Hillsborough and the end of history

April 16, 2017 at 10:01 am (Civil liberties, class, Daily Mail, history, Murdoch, Robin Carmody, sport, tragedy)

Above: Anfield in the days following April 15, 1989 –  scarves left at the ground and draped on the Kop goal. Photo: Dave Sinclair.

By Robin Carmody

So here we have it, the first anniversary when there has not been an official memorial service at Anfield itself, and the first after some kind of victory, some kind of vindication, some kind of recognition that the years of struggle were not worthless, not fought in vain?

A few things spring to mind:

Douglas Hurd – who, had he been Prime Minister, certainly would have tried not to let Murdoch ride roughshod over the PSB tradition, however hard that would probably have become after a certain point – should be given some credit for his (squashed) insistence as Home Secretary, coming directly from the social conscience of his One Nation Tory tradition, that the government should embrace and endorse the wholeheartedly, unashamedly and unambiguously anti-police conclusions of Taylor’s interim report. Had Thatcher not stood in his way, a generation of lies could never have become institutionalised.

Might gridiron football be more widely played and followed in 2017 England than association football had it not happened? I’m not sure it’s entirely ASB (for “Alien Space Bats”, the term used in alternative history circles to refer to something wholly unbelievable and impossible in any remotely conceivable circumstances); as a child at the time I had just fallen for football in a big way, but I was a romantic looking outside my own time, my previous sporting passion had been horse racing, and I was obsessed with repeats of Look, Stranger and Follyfoot, Plenty of my He-Man and Thundercats-preferring contemporaries on the Thames Estuary did love the NFL on Channel 4, for all that it didn’t exist to me. And if that Polish shot had been slightly lower … no Blair, no Britpop, no Cameron and no Coldplay, and Florence Welch and Laura Marling ballerinas? It is well within the realms of possibility.

Let no-one pretend that the ancien regime of English football was remotely ideal, or in any way representative, or in any way democratic, or in any true sense “the people’s game”. It was no such thing. It was, in essence, a different kind of bad, a different kind of unrepresentative, undemocratic elitism. It represents the same story as many aspects of English life and capitalism, which went straight from small-time feudalism to billionaire plutocracy with scarcely any intervening period of being any good (compare, for example, the first incarnation of radio stations such as 2CR with the current Heart network, or the towns those stations tend to serve when virtually all foreign influence was shut out of them to the same towns monopolised by national or global brands; as bad as each other, just in wholly different ways). The 96 did not die for Murdoch and the Glazers. But they did not die for aldermen either.

Rather, they died for what we never had before and would have had to have wholly different politics in the decade leading up to Hillsborough to have after, that is to say the elusive dream of genuinely democratic control of “the people’s game” – which it never has truly been in any of its incarnations – actually by the people. There was, even in the context of Thatcherism, a decent chance of this happening after Hillsborough, because the plutocrats at that point saw the game as beneath them, “a slum game for slum people” to quote one particular Murdoch rag. Maybe if Gazza’s tears hadn’t happened, and the game hadn’t had a sudden boost in terms of bourgeois and broader social appeal, it could have done, because they still wouldn’t have cared and democratic ownership could have been the way out of what was very clearly the final straw, the last knock which had rendered the old edifices wholly unsustainable, for the old quasi-feudal structure of club ownership. Michael Knighton may have been trying to wake the sleeping giant in the sleeping giant of an industrial city which was being given new pop-cultural life, but there were other, better ideas which, again, were in no sense ASB or out of reach. One of the most melancholy pages in The Times’ digital archive – the first, only in some highly selective senses and from some equally selective perspectives the best (at any point in the paper’s history), but still the most widely available – is from September 1989, with much talk about fan power and fan involvement as the way ahead – the only way ahead – for football in the 1990s. But on the same page, we have the paper’s owner, at that stage talking only about his hopes to buy cricket rights. At that point, football was still for prole scum as far as he was concerned – that Sun front page showed how much he cared about the people who had given him a British foothold and made him rich in the first place – and so there was still hope for the rest of us. But then …

Let us look back rather sadly on the situation described in David Stubbs’ book 1996 and the End of History, where there was vague hope – hope, as we now know, built on grains of sand and seats of clay – that the decay of both English football and British politics, both of which could arguably be traced to the same week in June 1970 (c.f. the “permanent Butskellism” counterfactual in the Nick Hancock & Chris England book published in that era, far removed from the better-known quasi-fascist dystopia with the same starting point), could be reversed through a closely interrelated purpose. Let us reflect with deep melancholy – especially if we’re my age, even if we were always one step out of everything – on the fact that the first huge wave of mainland European influence on English football at that moment was seen as a means of shoring up our position in the EU, and quite possibly the euro itself, for good.

Let no-one pretend that Brexit can be progressive for English football, for the reasons given above. The old isolation was every bit as bad, in a different way, as the present situation. Let no-one attempt to bring it back, while (in common with Brexit as a whole) leaving the true exploiters untouched.

And let us recall again these words of Keith Waterhouse, arguably his single best column after his Faustian pact with the Harmsworths (the results of which have left much of his best work in limbo among young liberal types in the UK who would otherwise respect and admire it, and I’m working on the assumption that most readers of this blog who were adult by 1989 would not have seen it unless they glanced at Tory relatives’ newspapers, relatively mild and restrained in tone compared to now though the Mail still was); let us praise and celebrate the fact that fans are now, as he rightly believed they always should have been, treated as people and not as prole scum and cattle, let us acknowledge the gains he called for which have been won, but let us mourn the fact that they were not deeper and more profound in other, harder to reach under the present economic system, senses. Let us, in particular, acknowledge its progressive status compared to much else which appeared in that part of the press, by no means just The Sun. And let us keep it in our minds, as proof that a great humanitarian – for all his latterday moans about “Brussels bureaucracy” and the like – never quite (see his sheer joy at Obama’s election, in his last year of life, for proof of this) lost the qualities which had once, in less divided times, made him so revered.

Thanks, of course, are due to the Gale Group for digitising the Mail (particularly valuable if you want to see the “middle class fightback” of the 1970s, stealing Labour’s tactics against it, in action, in a paper which had been seen, like that class itself, as in an inexorable decline) and to the British Library for allowing me to print it. The microfilms would still have been there, but for the generation coming through now, who need to know how they got where they are and how they might want to get out of it, they are acquiring the status of papyrus. Those with access to UK Press Online are urged to track down his post-Heysel column from 3rd June 1985, still in the Daily Mirror at that point, which reveals many of the fractures which had emerged on the Left; while he ends with vicious, fervent condemnation of unemployment, the poverty trap and Thatcherism, many of the things he identifies as elements of social decay were now supported and seen as non-negotiable forces to be championed by the post-68 Left in England (although, very importantly, not in Scotland) and they give some idea of how he would, effectively, call their bluff a year later. But coming out on the other side, here it is (and please don’t be offended by the use of “soccer”, the dominant form in most newspapers until comparatively recently and, while always more common among the middle class in the UK, reflecting its origins within private schools and universities, definitely not a US-originated term as many now think):

After Black Saturday

Keith Waterhouse

Daily Mail, Monday 17th April 1989

IF I SUGGEST that some good may come out of the deadly shambles that was Hillsborough, I am not thinking of such safety improvements as may be triggered off, or not, by those oft-repeated shibboleths, “Lessons must be learned”, “It must never happen again” and “these are all issues which have to be very closely examined”.

Similar resolutions were made after Heysel and Bradford but what must never happen again has happened again – with the supposed safety improvements being a factor in the cause of the disaster.

To most observers on the touchline of this tragedy it seems blazingly obvious that football is a spectator sport in the control of fools. In the fullness of time the inquiries and inquests will doubtless couch this verdict in more seemly language. And there will be recommendations effectively suggesting that the fools might, with the benefit of hindsight, acquire a somewhat higher IQ.

But the good that may come out of the disaster will not arise out of the implementation of belated recommendations. Good is not implemented. It implements itself. It did so at that abandoned FA Cup semi-final.

Like many other by now shame-faced listeners, I would guess, my first reaction to the initial newsflash on the radio was a sigh of, “Oh God, here we go, here we go, Liverpool again!” By the end of a long grim day I had regained a good deal of the respect for Liverpool in particular and soccer fans in general that had seeped away over the violence-besplattered years.

Mismanagement, not misbehaviour, was to blame for Hillsborough. That much was quickly apparent. But more than that: we saw the fans in a new light – and it was the light of respect.

We saw Liverpool supporters resourcefully acting as stretcher bearers for their stricken mates, quickly organising themselves into makeshift St John Ambulance teams and using advertisement placards to convey the injured. They didn’t learn that kind of initiative on their YOP schemes.

We saw the taunts die on the lips of Nottingham Forest fans as they realised this was no mere riot. As the dead were carried off they accorded their rivals the decency of silence.

We saw Everton fans returning home jubilant from their semi-final triumph over Norwich, only to be shocked and subdued by the news and to put away their scarves and rosettes as a gesture of respect.

We saw stunned Liverpool survivors who had lost friends or relatives returning to the ground clutching posies of flowers which they hung reverentially on the spiked railings.

THIS was the eye-opener. They looked like soccer louts and they dressed like soccer louts and doubtless in less sombre circumstances there were those among them who would have behaved like soccer louts, yet they returned carrying not bottles and beer cans but flowers.

The proposition that inside every soccer hooligan is a decent young man trying to get out may be too saccharine-sweet a pill for our present administration to swallow, and indeed it may be a wild overstatement. But Parliament, before leaping on Hillsborough as hell-sent support for the Football Spectators Bill, would do well to take pause and consider that these are human beings and not animals they are dealing with.

The sole function of soccer identity cards, it seems to me, is to degrade and humiliate the fans even further than they are degraded and humiliated already by being prodded and herded into cattle pens. Had ID cards been required at Saturday’s semi-final their only use, in the opinion of the Liverpool doctor who took upon himself the duty of declaring the victims dead, would have been to identify the bodies. Otherwise they could have led to a crush outside the ground as terrible and fatal as the one within it.

BUT I am not about to go into the ins and outs of identity cards, inadequate organisation, allocation of tickets, crowd control, cages, crush barriers, or the insensitivity of Football Association chairman Bert Millichip who, when asked whether the Cup Final would be cancelled, replied: “Life does have to go on”. Not for the dead Liverpool fans, it doesn’t.

No: I simply say that when these matters are weighed and considered, it must be in the realisation that all concerned with football safety, from the Government down, have gone badly wrong in regarding soccer fans as a species of sub-humans with a level of intelligence even lower than that of some soccer administrators.

Received opinion, or anyway the received opinion of those who spend most of their waking hours dreaming up new and ever more futile schemes for curbing soccer violence, is that if the fans behave like animals then they must expect to be treated like animals. Yet when they are treated so much like animals that their lives are put in peril and many of their lives are lost, then they behave not like animals but like responsible human beings. There is a valuable lesson there. Will anyone in authority learn from it?

At the risk of waxing sentimental I will stick my neck out and repeat myself. Inside every soccer lout there is a decent young man trying to get out. That is the good that may emerge from Hillsborough’s black Saturday.

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The Closing of the CEU: the closing of Hungary

April 13, 2017 at 1:46 pm (Civil liberties, Europe, fascism, Free Speech, Human rights, Hungary, intellectuals, nationalism, populism, posted by JD)

The ultra-reactionary government of Viktor Orbán imprisons refugees and asylum seekers in barbed wire-fringed detention centres, is hostile to a free press, and (taking a leaf out of Putin’s book) is targeting NGOs that receive “foreign” funding.

Despite being a member of the EU, the Hungarian government is presently conducting a “Stop Brussels” campaign – a survey full of loaded questions aimed at scuppering the EU’s efforts to resolve the refugee crisis by requiring Hungary to take in its fair share of migrants.

Now,  the government has passed a new law that requires foreign-accredited universities to provide higher education services in their own countries – which would effectively shut down the Central European University (CEU) founded by Georg Soros, a financier who embodies for the fascistic Orbán the influence of globalisation and international capital.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Budapest on Sunday to urge President Janos Ader not to sign the law, but on Monday he did just that.

Writers, artists, civil libertarians and intellectuals have signed an open letter to President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani regarding the threat to the Central European University (CEU). The open letter, which was published on poet George Szirtes’ blog, is titled “The Closing of the CEU: the closing of Hungary“, and reads as follows:

We are deeply concerned about the passing of the disgraceful law intended to shut the Central European University in Budapest.

The law, intended for this one specific purpose, is the latest step taken by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to close out democratic institutions in the country, including press, media and NGOs.

Please note we do not say opposition institutions since the CEU is in no way a political opponent of the government. It is simply an independent university.

On 10th April, the president of the country, János Áder, signed the law and, that night, for the second night running students were out in the streets protesting in their thousands and tens of thousands. Those students are the last bastion of hope against the establishment of an authoritarian state in Hungary.

If that should happen it would be a serious blot on the EU’s conscience to have permitted this act of the Orbán government to pass without response. It reduces Europe. It weakens it. It takes it one step further to the edge of disintegration.

It is vital to act quickly. We ask for a period of intensive fact-finding into the legality of the Hungarian government’s law in this specific instance and its consequences for freedom of education, and for a process of mediation, bringing the parties together around the principle of European rule of law.

To add your name, visit George Szirtes’ blog

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Amnesty’s 2016/17 Annual Report and the effects of the Brexit vote

February 22, 2017 at 9:49 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, Civil liberties, CPB, Europe, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, stalinism)

Amnesty International has released its 2016/17 Annual Report. Once again, I am indebted to the Morning Star for drawing my attention to a valuable publication. However (and once again) I have to note that the M Star’s coverage is – shall we say – misleading when it comes to the effects of the EU referendum campaign and result. The report notes (in the section on the UK), that “The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s official statistics in June and September showed a 57% spike in reporting of hate crime in the week immediately following the EU membership referendum, followed by a decrease in reporting to a level 14% higher than the same period the previous year. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed his concern in June. Government statistics published in October showed an increase in hate crimes of 19% over the previous year, with 79% of the incidents recorded classified as ‘race hate crimes’. In November, the CERD Committee called on the UK to take steps to address the increase in such hate crimes”.

As we’ve come to expect, the Brexit-supporting M Star makes no mention of this aspect of the report, but quotes (or is it a quote? There are no quote marks round it) Amnesty UK director Kerry Moscoguri saying that the attacks on migrants and refugees didn’t start with the Brexit campaign – a statement so banal and beside the point as to be meaningless.
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Below: Amnesty’s press release summarises the report:

‘Politics of demonization’ breeding division and fear

  • Amnesty International releases its Annual Report for 2016 to 2017
  • Risk of domino effect as powerful states backtrack on human rights commitments
  • Salil Shetty, head of the global movement, warns that “never again” has become meaningless as states fail to react to mass atrocities

Politicians wielding a toxic, dehumanizing “us vs them” rhetoric are creating a more divided and dangerous world, warned Amnesty International today as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world.

The report, The State of the World’s Human Rights, delivers the most comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights around the world, covering 159 countries. It warns that the consequences of “us vs them” rhetoric setting the agenda in Europe, the United States and elsewhere is fuelling a global pushback against human rights and leaving the global response to mass atrocities perilously weak.

“2016 was the year when the cynical use of ‘us vs them’ narratives of blame, hate and fear took on a global prominence to a level not seen since the 1930s. Too many politicians are answering legitimate economic and security fears with a poisonous and divisive manipulation of identity politics in an attempt to win votes,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Divisive fear-mongering has become a dangerous force in world affairs. Whether it is Trump, Orban, Erdoğan or Duterte, more and more politicians calling themselves anti-establishment are wielding a toxic agenda that hounds, scapegoats and dehumanizes entire groups of people.

“Today’s politics of demonization shamelessly peddles a dangerous idea that some people are less human than others, stripping away the humanity of entire groups of people. This threatens to unleash the darkest aspects of human nature.”

Politics of demonization drives global pushback on human rights

Seismic political shifts in 2016 exposed the potential of hateful rhetoric to unleash the dark side of human nature. The global trend of angrier and more divisive politics was exemplified by Donald Trump’s poisonous campaign rhetoric, but political leaders in various parts of the world also wagered their future power on narratives of fear, blame and division.

This rhetoric is having an increasingly pervasive impact on policy and action. In 2016, governments turned a blind eye to war crimes, pushed through deals that undermine the right to claim asylum, passed laws that violate free expression, incited murder of people simply because they are accused of using drugs, justified torture and mass surveillance, and extended draconian police powers.

Governments also turned on refugees and migrants; often an easy target for scapegoating. Amnesty International’s Annual Report documents how 36 countries violated international law by unlawfully sending refugees back to a country where their rights were at risk.

Most recently, President Trump put his hateful xenophobic pre-election rhetoric into action by signing an executive order in an attempt to prevent refugees from seeking resettlement in the USA; blocking people fleeing conflict and persecution from war-torn countries such as Syria from seeking safe haven in the country.

Meanwhile, Australia purposefully inflicts terrible suffering by trapping refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, the EU made an illegal and reckless deal with Turkey to send refugees back there, even though it is not safe for them, and Mexico and the USA continue to deport people fleeing rampant violence in Central America.

Elsewhere, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Thailand and Turkey carried out massive crackdowns. While other countries pursued intrusive security measures, such as prolonged emergency powers in France and unprecedented catastrophic surveillance laws in the UK. Another feature of “strongman” politics was a rise in anti-feminist and -LGBTI rhetoric, such as efforts to roll back women’s rights in Poland, which were met with massive protests.

“Instead of fighting for people’s rights, too many leaders have adopted a dehumanizing agenda for political expediency. Many are violating rights of scapegoated groups to score political points, or to distract from their own failures to ensure economic and social rights,” said Salil Shetty.

“In 2016, these most toxic forms of dehumanization became a dominant force in mainstream global politics. The limits of what is acceptable have shifted. Politicians are shamelessly and actively legitimizing all sorts of hateful rhetoric and policies based on people’s identity: misogyny, racism and homophobia.

“The first target has been refugees and, if this continues in 2017, others will be in the cross-hairs. The reverberations will lead to more attacks on the basis of race, gender, nationality and religion. When we cease to see each other as human beings with the same rights, we move closer to the abyss.”

World turns its back on mass atrocities

Amnesty International is warning that 2017 will see ongoing crises exacerbated by a debilitating absence of human rights leadership on a chaotic world stage. The politics of “us vs them” is also taking shape at the international level, replacing multilateralism with a more aggressive, confrontational world order.

“With world leaders lacking political will to put pressure on other states violating human rights, basic principles from accountability for mass atrocities to the right to asylum are at stake,” said Salil Shetty.

“Even states that once claimed to champion rights abroad are now too busy rolling back human rights at home to hold others to account. The more countries backtrack on fundamental human rights commitments, the more we risk a domino effect of leaders emboldened to knock back established human rights protections.”

The world faces a long list of crises with little political will to address them: including Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Central America, Central African Republic, Burundi, Iraq, South Sudan and Sudan. Amnesty International’s Annual Report documented war crimes committed in at least 23 countries in 2016.

Despite these challenges, international indifference to war crimes has become an entrenched normality as the UN Security Council remains paralyzed by rivalries between permanent member states.

“The beginning of 2017 finds many of the world’s most powerful states pursuing narrower national interests at the expense of international cooperation. This risks taking us towards a more chaotic, dangerous world,” said Salil Shetty.

“A new world order where human rights are portrayed as a barrier to national interests makes the ability to tackle mass atrocities dangerously low, leaving the door open to abuses reminiscent of the darkest times of human history.

“The international community has already responded with deafening silence after countless atrocities in 2016: a live stream of horror from Aleppo, thousands of people killed by the police in the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’, use of chemical weapons and hundreds of villages burned in Darfur. The big question in 2017 will be how far the world lets atrocities go before doing something about them.”

Who is going to stand up for human rights?

Amnesty International is calling on people around the world to resist cynical efforts to roll back long-established human rights in exchange for the distant promise of prosperity and security.

The report warns that global solidarity and public mobilization will be particularly important to defend individuals who stand up to those in power and defend human rights, who are often cast by governments as a threat to economic development, security or other priorities.

Amnesty International’s annual report documents people killed for peacefully standing up for human rights in 22 countries in 2016. They include those targeted for challenging entrenched economic interests, defending minorities and small communities or opposing traditional barriers to women’s and LGBTI rights. The killing of the high-profile Indigenous leader and human rights defender Berta Cáceres in Honduras on 2 March 2016 sent a chilling message to activists but nobody was brought to justice.

“We cannot passively rely on governments to stand up for human rights, we the people have to take action. With politicians increasingly willing to demonize entire groups of people, the need for all of us to stand up for the basic values of human dignity and equality everywhere has seldom been clearer,” said Salil Shetty.

“Every person must ask their government to use whatever power and influence they have to call out human rights abusers. In dark times, individuals have made a difference when they took a stand, be they civil rights activists in the USA, anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, or women’s rights and LGBTI movements around the world. We must all rise to that challenge now.”

Background

Amnesty International has documented grave violations of human rights in 2016 in 159 countries. Examples of the rise and impact of poisonous rhetoric, national crackdowns on activism and freedom of expression highlighted by Amnesty International in its Annual Report include, but are by no means limited, to:

Bangladesh: Instead of providing protection for or investigating the killings of activists, reporters and bloggers, authorities have pursued trials against media and the opposition for, among other things, Facebook posts.

China: Ongoing crackdown against lawyers and activists continued, including incommunicado detention, televised confessions and harassments of family members.

DRC: Pro-democracy activists subjected to arbitrary arrests and, in some cases, prolonged incommunicado detention.

Egypt: Authorities used travel bans, financial restrictions and asset freezes to undermine, smear and silence civil society groups.

Ethiopia: A government increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices used anti-terror laws and a state of emergency to crack down on journalists, human rights defenders, the political opposition and, in particular, protesters who have been met with excessive and lethal force.

France: Heavy-handed security measures under the prolonged state of emergency have included thousands of house searches, as well as travel bans and detentions.

Honduras: Berta Cáceres and seven other human rights activists were killed.

Hungary: Government rhetoric championed a divisive brand of identity politics and a dark vision of “Fortress Europe”, which translated into a policy of systematic crackdown on refugee and migrants rights.

India: Authorities used repressive laws to curb freedom of expression and silence critical voices. Human rights defenders and organizations continued to face harassment and intimidation. Oppressive laws have been used to try to silence student activists, academics, journalists and human rights defenders.

Iran: Heavy suppression of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and religious beliefs. Peaceful critics jailed after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts, including journalists, lawyers, bloggers, students, women’s rights activists, filmmakers and even musicians.

Myanmar: Tens of thousands of Rohingya people – who remain deprived of a nationality – displaced by “clearance operations” amid reports of unlawful killings, indiscriminate firing on civilians, rape and arbitrary arrests. Meanwhile, state media published opinion articles containing alarmingly dehumanizing language.

Philippines: A wave of extrajudicial executions ensued after President Duterte promised to kill tens of thousands of people suspected of being involved in the drug trade.

Russia: At home the government noose tightened around national NGOs, with increasing propaganda labelling critics as “undesirable” or “foreign agents”, and the first prosecution of NGOs under a “foreign agents” law. Meanwhile, dozens of independent NGOs receiving foreign funding were added to the list of “foreign agents”. Abroad there was a complete disregard for international humanitarian law in Syria.

Saudi Arabia: Critics, human rights defenders and minority rights activists have been detained and jailed on vaguely worded charges such as “insulting the state”. Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia committed serious violations of international law, including alleged war crimes, in Yemen. Coalition forces bombed schools, hospitals, markets and mosques, killing and injuring thousands of civilians using arms supplied by the US and UK governments, including internationally banned cluster bombs.

South Sudan: Ongoing fighting continued to have devastating humanitarian consequences for civilian populations, with violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Sudan: Evidence pointed strongly to the use of chemical weapons by government forces in Darfur. Elsewhere, suspected opponents and critics of the government subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions. Excessive use of force by the authorities in dispersing gatherings led to numerous casualties.

Syria: Impunity for war crimes and gross human rights abuses continued, including indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and lengthy sieges that trapped civilians. The human rights community has been almost completely crushed, with activists either imprisoned, tortured, disappeared, or forced to flee the country.

Thailand: Emergency powers, defamation and sedition laws used to restrict freedom of expression.

Turkey: Tens of thousands locked up after failed coup, with hundreds of NGOs suspended, a massive media crackdown, and the continuing onslaught in Kurdish areas.

UK: A spike in hate crimes followed the referendum on European Union membership. A new surveillance law granted significantly increased powers to intelligence and other agencies to invade people’s privacy on a massive scale.

USA: An election campaign marked by discriminatory, misogynist and xenophobic rhetoric raised serious concerns about the strength of future US commitments to human rights domestically and globally.

Venezuela: Backlash against outspoken human rights defenders who raised the alarm about the humanitarian crisis caused by the government’s failure to meet the economic and social rights of the population.

For more information or to request an interview please call Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on

+44 20 7413 5566 or +44 (0)77 7847 2126

email: press@amnesty.org

twitter: @amnestypress

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Trump, Populism and the Left

February 6, 2017 at 8:19 pm (Andrew Coates, Civil liberties, class, communalism, conspiracy theories, Europe, fascism, France, populism, Racism, Trump, UKIP)

By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesy):

Image result for trump and populism

Populists High on the Hog.

From the vantage point of the left, from liberals to socialists, Donald Trump is a ‘truth’, a reality, the “actuality of the populist revolution” that is hard to grapple with. The thousands who demonstrated against his Muslim/Visa Ban in London on Saturday, (40,000 to the organisers, 10,000 to everybody else), and the anti-Trump protests across the country, express heartfelt outrage at the US President’s xenophobic measures. It is to be hoped that they continue in the event of a Trump State visit to Britain. But beyond our backing for the worldwide campaigns against the new President the nature and destination of his politics needs serious reflection and debate.

In What is Populism? (2016) Jan-Werner Müller described modern populism as a “moralistic imagination of politics”. Müller’s description is tailor-made, not only for populist protest, the indignation at the ‘elites’, the neglect of “hard-working people” and respect for those who are “more ordinary” than others that marks UKIP and the galaxy of the Continental radical right.

But, What is Populism? argues, it is not just that for populists “only some of the people are really the people”. Trump has passed from the idea that his election represents the will of the ‘real’ American people, a claim to sovereignty that overrides any consideration of the plurality of the electing body, to efforts to bring the sovereignty of law to heel. In this case, the emerging political model, is an alternative to the ‘non-adversarial” consensus in ‘liberal’ democracies.

But Trump’s triumph is very far from a mobilisation against the “élitocratie” favoured by supporters of ‘left populist’ anticapitalism, through grassroots movements involving forces capable of giving voice and a progressive slant to demands for popular sovereignty.

It is an illiberal democracy.

Müller predicts that in power,

..with their basic commitment to the idea that only they represented the people”. Once installed in office, “they will engage in occupying the state mass clientelism and corruption, and the suppression of anything like a critical civil society. (Page 102)

This looks a good description of Trump’s first weeks in office.

Nick Cohen has warned that the British Conservatives have not only failed to stand up the British Populists but forces may lead some of them to shift in the same direction (What has become of conservatism? Observer. 2911.17)

Populist Calls to Break up the EU.

After Brexit, Trump’s victory has reverberated in the democratic left as warning that, for some, that the left, from its ‘liberal’ US version to our socialist and social democratic culture, has lost touch with ‘ordinary people’. A rapid response has been to advocate some kind of ‘left populism’. For the moment the prospect of a left-wing populism in Britain looks reduced to making appeals to the ‘people’ against the Tory and financial elite. Or to put it simply, using the term as a way of looking for popular support on issues which play well with the electorate. A more developed tool-box approach, perhaps best mirrored in the efforts of the French Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon to stand up for La France insoumise, ends up with precisely the problem of illiberal democracy sketched above.

This can be seen in the demand, formally announced today, by the French Front National, to prepare for what Marine le Pen has called ‘Frexit’. That is for a process which, if she wins power in the April-May Presidential elections, begins with renegotiating European Treaties, proceeds to France dropping the Euro, and ends with a referendum on leaving the European Union (Marine Le Pen promises Frexit referendum if she wins presidency).

Organising and supporting the anti-Trump demonstration were a number of individuals and organisations (Counterfire, SWP, Socialist Party) that backed Brexit. Trump is famous for his support for Brexit. It is alleged that Ted Malloch, who wishes the “break up of the EU” is waging a campaign to become Trump’s Ambassador to the European Union (Patrick Wintour. Guardian. 4.2.17).

Trump is said to be “cheering on” the populist forces in Europe. While not supporting UKIP the British ‘left’ supporters of Brexit cast their ballot in the same way to leave the EU. The results of the Referendum, it need hardly be said, are probably the best example of the failure of the left to ‘channel’ populism in its direction

Will these forces also welcome the “break up” of the EU? Would they back Frexit? An indication that they might well do comes from the strong support and attendance of Trade Unionists Against the EU at the ‘Internationalist’ Rally last year (May 28th Pour le Brexit) organised by the pro-Frexit Trotskyist sect, the Parti Ouvrier Indépendant Démocratique.(1)

If they take this stand, and these groups have to have views on every EU issue, regardless of ‘sovereignty;’ a part of the British left is in letting itself in for some major difficulties. In What is Populism? Müller asked, by placing the construction of the “people” against the “market people” – or the People against the European Union ‘neo-liberal superpower – will this “import the problems of a genuinely populist conception of politics? “ (Page 98)

The sovereigntist ideal of the Front National is quite clear about defining who the French ‘people’ are; it even intends to give them preference in jobs (préférence nationale).

What kind of ‘construction’ of the People around what Laclau has dubbed On Populist Reason (2005) as an “us” opposed to an (elite) “them” is that?

This indicates the kind of action Marine Le Pen takes against critics (the journalist asks her about employing her thuggish bodyguards as “Parliamentary Assistants” on the EU Payroll.

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(1) “quitter l’Union Européenne” Wikipedia.  More details in the Tribune des Travailleurs on the ‘Constituent Assembly’which will carry out this process. Mouvement pour la rupture avec l’UE et la 5e République

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Protest Trump’s anti-migrant and anti-Muslim “executive order”

January 30, 2017 at 8:48 am (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, campaigning, Civil liberties, Human rights, populism, posted by JD, protest, Trump, United States)

30 January action against Trump and his anti-migrant and anti-Muslim “executive order”

London https://www.facebook.com/events/359732827741189/

Leicester: meet at the Clock Tower, 5.30 20:41 https://www.facebook.com/events/163409027485279/

Leeds https://www.facebook.com/events/1260038597373263/

Manchester https://www.facebook.com/events/1178903268872705/

Edinburgh https://www.facebook.com/events/730670750432521/

Nottingham https://www.facebook.com/events/228017187660153/ and Beeston https://www.facebook.com/events/758959984258276/

Cambridge https://www.facebook.com/events/1837431089828484/

Warwick https://www.facebook.com/events/1640545546247932/

Oxford https://www.facebook.com/events/1379339422139172/

Cardiff https://www.facebook.com/events/163108354183859/

Brighton https://www.facebook.com/events/350304378689960/

Birmingham https://www.facebook.com/events/1827033917584384/

Sheffield https://www.facebook.com/events/240434393073850/

Falmouth https://www.facebook.com/events/366258137074758/

Cheltenham https://www.facebook.com/events/582877358574907/

Glasgow https://www.facebook.com/events/732127103622747/

York https://www.facebook.com/events/222422104831664/

Preston https://www.facebook.com/events/256223411480481/

Hastings https://www.facebook.com/events/1754828304835999/

Bristol https://www.facebook.com/events/1842019126039177/

4 February, London: Assemble 11am Saturday 4th February at the US Embassy 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 2LQ followed by a march to Downing St. https://www.facebook.com/events/1761835547477556/
Academics in the USA have launched an online protest which, as of Sunday evening UK time, had nearly 5000 signatures including 35 Nobel Laureates and 34 winners of Fields/Dirac/Clark/Turing/Poincare Medals, Breakthrough Prize, Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Fellowship.

https://notoimmigrationban.com/

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Kuenssberg skewers Trump

January 28, 2017 at 2:29 pm (BBC, Civil liberties, fascism, Human rights, Jim D, media, populism, Trump, United States)

At the bizarre press conference at which a desperate Theresa May demeaned herself in the presence of the creature Trump yesterday, the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg stuck it to the preening racist man-baby, and also succeeded in making the wretched May look even more embarrassed than she did already.

At a time when the BBC (and especially the craven Radio 4 Today programme) seems to be bending over backwards to appease Trump supporters, Brexiteers and the alt-Right, Ms Kuessberg’s plain speaking deserves out appreciation – especially given the largely unwarranted and sometimes sexist criticism that she’s received in the past from some on the UK left.

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How, just 50 years ago, the closed shop reinforced the colour bar

October 26, 2016 at 7:03 pm (BBC, Civil liberties, history, Human rights, immigration, posted by JD, Racism, Socialist Party, unions, workers)

A superb BBC Radio 4 programme today, told the story of how rail worker Asquith Xavier took on the colour bar operated at Euston station by NUR lay officials claiming that all they were doing was operating the ‘closed shop’; Socialist Party members take note:

BBC, 15 July 1966:

1966: Euston staff ‘colour bar’ ended

A West Indian refused a job at Euston Station will now be employed there after managers overturned a ban on black workers.

Two months ago Asquith Xavier, a train guard from Dominica, was refused a transfer from Marylebone Station to Euston because of his colour.

The new job would have meant a pay increase of around £10 a week for Mr Xavier who started work for British Railways (BR) as a porter 10 years ago.

He was informed about his rejection and the reason for it in a letter from Euston’s local staff committee whose members belong to the National Union of Railwaymen (NUR).
BR does not have to abide by staff committees’ recommendations on appointments but they are very influential.

However, at a news conference on Friday BR spokesman Leslie Leppington said the colour bar at Euston Station had now been ended and Mr Xavier would be given a job.

However, Mr Leppington insisted the ban – rumoured to have been in place for 12 years – had not been a “real” colour bar.

He said it had been instigated by the workers out of a desire to protect their jobs and had never been management policy.

“If we had wanted to impose a real colour bar we would not have done it this way.

“We would have found some excuse to show he was not suitable for the job, wouldn’t we?” Mr Leppington said.

Mr Xavier, 44, is currently off work due to ill health and was not at the news conference.

But afterwards the secretary of the West Indian Standing Conference, Jeff Crawford, said they would be calling for the government to take action.

“We are going to urge the government to conduct a full and independent inquiry into discrimination throughout British Rail – to find out the extent of the problem, the cause and effect and the solution,” Mr Crawford said.

Similar bans to that ended at Euston are reported to be in force at other London stations including Camden and Broad Street.

But under current law the government’s options to curb them are limited.

The Race Relations Act was passed last year but contains only measures to combat racial discrimination in public places such as hotels and pubs (discrimination in the workplace was not illegal until an amendment to the Race Relations Act in 1968 -JD).

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Tatchell: ‘gay cake’ verdict is defeat for freedom of expression

October 24, 2016 at 7:35 pm (Christianity, Civil liberties, Free Speech, gay, homophobia, law, LGBT, Peter Tatchell)

Peter Tatchell once again demonstrates his fairness, generosity of spirit and commitment to freedom of expression:

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Ashers Baking Company refused to make this cake

The law should not compel businesses to aid political messages

London & Belfast – 24 October 2016

The Appeal Court in Belfast has today ruled that a local Christian-run business, Ashers Bakery, was wrong to refuse to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage message.

“This verdict is a defeat for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers can be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also implies that gay bakers could be forced by law to decorate cakes with homophobic slogans,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.

“It seems that businesses cannot now lawfully refuse a customer’s request to propagate a message, even if it is a sexist, xenophobic or anti-gay message and even if the business has a conscientious objection to it.

“Although I strongly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be compelled to facilitate a political idea that they oppose.

“Ashers did not discriminate against the customer, Gareth Lee, because he was gay. They objected to the message he wanted on the cake: ‘Support gay marriage.’

“Discrimination against LGBT people is wrong and is rightly unlawful. But in a free society, people should be able to discriminate against ideas they disagree with. I am saddened that the court did not reach the same conclusion.

“The judgement opens a can of worms. It means that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be required to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial. It could also encourage far right extremists to demand that bakers and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions.

“What the court has decided sets a dangerous, authoritarian precedent that is open to serious abuse.

“Discrimination against people should be illegal but not discrimination against ideas and opinions,” said Mr Tatchell.

Read Peter Tatchell’s detailed reasoning as to why he changed his mind on the Ashers case (he initially supported the verdict against them) and why he opposes the new legal ruling:

Why I changed my mind on the Ashers gay cake row

The law should not require bakers to aid the gay marriage campaign

By Peter Tatchell

Like most gay and equality campaigners, I initially condemned the Christian-run Ashers Bakery in Belfast over its refusal to produce a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan for a gay customer, Gareth Lee.

I supported his legal claim against Ashers and the subsequent verdict, which last year found the bakery guilty of discrimination. My reasons for supporting Gareth’s claim were:

1. Ashers had falsely advertised their services, saying they were willing decorate their cakes with any message that a customer wanted. They did not say there were any limits on the designs or wording.

2. I feared that Ashers actions could open the flood gates to allow sectarian loyalist-republican discrimination and discrimination against women, LGBTs and other minorities – and their points of view.

But I later changed my mind. Much as I wish to defend the LGBT community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion.

While Christian bed and breakfast owners and civil partnership registrars were clearly wrong to deny service to gay people, this case is different. It is about the refusal to facilitate an idea – namely, support for same-sex marriage.

I will continue to oppose the proposed “conscience clause” in Northern Ireland. It is intended to allow discrimination against LGBT people. I do not accept that people of faith should be permitted by law to deny service to LGBTs – or anyone else. Discrimination against people is never acceptable.

The whole saga began in 2014 when Ashers said they were not willing to ice a cake with the words “support gay marriage” and the logo of the equality group, Queer Space; claiming it was contrary to their Christian beliefs to promote homosexuality and gay marriage.

This struck many of us as discrimination based on religious-inspired homophobic prejudice. Ashers believe that the relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are wrong and should not be eligible for the status of marriage. They translated these beliefs into action and declined to make the cake. Ashers would have decorated a cake with a message celebrating traditional heterosexual marriage and promoting a Christian organisation. Surely this was an example of clear-cut anti-gay discrimination?

Gareth Lee’s legal case against Ashers was backed by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland. It argued that the bakery’s actions breached the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 and The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998, which prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the respective grounds of sexual orientation and political opinion.

A Belfast court last May agreed and found Ashers guilty of discrimination on both grounds; ordering them to pay Gareth £500 compensation.

I profoundly disagree with Asher’s opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians and followers of Jesus. Yet he never once condemned homosexuality. Moreover, discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound.

Nevertheless, on reflection, the court was wrong to penalise Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision.

For sure, the law suit against the bakery was well intended. It sought to challenge homophobia. But it was a step too far. It pains me to say this, as a long-time supporter of the struggle for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage remains banned.

The equality laws are intended to protect people against discrimination. A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith, sexuality and so on.

However, the court erred by ruling that Gareth was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions.

His cake request was not refused because he was gay but because of the message he wanted on the cake. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order.

Despite this, Judge Isobel Brownlie said refusing the pro-gay marriage slogan was unlawful indirect sexual orientation discrimination because same-sex marriage is a union between persons of the same-sex and therefore refusing to provide a service in support of same-sex marriage was de facto sexual orientation discrimination.

I disagree. Refusing to facilitate a message in support of same-sex marriage is not sexuality discrimination. It is discrimination against an idea, not against a person.

On the question of political discrimination, the judge said Ashers had denied Gareth service based on his request for a message supporting same-sex marriage. She noted: “If the plaintiff had ordered a cake with the words ‘support marriage’ or ‘support heterosexual marriage’ I have no doubt that such a cake would have been provided.” Brownlie therefore concluded that by refusing to provide a cake with a pro-gay marriage wording Ashers had treated him less favourably, contrary to the law.

This may be a case of differential treatment. However, it was not discrimination against views held or expressed by Gareth but against words he wanted on a cake. Moreover, the law against political discrimination was meant to protect people with differing political views, not to force others to further political views to which they conscientiously object.

The finding of political discrimination against Gareth sets a worrying precedent. Northern Ireland’s laws against discrimination on the grounds of political opinion were framed in the context of decades of conflict. They were designed to heal the sectarian divide by preventing the denial of jobs, housing and services to people because of their politics. There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas, such as same-sex marriage, with which they disagreed – let alone on a cake.

The judge concluded that service providers are required by law to facilitate any “lawful” message, even if they have a conscientious objection to it.

This begs the question: Will gay bakers have to accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? I don’t think LGBT people should be forced to promote anti-gay messages.

The court judgement also leads me to ask: Should a Muslim printer be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed or a Jewish one a book that propagates Holocaust denial?

If the current Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes, print posters and emblazon mugs with bigoted messages.

In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require private businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful but not discrimination against ideas and opinions.

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Russian Greens condemn US candidate Jill Stein

September 7, 2016 at 7:16 pm (apologists and collaborators, Civil liberties, democracy, elections, Free Speech, Green Party, Human rights, posted by JD, Putin, Russia, thuggery, United States)

Jill Stein is the Green Party candidate for US president, and has the support of some American leftists, but her apologies for Putin has angered Greens in Russia, who’ve sent her this Open Letter:

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Yesterday at 9:34am ·

Open letter to Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for President of the United States in the 2016 election

Dear Dr. Stein,

We are writing to you in the spirit of green values and principles, which include fighting for a sustainable future, defending the environment and human rights, and engaging in international solidarity. We are also writing to you as eco-activists, women and mothers.

In November of this year, you will face an important challenge which will have an impact all over the world, even far away from US borders. As Russian eco-activists, we are following the US presidential election with curiosity and fear. Curiosity for your democratic system and fear for the impact that the result of this election could have on our lives and the lives of our children.

As environmentalists and human rights defenders, we often support Green candidates all over the world when they run for local, national or continental election. However, we are asking ourselves if we can support your candidature for the Presidency of the United States of America. We have carefully read your program and your website and we have to admit that we are deeply shocked by the position you expressed during your visit to Moscow and your meeting with Mr. Vladimir Putin.

During the last few years, Russian authorities have continued the destruction of the rich and unique Russian environment. The Kremlin is heavily contributing to global climate change and the destruction of global biodiversity by over-using Russian natural resources and promoting unsafe nuclear energy. Corruption and anti-democratic behavior of the current Russian government has also led to negative impacts on Russia’s unique forests and natural heritage. Russian eco-activists and human rights defenders are also facing an increasingly repressive system which was constructed under Putin’s regime. The list of the victims of this system is unfortunately becoming longer and longer. Russian environmentalist Yevgeniy Vitishko spent 22 months in prison for a non-violent action. Journalist Mikhail Beketov was violently attacked in 2008, suffered serious injuries, and died in 2013. Our personal cases are also symbolic: because of our activism, and in order to protect our children, we were both forced to leave Russia and to seek political asylum in the European Union.

After your visit to Moscow and your meeting with Vladimir Putin you said that “the world deserve[s] a new commitment to collaborative dialogue between our governments to avert disastrous wars for geopolitical domination, destruction of the climate, and cascading injustices that promote violence and terrorism.” We agree with you. But how can this new “collaborative dialogue” be possible when Mr. Putin has deliberately built a system based on corruption, injustice, falsification of elections, and violation of human rights and international law? How is it possible to have a discussion with Mr. Putin and not mention, not even once, the fate of Russian political prisoners, or the attacks against Russian journalists, artists, and environmentalists? Is it fair to speak with him about “geopolitics” and not mention new Russian laws against freedom of speech, restrictions on NGOs and activists, or the shameful law that forbids “homosexual propaganda”?

By silencing Putin’s crimes you are silencing our struggle. By shaking his hand and failing to criticize his regime you are becoming his accomplice. By forgetting what international solidarity means you are insulting the Russian environmental movement.

Dr. Stein, you still have several weeks before the elections in order to clarify your position on the anti-democratic and anti-environmental elements of Putin’s regime. We sincerely hope that our voices will be heard and that our questions will not go unanswered

Best regards,
Evgeniya Chirikova
Nadezda Kutepova

H/t: Roland Dodds at That Place

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Oppose the ban, but no to promotion of the burkini or female “modesty”

September 3, 2016 at 11:04 am (Civil liberties, France, Human rights, Islam, islamism, posted by JD, Racism, relativism, religion, secularism, women)

burkini.jpg
Above: police in Nice force woman to remove burkini

Some of the liberal and liberal-leftist opposition to the French burkini ban (eg in the Guardian) has slipped over into positive support for religious dress and “modesty” as a female virtue. This article argues that opposition to the ban should not mean offering any degree of support to religious obscurantism or misogyny.

By Theodora Polenta (very slightly edited by JD; this article also appears in Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website):

On 26 August, the Supreme Court of France ruled against bans on the “burkini” by some south-of-France municipalities. The ruling was greeted with relief by women, by Muslims (including those opposed to religiously-imposed dress rules for women), and for the millions of women and men outraged by seeing four armed policemen on the beach of Nice publicly humiliate a Muslim woman in a burkini. The Court concluded that the ban is a “serious and illegal violation of basic freedoms”, and that local authorities may take such measures only if the burkini is a “proven risk to public order”.

The “burkini” is a swimsuit invented in 2004 by the Australian-Lebanese designer Aheda Zanetti. The big fashion houses saw the potential of a new “market”, and took it up. It is a swimsuit that covers the entire body except the face (unlike the burqa, which covers the face, and is compulsorily loose-fitting), and is similar to diving suits and other garments for watersports. While the diving suits have never bothered anyone, and the burkini has bothered few in Australia, where many wearers are non-Muslims concerned about skin cancer risks, some French politicians have branded the burkini as a major threat to the morals and values of French society.

For readers of Solidarity, the burkini will seem reminiscent of periods we want to leave behind, when women were forced to remain invisible and silent to demonstrate that they were modest and humble. Personally I find abhorrent any suggestion that there is something inherently wrong with the body and hair of any woman or any human being, or that anyone should be condemned never to feel the sun and the air on their body in order to be considered a “woman”. Or that to cover our bodies is the answer to the voyeuristic culture that objectifies women’s bodies and imposes elusive and sometimes cruel beauty standards. However, the burkini bans bring to mind the French army operation in Algeria in May 1958. In order to add pressure for the coup in France which would bring De Gaulle to power and block what the army saw as a drift to conceding Algerian independence, the army organised a demonstration by some Muslim Algerian women to remove their veils and burn them.

Moreover, the right-wing politicians pushing the bans are instrumentalising women’s bodies and rights as a diversion and a pretext for divisive policies. Banning the burkini as “associated with terrorism” is an invention based on Islamophobia, racism and sexism. The bans are part of the official response to the murderous attacks by Daesh in Paris in 2015 and in Nice this summer. In the name of anti-terrorism, instead of promoting more equality and democracy, the government is fortifying a permanent state of emergency and targeting and stigmatising sections of the already most oppressed parts of the population. Several mayors have said they will appeal.

According to Marine Le Pen, leader of the fascistic National Front, “the soul of France itself is at stake,” because “France does not imprison a woman’s body nor hides half the population under the pretext that the other half will be tempted.” Socialist Party Prime Minister Valls has written on Facebook that “the decision of the Supreme Court did not close the debate”. “Denouncing the burkini is not calling into question individual freedom… It is denouncing deadly, backward Islamism”. Women’s rights minister Laurence Rossiynol has declared that the bans help fight against “restriction of the female body”! However, education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has stated that “there is absolutely no connection between terrorism and what a woman wears on the beach.”

The National Front and Marine Le Pen expect to make gains in the upcoming presidential elections. Ultra-rightists are feeling daring and are behind the proliferation of attacks against Muslims, who are 7.5% of France’s population. Among Muslims in France, who generally follow religious dress codes much less than Muslims in Britain, the ban was considered as a camouflaged attack not only on how Muslim women dress but also on how they self-identify.

While opposing the ban on the burkini, we should not slide into supporting the burkini and burqa under some postmodernist reasoning. For a large number of women in the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa, and sometimes in the Western world, religious dress codes are not their free choice, but a brutal coercion. They are an extreme symbol of obscurantism and repression of by hardcore Muslim Islamists. But opposition to religious compulsion is not served by such bans. The hypocrites who want to ban the burkini have no problem with the French State financing private Catholic schools. Or with the fact that in adjacent Belgium, much of the education is Catholic. Or with the mandatory religion classes, morning school prayers, and so on, in Greece.

The bans on burkinis has caused a 200% surge in sales. And such prohibitions can drive people into the open arms of fanatical Islamist organizations, which appear as the only defenders of their rights. To gain the trust of these women and engage them in the struggle for decent jobs and wages, against cuts, for a socialist society, we must defend their freedom of choice of dressing, of religious self-identification and of freedom of religious expression and exercise of religious beliefs.

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