Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: fighter for justice

April 21, 2014 at 10:53 am (good people, Human rights, posted by JD, Racism, RIP, sport, United States)

By Will Campbell of the Canadian Press

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the former American boxer who became a global champion for the wrongfully convicted after spending almost 20 years in prison for a triple murder he didn’t commit, died at his home in Toronto on Sunday.

He was 76.

His long-time friend and co-accused, John Artis, said Carter died in his sleep after a lengthy battle with prostate cancer.

“It’s a big loss to those who are in institutions that have been wrongfully convicted,” Artis told The Canadian Press.

“He dedicated the remainder of his life, once we were released from prison, to fighting for the cause.”

Artis quit his job stateside and moved to Toronto to act as Carter’s caregiver after his friend was diagnosed with cancer nearly three years ago.

During the final few months, as Carter’s health took a turn for the worse, Artis said the man who was immortalized in a Bob Dylan song and a Hollywood film came to grips with the fact that he was dying.

“He tried to accomplish as much as he possibly could prior to his passing,” Artis said, noting Carter’s efforts earlier this year to bring about the release of a New York City man incarcerated since 1985 — the year Carter was freed.

“He didn’t express very much about his legacy. That’ll be established for itself through the results of his work. That’s primarily what he was concerned about — his work,” Artis said.

Born on May 6, 1937, into a family of seven children, Carter struggled with a hereditary speech impediment and was sent to a juvenile reform centre at 12 after an assault. He escaped and joined the Army in 1954, experiencing racial segregation and learning to box while in West Germany.

Carter then committed a series of muggings after returning home, spending four years in various state prisons.

He began his pro boxing career in 1961. He was fairly short for a middleweight, but his aggression and high punch volume made him effective.

Carter’s life changed forever one summer night in 1966, when two white men and a white woman were gunned down in a New Jersey Bar.

Police were searching for what witnesses described as two black men in a white car, and pulled over Carter and Artis a half-hour after the shootings.

Though there was no physical evidence linking them to the crime and eyewitnesses at the time of the slayings couldn’t identify them as the killers, Carter was convicted along with Artis. Their convictions were overturned in 1975, but both were found guilty a second time in a retrial a year later.

After 19 years behind bars, Carter was finally freed in 1985 when a federal judge overturned the second set of convictions, citing a racially biased prosecution. Artis was also exonerated after being earlier paroled in 1981.

Carter later moved to Toronto and became the founding executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, which has secured the release of 18 people since 1993.

Win Wahrer, a director with the association, remembers Carter as the “voice and the face” of the group.

“I think it’s because of him that we got the credibility that we did get, largely due to him — he was already a celebrity, people knew who he was,” she said.

“He suffered along with those who were suffering.”

Though Carter left the organization in 2005, the phone never stopped ringing with requests for him, Wahrer said.

“He was an eloquent speaker, a passionate speaker. I remember the first time I ever heard him I knew I was in the presence of a man that could move mountains just by his presence and his words and his passion for what he believed in,” she said.

Carter went on to found another advocacy group, Innocence International.

“He wanted to bring people together. That was his real purpose in life — to get people to understand one another and to work together to make changes,” said Wahrer.

“It was so important for him to make a difference. And I think he did. I think he accomplished what he set out to do.”

Association lawyer James Lockyer, who has known Carter since they were involved in the wrongful conviction case of Guy Paul Morin, remembered how Carter called him just before sitting down with then-president Bill Clinton for a screening of his 1999 biopic “The Hurricane.”

The call was to ask for advice on how to bring the U.S. leader’s attention to the case of a Canadian woman facing execution in Vietnam.

“Even though this was sort of a pinnacle moment of Rubin’s life — to sit at the White House with the president and his wife on either side of him watching a film about him — he wasn’t really thinking about himself,” said Lockyer.

“He was thinking about this poor woman who was sitting on death row in Vietnam that we were trying to save from the firing squad.”

The film about Carter’s life starred Denzel Washington, who received an Academy Award nomination for playing the boxer turned prisoner.

On Sunday, when told of Carter’s death, Washington said in a statement: “God bless Rubin Carter and his tireless fight to ensure justice for all.”

Carter’s fight continued to the very end.

Never letting up even as his body was wracked with cancer, Carter penned an impassioned letter to a New York paper in February calling for the conviction of a man jailed in 1985 to be reviewed — and reflected on his own mortality in the process.

“If I find a heaven after this life, I’ll be quite surprised. In my own years on this planet, though, I lived in hell for the first 49 years, and have been in heaven for the past 28 years,” he wrote.

“To live in a world where truth matters and justice, however late, really happens, that world would be heaven enough for us all.”

— with files from the Associated Press.

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Mirror exposes Qatar’s World Cup slavery

March 31, 2014 at 8:12 pm (capitalism, Human rights, internationalism, Middle East, posted by JD, profiteers, Slavery, sport, unions, workers)

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The Daily Mirror today returned to its radical, campaigning best, with a front-page lead report by Kevin McGuire on slave labour in Qatar. To the best of my knowledge, it’s the first time a British tabloid has raised the issue of the murderous conditions of migrant workers in Qatar as the Emirate prepares for the 2022 World Cup (though Nick Cohen has written some excellent pieces for the Observer).

The Mirror‘s report:

Qatar is accused of working 1,200 people to death in its £39billion building bonanza for the 2022 World Cup.

An investigation by the Mirror into the oil-rich Emirate revealed horrific and deadly exploitation of migrant workers, who are forced to live in squalor, drink salt water and get paid just 57p an hour.

Campaigners fear the death toll could reach 4,000 before the Finals kick off. One worker told us: “We are treated like slaves and our deaths are cheap.”

FIFA faces renewed pressure to show Qatar a World Cup red card following the exposure of mass deaths and vile exploitation of construction workers in the region.

A team of British trade union leaders and MPs warned that the 2022 tournament is being built “on the blood and misery of an army of slave labour”, after uncovering appalling abuse during a visit to the Gulf monarchy.

Qatar is accused of working 1,200 migrants to death since being awarded the World Cup in 2010 and campaigners have insisted the shocking death toll could reach 4,000 before a ball is even kicked in the Finals.

On a mission organised by Geneva-based Building and Woodworkers’ International, a global federation of construction unions, I witnessed and heard distressing evidence of systematic mistreatment on an industrial scale. Sneaking into squalid labour camp slums under the cover of darkness, frightened workers lured to Qatar with false promises of high salaries complained of persecution.

One Nepalese carpenter, paid the equivalent of just 95p an hour, said: “We’re treated like slaves. They don’t see us as human and our deaths are cheap. They have our passports so we cannot go home. We are trapped.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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Eusebio: Europe’s best. And Africa’s

January 6, 2014 at 7:40 pm (africa, Europe, good people, posted by JD, sport)

In this age of spoiled, petulant, over-paid brats on the football field, we salute a true hero of the game.

The Telegraph carries an outstanding appreciation by Ian Hawkey:

Around the statue of Eusebio at Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz on Sunday were festooned scarves, flowers and some simple, handwritten messages of gratitude. 

For those wishing to pay a more intimate tribute, the body of the club’s  emblematic player, who died in the early hours of the morning aged 71, was   brought to the stadium ahead of his funeral.

Far beyond Portugal, whose national team he led to unprecedented heights in the 1960s, Eusebio’s passing was vividly mourned, his death serving as a   powerful reminder that, among his many unique achievements, his constituency as a sporting hero stretched across continents. He may be Europe’s greatest 20th century footballer, as well as the finest to come from Africa.

In Mozambique, where he was born and lived until his late teens, the former  president Joaquim Chissano spoke of “losing a friend”, and recalled their   shared childhood encounters on the pitches of Maputo, then known as Lourenco Marques, capital of Portuguese East Africa. In the 1950s, he might have   added, the region turned out to be one of the most fertile football nurseries on earth.

Eusebio grew up in a family of very limited means, the son of an Angolan railway worker and Mozambican mother. By his teens, he had developed the athletic talent to sprint the 100 metres in 11 seconds.

Early reports of what he could do with a ball, a plaything which as a child he would sometimes fashion from rolled-up newspaper, focused not just on his   physical forte but an element of audacious improvisation. In one-to-one   duels, he liked to hook the ball, direct from the ground up over an opponent’s head and snake around his rival to collect it.

Word of this prodigy spread quickly beyond the working-class suburb of Mafalala, his home, and into the privileged districts of the city, where a thriving league maintained high standards. The ‘Phenomenon of Mafalala’  would quickly elevate them further. Read the rest of this entry »

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Anelka’s “anti-Zionist” gesture

December 29, 2013 at 6:43 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, comedy, fascism, France, Jim D, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", sport)

Nicolas Anelka (R) alongside controversial French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala (L) Doing ‘la quenelle': Nicolas Anelka (R) with his friend Dieudonne

Of course! Footballer Nicolas Anelka’s quenelle gesture (described by some as a “reverse Nazi salute”) isn’t antisemitic at all: it’s “anti-Zionist“! How stupid of all of us who assumed the worst, just because it’s the signature gesture of French comedian (and friend of Anelka’s), Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, whose hilarious anti-Zionist jokes about the holocaust have been misunderstood as somehow antisemitic.

By the way, if you don’t buy the line that la quenelle is “anti-Zionist” (as distinct from “antisemitic”), then the alternative explanation is that it’s “anti-establishment.” Either way, West Brom’s caretaker manager Keith Downing has stated that Anelka’s gersture “has nothing to do with what is being said. It is dedicated to a French comedian he knows very well. I think speculation can be stopped now, it is rubbish really. He is totally unaware of what the problems were or the speculation that has been thrown around, he is totally surprised by it.”

So let that be an end to the matter…

…unless you’re one of those humourless zealots determined to see racism everywhere, in which case you may want to let West Bromwich FC know what you think about Anelka’s gesture and Downing’s reaction.

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Fish-heid’s Wimbledon triumph

July 8, 2013 at 8:24 am (celebrity, jerk, Jim D, scotland, sport)

Enjoy your little moment of shameless piggy-backing, Fish-heid…

alex

…before it all goes “tits up”:

From The Scotsman (31/03/13):

HE FEARS for his country. Tennis star Andy Murray yesterday warned Scots not to make an emotional snap decision on going independent because it might go “tits up”.

 The World No 3 made his colourful intervention in the independence debate in a wide-ranging interview.

But although the Dunblane-raised sportsman did not indicate which way he will vote in next year’s referendum, he made clear that his head would rule his heart.

“You need to figure out what’s best for the country and then come to an opinion,” he said. “I want to read more about the issue. I don’t think you should judge the thing on emotion, but on what is best economically for Scotland. You don’t want to come to a snap decision and then see the country go tits up.”

http://www.scotsman.com/scotland-on-sunday/scottish-independence-andy-murray-talks-referendum-1-2868666

P.S; Murray’s words yesterday:

“I understand how much everyone else wanted to see a British winner at Wimbledon, so I hope you guys enjoyed that. I tried my best.”

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Behind the Brazilian protests

June 21, 2013 at 6:36 am (Civil liberties, corruption, democracy, drugs, Human rights, Jim D, Latin America, protest, sport)

An articulate young woman called Carla Dauden explains what it’s all about:

Amazingly, Carla recorded this before the protests broke out.

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Alex Ferguson: the conservative socialist

May 8, 2013 at 5:14 pm (Anti-Racism, labour party, New Statesman, socialism, sport)

Now that Fergie has announced his retirement after 26 extraordinary years at the helm of Manchester United, we take a look at his political stance:

By Hyder Jawad (first published at Football.com, October 2012)

“With politics, I’m interested in it, I follow it, I read political history and I have strong political views.” – Alex Ferguson, New Statesman, May 19, 2009.

Above: Fergie with his pal Alastair Campbell

I have long thought of Sir Alex Ferguson’s left-wing politics as being principles of the heart, not of the mind. That is not to impugn his beliefs but, rather, to propose that his politics are a product of his background, upbringing and formative experiences.

How else can a Glasgow toolmaker, so inspired for so long by the workers’ unions, become so supportive of, and so friendly with, neoliberals such as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown? Could Ferguson not see the ideological chasm between the Labour Party for which he campaigned so enthusiastically in 2010, and to which he donated so much money, and the dictums of his Lanarkshire socialism, which so invigorated him in the Fifties and Sixties?

Having read his Managing My Life, and found barely a reference to his “strong political views”, I came to regard Ferguson as less a political animal than a professional pragmatist. I saw the proof on Saturday when the Manchester United manager criticised Rio Ferdinand’s refusal to wear a “Kick It Out” T-shirt prior to the match against Stoke City at Old Trafford. “It is embarrassing for me,” Ferguson said, after confirming that he expected all of his players to wear the T-shirt as a mark of respect for the “Kick Racism out of Football” campaign.

Ferdinand wanted no part of the ritual, in spite of Ferguson’s insistence that every Manchester United player wear the T-shirt. Like many black players, Rio Ferdinand has become disillusioned with how little the football community is doing to tackle the scourge of racism. What good is a few hundred players wearing a T-shirt once a year when a player’s punishment for racist abuse is a few weeks off work and the penalty of a couple of weeks’ wages? “Kick It Out” needs to be as good at pressing for appropriate punishment as it is at distributing T-shirts.

Rio Ferdinand has felt the frustration more than most. His brother, Anton, the Queens Park Rangers defender, was the victim of racial abuse committed by John Terry, the Chelsea captain, on October 23, 2011. The Football Association banned Terry for four matches and fined him £220,000, but Westminster Magistrates’ Court cleared the former England international centre back of the offence.

The belief that Terry’s punishment went nowhere near to fitting the nature of the indiscretion transcended the game and went on to the front pages of newspapers. Black players everywhere brooded darkly, with much justification, and suddenly the “Kick it Out” campaign became vulnerable to charges of impotence. Just because something appears so utopian in principle does not mean it will work well in practice. In the fight against racism, football is no longer winning.

It is easy to feel sorry for the “Kick It Out” campaign, for this organisation only means well. Its raison d’être, according to its website, is this: “Kick It Out is football’s equality and inclusion campaign. The brand name of the campaign – Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football – was established in 1993 and Kick It Out established as a body in 1997. ‘Kick It Out’ works throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and work for positive change.”

To challenge? That is too weak a word for me. We need to do more than merely challenge. We need to fight such primitive behaviour with every fibre in our bodies. We need to ban the unreconstructed slopsuckers, like those in Serbia during the match against England Under-21, from our football stadiums. We need to change the culture that allows racism to thrive. We need education. We need radicals.

Anton Ferdinand was one of eight players who chose not to wear the T-shirts prior to QPR’s match against Everton on Sunday. Shaun Wright-Phillips, Nedum Onouha, Djibril Cisse and Junior Hoilett, Anton Ferdinand’s teammates, also joined the protest, as did Victor Anichebe, Sylvain Distin and Steven Pienaar of Everton.

Just as Rio Ferdinand refused to wear a T-shirt at Old Trafford, so Jason Roberts, the Reading forward, refused to wear one prior to the match at Anfield against Liverpool on the same day. Roberts had already stated the day before his intention not to wear the T-shirt, which gave Ferguson the chance to railroad Ferdinand into playing ball.

“I have to disagree with Jason Roberts; he is making the wrong point,” Ferguson said. “Everyone should be united. All the players in the country wearing the warm-up tops. Yes, all my players will wear it. I think all the players will be wearing it. I only heard that Jason Roberts is different. He is very different. He plays his game and is in the studio 20 minutes after it. It’s a great privilege.”

Quite apart from Ferguson’s unfair condemnation of Roberts, the comments were a brazen – and, as it happened, unsuccessful – attempt to coerce Ferdinand. Ferguson’s egalitarian principles should have led him to believe that free speech in the political sphere is essential for healthy discourse. As a former radical, who, during his days as an engineering union shop steward, led apprentices out on strike, Ferguson should have better understood Rio Ferdinand’s dichotomy. Inexplicably, however, the United manager felt that his right to protect the club’s reputation in the fight against racism outweighed Ferdinand’s right to criticise the “Kick It Out” campaign.

Ferguson is no longer the radical. The status quo suited him better. And his experience of racism is different – manifestly different – from that of Rio Ferdinand (although both men have, in their own way, been enthusiastic advocates of anti-racist movements).

It is encouraging that Clarke Carlisle, the Chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, emphasised the need for players to take their own political stances. “Sir Alex Ferguson is continual in his unwavering support for the ‘Kick It Out’ campaign, which is commendable and what we all want to see, but you can’t vilify or coerce any individual for making a stand,” Carlisle told BBC Radio 5 Live. “Everyone has a right to free speech – just like you can’t coerce anyone into shaking hands, you can’t make somebody wear a T-shirt; although I do, personally, believe that joining in with the campaign is the best way forward.”

It certainly used to be the best way forward – in those days of yore, when the fight against racism in football was making great strides. Recently, however, there has been a worrying trend: not only of an increase in racism but of the football community’s inability to deal with the issue. You can see it in Rio Ferdinand’s eyes that he is frustrated with football’s failure to move into the Twenty-first Century. You could see it in Jason Roberts’ eyes.

The refusal of many black players to wear the T-shirts is, hopefully, the next step in the backlash against the ineptitude of the authorities. After the racism shown by Serbia’s supporters last week, Uefa, the game’s European governing body, knows it must deal with the matter appropriately. Never again can Uefa leave itself open to suggestions that it cares more about protecting its sponsors than about the uncivilised treatment of non-white players. When players are victims on racism on the pitch, Uefa should encourage them to walk off and abandon the match. It is the most symbolic way to take the matter seriously.

Sir Alex Ferguson should have known better. During his interview on Saturday evening with MUTV, the club’s official channel, he struggled to keep his anger in check. “I am disappointed. I said [on Friday] that the players would be wearing [the T-shirts] in support of the PFA, and that every player should adhere to it. And he [Rio Ferdinand] goes and lets us down. We will deal with it, don’t worry.”

Ferdinand let nobody down. He made what he believed to be an important protest. He believed he had a right to make that protest. His protest gave the “Kick It Out” campaign more publicity than it could ever have received on its own merits. Some would see Ferdinand’s intervention as radical, but he no doubt took the Martin Luther King mantra: “When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative”.

And by being so wrong, Ferguson turned himself into that rare bird: the conservative socialist.

*****************************

NB: some “frivolous nitpicking” about Ferguson from Representing the Mambo, an excellent blog that, sadly, now seems to be moribund

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Durham Miners’ leader takes stand against fascist Di Canio

April 2, 2013 at 4:01 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, fascism, Jim D, Racism, sport, strange situations, thuggery, unions)

Above: Di Canio and ‘irriducibili’ Ultra Lazio friends

Subject: Durham Miners Demand Banner Back from Stadium of Light

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Dave Hopper the General Secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association is writing to Sunderland Football Club to demand the return of the Wearmouth Miners’ Banner, which is on permanent display in the Stadium of Light, in protest at the decision to appoint the self-confessed fascist, Paolo Di Canio, as their head coach.
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Mr Hopper, who worked for 27 years as a miner at Wearmouth Colliery, the site on which the Stadium of Light now stands, described Di Canio’s appointment as an outrage and a betrayal of all those who fought and died fighting fascism.
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He said,“I like many thousands of miners have supported Sunderland from infancy and are passionate about football. But, there are principles which are much more important.
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“Our banner represents the Durham miners’ long struggle for the rights of the working class, rights which were annihilated by fascism in Germany, Italy, Spain and Chile.
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“We have a sacred obligation to the millions who were wiped out by Hitler, Mussolini and Franco to oppose fascism wherever and in whatever context this evil creed raises its head particularly at a time when working people are again being forced to pay for capitalism’s crisis as they were in Europe in the 1920s and 30s.
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“The appointment of Di Canio is a disgrace and a betrayal of all who fought and died in the fight against fascism.
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“Everyone must speak out [to] oppose this outrage and call on Ellis Short and the Sunderland Board to reverse their decision.”
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H/t: Dave Harker
Secretary

North East Shop Stewards’ Network

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Hamas’s ‘gender apartheid’ stops Gaza marathon

March 5, 2013 at 2:31 pm (Human rights, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, misogyny, palestine, religious right, sexism, sport, thuggery, UN, women)

What description would fit the refusal to allow people to run, simply because of their gender? What would you call such fundamental discrimination and denial of basic human rights to 50% of the population? Surely not “apartheid” ?

Gaza marathon: UN cancels race over Hamas ban on women

A picture taken on May 5, 2011 shows a Hamas policeman talking on the phone as Palestinian Olympic athlete Nader Masri (L) and a fellow runner speed along the waterfront in Gaza City Hamas has provided security for the previous marathons, in which men and women have run

From the BBC website:

The UN agency which organises Gaza’s marathon has cancelled the event, blaming the refusal of the territory’s governing Islamist Hamas movement to allow women to run.

The marathon was scheduled for Sunday and would have been Gaza’s third.

Hamas said the marathon could go ahead if “local traditions” were respected.

Conservative elements in Gaza have sometimes complained about mixing between the sexes, especially in schools and at sporting events.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) said in a statement that it had taken “the disappointing decision” after “discussions with the authorities in Gaza who have insisted that no women should participate”.

Unrwa “is working on a programme of other events, which will be forwarded to those interested as soon as possible,” the statement adds.

‘No mixing’

“We regret this decision to cancel the marathon but we don’t want men and women running together,” Abdessalam Siyyam, cabinet secretary of the Hamas government, told AFP news agency.

“We did not tell Unrwa to cancel the marathon and we haven’t prevented it, but we laid down some conditions: We don’t want women and men mixing in the same place,” he added.

The Palestinian territory is almost exactly marathon length from top to bottom.

Last year, thousands of runners braved freezing conditions to take part, including some women. Palestinian runner Nader al-Masri won the event on its first two occasions.

In previous years, Hamas has supported the race and provided security.

In the past there have been attacks on the UN’s summer camps for children in Gaza after complaints that boys were allowed to mix with girls, the BBC’s Jon Donnison reports.

The marathon was due to be part of the UN’s fundraising efforts in order to run those camps, our correspondent adds.

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Looking back at the Paralympics: a very personal story

December 19, 2012 at 9:12 am (Disability, humanism, sport)

Will the Paralympics have a lasting effect? Will 2012 turn out to have been a decisive year in changing perceptions of disabled people?

From behind Murdoch’s paywall: a rather moving  and very honest piece by Matthew Syed from The Times of September 8 2012:

My cousin Zoobi – and a million other human stories

First we saw freaks; then they were just pure athletes

Zoobi, my cousin, is a dwarf. She came to live with us in the summer of 1982 from her home town in Karachi: a brown-skinned, short-limbed 14-year-old in the heart of suburban Reading. Her family wanted her to broaden her horizons, to benefit from a British education. My parents, who have always believed in the extended family, welcomed her with open arms.

I look back on those years with considerable guilt. I was a year younger than Zoobi and I knew my father hoped that I would warm to my cousin. He hoped that she would go out on bike rides and shopping trips with me and my friends. He thought that if I accepted her without inhibition, others would, too. And he hoped that this would do wonders for her self-esteem and self-image.

But I didn’t accept her. I listened to my dad telling me to be kind and friendly, and I nodded dutifully. But it didn’t change anything. She was just too different. I could see people peering at her when she left our house, examining her curiously long body and stumpy limbs. They would point and giggle. When I was with her they stared at me too. I worried that they would think there was something wrong with all of us. The problem wasn’t Zoobi’s character, which was (and is) generous, wise and compassionate. It was that she was — how can I put this? — too different.

Perhaps all forms of human insularity emerge from tnhis sense of otherness. I imagine that my callow feelings of resentment resembled those of British people in the 1940’s, when the first wave of West Indian immigrants arrived on these shores. Black skin was pretty much unprecedented back then and it was common to stare, point and giggle. It was also common to resent. They are just too different. Too unfamiliar.

In the case of disability, this sense of unfamiliarity has been bplstered by a particular and sinister form of ghettoisation. The ghettos have not been geographical, as they often are with race, but institutional and moral. The locking up of the mentally ill in the 19th century was merely one manifestation of a society that for decades attempted to airbrush disability from view. The inaccessibility of transport, pavements, shops and buildings effectively excluded wheelchair users from the public world. The disabled were not merely unfamiliar; they were pretty much invisible.

Things have got better, of course, in recent decades. The disability rights movement may not have the media profile or resonance of, say, the civil rights movement, but it has been quite effective. Anti-discrimination legislation, greater access to public spaces and an extended understanding of equal rights have all changed lives. But progress has been slow. The sense of unfamiliarity, of otherness, remains. A sense that their world is not quite our world.

And it is in that sense that the Paralympics has been a game changer. If we are honest, many of us started watching these Games with a smidgeon of discomfort. Alongside the curiosity was an elevated sense of the grotesque.

The spectacle of athletes dragging themselves along the floor to the edge of the pool, or rolling around on the floor in the volleyball: all these were jarring for a simple reason. We are not used to staring at disabled bodies and their banal-herioc challenges.

Eleven days on and things have changed quite dramatically. We should always resist the temptation to claim more for sport than it deserves. But this time sport has been transformational. The perceptual distortion gradually subsided, then disappeared altogether. We are no longer watching a group of outsiders trying to play an eccentric form of sport.  Rather, we are watching sport. We are no longer watching stereotypes, with embarrassment or condescention, but real people. People with hopes and dreams and moral weaknesses. The sense of otherness has been destroyed by the narrative force of their human journeys.

Ellie Simmonds has had a particular effect on me. Simmonds is a dwarf with a sparkling personality, a megawatt smile and an outstanding ability to swim fast. She has wowed us with her brilliance, but also with her charm, her ambition and her elation at winning gold medals. We have become familiar with her story and, as a result, have come to see her not as a token — not an example of a medical condition — but as a person.

And I suspect that if a dwarf were to move into suburban Reading today the response would be radically different. She would not have to endure the pointing and the insularity. She would not have people shunning her because of her physical shape any more than a black person would be shunned for the colour of her skin.

And she would not have the indignity of a cousin turning his back on her out of distaste and social embarrassment.

Above: Ellie Simmonds

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