This is a message from Misrek Masih, of Islamabad, Pakistan.
Last week an enraged crowd threatened to burn my daughter alive, and in 24 hours a judge will decide whether she goes free or stays in jail. Rimsha is a minor with mental disabilities and often isn’t in control of her actions. Yet local police here in Pakistan have charged her with desecrating the Koran, and we are afraid for her life.
Right now she is being held in a maximum-security jail, and in hours, she will face the court under Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws, which carry the death sentence. We are a poor Christian family, witnessing mob fury over my daughter’s case, and many other families have faced similar intimidation forcing them to either flee or live in fear. But the international attention on Rimsha’s case has emboldened Pakistani Muslim leaders to speak out against this injustice and forced President Zardari’s attention.
Please help me keep up the global outcry on my daughter’s case. I urge you to sign my petition to President Zardari to save Rimsha and demand protection for us and other vulnerable minority families. Avaaz will share this campaign with the local and international media, watched carefully by all the politicians here.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Citizen Khan (BBC 1, Mondays, 10.20 pm) has attracted formal complaints, and plenty of more informal negative comments too. It’s certainly neither subtle nor original – but I find it more difficult to be sure whether or not it deserves complaints because it is racist or anti-Muslim. The central character, ‘Citizen’ Khan, is a rather monstrous creation, and most of the characters seem stereotypical. But this is the case with many sit coms. Basil Fawlty and Alf Garnett were both grotesque. Khan’s prospective son-in-law seems a bit daft – but so was the ridiculous Alice in The Vicar of Dibley.
Of course Muslims are targets of bigotry, which does mean that Citizen Khan can’t be judged in quite the same way, perhaps, as a programme about a white, culturally Christian family. But it could be argued that the programme’s makers, by reducing the Khans to a set of cheesy stereotypes, have just helped pull Muslims more firmly into the mainstream in a way a more earnest and nervous programme couldn’t have done. Although a few complaints have focused on the disrespectful treatment of Islam, the character who uses a mask of piety to conceal her party going tastes – and gets away with it – could strike a chord with anyone who has sneaked their way round parental restraints, whatever their religious background.
It’s not a great programme. Goodness Gracious Me was cleverer and funnier. But I don’t think it’s going to be giving the EDL any comfort. As Adil Ray, who plays the title role, points out:
“The biggest, most important, thing you can do is laugh at yourself….You then negate anything anybody can ever do. It’s the ultimate weapon. If you can laugh at yourself, it doesn’t matter what anybody says to you as you’re laughing already.”
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
As long as they are following a legitimate course of study, have the appropriate qualifications (including a good command of English of course) and have no criminal propensities – international students should be welcomed with open arms to the UK. As well as bringing important income to universities, they also bring different perspectives and experiences which enrich the student experience for all.
The Coalition government has sometimes seemed determined to do whatever it can to make life difficult for universities, and its grudging attitude towards foreign students is just one example of this trend:
However it is not as yet clear, to me, what to make of the recent news that London Metropolitan University is no longer to be allowed to sponsor students from outside the UK.
If concerns over issues such as students taking on too much paid work or not having an appropriate level of English were raised six months ago and have not yet been addressed – perhaps the decision is not unreasonable, although it is clearly going to cause huge stress to many students who have done nothing wrong. However the fact that this story was leaked to the Sunday Times, before London Met itself was notified, reinforces suspicions that supporting the university, and its many students, is not a top priority for the government. However, that does not mean that London Met is beyond criticism, by any means.
Here’s a statement from London Met Unison:
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Economic instability is feeding extremism, leading to persecution of society’s scapegoats.
The rise of Greece’s fascist Golden Dawn party has gone hand in hand with violent attacks against immigrants. The police have been rounding up immigrants on a regular basis, and complaints have been made about both brutality and racial profiling. Also disturbing are the responses of various officials to attempts to house undocumented migrants in unused army camps. The mayor of Corinth threatened to cut off a camp’s water supply and rubbish collection if the migrants weren’t taken away.
In Sweden, a leading member of a party with representation in parliament, Sweden Democrats, has called for Islam to be banned and Muslims to be deported.
Pär Norling’s outrageous suggestion has been greeted with squeals of delight from the blogosphere’s bigots.
The Roma have long been subjected to discrimination in Europe. Hungary, which saw huge numbers of Roma murdered in the Holocaust, is undergoing a marked revival of anti-Roma feeling. The far right Jobbik party is particularly vocal on this issue:
“”We need to roll back these hundreds of thousands of Roma outlaws. We must show zero tolerance towards Roma crime and parasitism,” Jobbik chairman Gabor Vona told a rally of several hundred people in Heroes’ Square in central Budapest.”
For him too, the backup solution is deportation – even though the Roma have lived in Europe for centuries.
Antisemitism is another perennial problem. It’s one thing putting on a racist play as a curiosity, recognizing that times have moved on. But even though István Csurka’s play ‘The Sixth Coffin’, recently staged in Hungary, indulges in antisemitic conspiracy-mongering its director seems unconcerned; Eve Balogh writes about it here:
“What is truly frightening is the reaction of the play’s director, Zsolt Pozsgay. To him “Csurka only used a historical event in its historical reality.” As for its antisemitism, to Pozsgay “there are no antisemitic thoughts in the play. There are only historical facts.””
In Britain, such views are much less mainstream. However here too there are problems. To take just one example, disability hate crime is on the rise, with over 65,000 incidents reported last year. This crime, like racism, is aggravated by economic uncertainty and fuelled by irresponsible media reporting of benefit fraud. As Nicky Clarke points out in the Independent:
“These many articles fail to appreciate the fact that fraudulent benefit claims make up for less than 1% of the welfare bill. More is lost by the DWP annually in administrative error, yet hundreds of articles lay the blame for the welfare bill at the feet of disabled “scroungers” People don’t appreciate nuance as Peter Greener discovered. His neighbour saw genuine disability and automatically thought “scrounger”. The message is getting distorted and it’s disabled people who are paying the price.”
The government is not of course actively provoking such crimes, but it needs to reflect on the way its rhetoric may be helping to fan the flames of hatred and intolerance.
Critical friend of ‘Shiraz’, Roger, writes:
“IMO this article deserves a shout out and link to – even if (or, perhaps, especially because) it’s from a site that can say ‘people one would have expected to know better, such as Tariq Ali, George Galloway and John Rees‘ without any apparent irony, and does fawning interviews with the likes of Richard (Lenin’s Tomb) Seymour”:
Syria: Neither Riyadh nor Tehran but Popular Revolution
Is any of this true? The situation in Syria is both extremely violent and extremely complicated and difficult for even those within the country to grasp, let alone those outside of it. Nonetheless, information is available if one is ready to consult people within Syria or those who have reported from there recently—a step rarely taken by those proposing the anti-anti-Assad argument. Let us take the claims in turn…
Read the full article here.
Read John Pilger’s latest piece of polemic about his mate Julian Assange then the comment below by “Phil Howe”.
JP: ‘The British government’s threat to invade the Ecuadorean [sic] embassy in London and seize Julian Assange is of historic significance.’
PH: The British government has never threatened to ‘invade’ the Embassy. What it said was the following: “Under British law we can give them a week’s notice before entering the premises and the embassy will no longer have diplomatic protection”. This is not ‘invading the embassy’, it is an entirely legal and above board process of severing diplomatic relations. The Ecuadorian diplomats would retain their diplomatic immunity and be allowed to leave the country unscathed but their embassy would lose its protected status. Nothing about this is unusual or unprecedented, and has been done hundreds of times before over the few hundred years modern diplomacy has existed. The Ecuadorian government’s claim that Britain has threatened to ‘storm’ the embassy is utterly unfounded and it surprises me that a journalist of your standing accepted at face value these wild and implausible claims and failed to research this further.
‘David Cameron, the former PR man to a television industry huckster and arms salesman to sheikdoms, is well placed to dishonour international conventions that have protected Britons in places of upheaval. Just as Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq led directly to the acts of terrorism in London on 7 July 2005, so Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague have compromised the safety of British representatives across the world.’
This is an ad hominem attack which adds absolutely nothing to your argument. What you say here about Cameron is entirely true but given the UK is not flouting or abusing diplomatic convention, it is entirely irrelevant. If anything, giving credence to blatantly false claims that they are is going to ‘compromise the safety of British representatives across the world’, making this article – by your own definition – irresponsible journalism.
‘Threatening to abuse a law designed to expel murderers from foreign embassies, while defaming an innocent man as an “alleged criminal”, Hague has made a laughing stock of Britain across the world, though this view is mostly suppressed in Britain.’
Assange is an ‘alleged criminal’. He is an ‘alleged rapist’. What arrogance it takes to blithely declare that he is ‘an innocent man’! On what grounds do you make this reckless claim? Has he stood trial and been exonerated? No. Has he presented a shred of evidence in favour of his innocence? No. The only reason you feel comfortable declaring that he is categorically innocent is because you value his word absolutely when weighed against the testimony of the two women who have accused him. This betrays two possible flaws in your character, both highly dangerous. Perhaps you are a misogynist who automatically discounts the testimony of women when weighed against that of men; alternatively perhaps you have developed an attachment to Assange which has reached the level of religious zealotry – I use this phrase deliberately, since only religious zealots claim absolute knowledge in the absence of evidence. Then again there is the third possibility, that both these flaws are in evidence here. I will cease to speculate since to go further would be vulgar.
‘The same brave newspapers and broadcasters that have supported Britain’s part in epic bloody crimes, from the genocide in Indonesia to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, now attack the “human rights record” of Ecuador, whose real crime is to stand up to the bullies in London and Washington.’
The first part of this sentence is shoehorned in apropos absolutely nothing. Stay on topic. As for the second part, it is factually true that Eduador does have a poor human rights record. Freedom House ranks it as only ‘partly free’ and the Ecuadorian government is presently considering extraditing a Belarussian democratic activist who is almost certain to be tortured and executed upon his arrival in his home country. Ecuador’s ‘real crime’ is not to ‘stand up to the bullies in London and Washington’, it is to prevent the nasty bullies from London from extraditing the poor alleged rapist Julian Assange to face trial in the world’s most unimpeachable legal system. As for the ‘bullies in Washington’, they have yet to say anything. They have not demanded the extradition of Assange and in any case it is hard to see what law they would do this under. He is not a US citizen so treason laws do not apply to him. (Oh, and since you mentioned it, Britain never recognised the Indonesian conquest of Timor Leste – you may be confused since Australia did).
‘It is as if the Olympics happy-clappery has been subverted overnight by an illuminating display of colonial thuggery.’
Oh yes, what thuggery! How dare the UK demand Ecuador end their abuse of the asylum system and return a man legitimately accused of rape!
‘Witness the British army officer-cum-BBC reporter Mark Urban “interviewing” a braying Sir Christopher Meyer, Blair’s former apologist in Washington, outside the Ecuadorean embassy, the pair of them erupting with Blimpish indignation…’
‘Braying’. ‘erupting with Blimpish indignation’. Stay classy, Pilger.
‘…that the unclubbable Assange and the uncowed Rafael Correa should expose the western system of rapacious power.’
I’m sorry, but this sentence is so disgusting it is almost beyond belief. In what possible way is the extradition of Assange a demonstration of ‘rapacious power’? Unless of course you believe that criminalising rape is an example of undue government intrusion into citizens’ private lives. Come to think of it, given the tone of the rest of this article, perhaps you do.
‘Similar affront is vivid in the pages of the Guardian, which has counselled Hague to be “patient” and that storming the embassy would be “more trouble than it is worth”.’
For the last time, Britain is not going to ‘storm the embassy’! Hague is considering severing diplomatic relations. This is not even a tiny bit the same thing and conflating the two demonstrates an extraordinary ignorance of international law and diplomatic conventions.
‘Assange was not a political refugee, the Guardian declared, because “neither Sweden nor the UK would in any case deport someone who might face torture or the death penalty”.’
‘The irresponsibility of this statement matches the Guardian’s perfidious role in the whole Assange affair. The paper knows full well that documents released by WikiLeaks indicate that Sweden has consistently submitted to pressure from the United States in matters of civil rights. In December 2001, the Swedish government abruptly revoked the political refugee status of two Egyptians, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed el-Zari, who were handed to a CIA kidnap squad at Stockholm airport and “rendered” to Egypt, where they were tortured. An investigation by the Swedish ombudsman for justice found that the government had “seriously violated” the two men’s human rights.
In a 2009 US embassy cable obtained by Wiki¬Leaks, entitled “WikiLeaks puts neutrality in the Dustbin of History”, the Swedish elite’s vaunted reputation for neutrality is exposed as a sham. Another US cable reveals that “the extent of [Sweden’s military and intelligence] co-operation [with Nato] is not widely known” and unless kept secret “would open the government to domestic criticism”. The Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, played a notorious leading role in George W Bush’s Committee for the Liberation of Iraq and retains close ties to the Republican Party’s extreme right.’
This is undoubtedly true, although it seems highly unlikely that Sweden’s involvement in the United States and NATO is any greater than that of any of NATO’s actual members, such as the United Kingdom. Which is also the US’s closest ally and has an extremely US-friendly extradition treaty. If Assange genuinely feared the long arm of the States, his stupidity in choosing to flee Sweden for the UK is astounding. Either Assange is a complete moron or his fears of US intervention are a fabrication in order to allow him to escape legitimate rape charges.
‘According to the former Swedish director of public prosecutions Sven-Erik Alhem, Sweden’s decision to seek the extradition of Assange on allegations of sexual misconduct is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate”.’
It interests me that you (and presumably Alhem) use the term ‘sexual misconduct’ rather than the more accurate ‘rape’. Perhaps because the following sentence is manifestly absurd: ‘Sweden’s decision to seek the extradition of Assange on allegations of rape is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate”.’ If, as I suspect, Alhem is using the Galloway defence (i.e. that what Assange did does not count as rape), I advise you please to look into the legal definition of rape, as well as to read some survivors’ accounts. The vast majority of rape is not by a stranger in a back alley, it is a man who you’ve already had consensual sex with penetrating you again in your sleep. It is your boyfriend deciding that since you’ve agreed to sleep with him before, you have implicitly agreed to do it now. It is your date lying to you about wearing a condom and then penetrating you without one.
‘Having offered himself for questioning, Assange was given permission to leave Sweden for London where, again, he offered to be questioned. In May, in a final appeal judgment on the extradition, Britain’s Supreme Court introduced more farce by referring to non-existent “charges”.’
Once again, this sentence betrays a complete failure to do any research. This is how the Swedish legal system works. You cannot be charged until you have been arrested, and you cannot be arrested until you have been extradited. The filing of a formal indictment takes place relatively late in Swedish legal proceedings. Assange’s offer to be questioned in London is highly disingenuous in that he knows it is not one that can be fulfilled. This is because (once again) Assange is being extradited in order to be arrested so that an indictment may be made. He is not wanted for questioning, as that part of the process is long over.
‘Accompanying this has been a vituperative personal campaign against Assange.’
Heaven forbid anyone would begin a ‘vituperative personal campaign’ against an alleged rapist whose desperate attempts to avoid standing trial cast major doubt on his innocence!
‘Much of it has emanated from the Guardian, which, like a spurned lover, has turned on its besieged former source, having hugely profited from WikiLeaks disclosures. With not a penny going to Assange or WikiLeaks, a Guardian book has led to a lucrative Hollywood movie deal. The authors, David Leigh and Luke Harding, gratuitously abuse Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous”.’
NO. NO, NO, NO. This is the most insidious, vicious sort of rape apologia there is. This is the form of rape apologia which means that Roman Polanski still gets invited to Cannes and Mike Tyson gets a cameo in The Hangover. This is the form of rape apologia which says ‘how dare you accuse such a wonderful man of rape – look at his achievements!’ as though Wikileaks, or an Oscar or a world title belt mean that one cannot be guilty of rape, or as though they excuse rape once committed. Assange’s achievements are irrelevant. It would not matter now if he had cured cancer and the common cold, brought on world peace and stopped global warming. If he committed rape, he would still be a rapist. Men of all kinds commit rape – successful and unsuccessful, left-wing and right-wing, rich and poor, good and bad (in all other senses), and their goodness, or their success, or their leftism are irrelevant. The fact is, if a man commits rape, he is a rapist, and to accuse the Guardian of disloyalty for acknowledging this fact is the height of misogyny and rape apologia. You, Mr Pilger, are contributing to rape culture, and you seriously need to check your male privilege.
‘They also reveal the secret password he had given the paper which was designed to protect a digital file containing the US embassy cables.’
This is true, and it is highly negligent of the journalists in question. That said, there is a lot more to the story – for instance, they were told that the password they were given would expire within hours, so ultimately a great deal of the blame must fall on Wikileaks for their own negligence in encrypting these sensitive documents. All this, however, is completely irrelevant to the central issue of Assange’s alleged guilt. It is a complete red herring to go after the Guardian when the issue remains Assange’s Polanski-esque decision to go on the run rather than facing trial.
‘On 20 August, Harding was outside the Ecuadorean embassy, gloating…’
‘gloating’. Stay classy, Pilger.
‘…on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”. It is ironic, if entirely appropriate, that a Guardian editorial putting the paper’s latest boot into Assange bears an uncanny likeness to the Murdoch press’s predictable augmented bigotry on the same subject. How the glory of Leveson, Hackgate and honourable, independent journalism doth fade.’
Ah yes, honourable independent journalists, bravely fighting for the rights of rapists to avoid trial for their alleged crimes. Give me a break. An astonishingly small proportion of rapes ever end in the conviction of the rapist, and part of the reason why this happens is that men like John Pilger make excuses for the rapists. They ask whether she really said no; they declare that it was not rape, merely ‘bad sexual etiquette’; they derail the entire conversation by discussing the rapist’s achievements in the rest of his life, as if that was in any way relevant; they derail it in other ways, such as by turning their ire on the accusers, whether the victim herself or those like the Guardian who have the temerity to take her at her word and demand that the accused hero stand trial like any other human being. It staggers me how someone like John Pilger, who has stood up so strongly against the dehumanisation of Aboriginal Australians, and against the dehumanisation of non-Westerners in general, can participate so enthusiastically in the dehumanisation of women. Misogyny truly is the last acceptable prejudice (along with trans*phobia, but that’s another story entirely). To make an analogy, if Assange was accused of a hate crime against black people, rather than a hate crime against women, I very much doubt that conspiratorial hacks like Pilger would be standing up for the poor oppressed racist, in the way they have been standing up for the poor oppressed rapist. The persistence on the left of unreconstructed misogyny is truly staggering.
‘His tormentors make the point of Assange’s persecution. Charged with no crime, he is not a fugitive from justice.’
My god, did you even think about doing any research when you decided to write this execrable pile of steaming misogyny and misinformation? For the last time, the Swedish legal system does not work that way. The formal indictment does not take place until – I’ve explained this already, you get my drift.
‘Swedish case documents, including the text messages of the women involved, demonstrate to any fair-minded person the absurdity of the sex allegations’
Ah yes, the old ‘she clearly wanted to have sex with him at some point so there’s no way he could have ever raped her’ gambit. I wonder if Mr Pilger supports the legalisation of marital rape? I suspect, in the abstract, that he does not, and yet here he is, blithely declaring that friendly sexual communications between the (alleged) rapist and victim demonstrate the ‘absurdity’ of the charges. If I was not by now thoroughly convinced of Mr Pilger’s arrogance (permit me one moment of ad hominem anger at least – rape apologia surely makes Pilger worthy of this) it would astound me that he has written an article about a rape case while knowing next to nothing about rape as a phenomenon in the real world. I would wager that, like most men (excepting the 10% who are survivors), Pilger’s opinions about rape are gleaned from TV, films and sensationalist headlines. If this is untrue, he is doing a very good job of hiding it.
‘allegations almost entirely promptly dismissed by the senior prosecutor in Stockholm, Eva Finne, before the intervention of a politician, Claes Borgström.’
The disingenuousness of this statement is astounding. In fact, it would not be going too far to declare that in its egregious misrepresentation of the facts of the matter, it reaches the status of an outright lie. The allegations were not dismissed by Finne. Two allegations were made, one of rape and one of molestation. Only the allegation of rape was dismissed. The arrest warrant was rescinded since in Sweden a warrant cannot be issued on the basis of molestation. At this point, Claes Borgström, the lawyer representing Assange’s alleged victims, lodged an appeal which was upheld. Borgström is indeed also a politician, but this is completely irrelevant to his role in the case. There is absolutely nothing about this process that is not legal, normal and above board, and yet you manage to tease out and cherry-pick odd little facts to make it sound like something out of Putin’s Russia. This sentence puts the final nail in the coffin, for me at least, of your journalistic credibility. Either you completely failed to research the case properly or you knowingly twisted and misrepresented the facts in full knowledge that most people would not bother to spend the five minutes on Google necessary to find out what actually occurred.
‘At the pre-trial of Bradley Manning, a US army investigator confirmed that the FBI was secretly targeting the “founders, owners or managers of WikiLeaks” for espionage.’
So what? Of course they were. I’m shocked that you find this shocking. Moreover, there is a hell of a leap from espionage to trumped up rape allegations, and the connection you make between them is utterly dismissive of the fact that there are two very real, flesh and blood women in Sweden whose decision to go to the police (which is a tremendously courageous thing for a survivor to do) is being systematically slandered worldwide on the basis of extremely tenuous evidence.
‘Four years ago, a barely noticed Pentagon document, leaked by WikiLeaks, described how WikiLeaks and Assange would be destroyed with a smear campaign leading to “criminal prosecution”. On 18 August, the Sydney Morning Herald disclosed, in a Freedom of Information release of official files, that the Australian government had repeatedly received confirmation that the US was conducting an “unprecedented” pursuit of Assange and had raised no objections. Among Ecuador’s reasons for granting asylum is Assange’s abandonment “by the state of which he is a citizen”.’
All this may be true, but it seems extremely cobbled together compared to the mountain of evidence indicating that this is nothing more than a normal, albeit high-profile, rape case. Nothing about the prosecution has been anything but above board so far. The Swedish judiciary, to a much greater extent than that of the US or even the UK, is studiously independent. If these charges have indeed been invented by US agents, there is no better group of people in the world to find this out than a group of Swedish lawyers and judges. To respond that they might succumb to corruption is incredibly insulting.
‘In 2010, an investigation by the Australian Federal Police found that Assange and WikiLeaks had committed no crime. His persecution is an assault on us all and on freedom.’
And here, in the final sentence of Mr Pilger’s nauseating article, we find the deep problem lying at the heart of it – the conflation of Assange and Wikileaks. Wikileaks and Julian Assange are not the same thing. By conflating them, Pilger is, once again, engaging in that loathsome form of rape apologia that declares that a man’s accomplishments make him immune to accusations of rape. Whether this takes the form of assuming that a good man (in all other respects) cannot be a rapist, or that his rape must be ‘weighed against’ all his positive achievements, it is an extremely dangerous, brutal and misogynistic argument that all-but declares any woman who is raped by a ‘great’ man to be either a liar (the implicit argument here, of course, is that Assange’s accusers are CIA moles) or irrelevant in the face of his greatness, a sacrifice to be thrown under a bus that the great maverick may live in peace and freedom. Because as everyone knows, Assange’s humanity and freedom are far more important than those of mere women.
What really astounds me, however, is not John Pilger’s misogyny and rape apologia. I have come almost to accept that from privileged, successful men – it no longer shocks me like it once did when someone I admire (like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Penn Jilette, Michael Moore, Bill Maher, Louis CK…) turns out to be a bigot. That is not to say that Pilger’s bigotry is acceptable, or anything but awful, but it is not unexpected. What I did not expect was how poorly researched, poorly structured and disingenuous this article is. Many of its allegations turned out to be based on a poor understanding of the Swedish legal system. Others were pure fabrications, easily dismissed on the basis of a single Google search. And then there was that sentence, wherein Claes Borgstrom’s entirely normal legal appeal against the dismissal of the rape allegation was made to sound like the corrupt machinations of an Orwellian politician in the pocket of the NSA. I refuse to believe, Mr Pilger, that you refused to research that properly. The story the way you tell it is so incredibly implausible (politicians in Rechtsstaaten like Sweden do not ‘intervene’ in the legal system) that you must have been compelled to look up the facts to verify this. However, having done this you misrepresented the true situation so completely that I will find it hard to take seriously anything you say in the future.
This is a breathtaking article – breathtaking in its bigotry, breathtaking in the poverty of the research that went into it, breathtaking in its sheer lie-spinning. This is truly one of the worst pieces of ‘real’ journalism I have ever read.
By Ben Macintyre (from The Times, July 13 2012)
My favourite Olympian was small, short-sighted and tubby. He could not run fast, swim or jump. He smoked a pipe, and everyone called him “Poppa.” There is no evidence he ever participated in any form of competative sport. But he profoundly understood and changed the meaning of the Olympic Games.
His name was Ludwig Guttman; he was a pioneering German-Jewish neurosurgeon and he invented the Paralympics, Guttman knew that sport is not just about “faster, higher, stronger”, but also about overcoming limitations, extending the physically possible, and the extraordianry psychological benefit of sporting aspiration. He applied that understanding to mthe bodies and minds of men broken on the battlefields of the Second World War, and in so doing he helped to revolutionise modern attitudes towards disability.
Poppa Guttmann knew all about overcoming adversity. Born in a mining town in Upper Silesia in 1899, he worked after school in a hospital where he encountered a coalminer who had fractured his spine in an accident. When Guttman began writing up notes on the young man, he was told: “Don’t bother, he’ll be dead in a few weeks.” And so he was.
That experience would fuse with another. As a medical student at Freidburg, Guttman noticed the way that Jewish fraternities dedicated to sport gave their members extraordinary confidence and self-esteem: “Nobody needed to be ashamed of being a Jew.”
In 1933 Guttman was fired from the medical faculty at Breslau University after Germany’s race laws prohibited Jews from treating Aryans. He became director of the neurological department of Breselau Jewish Hospital, but by 1939 the Gestapo was closing in. He managed to smuggle most of his patients out of the hospital before they were rounded up, and then fled himself. Guttman arrived at Harwich with his wife and children in March 1939.
The British medical establishment was quick to utilise his remarkable talents and in 1943 Guttman was made director of a new spinal injuries centre at Stoke Mandeville, a hospital created in preparation for the expected casualties from the opening of the Second Front. At the time, the life expectancy of spinal-injury patients was two years.
Over the next five years, Guttman treated hundreds of wounded and paralysed soldiers. His programme aimed to reintegrate these disabled men and women into normal British life and he placed particular emphasis on sport, both as a physical rehabilitation but also as a path to rediscovering self-discipline, self-respect and team spirit.
The London Olympics of 1948, the first Games since 1936, rehabilitated a competition that had been gravely and almost fatally damaged by the war. Rationing was still in force and London still bore the scars of battle, as did some competitors. Jim Halliday fought in the retreat from Dunkirk and was then captured by the Japanese. He emerged from a POW camp weighing four-and-a-half stone. Three years later he won bronze in the weightlifting competition. The Hungarian champion marksman Károly Takács injured his right hand in a grenade blast, so he learned to shoot with his left, and won the rapid-fire pistol gold.
But traditional attitudes to disability were still entrenched. Jack Dearlove, father of the future MI6 chief Richard Dearlove, was cox of the British rowing eight in the 1948 Olympics. Dearlove had lost a leg in a car accident and walked on crutches, and while that impediment was not enough to prevent him steering his team to a silver medal, it was not considered the sort of thing the public would like to see. He was told not to take part in the Olympic procession.
At the precise moment that Jack Dearlove was sitting out of sight in the stands on the first day of the Olympics, Ludwig Guttman was organising the first games for people with disabilities. On July 28, 1948, 16 former soldiers (including two women) with spinal injuries gathered in wheelchairs on the lawn outside the Stoke Mandeville wards for an archery competition.
By 1952 the “Stoke Mandeville Games” had 130 international competitors; in 1960 the first Paralympic Gmes (the name was applied retrospectively) were held in Rome.
Today a simple, brilliant, humane idea that started on a Buckinghamshire lawn is the second largest sporting event in the world, with seven different classification of athletes, in addition to the Special Olympics for athletes with intellectual disabilities and the Deaflympics.
Guttman (by then “Sir Ludwig”) died in 1980, but the selection of Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee, to compete in the Olympic 400m race may be the final realisation of his vision: a disabled athlete so entirely rehabilitated by medical science that his disability is no longer relevant.
Pistorius’s victory over the loss of his legs is the culmination of a battle started by the disabled veterans of the Second World War. For the Paralympics, like the Olympics of 1948, represent a conquest over war itself and the suffering it brings. That is still the case today: a significant number of military personnel injured in Afghanistan and Iraqw have been selected for the London 2012 Paralympics, including the cyclist Jon-Allen Butterworth, who lost his left arm in a rocket attack in Iraq, and the rower Nick Beighton, who lost his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2009. It is estimated that, by 2016, as many as one in 20 Paralympians will be injured war veterans.
For Guttman, the Paralympics was also a victory over for real scientific research over Hitler’s perverted science. As Guttman himself remarked: “Since the Nazis drove out Jewish scientists, British science has got ahead of the Germans.”
Hitler not only wanted to eliminate Jews such as Guttman, but also the disabled people Guttman championed. In 1933 the Nazis had begun the forced sterilisation of the disabled, depicted as “useless eaters” with “lives unworthy of living.” Some 275,000 disabled people were murdered at “euthenasia centres” under the Nazis’ unspeakable T4 programme.
But history has a sense of irony. By driving out this Jewish doctor, Hitler unintentionally set in train a course of events that would eventually lead to the Paralympics, an institution that has done more than any other to undermine negative images of disability across the world. Poppa Guttman ran a long, hard race against prejudice, but he won in the end.
NB: almost unbelievably, ATOS, the firm employed by the government to drive disabled people off benefits, and making huge profits by doing so, is a sponsor of the Paralympics. Join Disabled People Against the Cuts and UK Uncut in their protests, next week -JD.
I first heard ‘Ukelele Ike’ when I was 8!
I was ukelele mad and my father searched far and wide for any ‘uke’ records to satisfy my addiction. Little did I know that an ‘Ike’ record would set me on a career in vintage jazz.
‘Ukelele Ike’ (or to give him his real name, Cliff Edwards), has been almost totally forgotten in the history of jazz, cabaret, film singing, etc. But he did it all! Space doesn’t permit me to list his achievements, but the only well-known and commercial aspect of his career was that he was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in the Walt Disney cartoon version of Pinnochio. This brought him great success and money, but, as always with Cliff, it never quite worked out.
Edwards had made lots of money over the years (a reputed four thousand dollars a week in 1925!!), but he seemingly got divorced more times than he got married.
He didn’t really understand the tax laws and was partial to a drink or two. It’s easy to see him as a tragic character, but I don’t think he was — he loved life and lived it to the full.
While on tour of in the USA years ago I met a chap who’d been a pal of Edwards’; I of course asked the question, “What was he like?” The old gent replied, “Every day with Cliff was like New Years’s Eve!”
This Upbeat CD of Edwards is a gem. The balance of the content is superb — early vaudeville hits, hot jazz recordings, sentimental ballads, Howaiian exotica, British recordings, and a few naughty ‘party’ recordings. Using original records, the sound quality is warm and clear. Some radio transcriptions give us a chance to hear the man in a different setting. I have never previously heard the title track, I Did It With My Little Ukelele, so hats off for finding this beauty.
Mike Pointon’s research for this album is incredible; the sleeve notes alone are worth buying, but this is the studious, caring approach that we have all come to expect from the Pointon pen.
I know I’m biased as I’ve spent the last 30 years championing Edwards, but I can wholly recommend this release. It’s all here, and I defy anyone not to find all of it charming. In fact, when I listen to Edwards sing Just like A Melody From Out Of The Sky, it’s not just charming, it’s class that we just don’t hear these days.
Three cheers for Cliff!
This is a slightly edited version of Spats’ review of the Upbeat CD I Did It With My Little Ukelele that appeared in Just Jazz magazine, February 2012.
It is my intention to have an arts, TV, cinema or music article every Friday: if you’d like to contribute, please let me know, via the comments box, or to firstname.lastname@example.org -Jim D.