Above: Moazzam Begg
Reactions to the sudden and surprising release of Moazzam Begg, who has been awaiting trial on charges of terrorism since March, have been predictably polarised.
5Pillarz is rejoicing at the news, and wheels out a spokesman from the extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir to tell us all how shocking it is that some people associate Muslims with extremism. Puleeze:
“Meanwhile, Taji Mustafa, media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain said he was pleased to hear about the release of Moazzam Beg, after months of incarceration and separation from his family. He said: ‘Moazzam’s case, along with others arrested for traveling to Syria, has been used to manufacture a climate of opinion that the government will use to further its policies regarding Muslims in the UK, in particular for their support of causes dissenting from British foreign policy.'”
By contrast, The Henry Jackson website rather sulkily reminds its readers that Moazzam Begg still isn’t very nice even if he is innocent of these particular charges.
But some have been asking whether he really is innocent after all. A report in the Times hinted at some shady dealings behind the scenes:
“Neither police, prosecutors nor intelligence sources would comment on whether the sudden abandonment was linked to behind-the-scenes efforts to free British hostages held by Islamic State in Syria.”
This invitation to speculate in a way unflattering to Begg has been picked up very readily by those of an Islamosceptic bent, as a skim read below the line (of the Times article) will demonstrate.
However, although my own views on Begg are much closer to the Henry Jackson Society than to 5Pillarz, there doesn’t seem any evidence that Begg has been let off as part of a deal with ISIS, nor does it seem a particularly plausible theory.
It certainly doesn’t fit with the CPS response:
“The Crown Prosecution Service said that it had reviewed the case after being made aware of material previously not known to the police investigation. A spokesman added: “If we had been made aware of all of this information at the time of charging, we would not have charged.”
He was charged back in March, well before any negotiations with ISIS over hostage release might have taken place.
It’s frustrating that there is so much mystery over Begg’s release – and to note that, in line with the stopped clock rule, 5Pillarz may have a point on this occasion. Here’s part of the Muslim Council of Britain’s statement:
” … we have said time and time again, that the best way to tackle extremism is to work with Muslim communities and have faith in our very British values of freedom, liberty and democracy.
“This means robust, intelligence-led policing that works with communities every step of the way and ensures full judicial oversight of the entire process. We should be proud of our commitment to due process, our tradition of free speech and anything that undermines them will only play into the hands of violent extremists.
“Today is a good day for British justice and the upholding of the rule of law in this case. What remains deplorable is the inclination of some of our political leaders to lapse into populist rhetoric when there are terrorism-related arrests, without waiting for due process.”
In the circumstances, unless some further evidence comes to light, that’s a fair comment. And, as Mary Dejevsky points out:
“At the very least this has been an egregious waste of public money.”
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Peter Tatchell is an admirable man who has campaigned bravely on LGBT rights and many other issues. However I cannot agree with the thrust of this post, recently published in Gay London. To summarise, he regrets the way in which the LGBT community has retreated from ‘radical idealism to cautious conformism’. He wishes instead that LGBT campaigners questioned the institution of the family and were generally less bourgeois, and complains that more timid types only jumped on the LGBT bandwagon when it was safe to do so.
But this can be turned round I think. One might conjecture that the handful of LBGT men and women who were prepared to campaign and be visible forty years ago were unusually independent and tough minded. They were perhaps thus also more inclined to be non-conformist and politically radical in ways that went beyond sexual orientation.
I should note at this point that the ‘pink’ in ‘pink prosecco’ only references my slightly sub-shirazian shade of politics. However personally I don’t see why LGBT people should be expected to be any more or less radical than anyone else. It’s a sign of progress not regression that people who are dull, or disagreeably right wing, are as happy to identify as LGBT as creative, radical, edgy types. Peter concludes:
“The unwritten social contract at the heart of the recent campaigns for LGBT law reform is that gay people should behave respectably. No more cruising, orgies or bondage. In return, the ‘good gays’ will be rewarded with equal treatment. The ‘bad gays’, who fail to conform to conventional morality will, of course, remain sexual outlaws. Is that what we want? A prescriptive moralism that penalises non-conformists within our own community?”
But why should bondage and a rejection of conventional morality be seen as LGBT specific issues?
Guest post from Pink Prosecco
Most people probably hesitate before commenting on contested rape allegations, We don’t wish to belittle the victim of an alleged crime, but are equally unwilling to jump to conclusions about someone who may have been quite unjustly accused. Whatever one thinks of the suggestion that those charged with rape should be granted anonymity, it is certainly easy to sympathise with Ben Sullivans carefully worded thoughts on the issue, given his recent experiences.
Mr Sullivan said: “I’m not as extreme as some who don’t think you should have your anonymity revealed until you’ve been convicted, or… after a charge. ‘What I don’t agree with, though, is that everyone’s identity is automatically revealed the minute they are arrested.” He added that he was “completely aware that it can be extremely helpful to police investigations” and “would never say that everyone’s identity in the circumstances should be kept secret”. “However, these are obviously incredibly poisonous allegations. They are incredibly difficult to deal with.”
Milo Yiannopoulos expresses his views in a less restrained manner. After asserting that it is quite common to regret a drunken sexual encounter, he continues: “Some people, however, decide to exact revenge on their sexual partners, sometimes in retaliation for their own poor choices, sometimes for a variety of other, peculiar psychological reasons. It’s what I call slut’s remorse, and it’s the reason we need to keep the names of rape suspects a secret until they are charged. For too long, men have been a silent class of victim in rape cases, unable to protect themselves from the consequences of victimless drunken fumbling and, yes, from vindictive bitches, whether male or female, lashing out in frustration about their own self-loathing.”
Obviously anyone who deliberately and maliciously makes a false accusation of rape is perverting the cause of justice and should be punished severely. But rape is an under-reported crime and it is not generally thought (although clearly it is impossible to be decisive about the figures) that false allegations are common. Consent is a complex area. It seems possible that there are cases where it would be inappropriate to charge, or convict, but where the accuser still does not fit the “vindictive bitch” image sketched by Yiannoupoulos. For people trying to negotiate these uncertainties the principle of “enthusiastic consent” may be a helpful one, and one which emphasises positive enjoyment, rather than just sternly warning “no means no” (though obviously it does).
But young men may find these guidelines confusing too, as Robyn Urback outlines here. ” And so, the suggestion that ‘yes’ might actually mean ‘no’ or at the very least, isn’t a complete ‘yes’ further complicates any attempt to really evaluate what’s going on. There’s no question that a ‘yes’ uttered under in response to a threat or under some other form of duress does not constitute consent. Nor does an intoxicated ‘yes,’ since an individual loses the capacity to consent when under the influence of alcohol and drugs. But the Forum on Consent takes the consent conundrum to an entirely new level by suggesting that a meek ‘yes,’ or a nonchalant ‘yes” or a ‘yes’ without emphatic body language does not constitute consent. According to the panel ‘It must be loud and clear.’
It’s a pity that those sympathising with men who have been wrongly accused, or young men experiencing confusion over consent, should so often express themselves in a way which is sneering and sexist. Here’s Peter Lloyd writing in the Telegraph: “This is precisely why a court of law armed with all the evidence, not a casual observer saddled with girl power grudges, should convict a defendant in a safe and fair way.” However it does seem as though a letter (no longer available by the way) calling on Sullivan to resign from the Oxford Union, and signed by many prominent media figures, was worded in a tendentious way, and may even have been in contempt of court. Lloyd’s reference to “girl power grudges” may irk, but he is correct in saying that these matters need to be sorted out in the courts.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Adam Deen, of the Deen Institute, has been coming in for a bit of flack from (some) Muslims over his ‘modernising’ approach to Islam. In particular he has spoken out against the marginalization of women in university ISOCs, the way they have been excluded from full participation. Now he is at the centre of another controversy, this time sparked by the Happy Muslims video, which you can see at the Pharrell – HAPPY BRITISH MUSLIMS! site here. Deen appears with other Muslims, including his wife Myriam Francois Cerrah, dancing and singing to the Pharrell Williams hit ‘Happy’.
Several different objections have been raised to this project. The most predictable focus on the supposed impropriety of the video:
“We’ve basically lost all meaning for what the word hijab means. I can’t even be bothered to explain this issue again, the fact that hijab is a state, not just a piece of cloth on the head. Anyway, whatever. This isn’t about the women anyway, this is about the mindset of *all* who support such things.”
Others complain that it is pandering to non-Muslim prejudices to put on a display of happiness and normalcy in order to counter stereotypes. A few just find it a bit cringey, and some feel happiness is rather misplaced when there is so much suffering in the world.
Here is an extract from one of the more aggressive responses, a post by Uthman Badar.
“What we have here is an attempt by Muslims to been seen as ‘normal’ by the mainstream non-Muslim white majority in response to overbearing stereotypes and allegations to the contrary. In the words of the producers,
‘We Brits have a bad rep for being a bit stiff, but this video proves otherwise. We are HAPPY. We are eclectic. We are cosmopolitan. Diverse. Creative. Fun. Outgoing. And everything you can think of.
This video is to show the world despite the negative press, stereotypes and discrimination we are burdened with we should respond with smiles and joy, not anger.’
There is so much wrong with this approach, I don’t know where to begin!
It has Muslims coming in to bat for ‘Brits’ and their bad rep. Reward for the excellent treatment received by Muslims in Britain and by Britain abroad? House-Muslim mentality?”
The quotation from the video’s publicity material, that Badar objects to above, in fact demonstrates that the participants are not complacent about anti-Muslim bigotry, yet still unequivocally identify as British, and want to reach out to non-Muslims with a positive message.
It’s a cheerful video – but I do wonder what it is for exactly. I don’t think EDL supporters will see the error of their ways after watching it – they’ll probably think the performers are practicing taqqiya. Those with more nuanced concerns may quite like the video – but wouldn’t have seen people like Julie Siddiqui as a problem in the first place.
I think Uthman Badar (and others like him) have got this all wrong. My hunch is that this video was never intended to influence non-Muslims, but rather to enable Deen and co. to position themselves in opposition to more conservative, or orthodox, Muslim voices. Participants such as Salma Yaqoob have sometimes seemed keener on differentiating themselves from Quilliam types than from Muslim ‘puritans’ (to use Deen’s term). It’s positive that the battle against real hardliners, usually waged by ultra-liberal Muslims and non-Muslims, is being joined by those who are only moderately moderate.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: Maajid Nawaz
If a Muslim expresses some reservations about Quilliam’s rhetoric or strategies, I tend to assume, not that they are an Evil Islamist, but that – they have some reservations about Quilliam’s rhetoric or strategies. These are things reasonable people may disagree about. However some recent responses to Maajid Nawaz’s decision to tweet a Jesus and Mo cartoon go beyond reasonable criticism.
He tweeted the picture after it featured (on a T shirt) on BBC’s The Big Questions, where it was the focus of a debate about free speech. This is the offending image in question.
Nawaz’s tweet has apparently caused many Muslims, including Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadan Foundation, to make a formal complaint to the Lib Dems. (Nawaz is the Liberal Democrat PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn.)
Of course it is quite proper to draw attention to bigoted remarks made by politicians, and expect the whip to be withdrawn, or some other form of censure applied, depending on the level of offence. But the fact some Muslims think it is inappropriate to depict Muhammad does not make Jesus and Mo offensive. Non-Muslims, and Muslims (like Nawaz) who don’t think pictures of Muhammad are taboo, should not be bound by others’ religious dogma.
Reactions to Nawaz cover a spectrum ranging from death threats to warm support – and many of his supporters are fellow-Muslims. In the middle of the spectrum we find people who would certain not condone or incite violence but who demonstrate clear hostility towards the reformist Nawaz. Not all of his antagonists are Muslims. Here’s Gorgeous George’s response.
“No Muslim will ever vote for the Liberal Democrats anywhere ever unless they ditch the provocateur Majid Nawaz, cuckold of the EDL”
5Pillarz, a blog written largely by and for British Muslims, has decided that Nawaz should be their top candidate for ‘Islamophobe of the Year’. The EDL is mentioned at the bottom of their list of suggestions, as a kind of afterthought.
As Maajid Nawaz says:
“Why are many on the “Left” largely silent on Muslim reformers. Want to defend minorities? Well, we’re a minority within a minority, defend us”
As someone from the ‘Left’ I’m happy to defend and support Maajid Nawaz – though I’d draw the line at voting for him.
Guest Post by Pink Prosecco
I have recently read an apparently thoughtful and informative piece on Israel’s security barrier by Alan Johnson over at That Place. Although associated with pro-Israel advocacy, Johnson appeared willing to engage with the complexity of the situation in Israel/Palestine, and attend to the Palestinian as well as the Israeli perspective.
“Because the constructive pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace approach we need has three characteristics:
First, it is open to the full force of the sheer bloody complexity of the conflict, and is willing to wrestle with that complexity, not evade it.
Second, it is fully aware of the determining contexts of the conflict, among which is security.
Third, it refuses to demonise either side, working with both parties, seeking co-existence, compromise, mutual recognition and peace.”
Ben White has now written a response to Alan Johnson’s piece. Sneering, smearing and insufferably smug he may be – but does his argument stand up? This seems reasonable:
“Even if that were all true — that the wall was only built as a response to suicide bombings, and that it was solely responsible for a 90 percent reduction in attacks — criticism of the barrier from a human rights and international law perspective remains valid.”
Security and liberty are not always fully compatible and it is appropriate to ask how far, and in what circumstances, it is permissable to curtail liberties in order to enhance security. And you can welcome the part the wall seems to have played in making Israelis feel more safe while criticising the way it has been implemented and acknowledging its impact on Palestinians.
White’s next points don’t really strike me as convincing. Just because some people wanted a physical barrier even before the violence of the second intifada does not prove that security is not its primary purpose. However elements in his concluding analysis – seeking to demonstrate that there is no (or little) correlation between the wall’s construction and the decline in violent attacks – seems worth engaging with. However (as usual) White seems to want to alienate readers who feel any sympathy for the Israeli perspective rather than encourage them to adjust their views in the hope of achieving the goals of mutual recognition, peace and compromise set out by Alan Johnson. White’s habitual lack of empathy for Israelis makes me doubt whether he has researched the issue of the security barrier in a spirit of genuine enquiry. But I’d be interested to know whether Shiraz Socialist readers find his arguments, or those of Alan Johnson, more compelling.
Guest post Pink Prosecco.
On Socialist Unity I have just read what struck me as a sensible and sympathetic review by Phil B C of Laurie Penny’s new book Cybersexism.
Before long John Wight (above – note left hand), scourge of moralisers, is muscling in below the line:
“There is nothing wrong with a good filthy fuck. Men and women are primal animals and lust is both healthy and entirely natural.
What is unnatural is the demonisation of sex.
I think this latest moral panic over porn is exactly that: an artificially whipped up moral panic with a political objective at its heart.”
Actually, Wight has said many stupider things, and this made me laugh:
“I don’t [know] about you, but the last thing I think about while approaching orgasm are “workers’ rights”.”
Then I noticed that there were no (identifiable) women commenting on this lively thread. I had a look at all the other posts currently in play, ten in total, attracting (so far) 182 comments and there were no identifiable women commenting there either. Funny that.
Above: the East Jerusalem neighbourhood Issawiya
Guest post from Pink Prosecco
It’s frustrating not being able to know exactly how the questions for a recent poll of Israelis about their views on the peace process were framed, but (based on the information which is being reported) there is no great reason for optimism here. Although it’s no surprise to learn that most Israelis are opposed to a full right of return, it seems only a small minority support even a watered down solution to one of the biggest sticking points for any negotiated settlement.
Asked about major issues to be decided during the talks, 77 percent of Jewish Israelis opposed Israeli recognition in principle of the right of return, with a small number of Palestinian refugees being allowed to return and financial compensation for others.
I support a two state solution, and thought the majority of Israelis did too. However:
62.5 percent opposed a withdrawal to the 1967 borders with land swaps; 58 percent opposed evacuating settlements except for Ariel, Maale Adumim and the settlement blocs.
Ariel, a controversial settlement, is another sticking point, so it’s depressing to see that even a deal which would represent quite a concession from the Palestinians is viewed askance by so many in Israel.
An interesting finding in another recent poll was that the transfer of Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem to the PA gets little more support from Israeli Arabs (55%) than from Israeli Jews (50%). East Jerusalem always seems to be the knottiest problem of all for those seeking peace, so it’s useful to be reminded that those most immediately affected, Arab Israelis in Jerusalem, aren’t all jumping at the chance of being citizens of a Palestinian state.
The kneejerk reaction to violent crime often seems to be a call for illiberal restrictions on freedoms. Arguing against such responses can be difficult, particularly when the crime is the sickening murder of a small child. But the message in the Guardian editorial (31.05.13 in print edition) does, I think, need to be firmly resisted.
“Internet pornography is usually abusive and often violent. Mark Bridger, convicted yesterday of the murder of April Jones, had compiled a store of it. Pornography is easily and freely accessible, and at most requires only a credit card.”
The editorial goes on to describe the apparent link between pornography and violence. There are correlations between all kinds of activities and negative outcomes, but that doesn’t mean a ban is always the answer. Pornography comes in many different forms. Either the content or the production may be exploitative, certainly. It would be good to tackle the factors which drive people to seek work which exploits them – which is not to say that all who are involved in the industry are exploited (or exploiting). To claim that pornography, all pornography, is an ‘incitement to hate’ seems over the top. (Otherwise surely there’d be a lot more hate around the place.)
Taking measures to prevent children accessing pornography is fine, and obviously child pornography should be clamped down on ruthlessly. But measures such as those suggested in the Guardian’s editorial – such as preventing UK credit cards being used to view pornography on line – seem like a massive over-reaction.
NB: since the print version of the Guardian editorial appeared, it has been amended online, and the following addendum has been posted:
• This article was amended on 31 May 2013 to clarify that the intention of the editorial was to propose restrictions on violent and abusive pornography, as opposed to pornography in general. The original also incorrectly stated that it was Dutch members of the Pirate party who brought down attempts to insert a proposed ban on pornography into European equal rights legislation.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Stephen Hawking, explaining his decision to boycott the Shimon Peres Presidential Conference in Israel, describes what he had planned to say:
“Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster.”
That is a strong statement, but it’s not an eccentric or hateful view – and you certainly don’t have to be an enemy of Israel to share it. Yet although I can understand why some (particularly Palestinians) have urged Hawking to boycott this event, I very much regret his final decision. There are many countries which would not have allowed him to strike his planned dissenting note – and where requests for solidarity from those considering themselves oppressed could not even have been articulated. Here is Omar Barghouti’s response:
But Palestinians welcomed Hawking’s decision. “Palestinians deeply appreciate Stephen Hawking’s support for an academic boycott of Israel,” said Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “We think this will rekindle the kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.”
I believe Barghouti is still registered as a PhD student at Tel Aviv University. That doesn’t mean that he can’t speak out against the injustices of occupation, checkpoints, detention or any other topic, or indeed call for boycott. Clearly he can. And that fact in itself might make one wonder, not whether Israel should be protected from robust criticism over its policies, but whether it is really the one country in the world which deserves to be the focus of such a very concerted boycott campaign.