who plays the title role, points out:
“The biggest, most important, thing you can do is laugh at yourself….You then negate anything anybody can ever do. It’s the ultimate weapon. If you can laugh at yourself, it doesn’t matter what anybody says to you as you’re laughing already.”
As a general rule, I subscribe to Orwell’s somewhat negative view of sport.
I have not voluntarily watched any Olympic event on telly (as opposed to being in a pub while the 100 meters final was beamed onto a big screen to the obvious carnal delight of most females present).
And I still hold to the view that the Olympics are, to a substantial degree, an execise in bread and circuses for the masses while the Tories and their Lib Dem collaborators continue with their “austerity” fraud. The ruthless “branding” by such inappropriate sponsors as Coca-Cola and McDonalds was simply shameful. Even the much-praised volunteers, whose enthusiasm and commitment is not in doubt, were in a sense, undermining the minimum wage.
And yet, and yet…
The event does seem to have brought out the best in us Brits. From Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony to Mo Farah’s double gold, it was a games that, perhaps more by luck that judgement, became a celebration of social solidarity and inclusion, happily devoid of jingoism. I’m told that the crowd cheered the heroic back-markers and the good-sport no-hopers almost as loudly as they cheered the winners.
I began to waver in my anti-Olympic resolve when I read about some jerk of a Tory MP denouncing the opening ceremony as “Leftie multiculturalist crap.” Left-wing critics and some local residents in Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets, even when making fair points, were stuck with a particularly ludicrous figure as their self-appointed leader and their campaign was not helped by attempts to link it with the increasingly desperate and bankrupt Stop The War Coalition.
Crucially, it was the emergence of such heroes as Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis (such a contrast to the manufactured “stars” and “celebrities” usually touted by the media) that convinced me. This was their Olympics – theirs and the people rooting for them . Of course not everyone who celebrated the success of the ex-refugee and the mixed-race woman will have been converted into a convinced anti-racist overnight. But it has to be A Good Thing, hasn’t it? Something we should be celebrating, not sneering at.
Most important of all, the Tory hypocrites who, on taking power with their Lib-Dem junior partners, immediately scrapped the School Sports Partnership (OK, there’s been a partial U-turn since), must not be allowed to pose as the friends of grass-roots sport in Britain, or to gain any political capital from the success of British sportsmen and women.
So if even this arch-curmudgeon can change his mind, so can I…
[NB: the Olympics have been widely described as a celebration of "multi-culturalism." My understanding of the term, used in that context, is straightforward anti-racism, not the cultural relativism that the term all too often denotes].
From the New Statesman of 9 July. An important debate in which the NS‘s self-righteous outgoing Political Editor is shown up for the lightweight, superficial bullshitter he is, by someone who really knows what they’re talking about; Hasan opens the exchange:
Assalam alaikum. Your new memoir, Radical, exploring your journey from Hizb ut-Tahrir activist to self-professed “liberal Muslim”, is bold, fascinating and, at times, insightful.
To be honest, I wasn’t always a fan of your work – and I am still bemused by the view in some circles that former extremists are the best (the only?) people qualified to identify and tackle extremism.
Nonetheless, you should be applauded for trying to answer one of the most uncomfortable questions of our time: what is it that turns a tiny minority of ordinary, young, Muslim men into fanatical, cold-blooded killers?
It is undoubtedly the case that what you refer to as a “stifling, totalitarian victimhood ideology” often plays a role in the transformation. But I worry that, in your understandable attempt to denounce and deconstruct the “Islamist narrative of a clash of civilisations”, you downplay the role of foreign policy issues (from the invasion of Iraq to the occupation of Palestine to the west’s support for Arab dictators) as drivers of radicalisation.
Would you accept that those neoconservatives who deny a link between, say, foreign occupations, on the one hand, and radicalisation and terrorism, on the other, are being dishonest? The empirical evidence is clear: the US political scientist Robert Pape, who studied every known case of suicide terrorism between 1980 and 2003, has concluded that the “specific secular and strategic goal” of suicide terrorists is to end foreign military occupations. “The tap root of suicide terrorism is nationalism,” he wrote; it is “an extreme strategy for national liberation”.
You denounce those on the “regressive left”, such as the Guardian columnist Seumas Milne, who dare to join the dots between the west’s wars and Islamist extremism. Forget Milne. Consider instead the verdict of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden tracking unit and the author of three acclaimed books on al-Qaeda. “I don’t think there are a lot of people who want to blow themselves up because my daughters go to university,” Scheuer told me in an interview last year. “People are going to come and bomb us because they don’t like what we’ve done.”
Is he wrong?
As Amnesty’s UK director Kate Allen noted in her preface to Radical, it is a story about racist violence and a struggle for human rights, just as much as it is a story about the impact of a divisive ideology. Rather than explicitly prescribe factors that cause extremism, I chose to bring them out through the means of storytelling, so that readers could step into my world.
I have attempted to strike a balance between the two extremes of the neoconservative right, which tends to blame Islam itself for an increase in Islamist-led violence, and the regressive left, which tends to blame only foreign or domestic western government policy. The fact is that human beings are complicated animals. Unlike water, we don’t all boil at 100° Celsius. No catch-all cause of extremism can be identified. It is best to approach this subject with some general principles in mind that inevitably contribute to the phenomenon – grievances, identity crises, charismatic recruiters and ideological narratives.
It matters not whether the grievances are real or perceived. The perception of a grievance is sufficient to act as an agitating force. Where policy is wrong, such as with the invasion of Iraq, it should be changed to protect our own values rather than to succumb to the demands of terrorists. Where policy is right but perceived as wrong, more needs to be done to engage the aggrieved parties, as citizens and not as segregated communal blocs.
One million Britons marched against the Iraq war. Of these, a tiny minority, from within the non-Iraqi British Muslim communities, reacted with violence on 7 July 2005. To interpret this simply as a “nationalist struggle” to remove occupation ignores the blatantly obvious fact that, first, the terrorists were not Iraqis, they were British-Pakistanis (though British Iraqis have lived here for a long time); second, the vast majority of the Stop the War protesters were non-Muslims, yet only a handful from among a minority of Muslims reacted to the war with terrorism. Even though occupation may have caused agitation among the 7 July bombers, these northern-born lads with thick Yorkshire accents confessed in their suicide tapes to considering themselves soldiers with a mission to kill our people (Britons) on behalf of their people (Iraqis). The prerequisite to such a disavowal of one’s country of birth is a recalibration of identity; this is the undeniable role of ideological narratives.
I’m glad we seem to be in agreement on this: yes, radicalisation is as much a product of foreign policy “grievances” as it is one of a hate-filled “divisive ideology”. I am delighted to see the head of the Quilliam Foundation, “the world’s first counter-extremism think tank”, taking a much more nuanced approach to Islamist-inspired violence than some of its well-known outriders (step forward, Michael “Islamism Is Nazism” Gove). For far too long, the debate over the “root causes” of terrorism has been dominated by simplistic assumptions, sweeping generalisations and lazy stereotypes.
So here’s my confusion. In your memoir, you write that David Cameron’s speech on extremism in Munich in February 2011 was the result of a meeting you had with him in Downing Street and that it “included almost all of my suggestions”. Yet this was a speech as inflammatory as it was superficial, peppered with stereotypes and straw men. On the day that the English Defence League marched against Muslims living in Luton, Cameron bizarrely decided to blame the rise of Islamist-inspired violence in the UK on “segregated communities”, “the doctrine of state multiculturalism” and “the passive tolerance of recent years”. Conveniently, he had little to say about the well-documented links between “our” foreign policy and “their” violent extremism.
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of the Prime Minister’s now-notorious address was his enthusiastic endorsement of the so-called “conveyor belt” theory of radicalisation, which states that young Muslims start off alienated and angry, slowly become more religious and politicised, and then almost automatically turn to violence and terror. Or, as Cameron put it, “As evidence emerges about . . . those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called ‘non-violent extremists’, and they then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence.”
But this claim has been contradicted by the PM’s own officials. In July 2010, a leaked memo prepared for coalition ministers on the cabinet’s home affairs subcommittee concluded that it was incorrect “to regard radicalisation in this country as a linear ‘conveyor belt’ moving from grievance, through radicalisation, to violence . . . This thesis seems to both misread the radicalisation process and to give undue weight to ideological factors.”
Isn’t it time we ditched the unhelpful and discredited analogy of the conveyor belt? Shouldn’t we be more rigorous in our analysis of the radicalisation process and less obsessed with “non-violent extremists” – who, by definition, pose no physical threat to us?
This extremism agenda must remain non- partisan, my friend. To be fair to the coalition, its policy has been to try to turn the Bush-era doctrine on its head. Instead of developing a state-heavy response to terrorism, while tolerating non-violent extremism in civil society, this government has tried to curtail state-led excess, while doing more to focus on civil society responses to non-violent extremism. Consequently, legality and civil liberties are better protected now than they were during the Bush era. Obviously there is still much more that can be done.
I’m glad that the Prime Minister’s Munich speech addressed non-violent extremism and I’m proud to have influenced this. I agree that raising multiculturalism in the speech was an unnecessary distraction. But the desire was to highlight non-violent extremism, because in recent years it had been such a taboo, unlike complaining about grievances, which Britons have a long tradition of doing.
Non-violent extremism may not pose a physical threat but that doesn’t mean it is not a challenge requiring a robust policy response. Casual racism in society poses no direct physical threat, but we can all recognise that where it spreads unchecked, without a civic challenge, it is an unhealthy phenomenon. Islamism – which can advocate anti-democratic views, divisive sectarianism and ideas that discriminate on grounds of gender and sexuality – is analogous in this respect to racism. This does not mean we ban such ideas, but it does mean that, as with racism, we require a popular civil society approach in challenging them.
I agree there is no conclusive evidence that extremism is a “conveyor belt” to terrorism, just as there is inconclusive evidence to the contrary. In such cases, common sense surely should prevail. To become a jihadist terrorist, one first becomes an Islamist, though not all Islamists will go on to violence. Joining militant racist groups like Combat 18 seems unlikely if one is not first exposed to a level of racist rhetoric.
However, ultimately, this entire issue is a red herring. Whether or not there is a “conveyor belt”, we must surely agree that the spread of extremism in societies is unhealthy for integration in its own right. Just as many on the left challenge anti-Muslim hatred while they object to challenging Islamist ideology, many on the right challenge Islamist ideology but neglect anti-Muslim hatred. I value consistency. Why not challenge both?
“An unnecessary distraction”? The Prime Minister’s decision to bolt a supposedly nuanced analysis of counter-extremism and radicalisation on to a conservative critique of “state multiculturalism” was reckless, irresponsible and inflammatory.
Above all, it lacked a factual basis. Multiculturalism has little, if anything, to do with the rise of Islamist-inspired terrorism. Otherwise, how would you explain the presence of extremist groups inside monocultural societies such as Saudi Arabia or the Gaza Strip?
Remember: the 7 July bombers were, by any conventional definition, integrated into wider British society. None of the four spoke English as a second language; one of them was a convert to Islam. The ringleader, Mohammad Sidique Khan, once nicknamed “Sid”, was a teaching assistant who had refused to have an arranged marriage. Shazad Tanweer, the Aldgate bomber, was an avid cricketer who worked part-time in his father’s fish-and-chip shop. Their actions were horrific and unforgivable but their grievances were political, not cultural.
You asked why some on the left “challenge anti-Muslim hatred while they object to challenging Islamist ideology” and you issue a call for consistency. But are you really comparing like with like? Mainstream Muslim groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) may have their flaws and limitations, but is it fair or accurate to compare them to the hate-mongers and bigots of the British National Party or the EDL? How does such a divisive, such a black-and-white, approach to engaging young, politically active British Muslims help to build the bonds and civic relations that you say you cherish? Isn’t it a dangerous mirror image of the terrorists’ own “with-us-or-against-us” mentality?
To be honest, the analogy between racism and Islamism that you constantly invoke in your writings and public appearances worries me. We’re all clear about what racism is and why it is so offensive and abhorrent. But what is “Islamism”? How do you define it? Here is a term so elastic that it stretches from the elected, pro-western AKP government in Turkey to the anti-western barbarians of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan; it is a deeply contested idea. And what defines this new and equally nebulous phrase: “non-violent extremism”? Are the Haredi Jews of north London “non-violent extremists”? How about Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, who compared the introduction of gay marriage to the legalisation of slavery?
Or is the expression, as I suspect, just the latest code for referring to politicised Muslims with whom we might disagree?
If monocultural Saudi and Gaza harbour “extremist” groups, this is an argument against you. It is obvious that divided, monocultural areas in Britain are bad for integration, regardless of one’s view on multiculturalism. I did not compare the MCB with the BNP. A more accurate comparison would be between my former group Hizb ut-Tahrir and the BNP. My critique of the MCB is far more nuanced and involves my views on the unhealthy nature of communalist identity politics, and my preference for the citizenship model over the “umbrella” model, except in dealing with narrow religious matters.
Arguing that challenging Islamist extremism through civic activism is divisive and isolates angry young British Muslims is as absurd and insulting as saying that challenging racism is divisive and isolates the angry young white working class. Either challenging (without banning) racism and Islamism is correct, or appeasing both racists and Islamists is correct. It is an offence to Islam and to Muslims to pander patronisingly to anti-Semitic, or anti-woman, or homophobic, or bigoted sectarian views when they emanate from brown Muslims – as if that’s just our culture anyway – but simultaneously be forthright in challenging white racism.
I am also very surprised to read that you claim there’s a consensus around racism as you try to prove that there’s no such thing as non-violent extremism. I have been raised on a diet of racist hammer and knife attacks. I can tell you, as someone who’s lived it, unlike some champagne socialists: “we” are not “all clear” on what racism is and “why it is abhorrent”. And, speaking in the context of rising right-wing extremism across Europe, we have certainly not overcome it.
Likewise, just because we are not all clear what Islamism is, that does not mean it doesn’t exist. Islamism is the desire to impose an interpretation of Islam over society as law. By definition, this raises urgent questions about human rights, and usually it is we Muslims who are the first victims of Islamism. Absurdly, this is excused by the regressive left as if brown culture were discriminatory anyway – a poverty of expectations. Yes, Islamism is diverse, but so was communism. Stalin killed Trotsky. Is this proof there’s no such thing as communism?
Tunisia’s post-Islamist Ennahda party recently went through its own “Clause Four” moment when it ditched a condition that its interpretation of sharia must be the source of law. Tunisian civil society (all Muslims) pressured Ennahda for reform – which is exactly what I endorse. Were Tunisians being divisive and anti-Islam?
Naturally the term “non-violent extremism” should not be used to dismiss politicised Muslims with whom we disagree. After all, you’re a politicised Muslim and I’m quite evidently disagreeing with you. When the abhorrent views I’ve listed are subscribed to by Christians or Jews, I have indeed labelled them as extremist, too. While the regressive left is inconsistent, I believe the best way to address this issue is to reverse the neoconservative model; that means we must jealously guard the civil liberties of extremists, yet at the same time challenge non-violent extremism in society through grass-roots civic action, rather than exploding bombs and grossly violating human rights.
Maajid Nawaz is chairman of the think tank Quilliam and the author of “Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening”, newly published by W H Allen (£12.99)
Nick Cohen has written some shite over the years and his uncritical enthusiasm for liberal interventionism is not shared by anyone at Shiraz. But, like the little girl in the poem, when he’s good, he’s very, very good.
If you don’t read anything else today, read his latest Observer column, Tales of hope from modern young Muslims. It’s absolutely spot-on:
Is opposition to reaction, reactionary? Or a loathing of religious bigotry, bigoted? To slam “Islam as oppressive of gay and women’s rights”, said a Guardian columnist last week, is to manifest the “progressives’ prejudice”. True liberals did not criticise illiberal religion. They denounced criticism of prejudice as prejudiced.
Arguing against what has become orthodoxy is difficult because most of the people who hold to its tenets are not malicious, just indolent and a little frightened. They have a genuine fear of racism, however ill thought through, and that speaks to their credit. Argument must be joined, however, because supporters of identity politics bundle the objects of their concern into racial and religious boxes, and label them “handle with care”.
They deny individuality. They ignore conflicts within ethnic minorities. They behave as if women with brown skins should not have the same rights as women with white skins, although they lack the intellectual honesty to make their racism of low expectations explicit. For all the excuses you can make for them, theirs is a species of malice, albeit closer to a sin of omission than commission.
This week sees a reply that is also an admonishment with the publication of the summer’s second “escape memoir” – if I may coin the term. Despite its title, Alom Shaha’s The Young Atheist’s Handbook is as much an autobiography as an argument against religion…
…Read the rest here
We’re not noted for our sports coverage here at Shiraz (though we did, briefly, have a football correspondent), but the following report from The Times of Israel, was just too good to ignore:
The improbable Jewish ‘heritage’ of Italy’s Ghana-born goal-scoring eccentric
Mario Balotelli, the black Italian soccer star whose goals have fired Italy into the final of the Euro 2012 soccer championships on Sunday, was raised by a Jewish Italian foster mother from the age of three.
The eccentric, talented, headline-making forward, who was born Mario Barwuah to immigrants from Ghana in Palermo, rushed over to embrace his foster mother, Silvia Balotelli, after Thursday’s win over Germany, which was secured by two Balotelli goals, had given Italy a place in Sunday’s final against Spain.
Along with other members of the Italian team, Balotelli had visited Auschwitz earlier this month before the start of the tournament, which is being co-hosted by Poland, and he was reportedly the player most affected by the visit.
According to a Radio Netherlands report earlier this week, Balotelli sat down alone on the train tracks at the death camp, staring silently ahead. “A while later, he tells his team-mates about a box of letters that his Jewish adoptive mother kept underneath her bed. He had never told anyone.”
Some neo-Nazi groups, in Italy and beyond, who had already been abusing the player because he is black, are now also targeting him for his Jewish “ancestry.” One racist on an extremist web-site, Stormfront, wrote recently: “Balotelli’s black and he’s Jewish. He should play for Israel, not Italy.”
Balotelli, 21, was one of four children born to Christian parents Thomas and Rose Barwuah, immigrants from Ghana. He suffered with life-threatening health issues, requiring frequent intestinal surgery, and his poor health put a heavy strain on his already impoverished family. After they sought state assistance following a move to Milan, the authorities suggested he be placed into foster care, according to the Radio Netherlands report, which is partly based on his biological parents’ account:
“That’s how Mario Barwuah came into contact with the Balotellis” — Francesco and Silvia – ”a white family who lived in a villa in a small nearby village. At first, he stayed at the Balotellis during the week and returned to his family on weekends. But after a while things changed. Mario started to treat his (biological) parents with indifference. Ultimately, he took his weekday family’s surname.”
When he became successful as a soccer player, his biological parents sought to re-enter his life, but Balotelli rejected them as “glory hunters.”
Despite his unpromising health and complex family background, Balotelli proved to be a soccer prodigy, becoming the youngest player ever to play in Italy’s third division, at age 15, and ultimately impressing as a player for top Italian side Inter Milan. He then moved to England’s Manchester City, with whom he won the Premier League title this past season.
At the same time, he has been a figure of controversy, ridicule and affection over the years — sporting eccentric hair-styles, once having his UK home set on fire by errant fireworks, and being sent off intermittently for undisciplined behavior on the field.
At the Euro championships, however, he has been one of the players of the tournament. As regards racist abuse, his coach Cesare Prandelli said this week: “This is a social problem. If Mario gets any problem, I’ll hug him on the pitch.”
Prandelli has had his difficulties with Balotelli too, dropping him from one of the tournament’s earlier games, but his performance against Germany seems certain to ensure he’ll play in the final.
The player described the victory against Germany as “the most wonderful night of my life so far,” adding, “but I hope Sunday is even better.”
Dedicating his goals to “my mother,” who had come from Italy to watch him play, Balotelli said: ”At the end of the game when I went to my mother, that was the best moment. I told her these goals were for her. I waited a long time for this moment, especially as my mother is not young anymore and can’t travel far, so I had to make her happy when she came all the way here. My father will be in Kiev for the final too.”
P.S: Damn! I’ve just noticed that ‘That Place’ has beaten me to the story by a whisker…
Whenever the fuckers get you down, just remember this:
I Will Survive (so long as I get to the offy before closing time).
Up until now it’s been a feminist anthem also appreciated by gay men.
But now, also available to straight (but embittered and frustrated) men…
Last month, an American-born Iraqi woman, Shaima Alawadi, was viciously murdered in the United States. According to reports, her daughter stated that a racist note was left outside the family home before the attack. Alawadi’s death came shortly after another allegedly racially-motivated murder, that of African-American man Trayvon Martin. CNN reported:
..social media users quickly compared Alawadi’s death to that of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, calling both hate crimes, and drawing a parallel between a hijab and a hoodie… On Sunday morning, the authors of the parenting blog, Momstrology, tweeted: ‘A teen murdered for wearing hooded sweater. An Iraqi woman beaten to death for wearing a head scarf. Our hearts ache for you.’
To be clear, murder or violence motivated by hatred based on skin color, race, age, gender, or sexuality is wrong and should be condemned.
A ‘One Million Hoodies’ march was organised to demand justice for Martin. As Brendan O’Neill argued, this use of the hoodie is questionable enough. The wearing of ‘One million hijabs’ to show public solidarity and outrage at the murder of Alwadi? I cannot think of anything more ironic and counter-productive.
What I take issue with here is the equating of the hoodie and the hijab as sources of ethnic identity and pride. The hijab, which is discriminatory and rooted in men’s desire to control women’s appearance and sexuality, is not a choice for the majority of women who wear it. The hoodie, on the other hand, is a choice for everyone who wears it. The history and origin of these two items of clothing and what they represent could not be more different; like comparing the crippling footbindings of Chinese women with a ‘Made in China’ Nike trainer.
So why has the anti-racist debate taken this rather bizarre turn?
The Misplaced Sanctity of Culture
A common liberal response to this issue is that if Alawadi (and other Muslim women) had freely chosen to wear the hijab or burqa–in the same way that some women freely choose to have breast implants–then it could be a symbol of racial pride and identity; and any criticism of their choice is cultural prejudice. Germaine Greer, the renowned Australian feminist, made similar comments about female genital mutilation (FGM) as practiced by women of African origin both inside and outside Africa. In The Whole Woman, Greer argued that attempts to outlaw FGM amounted to “an attack on cultural identity”, adding: “One man’s (sic) beautification is another man’s mutilation.”
Even if we accept that some women make such choices ‘freely’ (which is clearly debatable), this response conflates two issues. First, the freedom to choose something (if we take that to mean the absence of ‘obvious’ force); and second, the ethics of the choice itself. I am not a cultural relativist like Greer and think her views on FGM represent ‘a misplaced sanctity of culture’. If we become cultural relativists on human rights, then it also means we cannot question a woman’s ‘choice’ to become a prostitute, a hardcore porn star, or to engage in endless amounts of plastic surgery and dieting. All highly questionable choices for a variety of reasons. On the other hand, unless such practices are clearly non-consensual or cause significant physical harm to women and girls (such as FGM), then they need not be banned either.
Whether it’s a hijab or a mini-skirt, the question we must ask is the same. When women ‘choose’ to wear these clothes, is it really a free choice? What does such clothing represent in their culture and why? Is it worn predominantly to please religious leaders and men, to fit in, to be accepted, and (for some women) to avoid punishment?
‘It’s Not Tradition, It’s Archaic’
This is not neo-colonialism either. Muslim feminists have spoken out against the burqa and hijab, and even supported the French ban in schools. Fadela Amara explained her support for France’s ban:
The veil is the visible symbol of the subjugation of women, and therefore has no place in the mixed, secular spaces of France’s public school system.
When some feminists began defending the headscarf on the grounds of “tradition”, Amara vehemently disagreed:
They define liberty and equality according to what colour your skin is. They won’t denounce forced marriages or female genital mutilation, because, they say, it’s tradition. It’s nothing more than neocolonialism. It’s not tradition, it’s archaic. French feminists are totally contradictory. When Algerian women fought against wearing the headscarf in Algeria, French feminists supported them. But when it’s some young girl in a French suburbs chool, they don’t.
Z.M. Hosseini also recently argued in Criminalising Sexuality that the patriarchal rulings on the hijab are used even today to sanction control over women’s bodies and freedom, and that it was only recently that the hijab became a marker of Muslim identity and faith. Author and human rights campaigner Malalai Joya, often referred to as ‘the bravest woman in Afghanistan’, one of the fiercest critics of the Afghan government and the foreign occupation of her country, recently referred to the burqa as ‘disgusting’.
Other women are taking more direct radical action to challenge the dogma of the hijab. Egyptian naked blogger Aliaa Mahdy addresses the notion that a woman is the sum total of her headscarf and hymen by showing that nakedness and sex can become weapons of political resistance. Similarly, this week in Paris, Femen feminists from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa came together to join forces and protest. Among the participants were Iranian human rights activist Mariam Namazi, popular Lebanese actress Darina Al Jondy, and well-known French feminist of Arabian origin Safia Lebdi.
Nakedness and sexuality have long been effective weapons in the feminist arsenal (bra-burning and free love). However, feminists take note: (as Greer also later claimed) this ‘sexual revolution’ was also hijacked by a male-dominated and misogynistic media who managed to sell back to women a distorted form of sexual freedom and nudity that was more about pleasing and servicing men’s sexual desires than genuine liberation. It has not all been a waste of time, though. A small minority of women who benefited from the second-wave feminism of the 1960s and 1970s do have far more freedom and control over their bodies than ever before.
I have heard some Muslim men (and women) claim that the hijab can be used to challenge and reclaim the idea of female freedom from the hyper-sexualized porno West with an alternative idea of sexuality and femininity about covering up, modesty, mystery, and so on. Nice as it sounds, it is the classic virgin/whore false dichotomy, yet again.
Whatever women wear (or don’t) to challenge their oppressors, it is important not to lose sight of the root source of their bondage. Let’s not forget amidst the public cries of ‘racism’, the silent truth that the killers of both Martin and Alawadi were men.
Racism and a Global Culture of Male Supremacy and Violence
The chief problem with much of the mainstream anti-racist debate is its failure to recognize the gender dimension. Focusing an anti-racist gaze on a person’s skin color alone misses one of the most crucial aspects of racist violence: patriarchal power and domination.
Just to be clear, I am not saying that ALL men are racists, sexists, or violent either. As Hollywood actress Ashley Judd recently stated, in response to the media’s obsession with her own physical appearance:
Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women.
The fact that Martin’s murder generated far more headlines, public outrage, and support shows that a man’s death is still considered worse than a woman’s. Yet, with three women per week in the U.S. being murdered by their former or ex-partners, why is that? Paying lip-service to the notion of equality and justice, by tagging Alawadi’s death on to Martin’s murder, insults everyone’s intelligence.
The equating of the hoodie with the hijab misrepresents and denies the root source of Alawadi’s murder. Ironically, Alawadi and her family fled to the United States trying to escape the effects of state-sanctioned male aggression and violence, otherwise known as the 1991 Persian Gulf War. By wearing the hijab in the U.S., Alawadi was doing the ‘right thing’ by the Iraqi patriarchal ‘team’. Yet, it produced the opposite effect in men from the U.S. ’team’. This clash of patriarchal ideologies on the issue of female sexuality and physical appearance certainly exposed the hatred of ‘other’, that other being ‘woman’. Alawadi’s ‘mistake’ (like all women blamed for victimhood) was not fitting the home team’s vision of appropriate femininity and freedom.
It really is time to re-frame the tired, mainstream debate on racism.
Racism is not skin-deep: white vs. non-white. If that were the case, then why has there been centuries of caste discrimination and violence in countries like India? Why are Muslim women beaten and murdered by Muslim men for refusing to wear the hijab ? How did both these deaths occur in a country that is led by a black male President? How does it explain the fact that about 150 black men are killed every week in the U.S. — and 94 percent of them by other black men? This is not to play the ‘race card’ nor the ‘violence card’. This is to make sure we do not miss the major problem.
The social constructs and divisions of race are clearly drawn by those who hold and control religious, economic, and cultural power. So however much mainstream anti-racist discourse claims this is about race, or fear of ‘hijabs’ and ‘terrorists’, this is too simplistic. Scratch the surface and what is underlying racist fear and violence is an all-pervasive global culture of male power and domination. If people want to see an end to racism, and I certainly do, then we need to see an end to the celebration and perpetuation of patriarchal norms, values, and institutions. In the twenty-first century, to be anti-racist is to be feminist.
As Shaima Alawadi tragically discovered, whether it is white men in the U.S. or brown men in Iraq, women are literally ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t’.
Dedicated to all the brave, beautiful, and forgotten women who have been raped, tortured, murdered (and blamed), for not wearing ‘suitable’ clothes.