Andy Razaf, Maxine Sullivan: Mound Bayou

December 16, 2017 at 9:18 pm (black culture, civil rights, history, jazz, Jim D, music, Slavery, song, United States)

Andy Razaf, born December 16 1895, died February 3 1973.

Razaf was a song-writer, poet, African prince and associate of Fats Waller, who wrote many songs including Ain’t Misbehavin’, Honeysuckle Rose and Black And Blue.

According to Wikipedia: Razaf was born in Washington, D.C. His birth name was Andriamanantena Paul Razafinkarefo. He was the son of Henri Razafinkarefo, nephew of Queen Ranavalona III of Imerina kingdom in Madagascar, and Jennie (Waller) Razafinkarefo, the daughter of John L. Waller, the first African American consul to Imerina. The French invasion of Madagascar left his father dead, and forced his pregnant 15-year-old mother to escape to the United States, where he was born in 1895.

Singer Maxine Sullivan recorded a fine album of Razaf’s songs, with trumpeter Charlie Shavers amongst others, in 1956. She included one of Razaf’s lesser-known songs, Mound Bayou.

Again, accord to Wikipedia: Mound Bayou traces its origin to people from the community of Davis Bend, Mississippi. The latter was started in the 1820s by the planter Joseph E. Davis (brother of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis), who intended to create a model slave community on his plantation. Davis was influenced by the utopian ideas of Robert Owen. He encouraged self-leadership in the slave community, provided a higher standard of nutrition and health and dental care, and allowed slaves to become merchants. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Davis Bend became an autonomous free community when Davis sold his property to former slave Benjamin Montgomery, who had run a store and been a prominent leader at Davis Bend. The prolonged agricultural depression, falling cotton prices and white hostility in the region contributed to the economic failure of Davis Bend.

Isaiah T. Montgomery led the founding of Mound Bayou in 1887 in wilderness in northwest Mississippi. The bottomlands of the Delta were a relatively undeveloped frontier, and blacks had a chance to clear land and acquire ownership in such frontier areas. By 1900 two-thirds of the owners of land in the bottomlands were black farmers. With high debt and continuing agricultural problems, most of them lost their land and by 1920 were sharecroppers. As cotton prices fell, the town suffered a severe economic decline in the 1920s and 1930s.

Shortly after a fire destroyed much of the business district, Mound Bayou began to revive in 1942 after the opening of the Taborian Hospital by the International Order of Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor, a fraternal organization. For more than two decades, under its Chief Grand Mentor Perry M. Smith, the hospital provided low-cost health care to thousands of blacks in the Mississippi Delta. The chief surgeon was Dr. T.R.M. Howard who eventually became one of the wealthiest black men in the state. Howard owned a plantation of more than 1,000 acres (4.0 km2), a home-construction firm, a small zoo, and built the first swimming pool for blacks in Mississippi. In 1952, Medgar Evers moved to Mound Bayou to sell insurance for Howard’s Magnolia Mutual Life Insurance Company. Howard introduced Evers to civil rights activism through the Regional Council of Negro Leadership which organized a boycott against service stations which refused to provide restrooms for blacks. The RCNL’s annual rallies in Mound Bayou between 1952 and 1955 drew crowds of ten thousand or more. During the trial of Emmett Till‘s alleged killers, black reporters and witnesses stayed in Howard’s Mound Bayou home, and Howard gave them an armed escort to the courthouse in Sumner.

Author Michael Premo wrote:

Mound Bayou was an oasis in turbulent times. While the rest of Mississippi was violently segregated, inside the city there were no racial codes… At a time when blacks faced repercussions as severe as death for registering to vote, Mound Bayou residents were casting ballots in every election. The city has a proud history of credit unions, insurance companies, a hospital, five newspapers, and a variety of businesses owned, operated, and patronized by black residents. Mound Bayou is a crowning achievement in the struggle for self-determination and economic empowerment

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Why Sara Khan should Inspire us all

September 27, 2016 at 7:18 am (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, child abuse, Feminism, Human rights, Islam, islamism, left, misogyny, posted by JD, religion, Slavery, terror, women)

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LOUISE RAW writes on the lessons to be learnt from the feminist and anti-extremist campaigner’s new book, The Battle for British Islam. This article first appeared in the Morning Star and is republished with Louise’s permission:


SARA Khan is as fascinating a figure as she is polarising. A fiercely intelligent woman, she is glamorous and charismatic but also an “ordinary” overworked thirty-something Mum of two who organises meetings around the school run. Debrett’s last year listed her as one of the 500 most influential people in Britain.

Her work defending women and opposing extremism has — as is depressingly the way of things these days — attracted as much abuse as it has accolades.

You don’t, I hope, need me to tell you that being a woman with a public opinion, always a dangerous business, has become more so with the advent of social media.

Those people who might once have shouted “Bitch!” at the telly and left it at that now can and often do go much further.
Khan is a particular lightning rod, as a Muslim who opposes Islamism — by which she means the politicisation of Islam, which she believes to be directly antipathetic to the religion’s tenets — as well as Islamophobia, and will work with the government on both.

If that wasn’t enough, she is also a feminist who is unafraid to call out abuses against women in her religion and anyone else’s. Cue the sound of a thousand internet trolls rushing to their keyboards, steam pouring from their ears.

Khan has had to involve police in threats against her, and to consider her security arrangements.

What is particularly frustrating and pertinent to Star readers is that she’s been attacked by the left as much as the right, and by other feminists.

Khan talks little about the impact of her work on her life, and complains even less. She is careful not to centre herself, but the suffering of her Muslim sisters, in interviews.

This made certain lines in the introduction of her new book, The Battle for British Islam, stand out for me all the more.

Khan co-founded Inspire, the anti-Islamist charity with a particular focus on women, and for many years ran it as a kitchen table enterprise from her home. She assumed those on the left would be natural allies and supporters.

What she found instead was what she calls a “painful rejection.” She has been called a sell-out and an informant.

And within her own religion, she and her young children have been condemned as apostates. Despite remaining a Muslim, she’s been repeatedly called an Islamophobe.

I can corroborate the latter. Khan was a speaker at the 2014 Matchwomen’s Festival, and was angrily accused of “whipping up Islamaphobia” in the Q and A that followed.

Khan’s defence was spirited, though when I spoke to her afterwards she was unflustered, I suppose because she is so used to it.

Both as a feminist and the person who’d invited her to speak, I found it mortifying.

Criticism is valid, but the intemperate rejection of a Muslim woman’s viewpoint, and by white British women, seemed to me problematic.

I felt that those who intended to support Muslims by challenging her risked, ironically, sounding rather imperial: “The white people have decided you’re not a proper Muslim!”  Disappointingly, it also derailed the discussion between Khan and the majority of audience members who were enthusiastic at the chance to hear from a Muslim woman who was willing to advise on so many issues, including how to engage with Muslim students without pandering to either Islamism or Islamophobia.

That kind of open dialogue is rare, for many reasons.

Even more discombobulatingly, I know and like both of Khan’s critics and respect their views on feminism in general.

The complexities of the experience opened my eyes to the political minefield Khan herself walks through every day of her campaigning life.  She has attracted even more flak for her support for the notorious Prevent programme, established in the wake of 9/11 to tackle radicalisation in the UK.

Again, activists within the NUS and NUT have what seem like valid criticisms of the way the programme operates, both in its original and relaunched forms.

Khan argues in her book, however, that much of the criticism is ill-founded and based on media distortions, or deliberately orchestrated by Islamist groups.

In evidence she breaks down the infamous “terrorist house” incident, in which a schoolboy was supposedly referred to Prevent in December 2015 because he misspelt “terraced” in an essay describing his home and family life.

On the face of it, a great story illustrating laughably out-of-touch and heavy-handed jobsworths doing more harm than good. In fact, the story has been completely debunked — but this scarcely made the press. The boy in question was never referred to Prevent, but to Child Services, because he had written about the violence he experienced at home, including the piteous line: “I hate when my uncle beats me.”

Reading Khan’s book, it’s impossible to feel that determined response to those who would and do radicalise British children isn’t needed. She points out that in some areas, the majority of Prevent referrals are in fact over far-right extremism.

As ever, women are particularly vulnerable, bearing the brunt of anti-Muslim attacks, and targeted by Islamists online.

Khan’s book opens with the story of Muneera, a schoolgirl whose mother became ill when she was 13.

As a result, Muneera spent more time left to her own devices, and found online stories about Isis — she’d never previously heard of the organisation.
She tweeted an interest in them and was astonished by the response.

She was immediately “love-bombed” by waves of seemingly like-minded, supportive new friends, girls and boys her own age, who were either curious too, or eager to tell her more about the wonderful world she could inhabit if she joined Isis.

She later described the lies she was told in words that touchingly evoke the young girl that she was: it would be an “Islamic Disneyland,” where she could “live like a princess.”

One of her new friends was a 14-year-old boy later convicted of inciting others to commit terrorist acts. An extraordinary character apparently obsessed with extreme violence, his own classmates called him “the terrorist,” and didn’t think he was joking when he talked about cutting off their teachers’ heads.

The reality for girls who do join Isis is, of course, not paradise but a hell of brutality and misogyny.

Khan quotes one nauseating line from the handbook given to Isis fighters concerning the slave women and girls given to them to rape —  literally bought and sold in slave auctions: “It is permitted to have intercourse with a female slave who hasn’t reached puberty.”

Had Muneera reached Isis, her passport would have been burned and she would have been married to a fighter.  She didn’t get that far and today believes Channel, the arm of Prevent that works to help children like her before they have committed any offence, saved her.

She is angry about the way she was deceived and the time stolen from her childhood as she worked to get her life back on track.

The great value of Khan’s book is as a guide for the perplexed, taking the reader clearly and in readable fashion through the rise of Islamism and Salafism, and delineating the point at which she feels the left took a wrong term on Islamism.

She cites an influential 1994 pamphlet written by Chris Harman of the SWP urging Marxists to enter a form of scorpion dance with Islamism and not reject it outright as a form of fascism.

In spite of appearances and its hatred of the left, women’s rights and secularism, Islamism (argued Harman) was not akin to nazism but more like Argentinian Peronism.

We all saw this play out as a predictable disaster, not least because it was founded on the risky assumption that the leading partner in the “dance” would be the left and not Islamists: “[In] an almost patronising way, it was assumed that the poor, oppressed Muslims could be steered by degrees from Islamism to socialism,” says Khan.

It didn’t work, it was never going to work, and it should never have been tried given the complete betrayal of women necessary to stomach, let alone support, Islamist extremism.

Khan’s book is an eloquent and necessary exposition of the state we’re currently in, and a plea for understanding and unity in the fight against extremism — whether it’s the far-right or Islamism which is so against our interests, and should be so alien to socialism done properly. It is essential reading for feminists and lefties — who should, of course, always be one and the same.

Sara Khan is the Director of Inspire, http://www.wewillinspire.com, and author of ‘The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism’ (Saqi Books, 2016)  

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Yezidi woman tells UN about Daesh/ISIS mass rape and genocide

December 26, 2015 at 6:05 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, child abuse, fascism, genocide, Human rights, iraq, islamism, Middle East, misogyny, posted by JD, Slavery, Syria, terror, UN)

Watch this before your next theoretical discussion about whether or not Daesh are fascists, whether or not any form of military action should be taken against them … and whether or not we’re doing enough for refugees fleeing them:

(UN  Security Council, December 16 20015)

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FIFA corruption is the least of it: here’s the real reason for cancelling the Qatar World Cup

June 1, 2015 at 7:26 pm (corruption, Human rights, Middle East, murder, posted by JD, profiteers, Slavery, workers)

This Chart Shows the Staggering Human Cost of Staging a World Cup in Qatar

The US Department of Justice has  dropped the hammer on FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, indicting nine senior FIFA officials and five sports marketing execs on charges of corruption, wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering.

Allegations of bribery have long plagued FIFA, especially since its controversial decision to grant Qatar the 2022 World Cup. But much worse is the plight of South Asian migrant workers brought in to build the stadium infrastructure there: Since 2010, more than 1,200 migrant workers have died in Qatar under hazardous working conditions, and a 2013 Guardian investigation found that at least 4,000 total are projected to die before the 2022 World Cup even starts. And as we reported yesterday, Nepali workers weren’t even allowed to return home after the country’s recent devastating earthquake.

Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post put that toll in perspective in a striking infographic. He compared the number of workers who died in the run-up to several Olympics and World Cups with the number of those who have died in Qatar so far. It’s horrifying:

Christopher Ingraham/Washington Post 

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Mirror exposes Qatar’s World Cup slavery

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

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

The Mirror‘s report:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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Support migrant workers in Qatar

October 9, 2013 at 7:02 pm (class, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, Middle East, RMT, Slavery, solidarity, unions, workers)

Adapted from the London RMT’s website London Calling:

Help end slavery now
Help end slavery now
 

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow and London Transport Region Executive Council member Janine Booth have signed a letter expressing solidarity with Nepali and other migrant workers in Qatar.  Other signatories so far include NUT General Secretary Christine Blower. London RMT invites others  to put their name to the letter. If you wish to do so, post a comment with your (real) name and union/position (if any) below the line here or contact:  shreya.paudel2010@gmail.com

The letter
We are writing to express our solidarity with Nepali and other migrant workers in Qatar.

As the Guardian has extensively documented, Qatar is severely abusing the rights of its overwhelmingly migrant workforce, in many cases literally working people to death. Abuses of Nepali and other migrant workers in Qatar include the use of forced labour, not paying workers for months, confiscating passports and refusing to issue ID cards, refusing to allow people to go home, putting workers ten or more to a filthy room with few or no facilities, providing grossly inadequate food and even denying free water in the desert heat. It is no wonder that hundreds have already died.

The Anti-Slavery International campaign has rightly said that these things “go beyond forced labour to slavery”.

Labour movement, student movement and Nepali community activists will be protesting outside the Qatari embassy in London on Saturday 12 October. We demand an end to these abuses and for Nepali and international trade unions to be allowed into Qatar to verify changes and inform workers of their rights.

  • Read more about the horific exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar in this Guardian article and Nick Cohen’s powerful pieces in the Observer here and here.

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Workfare and the inside gen on A4e

February 23, 2012 at 2:06 am (class, Human rights, Jim D, Slavery, tesco, Tory scum, workers, youth)

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.Tesco protest
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Above: Right To Work campaigners shame Tesco into paying Workfare workers more than their JSA…
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…meanwhile the government’s “Families Czar” Emma Harrison pays herself £8.6 million,  lives in luxury and her A4e cheap-labour outfit is investigated for fraud.
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This excellent site  (obviously written by an insider) follows the activities of A4e with a forensic eye:
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Thought we might get a day off, that the furore would be dying down.  But no. First, A4e put out a press release yesterday.  Two things are really exercising them.  The first is that continual reference to 9% outcomes on Pathways to Work.  That wasn’t the figure.  They don’t actually say what the true figure was, but we’ve seen low twenties percent mentioned.  The target, however, was 30%.  The figure isn’t some aspiration, it’s what the bidders promise in order to get the contract.  The best performer on this contract was Jobcentre Plus!  A4e has consistently underperformed, promising 50% outcomes on the 2006 privatised New Deal contracts and delivering around 25%.  Flexible New Deal was even worse.  So while it must be galling to see the error repeated, the fact of poor performance is inescapable.
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The second factor is the reporting of the fraud investigation.  A4e states again that the disclosure was the result of their own internal processes and they reported it to the police.  Today that becomes somewhat irrelevant as we learn that four people have been arrested.  (See the BBC report.)  Now, I know nothing about what went on in Slough.  But A4e is one of a number of contractors which pay commission to staff for getting someone into work.  The temptation to fiddle must be that much stronger. Yesterday the Guardian published a long article by John Harris.  Most of it rehashes what has already been published, but he has spoken to Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the PAC.  She became annoyed, she said, when she found that A4e had the contract in her own area but sub-contracted it to a local charity while taking 12.5% of the attachment fee.  Harris points out that this all began under Labour, and she accepts that.  It was a mistake.  Harris is one of the first journalists to see this fuss as part of a wider problem.  “The rise of A4e also highlights a very modern fact of public life: handing over large swaths of what the state used to do to the private sector has become so mundane as to barely attract comment, and some people have been doing very well out of it indeed.”  Now we read on the BBC news site that a London charity, London Citizens, is claiming to be doing much better at getting people into work than the big contractors, and doing it much more cheaply.  And the article says: “There has been increasing scrutiny of work-to-welfare schemes.” That’s what we need, of course.  The current targeting of A4e should be the start of a much wider debate on the role of private profit in public service delivery.

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The Horror, The Evil

May 23, 2009 at 10:50 am (Catholicism, Max Dunbar, religion, Slavery)

The week’s revelations about the scale of neglect, slavery, sadism and sexual abuse in Ireland’s church-run children’s institutions are shocking. Read Marie-Therese O’Loughlin’s account of the Goldenbridge rosary bead factory:

I remember clearly, at 6:30 in the mornings, when I was eleven years old or thereabouts having to go to St Joseph’s babies/infants dormitory. I had to dress the toddlers. It was normal for some of them to have slept in their own excrement. When I took them from their destroyed beds, I found it so upsetting as they were always covered from head to toe in excrement. They were shivering and were all colours of the rainbow as they stood there waiting to be cleaned. I had to use the clean corners of the destroyed sheets. The only place to get water was from a very small toilet bowl. I dipped the sheet in the bowl and then cleaned the children. The whole dormitory which was a dark dank cold place stank to high heaven. The head honcho of the Sisters of Mercy at this time of morning was up in the convent saying her prayers.

The Commission into Child Abuse report has triggered an outpouring of Christian sympathy from clerics and commentators – not for the survivors and victims, naturally, but for the priests. This is the new Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols:

I think of those in religious orders and some of the clergy in Dublin who have to face these facts from their past which instinctively and quite naturally they’d rather not look at. That takes courage, and also we shouldn’t forget that this account today will also overshadow all of the good that they also did.

The Christian Brothers, one of the main providers of this faith-based welfare, said that: 

We acknowledge and regret that our responses to physical and sexual abuse failed to consider the long term psychological effects on children. As we have come to better understand the impact of such abuse, our goal and best endeavour has been to promote healing for complainants.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor did not address the crimes – perhaps wisely given his history of covering up child abuse. Instead he chose this week to identify ‘the greatest of evils’ as… a lack of faith.

The subtext appears to be: ‘Okay, some children were raped, but what about those poor old bishops?’ Doesn’t it take courage to own up to something under duress and after failed attempts to buy out the victims; to confess with little possibility of repercussions, with the public paying ninety per cent of your fines and under guarantee of anonymity? And also, erm, some priests are not paedophiles. Let’s not forget that, overall, faith makes you a better person. Can’t we talk about those nasty atheists instead? And they wonder why people have nothing good to say about religion!

Read Ophelia, and also here; and here; also Oliver Kamm, and here; and even Madeleine Bunting understands. There are survivors’ accounts on the Guardian letters page.

At Nick Cohen’s blog, Paul Fauvet raises the point that if a secular organisation were found guilty of such systematic and sustained evil – say, St Helens Council or the NCH children’s charity – the consequences for those responsible would be far harsher. Contra the self-pitying talk about the decline of religion, it’s clear that we still hold religious institutions to lower moral and legal standards than those to which the average citizen abides. If they could not condemn the perpetrators and send their hopes and prayers to the survivors and victims, it could have occurred to the pro-faith apologists that they should just stay out of this one. That they have not, illustrates the depths to which they are capable of sinking in defence of religion.

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The depths of Dubai-ity

October 17, 2008 at 2:40 pm (capitalism, Human rights, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, Racism, Slavery, workers)

I’m afraid I can’t summon up much sympathy for Vince Acors or Michelle Palmer, the British couple sentenced to three months in prison for having drunken sex on a Dubai beach. This isn’t because I have any objection to drunken sex, and it’s certainly not out of any misplaced ‘respect for local social mores’ – the corrupt, reactionary and racist sheikhdom and its hypocritical ‘mores’ have no right to claim the ‘respect’ of anyone.

No: it’s just that every Brit I’ve ever met who has visited Dubai through choice, in whatever capacity, has invariably been an asshole, an airhead, or (usually) both. This disgusting place embodies all that is worst about modern turbo-capitalism, combined with a semi-feudal Islamic code that, for instance, makes public displays of affection illegal. The Brit ex-pats and tourists who have descended upon the place for a millionaire lifestyle on the (relatively) cheap, deserve all they get when they fall foul of the barbaric laws that are usually reserved for those at the bottom of the pile in this authoritarian and racist state.

The people who really deserve our sympathy are the mass of migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Ethiopia and elsewhere, lured into a life of squalor and super-exploitation by the ruling class of the United Arab Emirates and corrupt employment agents in their countries of origin:

“Like the rest of the Gulf region, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are being built by expat workers. They are strictly segregated, and a hierarchy worthy of previous centuries prevails.

“At the top, floating around in their black or white robes, are the locals with their oil money. Immaculate and pampered, they own everything. Outside the ‘free zones’, where the rules are looser, no one can start a business in the UAE without a partner from the emirates, who often does nothing apart from lending his name. No one can get a work permit without a local sponsor.

“Under the locals come the western foreigners, the experts and advisers, making double the salaries they make back home, all tax free. Beneath them are the Arabs – Lebanese and Palestinians, Egyptians and Syrians. What unites these groups is a mixture of pretention and racism…

“Down at the base of the pyramid are the labourers, waiters, hotel employees and unskilled workers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, the Phillippines and beyond. They move deferentially around the huge malls, cafes, bars and restaurants, bowing down and calling people sir and madam. In the middle of the day, during the hottest hours, you can see them sleeping in public gardens or under trees, or on the marble floors of the Dubai Mosque, on benches or pieces of cardboard on side streets. These are the victims of the racism that is not only flourishing in the UAE but is increasingly being exported to the rest of the Middle East. Sometimes it reminds you of the American south in the 1930s.” 

Read the rest of Ghaith Abdul-Ahad’s report here.

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Slavery: anger, horror, sadness: yes! An apology? Why?

March 25, 2007 at 5:56 pm (Anti-Racism, Human rights, Jim D, left, Livingstone, Racism, Slavery)

The build-up to today’s bicentenary of the British parliament’s “abolition” of  the slave trade (but not slavery itself) has been an overwhelmingly positive thing. The BBC has played a particularly good role, with a host of excellent TV and radio programmes portraying the horror and  barbarism of the slave trade and explaining why black people still feel scarred by it to this day (a very good Radio 4 play on Saturday afternoon, featuring comedian Lenny Henry, drove this home in a powerful, non-didactic way). Simon Schama’s BBC 2 TV programme ‘Rough Crossings’, this Friday (about the slaves who fought for the British in the American war of independence, and how the Brits eventually betrayed them in Sierra Leone) , was also a convincing vindication of the licence fee.

Sure, we could have done with a little less emphasis on Christian do-gooders like William Wilberforce (a thoroughly reactionary figure, apart from his opposition to slavery), and rather more upon people like Toussaint L’Ouverture and the other slave rebels, who laid  their lives on the line by confronting slavery in the only way left open to them as self-respecting human beings.

Certainly, right-wing shits like the Guardian‘s  loathsome islolationist Simon Jenkins, bleating about how “This week Britain celebrates the feast of the empty gesture…the BBC has gone potty. Tony Blair will presumably find a black person and say ‘I feel your pain'”, should be treated with the contempt they deserve. But on one issue – and one issue only – the likes of Jenkins have a point: this solemn and massively important commemoration has very nearly been hijacked by the ridiculous posturings of those demanding an “apology”: predictably, the ever-opportunist Mayor of London has been at the forefront of those seeking to demean and divert this commemoration by raising this ultimate excercise in gesture politics. Livingstone (or rather, his scribe), says “Germany apologised for the Holocaust. We must for the slave trade”. That argument ignores one rather obvious fact: when Germany apologised for the Holocaust, adult Germans had participated in, or at least passively witnessed, what had happened. Their apology meant something real. To apologise for something that you are not personally responsible for, is to insult the intelligence of the person or persons you are “apologising” to. In the case of that arch-opportunist and poseur Livingstone, the suspicion is unaviodable that his “apology” on behalf of London, was in reality, mere pandering to ethnic and cultural constituencies that deliver him votes.

Amazingly, that buffoon Prescott struck a more appropriate and relevant note, when he told the Guardian (March 23 2007): ” We need to get the proper history told, including the good, the bad and (the) dreadful. For instance, we need to recall that parliament for the best part of a century facilitated slavery. It did not just have an overnight intellectual conversion. Public opinion made the change and forced the change on parliament. We have fed it into our minds that a Christian from Hull, William Wilberforce, came along and changed the law in 1807. It was remarkable, but the real change came from working people.

“It is one of the reasons why I would like us to pick a date every year. The legacy of this 200th anniversary should be a permanent date when we ask whether there is more we could do, so that every year, like Holocaust (Remebrance Day), we remind people of the horrors. Each year we should think about it and commemorate and rededicate ourselves to helping people on which such horrors were committed”. For once, I’m not going to take the piss out of Precott’s syntax.

But a real, meaningful tribute to the victims of the “other” holocaust would be to join the fight against modern-day slavery and super-exploitation, by joining No Sweat and/or Labour Behind the Label: campaigning against modern-day slavery is worth a million empty apologies.

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