In a statement, the Commission said it is “shocked by the discovery” and its investigation is continuing.
- Human remains found at site of Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam
- They were discovered in what appears to be some type of sewage container
- Scientific analysis puts the age of death between 35 foetal weeks and 2 to 3 years
- Radiocarbon dating confirms the remains are from the time the home was in operation – many are likely to be from the 1950s.
THE COMMISSION OF INVESTIGATION into Mother and Baby Homes has discovered a significant number of human remains in what appears to be a decommissioned sewage chamber in Tuam.
The Commission has completed two test excavations of the Galway site and today confirmed that “significant quantities of human remains have been discovered” in a structure which appears to be “related to the treatment/containment of sewerage and/or wastewater”.
The structure where the remains were found is long and divided into 20 chambers. The Commission is not yet clear if it was ever used for sewerage or wastewater.
There were remains found in at least 17 of the 20 chambers. A small number of the remains were recovered for testing. A scientific analysis has put the ages of the deceased at between 35 foetal weeks to two to three years old.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that they are from the time the Bon Secours home was in operation between 1925 and 1961. A number of the samples are likely to be from the 1950s.
A second structure discovered during excavations between November 2016 and February this year appeared to be a decommissioned septic tank which had been filled with rubble and debris and then covered with topsoil.
In a statement, the Commission said it is “shocked by the discovery” and its investigation is continuing “into who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way”.
State authorities have been asked to take responsibility for the appropriate treatment of the remains and the North Galway Coroner has been informed. He will determine if there is to be any garda involvement in further investigations.
Speaking today, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone said the “sad and disturbing news” confirms rumours about the possibility of a mass grave at the site.
“Today is about remembering and respecting the dignity of the children who lived their short lives in this Home. We will honour their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately,” she added.
Decisions have yet to be taken on whether more excavations will be required at other mother and baby home sites.
The Commission was established following a 2014 report in the Irish Mail on Sunday that 800 children died in the home and were interred in a mass grave.
Local historian Catherine Corless has spent years researching the home, even obtaining death certificates for each child who died there, in the hope of rectifying an injustice.
In a statement today, the Bon Secours order said:
“The Bon Secours sisters are fully committed to the work of the Commission regarding the mother and baby home in Tuam. On the closing of the Home in 1961 all the records for the Home were returned to Galway County Council who are the owners and occupiers of the lands of the Home. We can therefore make no comment on today’s announcement, other than to confirm our continued cooperation with and support for the work of the Commission in seeking the truth about the home.”
Call for identification
The Adoption Rights Alliance (ARA) and Justice for Magdalenes Research (JFMR) said that they were saddened by the news.
They said that Tuam “is not an isolated case” and reiterated their call for an expansion of the Commission’s Terms of Reference to include all institutions, agencies and individuals that were involved with Ireland’s unmarried mothers and their children, and to include investigations of burial practices at all of these locations.
They said that they want the government to ensure that all children who died in Tuam,a nd all children and adults who died in institutional care or custody, are identified.
In addition, they urged an Garda Siochána to establish its own investigation, independent of the Commission of Investigation, into abuse, neglect and illegal separations of mothers and children in Mother and Baby Homes, County Homes, maternity hospitals, and through adoption agencies and similar entities.
We reiterate our concerns that the Commission’s Terms of Reference are not comprehensive enough, and stress that Tuam is but one institution in an ad hoc and almost entirely unregulated, State-funded system which had responsibility for the care of unmarried mothers and their children. Today’s disturbing statement from the Commission underscores that the State failed in its ‘duty of care’ towards these children and their mothers.
In the context of these revelations, and in the public interest, we also reiterate our call on Minister Zappone to publish the Commission’s second interim report without delay.
With reporting by Aoife Barry
Republished, with permission, from Jacobin; a very important piece, I think, about race, guilt, and class politics (albeit from a US perspective):
Guilt is a sad, passive emotion — and it won’t help us build a more diverse left.
It could be any meeting — an ad hoc general assembly, an emergency gathering for immigrant defense, a planning session for an upcoming strike. The speaker is usually white, but not always — and depending on this, their tone is guilty or accusatory.
On the rare occasion that this query is accompanied by a positive proposal, it is abstract, likely no more than a call for reflection. When the speaker is white, it often functions to absolve them of the need to actually do something about it.
Sometimes, on its face, the question is reasonable. Any political collectivity in the age of Trump which consists only of white people is an example of an abject failure — a failure of outreach, at the simplest level, but also a political failure, a failure to challenge the white supremacy which is threaded through American history.
But sometimes the question reveals nothing more than sanctimonious ignorance. It would be hard for me to count how many times I have sat in a meeting, often right next to several other people of color, and watched as someone righteously declared, “Everyone here is white.”
In the moment, it makes my blood boil. As a Muslim American, I have been detained at airports and verbally abused in public places. When I heard the news of Trump’s Muslim ban, I wondered whether I would be able to see my parents again. And I am one of the lucky ones.
Given the opportunity to cool down, I have to reflect on the strange psychology of these statements. Could it be simply the racist assumption that anyone who attends a political meeting and can speak English well must necessarily be white? It is hard for me to read it otherwise, and it is disturbing to imagine the potential consequences of this white practice of speaking for others. We should hope that this does not become a self-fulfilling prophesy, alienating and driving away people of color whose presence is erased by guilty whites.
The question is itself exclusionary, in its reliance on the empty abstraction of “people of color.” In your city, wherever it is, there is likely a young white male who is addicted to Vicodin, struggles to support his children on fast-food wages, and is on the verge of eviction. Where is he during this political meeting?
Middle-class activists are adept at deluding themselves with complicated explanations. But it is not a difficult question to answer. Like many people of color and many other whites, he is doing what he can to make it to the next day.
As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes, “the privileges of white skin run very thin in a country where nineteen million white people languish in poverty.” Every day in a capitalist society is a struggle for the poor. Attending a meeting called by some unknown organization — and we all know how excruciating these meetings can be — will not put food on the table for your children. It will not help you recover from long hours of monotonous, draining work. It will not compel your landlord to fix your broken toilet. It will not stop the collection agency from calling.
This is not an appeal to holding up some mythical “white working class” as the abandoned core of the American masses. It is a simple recognition of lived reality of the working class, which contains white people and people of color, people of all genders and sexualities, the employed and the unemployed — a multitude of people irreducible to any single description.
Many socialists argue that across these differences, all of these people have a common interest — a point easily skewered by the identitarian liberal who asks how the young woman seeking an abortion and the evangelical protester, the undocumented immigrant and the salaried worker, can possibly have the same interest.
But this challenge is afflicted by the same condition it claims to diagnose. It mistakes the casual description of a shared trait with a claim about identity. We all have numerous interests, which are related to our identities but also where we work and where we live. To say that these different spheres of life interact and intersect is a banal truism which neither explains how our society is structured and reproduced, nor how we might formulate a strategy to change this structure.
A meaningful common interest does not somehow exist by default. We cannot reduce any group of people and the multitudes they contain to a single common interest, as though we were reducing a fraction. A common interest is constituted by the composition of these multitudes into a group. And this is a process of political practice.
White supremacy is the phenomenon whereby the plurality of interests of a group of people is reorganized into the fiction of a white race, whose very existence is predicated on the violent and genocidal history of the oppression of people of color. The self-organized struggles of oppressed people against white supremacy managed to significantly undermine, though not eliminate, this kind of organization. The likes of Trump, Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and Milo Yiannopoulos now attempt to restore its earlier strength.
Those of us who seek to change the world will have to fight against this effort, and this will require us to put forward an organization of resistance — one which collectively constitutes a common interest.
This common interest is beginning to take shape as the opposition to Trump. But it must be built further than that, to an opposition to the whole capitalist system. Because it is the structure of the capitalist system which prevents all people who are dispossessed of the means of production, regardless of their identities, from having control over their own lives, and thus from pursuing whatever interests they may have in all their particularity. Monsters like Trump only bring this ongoing tyranny of capital to the surface.
To merely criticize the composition of a political meeting is a defeatist practice. Yes, any anti-capitalist organization must reach out to the most disenfranchised and marginalized of our population. Yes, it is unacceptable if they are unable to speak for themselves.
But what is most important of all is that you are there, whoever you are. What is important is that in a society which steals our free time, leeches our energy, and crushes any hope for an alternative, you have decided to commit yourself to the revolutionary possibility of that alternative.
Guilt is a sad, passive emotion. Its foundation is the wish that the past was different, and the failure to recognize the possibility of acting to change the future.
It is crucial for all socialist organizations, which today find themselves experiencing rapid growth, to formulate means of incorporating the excluded, in all their forms. The current composition of many of our organizations is a result of our lack of a social base — it’s a problem that we must overcome through organizing. But this will mean going beyond guilt and constructing ways to meet the needs unfulfilled in capitalist society, and the means of asserting popular power.
You showed up. You are at a meeting. Your presence is an indication that it is possible to initiate the process of change. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by guilt. Instead, sharpen your analysis and enhance your organization, until your ranks grow so large as to include everyone.
Jacobin: our next issue, “Journey to the Dark Side,” is out now. Subscribe for the first time at a discount.
From Martin Mayer:
It is with great sadness that I have to report the death of Brenda Sanders, our first and only woman Chair of the T&G Executive Council. She died in hospital on Saturday after being poorly for some time.
Brenda was a calm and firm woman with strong convictions and steely determination, very often under-estimated by those who did not know her well. She was at the head of the T&G Executive Council in its final period of existence prior to the historic merger with AMICUS to form UNITE in 2008. This was a tense and difficult time for the Executive members as the merger plans developed. She always ensured that the views and concerns of T&G Executive Council members were heard by both General Secretaries – even when that was unpopular!
Brenda was proud and honoured to be the first woman Chair of the union’s Executive Council. It marked a very important stage in T&G women’s fight for equality in our union. She was certainly a credit to her T&G sisters who helped to create some of the most progressive equalities structures in any union.
Brenda we remember you with immense pride and a great deal of sadness.
Chair United Left
The Funeral will take place on the 26th January at 1.30pm, at St Hillary’s Church, Wallasey Village
then 2.30pm at Landican Cemetery
It will only be family flowers. Contributions can be made to a charity – to be confirmed.
Cards and letters of condolence are to be sent to:
10 Primrose Grove
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By Elizabeth Butterworth (this article also appears in Solidarity and the Workers Liberty website)
Last week, the footballer Ched Evans was cleared of rape after appealing against his 2012 conviction. This does not mean that he did not rape victim X, or has “proved his innocence”, but that the jury had “reasonable doubt” about whether he had raped X or if she had consented to sex.
Reports of the trial’s proceedings suggest that the events were as such: X was engaged in sexual activity with Clayton McDonald, another professional footballer, who was acquitted of rape in the original trial. Evans then proceeded to have sex with X without having spoken to her, while Evans’s younger brother looked on from a window.
X has testified that she cannot remember any of these events due to being too drunk. Evans’s lawyers claimed that she had “directed” events by saying things like “fuck me harder”. The evidence in this re-trial apparently hinged on the testimony of two men who had had sex with the victim on other occasions, and attested that she had said similar things to them as what Evans had claimed in the original trial.
It is difficult to “prove” rape, in terms of being able to show a jury that the victim was not consenting and the defendant was aware that (s)he could not or did not consent, which is what this case rested upon. However, it is difficult to see why the Court of Appeal deemed that this evidence was compelling enough for a re-trial.
It is worrying that the victim’s sexual history was brought into the trial. The implication is obvious: that, because she’d had casual sex or drunken sex on other occasions and said things that suggested she liked having sex, it was simply a case of her having done that again. Which raises the question, do women need to police themselves to the point of not being able to have casual sex or not being able to drink, in order for men not to rape us? To which the answer is, no, men should know to leave drunk women alone and that each time someone has sex, consent must be sought first.
What I’ve read about the Ched Evans case from the perspective of criminal lawyers does not suggest wide legal implications in terms of setting new precedent. This trial, and other rape trials where there is some level of “victim blaming”, do set a cultural tone, however. In the Daily Star, their columnist Helen Wood rants, “These silly bitches who need a good slap of reality should stop and think…
“We’re all meant to get our violins out because they’ve had to change their names five times, if she’s stuck on a new name for in future, C*** would be a good one…. Hope this case has set a lesson for all the ladies out there trying to scar people for a dollar, if you drop your kecks, deal with the walk of shame, quit trying to frame.”
X has had to change her name five times and is, according to some sources, considering moving abroad due to the harassment and abuse she has suffered both on and off-line. The abuse, like Wood’s disgusting tirade (which, let’s not forget, was published by a newspaper with about 430,000 readers), centres around X being labelled a slut, a bitch, money-hungry and a liar: all classic misogynist tropes.
The simple fact is that pretty much every woman I know has been a victim of sexual assault or rape. And has been sexually harassed countless times.
I’ve reported being assaulted to the police and had to deal with total incompetence, inertia and non-existence of resources. I went to the police after a friend was assaulted with a knife and, after hours of painful interviews, the assailant was slapped with a fifty quid fine and no criminal record. I’ve been raped, twice, by two different boyfriends. I’ve also walked down the street and been grabbed. When I shrank away and asked them to leave me alone, I was followed and called a bitch and a cunt. I’ve changed my mind and not gone through with sex, at which point the man I was seeing got extremely aggressive and I had to literally run away.
In fact, any time I have challenged men — even “nice men” — over their behaviour, they become aggressive and sometimes violent. They believe they are entitled to make lecherous comments, to look up women’s skirts, to stare down our tops and to intimidate us. And despite having had relationships with both men and women, and having been dancing in many gay clubs as well as straight, I’ve only once felt that a woman was going “too far”. The hundreds of other times have all been men.
We have a huge problem of misogyny in society. I mean actual women-hating, not just sexism. What else is it when you don’t think someone has a right to ownership over their own body and what happens to it? This is perpetrated by lots of men, who seek to show their dominance, and exert power.
And it is backed up by the internal misogyny of women like Helen Wood, who try to differentiate their womanhood from that of the “silly bitches”.
Rape is on the books as a crime. And the word and idea of “rape” is sensationalised. Yet, the reality of women’s lives is that rape is pretty “normal” and common. And due to the inertia of the police, the brutality of the courts system and the cultural bias of juries, many of us don’t see the point of reporting, let alone pursuing the case and taking rapists to court.
The victim in the Ched Evans case is my hero for reporting and taking the case to court. In the end, Evans may have been cleared, but at least this has drawn attention to the very real problems we face as a society.
Until the women are free, the people cannot be free. Until men realise that women need to be empowered at every level, we will not be successful as a movement or as a class.
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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By TR Peterson
Though people may not like it being said, there is a nasty strain of misogyny running through the obsession with Hillary’s physical well being. As women we are taught by society to dislike our bodies. We are taught to think our monthly bleeding that makes life itself possible is shameful and not to be spoken of and is generally a bloody mess that is best forgotten. We we taught that our sexuality should be minimized, that our voices are too loud and that our bodies need to be “corrected” through various types of surgery to have worth.
We are taught that we are irrational, uncontrollable creatures at least once every month. We are taught that older women’s bodies have no value in society and are merely used up vessels that once produced another human being but are now to be subject to ridicule because of the scars from that beautiful battle to create life. We are taught that once a woman’s body has passed a certain age her value ceases to exist regardless of her mental prowess or intelligence.
I think this would happen to any woman that was anywhere near the presidency regardless of party, and in fact there was a good deal of it from some pro-Bernie people in the primaries. The contrast in this election is stark though. Trump presents himself as the sexually active older man who has “no problem” in that department whereas Hillary is painted as a sick, weak useless old menopausal “Grandma”. Never mind that he is older than she is.
Many of Trump’s supporters (and Bernie supporters who jumped on calling for his return to replace her) were happy and even gleeful that she got pneumonia because it confirms their view of the inherent weakness of women for the position of the presidency. Virility is strength. Masculinity is strength. Femininity and a woman past her “useful” childbearing years is weakness. And we can’t have weakness in a Commander in Chief now can we?
As a young woman who worked in factory jobs dominated by men I understand another dynamic at work here, and that is “playing through the pain” even if you are in a lot of pain, because you don’t want to give them an excuse to be proven right: that you can’t do the job as well as they can. You may pull a muscle lifting something but you don’t mention it because you know that it will be used against you and any other woman thereafter that has that job. I suspect that like a lot of women I empathized with Hillary going out and doing it anyway despite feeling awful, for fear of projecting supposed weakness when she is going for a job no woman has held before. I am not so sure that in the end her fall and the nasty response will hurt her and may actually have done a better job of humanizing her than any talking point could have.
I don’t expect everyone to like Clinton or vote for her but please at least be aware of the underlying dynamics going on here. Presidential campaigns don’t exist in a vacuum, and neither do presidential candidates.
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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By Kate Osamor
, Labour MP for Edmonton and shadow equality minister.
(This article also appears in today’s Morning Star
, as part of its International Women’s Day supplement):
“Solidarity with our sisters.” This was the message that I chose to write on my postcard to the Home Office this International Women’s Day as part of Women for Refugee Women’s 99 Women solidarity action campaign.
Each woman, each postcard, represents one of the 99 pregnant women who were detained in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in 2014. Onlt nine were deported. For the rest, who were released back into the community, their detention served no purpose, yet no doubt had a lasting impact on their mental health.
Women from across different professions — MPs, campaigners, actors, singers, lawyers and academics — are all standing together in support for women refugees. There are two overriding messages to the campaign: Refugees Welcome and Set Her Free. These are inseparable messages of support, which demand that the British government takes more action to support and welcome refugees, and end the incarceration of asylum-seekers.
Last year I went to Yarl’s Wood to speak to women inside. One of the women I met was pregnant. Her story devastated me. She’d left India for Britain with the promise of a better life and a university education. She’d put her trust in the hands of people who turned out to be traffickers, and was consequently exploited. They took her passport. She was depressed and on medication, visibly thin and had not been eating. She had no contact with her family, no idea even of how old she was (although she didn’t look older than 21). And she had no idea when, if at all, she would be released from Yarl’s Wood. This was all no doubt exacerbated by the fact that she was pregnant — something she assured me that Yarl’s Wood staff and the Home Office had known when they detained her. Britain is the only country in the EU not to impose a time limit on detention.
The Home Office states that pregnant women should only be detained in “exceptional circumstances.” Stephen Shaw stated that the practice should be ruled out altogether, as one of 64 recommendations in his damning review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons, published in January 2016. And yet the government remains unmoved. It remains unmoved not only with regard to this specific detention rule, but more generally refuses to adopt a more welcoming stance towards asylum seekers.
The aggressive bulldozing of the Calais Jungle and fears that this will add to the already large number of missing children in Europe did not prompt more action, but simply the stance that this is a French responsibility.
At a time when we should be accepting, the government is instead deporting them. Just last week, on March 3, Theresa May won a significant legal battle to resume the deportation of failed asylum-seekers to Afghanistan, including those who arrived here as children. The life stories I heard in Yarl’s Wood were just a few of many stories of displacement, violence and fleeing specifically gendered violence in their home countries.
In a report by Women for Refugee Women entitled I Am Human, of the 34 women interviewed who disclosed their experiences of persecution, 19 women said they had been raped, 21 had experienced other sexual violence, 28 had experienced gender-related persecution under the headings they asked about: rape, sexual violence, forced marriage, forced prostitution, female genital mutilation.
Female asylum seekers, locked up, are not heard by the outside world and not believed by the system. Our immigration system should shame us all. We are locking up asylum-seekers and we are denying them a voice.
This last year has seen the biggest wave of mass migration since the second world war. It has seen thousands of refugees flee violence and instability, risking their lives to make the dangerous journey to Europe. It has seen them prepared to cross treacherous oceans on boats that traffickers deliberately over-fill, to escape the conditions they are living in. Thousands have died or gone missing on this journey. Europe is still not providing an adequate response to this crisis.
In a twisted irony, the people whose lives have been most devastated by terrorism are feared in Europe for bringing terrorism with them. This dangerous rhetoric and inaccurate perception must end.
This International Women’s Day, I ask everyone to stand in solidarity with female refugees, whatever the stage of their journey. Female refugees deserve to be heard, deserve to be respected and deserve to be celebrated.
As Women for Refugee Women state, “Our vision is a society in which women’s human rights are respected and in which they are safe from persecution.”
Both nationally and internationally, we have a way to go. Today, let’s celebrate the strength and the achievements of women across the world, but let’s not shy away from what more needs to be done, here and abroad, to work towards gender parity.
This is one of the biggest challenges of our generation. Join the campaign today — pledge your support by uploading your own picture and message of support with the hashtags #RefugeesWelcome #SetHerFree #IWD2016
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Above: trailer for the 1961 film version
Review by Jean Lane (also published in the current issue of Solidarity):
A Raisin in the Sun was written in 1959 by Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965), the first black woman to have a play performed on Broadway and the inspiration behind Nina Simone’s ‘Young Gifted and Black’.
The play is set in an overcrowded Chicago slum apartment just before the emergence of the civil rights movement. The Youngers, a working class family comprising of grandmother Nena (Mama), her son Walter with his wife Ruth and child Travis, and Walter’s sister, Beneatha, are about to come into an insurance pay-out of $10,000, after the death of Nina’s husband. The potential opportunities that come with it, cause tension.
Walter wants to use the money to realise his dream of self-advancement by investing, along with his old street friends, in a liquor store business. His sister, Beneatha, is studying to become a doctor. She is experimenting with radical ideas new to her family such as atheism. She berates one boyfriend for his assimilation into white culture and is being drawn by another, a Nigerian medical student, into the ideas of black nationalism and anti-colonial independence.
Arguments over the money and the cramped conditions of the Youngers’ lives are exacerbated when Ruth discovers that she is two months pregnant. Her relationship with Walter reaches breaking point when Lena refuses to fund the liquor store idea. Instead, Lena puts a deposit down on a larger house in a solidly white neighbourhood. Eventually Lena relents and gives the rest of the money to Walter to use as he sees fit, with the proviso that he keeps back enough of it to pay for his sister’s education.
A representative of the white neighbourhood, Karl Linder, turns up with the message that they would far rather the Youngers did not move in as they would not fit in, and offers to buy the house from them. With righteous indignation from the family, Linder is sent packing by a Walter now imbued with a sense of confidence, as a young up and coming business man. However, Walter’s friend, Willy, runs off with all the money including that for Benathea’s education. Walter’s chance to prove himself a man deserving of respect again seems far away. To the horror of the three women in his life, he contemplates taking the money from the white man who says that they are not good enough to be his neighbours.
The dashing of the family’s dreams of a better life are reflected in Benathea’s loss of confidence in an independent future for black people. She asserts that nationalism is a lost cause which can only lead to the swapping of white masters for black. Walter finally proves himself to be a man in Lena’s eyes by telling the white man where to go with his money and the family prepare to move into their new home. The play ends leaving the audience aware that many of their troubles as a black family in 1950s America have only just begun.
The title for the play is taken from a poem by Langston Hughes:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore – And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over – like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
All the emotions expressed in the poem are there in the play, in this production, directed by Dawn Walton, and electrically so. All the political ideas of identity, racism, gender roles and social consciousness are brought refreshingly within the sphere of working-class life.
• The play is on tour around Britain ending in Coventry on 28 March.
“Because I didn’t have my father’s consent and support, I had to step down. I was pressured into stepping down” – Shazia Bashir (above)
Another said she had been told by Labour members “Islam and feminism aren’t compatible”.
An advocate for gay rights was told: “This is un-Islamic. Leave that for white people.” And many spoke of being criticised for being too Westernised.
A comrade from a Muslim background comments, “I can tell you the number of people in my family who were surprised by this story when I mentioned it to them and that is nil – which, at an educated guess, is almost certainly also the number of people in the SWP, the NUS Black Students’ Campaign and other groups who usually fall over themselves to say how much they support Muslim women, who are likely to do anything about this issue.
JD comments: it’s not just a Labour Party problem or a problem at councillor level: just look at the misogynistic abuse Naz Shah got from Galloway and his Respect Party supporters when she stood against him in Bradford West at the general election.
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