The horrors exposed by the Jay report into sexual abuse in Rotherham are so sickening, so angering, so distressing, that I’ve deliberately refrained from commenting. I’m simply not qualified to do so on an issue that seems at once so simple and yet so complex. What I am sure about is that those refuse to seriously address the racial aspect to this outrage are nearly as culpable as those who would use it to demonise Asian/ Muslim people and stir up racial hatred.
So, for now, I’ll simply recommend the following piece by Samira Ahmed. I know quite a few of you will have already read this, as it was first published in yesterday’s Guardian. But it’s by far the best and most sensibly nuanced commentary on the subject I’ve yet encountered and it deserves to be as widely read as possible:
We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to race over the Rotherham abuse scandal
It’s not racist to question the town’s Pakistani community for at least some of the answers
I read the Jay report into child exploitation in Rotherham from cover to cover. As I did, I remembered my own experience as a Channel 4 News reporter in Bradford after the 2001 Manningham riots. It may have been young men throwing bricks and petrol bombs, but I wanted a deeper understanding of what was going on in a town that seemed to simultaneously becoming more religiously and racially segregated, while manifesting the familiar and growing British urban malaise of drug addiction, gang culture and underage prostitution. It was there that a white social worker accused me of being racist for wanting to ask British Pakistani girls about abuse.
That attitude seems connected to the strange hierarchy of rights exposed by a key finding in the Rotherham report: that police and council officers were widely felt to be playing down strong evidence of sexual abuse, mostly against girls, for fear of upsetting community relations. Read the rest of this entry »
6 – 8pm, Friday 22 August, Downing Street, London
This rally is organised by the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, UK organisation, in alliance with other Iraqi, Iranian and UK organisations (see below).
A Yazidi family on Mount Sinjar
The organisers say:
“Against the Genocide of the Yazidis
Against the Bloodthirsty Forces of IS
Against Fascism and Racism
“Support our demands:
1. Immediate steps and actions must be taken to help all those who are displaced, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. The Yezidis, in particular, are most desperately in need of such help.
2. The countries which have supported the IS financially and militarily should be condemned and held responsible.
3. The ruling parties across Iraq propagate racist and ethnocentric sentiments among the people, causing tension between Arabs and Kurds, as well as Sunni and Shiites. This is catastrophic and has brought about high levels of ethno-sectarian hatred in Iraq and Kurdistan. Pressure should be exerted on the political parties to stop this.
4. Any activities and demonstrations by IS supporters must be organised against by the trade unions, community groups and political organisations. What they do does not constitute freedom of political thought; they advocate hatred and killing. Tolerating these groups may create circumstances for other racist groups to flourish and spread hostility towards people from Muslim backgrounds.
We hope that the EU will register our concern on the matter and act against any and all forms of racist and sectarian attacks and incitement.”
Other sponsoring organisations
Worker-communist Party of Iraq UK Organisation
Worker-communist Party of Iran UK Organisation
Worker-communist Party of Iran Hekmatist UK Organisation
International Federation of Iraqi Refugees – IFIR
Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation in Britain – KMEWO
For more information please contact: 07577 781 626 or 07446 135 857 or 07894 252 708
Above: Caroline Leneghan
An extraordinary crisis has erupted at the Morning Star (de facto mouthpiece of the British Communist Party), resulting in the resignations of the editor and the company director. It stems from reporter Rory McKinnon’s questioning of the RMT leadership over allegations of domestic abuse on the part of the union’s assistant general secretary Steve Hedley (which Shiraz covered here).
McKinnon, who resigned from the Star on 25 July, has written an account of what happened to him at the Star, at the blog Another Angry Woman. This is important, not least because much of the British trade union movement (without reference to their membership) funds the Morning Star:
This is a guest post by Rory McKinnon. Content warning for domestic violence. It is published with permission of the survivor.
“The public have no right to know”: how the Morning Star threatened to sack me for reporting domestic violence allegations
My name’s Rory MacKinnon, and I’ve been a reporter for the Morning Star for three years now. It’s given me a lot of pride to see how readers and supporters believe so strongly in the paper, from donating what cash they can to hawking it in the streets on miserable Saturday afternoons. I was proud to represent a “broad paper of the left”, as my editor Richard Bagley always put it: a paper that saw feminism, LGBTQ issues, racial politics and the like as integral to its coverage of class struggle.
It’s for this reason that I thought I would have my editor’s support in following up domestic violence allegations against the Rail, Maritime and Transport union’s assistant general secretary Steve Hedley. Instead the Morning Star’s management threatened me with the sack, hauled me through a disciplinary hearing and placed me on a final written warning.
If you want to see my reasons for writing this, skip to the bottom. But I’m a reporter, and in my mind the most important thing is that you all know exactly what’s happened behind closed doors. So let’s get on with it.
Last March a former RMT assistant branch secretary, Caroline Leneghan, went public about what she described as a “violent assault” at the hands of Hedley while they had been in a relationship.
“On this occasion he kicked a pot of paint at me, threw me around by my hair and pinned me to the floor repeatedly punching me in the face.”
Leneghan said she had approached both police and the union after their break-up to seek an investigation: her RMT rep confirmed that police had suggested “a high chance of conviction” but that the six-month window for a charge of common assault had since expired.
Despite this, the union’s then-leadership had decided not to refer the allegations to its national executive for a formal investigation. It was at this point that Leneghan decided to go public (you can find Leneghan’s full statement and photographs here).
Now, I don’t pretend to have any inside knowledge, and at the time I had only just been assigned to a post in Scotland and was busy trying to get my feet in under the table up there. But I am a journalist, and when the union agreed to consider an appeal from Leneghan only to see it eventually withdrawn at her request – amid a pretty vile reaction from some elements of the left – I mentally filed it away as something to keep an eye on.
In March of this year I went as a Morning Star reporter – with the RMT’s approval – to cover its women’s conference in Glasgow. Women I knew of in the RMT were still talking about Leneghan’s case, and it made sense to me as a reporter to follow it up in the public interest, so I took advantage of a Q&A session with the union’s national organising co-ordinator Alan Pottage – a session on recruiting women organisers and combating sexism in the workplace – to ask whether he thought the lack of formal investigation into the allegations against Hedley had affected women members’ perceptions of the union. Pottage declined to comment and the session continued, but when delegates reconvened for the afternoon session the union’s equalities officer Jessica Webb and executive member Denis Connor approached my seat and forcibly ejected me from the conference. (You can find my full statement on the incident here).
The very next day the Morning Star’s editor Richard Bagley informed me that I had been suspended following allegations of gross misconduct and that any public comment I might make “could risk bringing the paper into disrepute and could have a bearing on [my] case”. (You can see the letter here and subsequent charges here.)
Six weeks later, I found myself back in London for a disciplinary hearing, with the company’s secretary Tony Briscoe bringing the charges and Bagley sitting in judgement. But as the Morning Star management’s minutes (for some reason presented as a verbatim transcript), and my own notes here show, it quickly became clear that the real nature of the accusations had nothing to do with the charge sheet and everything to do with appeasement.
From the minutes:
“RB: You have three years’ experience as a Morning Star journalist. Given the type of stories you’ve covered previously do you think the paper would have published a story on the issue you raised?”
“RB: So let’s clarify the role of the Morning Star here: internal union matters are different from inter-union matters.”
“TB: It’s debatable whether the NUJ (National Union of Journalists – Rory) code of conduct applies in a situation such as this and the fact you asked it raises a question about your approach. The question feels more like something a Daily Mail reporter would ask than someone from the Morning Star. You should have known better. This indicates a lack of journalistic etiquette and has damaged our relationship with the trade union movement.”
And from my own notes:
TB: “I would have thought the role of the Morning Star reporter was to progress the aims & goals of the paper.”
TB: “I would expect that sort of question to be asked in the Daily Mail or the Sun.”
TB: “I would say the public has no right to know about the ins-&-outs of the relationship between Leneghan & Hedley.”
Shortly afterwards I received Bagley’s written judgement. Again, you can read it for yourself here, but the thrust of the Morning Star’s editorial policy is below:
“After three years at the paper you should reasonably be expected to be familiar with the paper’s news priorities, which do not include reporting internal union rows or personal controversy. Your actions suggest a fundamental failure to grasp the Morning Star’s news focus, and by extension the role of any journalist employed by it.”
I was placed on a final written warning with twelve months’ probation, then went on to appeal (dismissed, ruling here), but that’s procedural stuff that isn’t strictly relevant.
What’s relevant, to my mind, is that readers cannot trust the Morning Star’s current leadership to report on abuse allegations and failures to formally investigate when they concern favoured figures in the trade union movement, even when those figures are elected officials. As the edition for 24 July shows, however – coincidentally the same day I had decided to give my notice – those Nasty Tories cannot expect such discretion. Feminist principles are a weapon with which to attack the right, but not an end in itself for the left.
I’ve written this because I was told that “the public has no right to know.” I think the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union’s members do have a right to know about their leaders’ decision not to hold a formal investigation into reports of violence against a female member, and I think the Morning Star’s readers and supporters also have a right to know that the paper’s senior staff have an explicit policy of suppressing such allegations.
It is quite possible that the Morning Star’s management committee – a panel which includes the National Assembly of Women’s Anita Wright – have not been told anything about this. If so, I hope that they will investigate and reassert the paper’s editorial independence. I am not trying to wreck the Morning Star here. I am insisting that it commits to its feminist principles and treats readers with the respect they deserve.
Morning Star reporter (2011-2014)
UPDATE – This post was drafted on Saturday 26 July, the day after informing the Morning Star’s management of my intent to quit. On Monday 28, the paper announced company secretary Tony Briscoe’s retirement and editor Richard Bagley’s departure “for family reasons”. Bagley would continue to work for the paper, the report added.
ETA: The survivor has clarified some of the sequence of events. Caroline says:
“There’s a mistake here, the executive refused me to appeal, after that the only route was the agm, which is the quashed one, as i realised all my documents, statements etc had been distributed to hundreds of people without my knowledge”
ETA 2 (19.14 08/08/14): The MS have issued a statement denying everything. To borrow their phrasing, it is interesting to note they haven’t started issuing libel threats…
This article first appeared at the Telegraph‘s website. It makes a refershing change from the waffle and evasion that’s been published in the Graun on the same subject. I do not have Sarah’s permission for republishing this, but it’s so good I thought it simply deserved the widest possible audience, and I suspect most Shiraz readers don’t read the Telegraph in either print or electronic format:
Trojan Horse plot: we must not excuse bigots on the grounds that they are Muslim
Bigotry is bigotry, whether it’s religious or not.
By Sarah Khan, director of Inspire
As a Muslim, I object to hardliners and apologists who try to excuse bigotry on the grounds that it’s “Islamic”
One of the most shocking findings, from both Birmingham City Council’s report and from the Government’s own investigation into the Trojan Horse affair, was the incredulous hate peddling promoted to young children by fundamentalist Muslims who attempted to infiltrate a number of schools. Children had been told not to listen to Christians because they were “all liars”; and how they were “lucky to be Muslims and not ignorant like Christians and Jews.” Schools put up posters warning children that if they didn’t pray they would “go to hell” and girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be “punished” by angels “from dusk to dawn”. One of the ringleaders of the Trojan Horse plot told an undercover reporter that “white women have the least amount of morals”, white children were “lazy” and that British people have “colonial blood.”
Let’s be clear. These bigoted views are exactly that – bigoted. As a Muslim I object to those hardliners who aggressively suggest such views are Islamic. They are not. Yet this hate peddling was done in the name of Islam. I have seen over the years how sexist, homophobic and intolerant Muslims deliberately manipulate my faith to justify sexism, homophobia and intolerance to other faith communities. They hide behind the excuse of “Islam”, and argue they are within their religious rights to hold such bigoted views – and British society too often acts as if these are the natural rights of all Muslims. Such an attitude was seen, frustratingly, in the Muslim Council of Britain’s statement in response to the Trojan Horse findings, but also from Birmingham City Council, who did little to stop such practices as there had been a culture within the council which was more concerned about potential allegations of “Islamophobia”. This paranoia incredibly took precedent over the welfare and well-being of children in our schools.
Take the Muslim Council of Britain. In their statement they complained that Mr Clarke was “conflating conservative Muslim practices to a supposed ideology and agenda to ‘Islamise’ secular schools.”
For the record, I’d like to know: what exactly does the MCB define as conservative Muslim practice? Does the MCB believe homophobia, sexism, intolerance and the “inferiority” of other faiths are conservative Muslim practices? The religious conservative Muslims I speak to tell me they are offended that this could ever be justified as such. Yet predictably, Muslim representative bodies like the MCB at best sound wishy-washy, and at worst continue to defend and justify such bigotry under the guise of “conservative Muslim practice.”
Kathy Stobart and her band in the early 1950s
Jazz can be proud of its anti-racist traditions and of how, from the early twentieth century, black and white musicians defied racism in order to work together to make great music. Jazz played a major role in the US civil rights movement and – long before the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson for the 1946 season – helped convince white America that black people were at least their equals, and had an awful lot to contribute to the American Way Of Life, if only given the chance.
Jazz’s record on sexism and women’s rights is less honourable. Until quite recently, women were scarcely tolerated in jazz, and even then only as fans, hangers-on and singers. The few female instrumentalists that there were in the 1930s, 40s and 50s on the US scene tended to be treated with condescension or (as with pianist Mary Lou Williams, whose talent could not be denied), as novelties if not downright freaks.
The situation for British women jazz musicians was just as bad until very recently, which makes it only right and proper that we now remember the tenor sax player Kathy Stobart, who died on 6 July aged 89. Kathy was a pioneer, having started professionally in the 1940s when she ran her own band and worked for top bandleaders like Vic Lewis and Ted Heath. In 1957 she caused a minor sensation when she stepped in for Jimmy Skidmore (who was ill) with the Humphrey Lyttelton Band and recorded a highly-regarded album, Kath Meets Humph.
Humph held Kathy in high regard, describing her sax playing as having “a huge booming sound, imbued with total originality and a commanding presence.” Kathy joined Humph’s band as a regular member between 1969 and 1978, and then re-joined for 12 years from 1992. She set a precedent: after Kathy left, Humph hired two other female sax players, Karen Sharpe and Jo Fooks, both of whom have spoken of Kathy as a major inspiration and role model.
Kathy’s second husband, the trumpeter Bert Courtley, died in 1969, leaving Kathy a single parent, and she took up music teaching to supplement her income. By all accounts she was a “natural” and in 2000 she tutored Judi Dench in the rudiments of sax playing for her role in Alan Plater’s TV play The Last of the Blonde Bombshells.
Kathy, like a lot of the best female jazz players, would frequently be described by critics and fans, as playing “like a man”. The description didn’t please Kathy, who once commented: “It’s supposed to be the ultimate compliment, but I wouldn’t apply it to myself. I’ve got a good pair of lungs on me and I’ve got well matured emotions. I play like me.”
Guardian obit here
Following the publication of this pretentious filth at the Graun‘s Comment Is Free site, it’s a pleasure to republish the following article, from Joanne Payton’s excellent blog:
In Australia, there is an event called the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, with some high-calibre contributors, like Salman Rushdie and Steven Pinker. One of the speakers they invited was one Uthman Badar, of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The title of the speech was Honour Killings are Morally Justified.
Badar says he did not choose the topic himself, but accepted it upon the urgings of the board. The festival’s co-curator Simon Longstaff said he had nominated the topic for six years in a row, because the point of the festival is to push boundaries ”to the point where you become extremely uncomfortable”.
Yet again, misogyny, racism and violence against minoritised women is considered edgy, rather than banal and conservative.
What’s more edgy and dangerous and uncomfortable than suggesting the world is a better place because a Tunisian father burned his 13 year old daughter alive? What’s more edgy and dangerous than saying certain women and girls don’t deserve to live?
For Aya, it was ‘dangerous’ to walk home from school with one of her classmates, and no doubt somewhat more than ‘extremely uncomfortable’ to die of burns a few days later.
It is a wonder that Longstaff didn’t realise that other speakers had balked the topic for six years in a row not because it was “uncomfortable”, but because it was morally repugnant: hate-speech as clickbait, where the names and faces of the victims are erased for the sake of a headline.
Enter Uthman Badar, the only man vainglorious enough to make the attempt. There are, of course, many experts in ‘honour’-based violence, people who have dedicated their careers to exploring its dynamics, conducting research, developing protection measures, supporting victims. Badar is not one of them. According to his Academia.edu page, he’s an economist (although apparently, he is not actually a student of the university that he claims to attend).
Even Badar doesn’t seem to have wanted to defend the murders of girls and women and young men: his preamble suggests he’s not even going to try and justify ‘honour’ killing. Let’s look at what he was going to say:
“Overwhelmingly, those who condemn honour killing are based in the liberal democracies of the West.”
This is untrue:
Here are 300 Tunisians demonstrating against the murder of Aya.
We in the West know about ‘honour’ killings only because they were brought to our attention by local activists: it was Asma Jahangir‘s decision to exceed her brief as Special Rapporteur into Extrajudicial Executions that brought the subject up; it was Rana Husseini‘s activism against the laws of Jordan that told us how embedded such crimes were in their societies, and it was Fadime Sahindal‘s prediction of her own death that raised the topic as something which occurred in the West.
Perhaps it is true that many of those who commit honour killings may not be based in the liberal democracies of the West but that doesn’t mean that they are accepted within their societies. Of all the Muslim countries surveyed by Pew, only in two did more respondents approve than disapprove of ‘honour’ crimes. Overwhelmingly, the scholars and activists who work against ‘honour’-based violence are people working in their own countries and communities, both within and outside the ‘West’. To ignore this fact demonstrates a strangely Eurocentric world view.
Aya’s father is taken as an exemplar of Tunisia: Aya herself is erased, the 300 Tunisian protesters are erased, Tunisian women’s rights activists are erased, the fact that ‘honour’ killings are vanishingly rare in Tunisia is erased. And this is all done in order that Badar can synechodically present ‘honour’ killers as the true representatives of ‘Eastern’ culture. This smacks of orientalism in itself: the presentation of a diverse culture and people as homogeneously violent, and obsessed with ‘honour’, against reams of evidence to the contrary.
And so, the next sentence:
“The accuser and moral judge is the secular (white) Westerner and the accused is the oriental other: the powerful condemn the powerless.”
The person at the actual nadir of powerlessness, the victim, is totally absent from Badar’s analysis. The actual situation — where the accuser and moral judge is the enculturated (brown) Easterner and the accused is the feminine other: where the powerful not only condemn, but slaughter the powerless – is erased. The victim is erased, and the murderer is granted victimhood in her stead.
“By taking a particular cultural view of honour, some killings are condemned, while others are celebrated: in turn, the act becomes a symbol of everything which is wrong with the other culture.”
Let’s ignore this strange position where we are led to believe that some killings are celebrated, which seems to be an attempt at whataboutery and decontextualisation too vague for me to parse. On the other hand, his point that the discourse of ‘honour’ is used to demonise the ‘other’ culture is unavoidably true. However, there are many more people who are far better qualified to argue this than Badar. Aisha Gill and Avtar Brah have done this excellently, and are feminists to boot.
Katherine Pratt Ewing, to give another example, has written an entire book on the topic, and a speech by her on how ‘honour’ crimes are used to stigmatise minorities would be informative, and moreover, informed by research. That is not what Longstaff wanted though: it wouldn’t have have got him in the headlines.
After the cancellation of the speech due to public outcry, Badar produced a petulant statement which attributes the outcry to Islamaphobia, as did Longstaff: ‘Have not the ‘Islamophobes’ already won the day when a person dare not speak on controversial matters because he is Muslim?’, he tweeted, rather pompously.
Let’s consider this charge for a second. Almost all Muslim organisations take pains to distance themselves from ‘honour’ killings. Almost all serious scholars address the issues of culture with caution, and with due attention to the worrying levels of xenophobia in the West. Training materials in use by professionals to help them respond to ‘honour’-related violence in the family stress the importance of not making cultural assumptions.
Just as a thought experiment, consider this: if you really hated Muslims and Islam, what would be the best way of overturning all this good work done in balancing the rights to life and freedom of young people (many, but not all, of whom are Muslim) with respect for the culture of their families? How about promoting a speech called ‘Honour Killings are Morally Justified’, and getting a speaker whose only qualification is being a Muslim to present it? Would that work? I think it would.
H/T: KB Player
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.
No country for young women: Honour crimes and infanticide in Ireland
When I was in first year in secondary school in 1997, a girl in the year above me was pregnant. She was 14. The only people who I ever heard say anything negative about her were a group of older girls who wore their tiny feet “pro-life” pins on their uniforms with pride. They slagged her behind her back, and said she would be a bad mother. They positioned themselves as the morally superior ones who cared for the baby, but not the unmarried mother. They are the remnants of an Ireland, a quasi-clerical fascist state, that we’d like to believe is in the past, but still lingers on.
The news broke last week of a septic tank filled with the remains of 796 children and babies in Galway. The remains were accumulated from the years 1925 to 1961 and a common cause of death was malnutrition and preventable disease. The Bon Secours “Home” had housed thousands of unmarried mothers and their children down through the years. These women had violated the honour of their communities, by bringing shame on their families through “illegitimate” pregnancy and therefore had to be hidden at all costs, and punished for their transgressions. The children died as they lived, discarded like the refuse of society that the Church considered them and the mothers that gave birth to them to be. Most of the children who survived were put to work in industrial schools under the supervision of perverts and sadists.
Thousands of the healthy ones were sold abroad – mostly to the US – for “adoption.” For the ones who remained, the outlook was poor. Mortality rates of 50% or 60% were common in these homes. In the case of the ones that died, either the Church did not feel they were valuable enough to feed and care for, or they actively worked towards their death. The risk they posed to the social order by virtue of the circumstances of their conception and birth was too great to let go unchecked. These children certainly did not die for lack of money or resources on the Church’s part (they had an income from the children they sold), and the fewer children of this kind there were, the less threat there was to the church’s control over society.
If the Church had allowed them to grow up to be functioning adults in Irish society it would have ran the risk of demonstrating that the institution of marriage was not absolutely integral to the moral well-being of a person. Women were not allowed keep their babies because the shame that their existence brought upon the community would be far too great. They were imprisoned within Magdalene Laundries to atone for their sins of honour, and their babies were removed from them as part of their punishment – women who dishonoured the community were deemed to unfit to parent.
Contemporary Ireland feigned shock when stories of the Laundries and residential institutions emerged. Perhaps the shock of those who were too young to be threatened with being put in one for “acting up” was genuine, because the institutions started to close as the years went on. But people in their fifties and sixties now, will remember how the “Home Babies” sometimes came to schools, and were isolated by other (legitimate) children, and then sometimes never came back. While those school-children may not have comprehended fully the extent of what happened, their parents and teachers, and the community of adults surrounding them knew.
Ireland as a whole was complicit in the deaths of these children, and in the honour crimes against the women. They were the “illegitimate babies” born to the “fallen women” who literally disappeared from villages and towns across Ireland in to Magdalene Laundries. Everybody knew, but nobody said, “Honour must be restored. We must keep the family’s good name.”
The women themselves served a dual purpose in the Laundries. They were a warning to others what happened when you violated the rule of the Church, and they were financial assets engaged in hard labour on behalf of the Church. They were not waged workers; they did not receive payment. They could not leave of their own free will, and their families, for the most part, did not come for them; the shame on the family would be too great. Ireland had a structure it used to imprison women for being sexual beings, for being rape victims, for not being the pure idolised incubator for patriarchy, for not having enough feminine integrity, or for being simply too pretty for the local priest’s liking. Ireland has a long tradition of pathologising difference.
People did know what went on in those institutions. Their threat loomed large over the women of Ireland for decades. On rare occasions when people attempted to speak out, they were silenced, because the restoration of honour requires the complicity of the community. Fear of what other people will think of the family is embedded in Irish culture.
The concept of honour means different things in different cultures but a common thread is that it can be broken but restored through punishing those who break it. We are familiar with the hegemonic concepts of “honour killing” and “honour crimes” as a named form of violence against women in cultures other than ours. The papers tell us it is not something that people do in the West. Honour killings, and honour crimes are perpetually drawn along racialised lines and Irish and UK media happily present them within the context of a myth of moral superiority.
Honour crimes are acts of domestic violence, acts of punishment, by other individuals – sometimes family, sometimes authorities – for either real or perceived transgressions against the community code of honour. However, it is only when there is a woman wearing a hijaab or a the woman is a person of colour, or ethnicised, that “honour” is actually named as a motivation for the act of violence. It is a term that has been exoticised, but it is not the act itself or the location it occurs, but the motivation behind it that is important in defining it.
Women of colour, and Muslim women, are constructed as the “other;” we are told these women are given in marriage at a young age by controlling fathers who pass on the responsibility for controlling them to husbands. “Protection” of women is maintained through a rigid sytem of controlling their sexuality in a framework of honour and shame. When these women transgress the boundaries of acceptable femininity they are abused and shunned by their community. Punishments range from lashing to death, but include physical beatings, kidnappings and imprisonment.
Imprisoning women in the Magdalene Laundries deserves to be named as an honour crime because of a cultural obsession that believed the family’s good name rested upon a woman’s (perceived) sexual activity that either her father or husband or oldest brother was the caretaker of. Her sentence to the Laundry was to restore the family honour. Read the rest of this entry »
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
From And Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou ,1978.
Source: The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou (Random House Inc., 1994)
Next page »