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.
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 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 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.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Matt Hill, writing in the Telegraph, compares Israel and Palestine to a married couple trying to finalise a divorce settlement.
But it might also be possible to see them as conjoined twins, for whom life together is intolerable, but whose separation poses risks. From one perspective, supporting the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN represents a threat, a unilateral move which leaves the many complex questions which can only be resolved by negotiation dangerously unresolved. For such commentators, the bid might be compared with cutting the children of my analogy apart with a single fatal stroke rather than embarking on a long, painstaking operation. This hostile attitude is exemplified by an uncompromising piece in the Jerusalem Post by Moshe Dann:
“Palestinianism, the basis of the Arab/Muslim war against Zionism, the State of Israel as the national historic homeland of the Jewish People, is part of a broad Islamist revolution throughout the world against non-Muslim infidels.
“Understanding the mission of Islamism explains why efforts to impose a Palestinian state, the ‘two-state’ proposal and the ‘peace process’ are doomed to fail. Palestinians don’t want a state alongside Israel, but one that replaces Israel. The primary goal of Palestinian nationalism is to wipe out the State of Israel, not to permit its existence.”
Clearly there is some truth in these assertions. For some Palestinians only a one state solution is acceptable. But the Palestine Papers would seem to show that Moshe Dann underplays a genuine willingness to negotiate, even though this readiness to make necessary compromises is viewed askance by many Palestinians – and particularly by their most ardent friends abroad. Gaza hardly gets a mention in Dann’s article, yet there is a stark difference between the methods of Hamas and those of the PA. This article offers a telling illustration of some of those differences.
Hussein Ibish takes a very different view from Dann’s – and one which seems more balanced. Now, even BBC Watch couldn’t find much to fault with Ibish’s contemptuous take on Hamas:
“Its recent reckless conflict with Israel cost over 150 Palestinian lives, mostly civilians and many children, and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.”
But he sees the PA in a quite different light, and points out how, because of the need to avoid being seen to lose face, its weak and beleaguered leadership have experienced genuine difficulties in trying to return to the negotiating table. Ibish offers some judicious advice:
“The PLO, if it must go ahead with an initiative at the U.N. in the coming days, should make it as non-confrontational as possible. It should provide reassurances about not seeking, at this stage, to join additional U.N. agencies or the International Criminal Court. And it should seek as much European support as it can muster.”
…and also a real note of hope that the stalled peace process just might be kick started:
“Abbas has said that after the U.N. resolution, he is prepared to return to negotiations with Israel without preconditions. This means, at last, dropping the settlement freeze demand. This is an important potential starting place for the indispensable rapprochement between Ramallah and Washington.”
Abbas clearly needs the cachet of a diplomatic victory before he can start to make concessions – it would be nice to think that the fillip of the dropped settlement freeze demand might, in turn, get Israel back to the negotiating table. Perhaps, returning to my conjoined twins analogy, the UN statehood bid could be seen, less as a rushed operation doomed to destroy both children, more simply as the journey to the hospital, the first necessary step before the real work can begin.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
The Police and Crime Commissioner elections: apathy aids extremism
Police and Crime Commissioner elections are due to be held on November. A very low turn out is expected: people don’t seem that interested or aware - unless, that is, you venture into the far right/nationalist corner of the blogosphere.
In several areas far right candidates are putting themselves forward for the post. In Bedfordshire, Kevin Carroll, co-founder of the EDL, is standing. English Democrat candidates are being put forward in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Kent. You can find more about the blandly named English Democrats here.
As the AV system is being used I will, for the first time in my life, be voting (somewhere down the list) for a Conservative candidate. Find out who is standing in your area here
- and use your vote!
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
I have seen a number of left-liberal bloggers linking, either with implicit or
explicit approval, to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s recent Newsweek/Daily Beast piece on the
violence triggered (supposedly) by ‘The Innocence of Muslims’. Now Hirsi Ali
seems to have every reason and certainly has every right to loathe her religion,
and any attempt to limit our freedoms in its name should be resisted – as
Charlie Hebdo is doing.
But if you are a law abiding American who values that country’s freedoms, including
the First Amendment, you might not care to read in the cover story of a
mainstream, fairly liberal, publication your religion described in these
‘Islam’s rage reared its ugly head again last week.’
Islam is presented as something both frightening and monolithic, rather than a belief
system which is followed in numerous different ways. No punches are pulled – the
title of the piece is ‘Muslim Rage’, the photo illustrates that title pretty
graphically, and the strap line reads ‘How I survived it. How we can end it.’
Now once you get into it, the article calms down quite quickly and
there is plenty to agree with – yes Islamism is a problem, yes girls should not
be married off at a very young age, and yes the treatment of Salman Rushdie by
too many who should have known better was a disgrace.
But it’s the message on the cover which has most impact, and feeds the fears of those who are already inclined to distrust all Muslims. But Muslims have been fighting back a
bit – some with irony rather than rage.
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.”