The sorry state of English as a second language teaching provision | Letters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 March, 2018 - 18:00
Everyone who needs classes should be able to access them. That is why it’s so baffling that the government has slashed funding

What saddens me about Sajid Javid’s announcement (Javid: 770,000 people are not able to speak English, 14 March) is that when his mother learned English there was a fully functioning LEA adult education service which trained and employed hundreds of volunteers to work alongside professional teachers in providing English courses for all residents for whom it was not their first language. When more proficient in English, they could join the plethora of classes available to practise their English and integrate in a natural way with other members of their community, make new friends and follow new interests.

What a pity this was trashed in 1992 by his Tory predecessors as part of the general process of removing education from LEA control, which is still continuing today through the increasing spread of school academies. Tens of thousands of schools were utilised in the evenings to provide courses that were attended each week by over 2 million people. How many schools today are similarly used? Most of them stay dark and learning opportunities for adults today are severely curtailed unless they are prepared to pay over £100 for around 10 hours’ tuition. The aspiration that there should be a provision of education “from the cradle to the grave” has been wilfully destroyed.
David Selby
Retired adult education adviser to Lancashire LEA, Winchester

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A third of UK Muslims report abuse or crime while studying

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 March, 2018 - 10:47

Most victims believe acts were motivated by Islamophobia, NUS survey finds

A third of Muslim students have experienced abuse or crime at their place of study in the UK, with most victims believing it was motivated by Islamophobia, a National Union of Students (NUS) survey has found.

The Muslim Students Survey was launched in 2017 to try to gain a better understanding of the experiences of Muslim students in further and higher education and received 578 responses among UK-based students.

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Enough of the naivety about Putin

Indigo Jo Blogs - 17 March, 2018 - 19:18

A picture of an English cathedral with a tall spire, with a large two-storey red-brick house in front, across a large lawn.Last week the British prime minister, Theresa May, took most of the action she had promised to do after the Russian government did not answer for the attempted murder of a former spy and his daughter in Salisbury two weeks earlier. The attack used a nerve agent developed in Soviet Russia, an organophosphate compound of military grade (that is, much stronger and purer than the organophosphates that are notorious for making sheep farmers very ill), which it is thought no state other than Russia still has stocks of, and the victim is someone it is thought nobody other than his former homeland would want to harm. The action consisted of expelling 23 diplomats on the grounds that they were undeclared ‘security’ personnel. There was a suggestion that the Kremlin-backed TV channel RT (originally Russia Today) may have its licence to operate in the UK revoked and that England may not send a squad to next year’s World Cup in Moscow, but there is absolutely no talk of military reprisals.

What disappoints me about the reaction of the Left to this incident is the instinctive hostility to the idea that Russia must be responsible and to any governmental reaction. There has been a suggestion that when Tories want to bury bad news, they start a war, a claim that does not really have any basis in recent history; the last time we were involved in an aggressive war, there was a Labour government and the British involvement in the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi (initiated by the Libyan people, not the US president) had widespread public support which, though not universal, cut across left-right boundaries. In this case, there is no question of war. Let us not forget that this is the second time a Russian exile has faced an attempt on his life in this country and that the method used was one that endangered public health: Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London in 2006 by two Russians who put the radioactive metal polonium in his food, causing his death from radiation sickness weeks later.

The attitude of the Russian state is the clearest indication that they were behind this. If they had no involvement, one would expect their reaction to British suspicions to be sympathetic, forthcoming and helpful, even though the victim was an enemy of theirs; it has in contrast been sarcastic and contemptuous and allies of Putin have responded with various conspiracy theories such as that the assassination attempt was a distraction from Brexit — similar nonsense is being touted by the Canary-reading Left here. Let’s not forget that Theresa May opposed Brexit, that good relations with Russia are essential if we are to make anything approaching a success of it, that Salisbury has been a Conservative constituency since 1924 (and for most of the time since 1886 in fact, with three brief interludes of where a Liberal was elected) and that Wiltshire (which is a unitary authority outside Swindon) voted narrowly in favour of leaving the EU. Why would the British government harm someone who has helped them so as to damage relations with a foreign country for no reason, when there are already plenty of good reasons to limit the activity of untrusted Russian exiles here — including multiple suspicious deaths and one previous known murder?

As for Jeremy Corbyn, it appears that he does support downgrading diplomatic relations and some of the media have wasted no time in portraying him as a “Russian stooge” (explicitly on the Daily Mail’s front page, and implicitly in the backdrop to a BBC Newsnight feature on the controversy, featuring him in a hat altered to look Russian against a red-tinged background of Russian architectural features, for example) — behaviour that is more worthy of the media in Putin’s Russia than of a free country. I think perhaps he should have waited a while to make any reservations known, as both Labour and Tory MPs are eager for any opportunity to make him look weak, naive and instinctively anti-western, as a lot of his supporters in fact are. I don’t think for a moment that Theresa May would have staged something like this to put out a trap for Jeremy Corbyn; there are many ways of doing this without giving a police officer a dose of nerve agent. But with so many enemies on his own back and front benches and so many admirers who actually have such a loathing for their own country that they would side with Putin, he could really have shown better judgement on this.

And finally, let nobody be naive about what Vladimir Putin is capable of: he’s a product of the old Soviet KGB who keeps his people in line with tales of external threats and conspiracies against them. He’s largely responsible for the terrible destruction in Grozny and elsewhere in Chechnya after the republic broke away from Russia in the 1990s, and the power behind the throne of the notorious, thuggish ‘president’ (i.e. dictator) Ramazan Kadyrov, who is thought to have ordered the murder of the Russian investigative journalist and human rights advocate Anna Politkovskaya. He is currently backing dictator Bashar al-Assad of Syria, an old Soviet ally whose secret police, before and after his own people rebelled against him after the Arab Spring, were infamous for the use of torture and rape in their prisons. I’m barely scratching the surface here; this is a ruler with no democratic aspirations and no respect for the rule of law either in Russia or abroad (he has already started a civil war in a neighbouring country and annexed part of it, remember) and under whose rule corruption has thrived and political and press freedom has been greatly curbed if not ended as far as criticism of the government is concerned.

If anyone was seriously talking about war, I would be opposing it strongly and would expect the leader of the Opposition (as well as many MPs on both sides) to do so as well; it’s disproportionate and we could not win. But we cannot have normal relations with this despotic, murderous gangster regime while they are linked to assassinations on British soil. One does not have to be a hardline nationalist or even patriot to understand that.

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Two Muslim women sue New York after police make them remove hijabs

The Guardian World news: Islam - 17 March, 2018 - 01:45

Removal of the headwear in public is akin to demanding a person strip naked, says lawsuit

Two arrested Muslim women who said the New York police department forced them to remove their religious head coverings and pose for mugshots sued the city on Friday to try to change the practice.

The women and an advocacy group, Turning Point for Women and Families, are seeking class action status with the Manhattan federal court lawsuit.

Related: The hijab has liberated me from society's expectations of women | Nadiya Takolia

Related: As a Muslim woman, I see the veil as a rejection of progressive values | Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

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Scottish minister demands Labour expel councillor over racist remark

The Guardian World news: Islam - 16 March, 2018 - 12:55

Humza Yousaf describes anger over ‘brazen nature’ of comment made about him by Jim Dempster

Scotland’s transport minister, Humza Yousaf, has demanded that a councillor who made an Islamophobic comment about him be expelled from the Scottish Labour party.

Jim Dempster, a Labour member of Dumfries and Galloway council, told transport officials at a meeting on Tuesday that “no one would have seen [Yousaf] under his burqa”.

Solidarity with @HumzaYousaf.

This comment was crass, stupid, offensive & unacceptable.

Right to call this out & challenge it, no matter who or where it is from.

Everyday racism and Islamophobia is real. Our society & institutions are not immune to it. Lots of work to do.

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Anti-Muslim letters to MPs bear hallmarks of earlier hate campaign

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 March, 2018 - 18:18

Monitoring group Tell Mama warns of similarities to letters sent to UK and US mosques

Anti-Muslim letters and suspicious packages received by MPs may be linked to a two-year hate campaign against mosques on both sides of the Atlantic, the monitoring group Tell Mama has warned.

The “Punish a Muslim” letters sent this week bear a number of similarities to letters sent to mosques in London, South Yorkshire and the US in 2016-17, including sharing the same postmark.

Related: Four Muslim MPs receive suspicious packages at Westminster

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Don’t make Muslims solely responsible for integration in the UK | Miqdaad Versi

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 March, 2018 - 13:44
The government needs to rethink its approach if there is to be any hope of a successful strategy for Muslim communities

More than 10 years ago, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, declared that integration was “a two-way street”. As head of a detoxified Conservative party, he affirmed that we could aspire to be a more united country if we recognised our diversity.

Within the space of a decade, that attitude dissipated. It reflected the success of a core group of ideologues keen to unleash a phoney culture war that scapegoated Muslims and cast doubt on this country’s diversity. Once in office, Cameron declared that multiculturalism allowed people to lead separate lives, and therefore led to extremism.

There are too many who are unyielding in their insistence that the traffic is only one way and towards them

Related: Louise Casey: ministers have done absolutely nothing about cohesion

Related: Four Muslim MPs receive suspicious packages at Westminster

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London Central mosque given Grade II* listed status

The Guardian World news: Islam - 13 March, 2018 - 00:01

Mosque in Regent’s Park among four recognised for importance to history of Islam in England

A landmark London mosque has been given Grade II* listed status in recognition of its historic, cultural and architectural importance.

The London Central mosque in Regent’s Park was built in the 1970s, three decades after the acquisition of the site was authorised by Churchill’s war cabinet in recognition of the importance of Islam in an increasingly multicultural society.

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Silent liberals?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 12 March, 2018 - 13:50

An image of Maajid Nawaz, a middle-aged South Asian man with greying hair, moustache and (short) beard, wearing a white, open-necked shirt, sitting in front of an LBC microphone and against the backdrop of a backlit LBC logo. Above the caption reads, "The uncomfortable truth about UK grooming gangs".Last week a half-hour feature by Nick Cohen of the Observer on the supposed “silence of the liberals” on the ‘plight’ of liberal Muslims in the UK who are, he alleges, facing death threats and being called unbelievers (which he claims is effectively a death warrant) for supporting women’s rights and advocating the same liberal vision they themselves do. He accuses them of a colonial attitude, preferring to speak to ‘leaders’, and accuses left-wing politicians of relying on those leaders to procure Asian votes through the ‘biraderi’ block-vote system. He interviews Amina Lone, Fiyaz Mughal of Tell MAMA/Faith Matters, Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam and the LBC radio station, and Maryam Namazie, an Iranian communist exile who runs “One Law for All” which opposes religious tribunals for settling personal and marital disputes. He makes much of the fact that no Labour MP would appear on the programme and claims he asked a wide section of the parliamentary party, including people for and against Corbyn’s leadership.

Cohen starts by interviewing Amina Lone, the former Labour councillor and parliamentary candidate in Manchester who was deselected on the grounds that her attendance record was not good enough. Lone claims that she was singled out for her so-called women’s rights campaigning, the sole example of which was her campaign to stop girls of primary school age being allowed to wear the hijab at school. Cohen made no attempt to refute the claims about her attendance record — the claims of persecution made by Lone and her friends in the Tory press never do. It should be remembered that Lone’s anti-hijab campaign has had the support of the Times and the director of Ofsted and one of her articles on this subject has in fact appeared in the Guardian, so Lone is no voice in the wilderness here. It’s just that she doesn’t have the support of the Muslim community.

He then moves on to Fiyaz Mughal who runs the hate crime monitoring organisation Tell MAMA, which he claims is based in an anonymous-looking office. Fiyaz also says he changes his route to work every day so as to avoid threatened violence from neo-Nazis and, he suggests, other Muslims who objected to him taking advice from the (Jewish) Community Security Trust and having Peter Tatchell, a well-known gay rights campaigner, as a patron. I personally wonder how truthful he is about all the ‘death threats’; such claims are a standard tactic of people who wish to discredit their opponents and their supporters always take the claims at face value. Peter Tatchell is not an uncontroversial figure even among gay rights activists; he notoriously wrote a letter to the Guardian in 1997 defending a book published by the Gay Men’s Press on “boy-love”, claiming:

Prof Gilbert Herdt points to the Sambia tribe of Papua New Guinea, where all young boys have sex with older warriors as part of their initiation into manhood. Far from being harmed, Prof Herdt says the boys grow up to be happy, well-adjusted husbands and fathers.

The positive nature of some child-adult sexual relations is not confined to non-Western cultures. Several of my friends, gay and straight, male and female, had sex with adults from the ages of nine to 13. None feel they were abused. All say it was their conscious choice and gave them great joy.

Why would Tell MAMA appoint this grubby little man as a patron? To provoke Muslims. There’s no other logical explanation. Since we have already mentioned the Community Security Trust, let’s look at a major difference between them and Tell MAMA: the CST is unapologetically pro-Jewish and pro-Israel, and does not go around telling Jews that they should stop supporting Israel if they want to stop anti-Semitism, which it blames on anti-Semites, not Jews, and does not give this message to the mainstream media. Tell MAMA, meanwhile, has a history of blaming Muslims for prejudice against them — they blame terrorism, homophobia, hostility to Qadianis, discrimination in Saudi Arabia; everything but the media and everyone but the white bigots who are primarily responsible. This is why the community does not trust them; they claim to be fighting hatred against Muslims, but foment it in their statements to the media and on their social media feeds.

Maajid Nawaz is another “voice in the wilderness” despite having a show on LBC, a well-listened-to London-based talk radio station. We are told about his history as an “Islamist” with Hizbut-Tahrir which landed him in prison in Egypt, through his founding of Quilliam, supposedly an anti-extremist think tank. Cohen tells us that Nawaz has been called various things including an ‘unbeliever’ which he tells us is tantamount to a death warrant, which is an entirely baseless assertion; it’s only a death warrant if it’s issued by someone with the intention to have the subject killed and followers so minded (or with the power of state). The reason people have called Maajid Nawaz that is not because he turned his back on Hizbut-Tahreer (which most Muslims want nothing to do with) but because of such remarks as “if there is a holy grail, it is embracing uncertainty, and not knowing what happens after death” (to an American radio programme); belief in the afterlife and in specific things happening are fundamental tenets of faith in Islam.

Cohen also attacked the Southern Poverty Law Center, an American organisation which monitors hate groups, for including Nawaz in a list of “anti-Muslim extremists” alongside Brigitte Gabriel, Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others. Cohen calls this a “hit list” which “outs” people who spread “misinformation and hateful rhetoric”. We can hardly call their inclusion on this list “outing”; what the people on it have said is public knowledge, having appeared in the mainstream and sectarian media and on blogs for years. Cohen accuses them of calling people who advocate liberal or feminist readings of Islam “Uncle Toms”, sell-outs, native informants or Islamophobes and calling “actual Muslims, anti-Muslim bigots”. But he does not quote from the piece itself, which says that Nawaz’s story has been disputed by some of his old friends who accuse him of self-promotion and that he had sent a “secret list” to a British security official accusing “peaceful Muslim groups, politicians, a television channel and a Scotland Yard unit of sharing the ideology of terrorists”. In other words, he agitates against other Muslims and informs on them to the authorities, which comfortably fits the description “native informant”.

Cohen also allows Amina Lone to attack the ‘biraderi’ system whereby Asian votes are supposedly bought en masse by appealing to one or two community leaders, and candidates are frustrated for not belonging to the right ‘caste’. However, this system does not deliver Islamist politics but rather keeps power in the hands of older ‘uncles’ and is as frustrating to younger Muslims who want to see back-home caste systems broken down for whatever reason, as it is to secularists who dislike (for example) old men defending ‘conservative’ practices such as hijab. It’s noticeable that despite the large number of Muslim women of all ethnicities who wear hijab, not a single MP has ever been elected who wears one; Muslim male MPs are usually clean-shaven, which practising Muslim men usually are not.

Cohen is accusing ‘liberals’ of colonialism — looking to ‘chiefs’ to tell them what Muslims really think and expecting them to vote as the chief tells them — while displaying actual colonialist attitudes, namely listening only to Muslims (or people of Muslim origin) who tell him what he wants to hear, as he does not interview anyone to give the mainstream Muslim viewpoint on Lone, Nawaz or any of the others he interviews. It isn’t “colonialism” not to give undue exposure to fringe elements in a minority community who deride their own culture and religion, and if they look into their claims of oppression and isolation and find them wanting, because they have shows on mainstream radio stations and ample exposure in the tabloid and broadsheet press for example, they are just doing their job as journalists. Muslims generally read the liberal press as it is less blatantly hostile to us than the Times or Telegraph but it does not actually give much airtime to mainstream, practising Muslim voices; the Guardian has a handful of Muslim women columnists who appear fairly regularly but none wear hijab, it has allowed Polly Toynbee to advocate banning hijab in schools here, and when it ran a feature on Muslim fashion a few years ago, it subsequently printed a letter from a non-Muslim woman demanding that the women featured in the article question and reject their beliefs (phrased as if the latter was a natural consequence of the former).

As for why Labour MPs will not answer his questions, perhaps it’s because they know he is using rhetoric about feminism and human rights to pursue an anti-Muslim dog-whistle campaign and that it can only fuel racism. It’s not “fear of being called racist”, which no racist nowadays is, but the fact of racism bubbling under the surface. It should be noted that the liberal media has a fraction of the circulation of the Times and Sun, which advocate the same “muscular liberalism” we first saw being advocated by Cohen’s Euston Manifesto comrades in the mid-2000s, and which represent the party currently in power; the campaigns of people like Lone are much better served by them than by the Guardian. They have plenty of exposure and do not need any more.

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UK charity urges vigilance after 'Punish a Muslim Day' letters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 11 March, 2018 - 12:24

People in Bradford, London and Sheffield report receiving notes advocating violence

Muslim communities in the UK have been urged to remain vigilant as counter-terrorism police investigate anonymous letters calling on recipients to attack Muslims.

This weekend, people in Bradford, Leicester, London, Cardiff and Sheffield reported receiving the notes, printed on A4 paper.

'Punish a Muslim Day' - we continue to receive reports of letters received from across the country. Now into double figures. Please report them into us at Tell MAMA or to 101. We are working with police forces on this malicious campaign.

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The myth of the “conference of 72 sects”

Indigo Jo Blogs - 9 March, 2018 - 17:54

The other day on Twitter someone retweeted a Qadiani (a member of the so-called Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam) repeating a much-rehearsed claim: that according to a newspaper report at the time, 72 sects of Muslims had a conference so as to denounce the 73rd, namely them. They claim that this was foretold by the Prophet Muhammad (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) in a hadith and thus the conference was the fulfilment of a prophecy and proof of the authenticity of their so-called prophet, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who lived in then British India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This claim can be very easily refuted. There actually aren’t 72 sects of Muslims (or of Muslim origin) in the Indian Subcontinent; there are more like four or five. There actually is a Hadith that the Ummah (Muslim community) would split into 73 sects (in comparison to the Jews’ 71 and the Christians’ 72) and all of them would be in the Fire (Hell) except one. This is understood to refer to the mainstream of the Muslims, called Ahlus-Sunnah w’al-Jama’ah or the “people of the prophetic Way and the Community” which is defined by the four major schools of Islamic law and the two major schools of Islamic doctrine. It is inconceivable that a small sect based entirely in one corner of India with very few followers outside that region which behaves completely differently to mainstream Islam, such as using deception to spread its message or requiring a big financial commitment from its adherents, could be what this Hadith refers to (Islam is not a closed sect; all its texts are open for anyone to read, there is no clergy and there are no secrets).

An Iranian colour drawing of a castle, with a walkway leading to it with men passing along it in both directionsIn the first century or so of Islam, the Ummah did split into a lot of sects: the Khawarij and the Shi’a both split many ways, some of the divisions being so extreme that the sects fell outside Islam and others not quite. The Khawarij or “secessionists” in particular were notorious for very bitter and acrimonious splits and for the murderous behaviour of some of the factions produced. However, only one remnant of that movement remains, the Ibadiyyah which are found in Oman and parts of North and East Africa. There were also the Mu’tazilites and some other sects which disagreed over the concept of Free Will and Predestination and the role (or lack thereof) of Greek philosophy. They flourished in Baghdad and a few other places during the Abbasid era, but that era came to an end with the Mongol invasions which also finished off some of the Shi’a statelets found in Syria and Iran (such as depicted in the image on the right, showing an Ismaili fortress in Iran). Today there are two main groups of Shi’ites (the Twelvers based in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan) and the Zaydis, based in Yemen, while the more extreme groups such as the Ismailis and the Dawoodi Bohras mostly keep themselves to themselves (in their early years, they were also notorious for violence, hence the name Assassins, and the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt, from which the leaders of the Bohras claim descent, produced a number of bloodthirsty tyrants).

How many sects were involved in denouncing the Qadianis in the early 20th century? Definitely not 72. Probably not even ten. The four main groups were Deobandis, Brelvis, Ahle-Hadith (an Indian offshoot of Wahhabism) and the Twelver Shi’a all pronounced their own refutations but outside the Indian subcontinent, mainstream scholars do not regard Deobandis and Brelvis as sects, and you have Arab scholars who have studied with scholars from both groups. Schools of legal thought such as exist in Sunni Islam and Sufi orders such as the Naqshbandis, Shadhilis and so on, do not count as sects. Muslim organisations do not count as sects.

Finally, there are a number of hadeeths that refer to the Muslim community splitting into 73 sects — you can find them with a Google search or on any online hadith database — but you will find no reference to a conference in which the 72 denounce the 73rd. If we look at how the sects emerged, it would have been impossible for them to do that, not only because they hated each other and differed among themselves too much to come together to denounce anyone, but also because not all of the sects survived long enough to know of the existence of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad or his followers. They would have known about the early false prophets such as Musaylima and would all have agreed that a new prophethood was impossible and that any claimant to prophethood was a liar, but they had many other similarities which were not enough to prevent them splitting numerous ways and committing acts of mass murder and other atrocities, as well as treachery against the Muslims as in the case of the early Shi’ites in Iraq.

It goes to show the importance of learning for Muslims, and new Muslims in particular. These facts can easily be found out, even more nowadays than when I first became Muslim when the Internet as a public medium was very new. The very first thing we were told in Islam was “read!”. They can only deceive people who are unaware. Remember: there are no secrets in Islam.

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Poetry slam hires security after Mark Latham calls it 'Islamic political ranting'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 8 March, 2018 - 17:00

Participants in Bankstown Poetry Slam were subjected to online abuse after the comments

Organisers of the nation’s biggest regular poetry slam have had to take the unprecedented step of hiring security guards after Mark Latham described it as “Islamic political ranting”.

The Bankstown Youth Development Service director Tim Carroll said Latham’s comments on social media were a tangible example of how rhetoric from rightwing commentators and elements of the media had further marginalised ethnic groups in Sydney.

We had to pull all the videos down. [We had people saying] ‘you deserve to die’.

Related: Tanya Plibersek attacks rightwing claims of patriotism: 'They’re wrong'

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Who’s more culpable for the M1 truck crash?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 March, 2018 - 22:30

A picture of a tractor unit with the Fedex logo being picked up by a winch attached to a blue mechanical arm with the word "COW" printed on it in white. The truck's front is very badly damaged, although the driver door is intact.Last August there was a three-vehicle crash on the M1 outside Milton Keynes in which eight people were killed, all of them in a minibus which was crushed when a moving truck from behind crashed into a stationary truck in front. Today, the British driver of the truck from behind, David Wagstaff, was cleared of eight counts of causing death by careless driving, having already pled guilty to the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving. The driver of the stationary truck, Ryszard Masierak from Evesham, was this week convicted of the more serious charge. He stopped his truck in the inside lane of the motorway when a hard shoulder was available, was drunk behind the wheel and his professional driving licence had been revoked (something his boss should be answering questions about, as they have a duty to make sure their drivers are legal). What the media was reporting today was just that Wagstaff had been ‘cleared’, but he has already admitted eight counts of a less serious offence which could easily mean he goes to prison. The question is: is Masierak really more culpable for this accident than the other two drivers?

Usually, when a moving vehicle strikes a stationary one, the driver of the moving one is at fault, because the driver is meant to be watching the road and not distracted or tired. If the driver in front stops suddenly, he is meant to have been keeping a safe enough distance behind that he could have stopped in time — this is why, on many motorways, there are stretches where there are guide marks and signs telling drivers to put two of these between them and the vehicle in front. Tailgating (sitting on the tail of the vehicle in front) is dangerous and illegal, although some truck drivers insist on doing it because it cuts down wind resistance (and thus increases fuel efficiency a bit). The only exception is where a vehicle turns across the path of another motorist who has no opportunity to stop; this is why a driver was found guilty for turning right across the path of a motorbike whose rider was too close to stop in time, and hit the vehicle that turned right and was killed.

However, Masierak’s truck was stationary on a motorway, with its hazard lights on, and had been in that position for more than ten minutes. The minibus driven by Cyriac Joseph pulled up behind and indicated to pull out, but was hit by Wagstaff’s truck before it could do so. The sad fact is that Cyriac Joseph should have seen Masierak’s truck in plenty of time and pulled out; why wasn’t he looking at the road? Although that stretch is not streetlit, CCTV footage shows that the road was fairly busy and that other vehicles’ headlights would have illuminated the stationary truck. But he cannot answer these questions as he’s dead. Wagstaff should also have been paying attention; he had been on a hands-free call for about an hour, talking to a colleague, which is itself legal as long as it’s not taking the driver’s eyes off the road. Pictures of the scene show a curve shortly before the location of the crash, on the southbound carriageway at junction 14 for Milton Keynes, but a look at a map shows that the curve is a good 500m back from the junction. At 70mph, the stopping distance is roughly 96 metres (314 feet) or 24 car lengths.

All that is not to say that Masierak has no share of the blame in this. He was drunk, disqualified and had parked where he should not have done. But parking where he did would not have caused this accident if the two other drivers involved had been paying attention and this includes Cyriac Joseph. His role is not equivalent to, say, the Polish driver who killed four people on the A34 when he drove his truck into the back a stationary car (at the back of a queue) while using his mobile phone to choose what music to listen to. I’ve had a few near misses while driving myself, particularly with vehicles stopped in lane 1 of so-called smart motorways (which have no hard shoulder, or one that can be used as a lane or not, depending on traffic conditions) including the bit of the M1 at Luton (which is narrow and has poor visibility), and some drivers prefer not to use the hard shoulder when it’s opened as lane 1. I’m not in favour of sending drivers to jail when they cause a crash when momentarily distracted. But I’m also not in favour of attaching undue blame to someone who behaved irresponsibly but did not cause the resulting carnage, a huge temptation when the driver primarily responsible is dead (and all the more so for a foreign driver from a nationality widely blamed for “stealing jobs”).

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Sri Lanka blocks social media as deadly violence continues

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 March, 2018 - 12:53

Reports of attack on Buddhist temple sparks anti-Muslim riots in Kandy district

At least two people have been killed and eight others injured in anti-Muslim riots in a popular tourist district in central Sri Lanka as the government blocked Facebook and other social media services in an effort to quell the violence.

Reports of an attack on a Buddhist temple in Abathanna triggered another day of clashes across Kandy district between members of the country’s mostly Buddhist Sinhalese majority and police.

Related: Sri Lanka declares state of emergency after communal violence

Hate speech on @facebook is increasing beyond acceptable levels #SriLanka. Government will have to act immediately to save lives. @RW_UNP

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Corbyn stands no chance without a second referendum

Indigo Jo Blogs - 6 March, 2018 - 21:49

Two lines of cars approaching a border post with three lanes visible. Signs say "keep right / garder la droite", a Canadian flag hangs from a pole to the left and there is an orange, diamond-shaped sign with an up arrow and the word "Construction" on it.With every week that passes, new disadvantages to this country from Brexit become clear: yesterday it was revealed that Theresa May had confirmed that the UK would not be part of the EU’s Digital Single Market, which means that roaming charges — abolished last year — would start to apply to British travellers again, while she also claimed to have been looking into the US/Canada border as a model for the border on the island of Ireland, a border which is very much a hard border with full passport controls (passports have been a requirement for US and Canadian citizens since 2005) and it is looking increasingly likely that the border will require a much greater physical presence and, probably, far fewer crossing points than there are now. Meanwhile, Labour have also caved in to the noise from the tabloids and some Labour MPs whose constituents voted for Brexit and increasingly advocates a hard Brexit, the end to free movement and so on. It talks of a “jobs-first Brexit” but cannot answer for how ‘jobs’ will be delivered in a Britain cut off from its neighbours, other than that fewer eastern Europeans will be able to take them.

I have seen some people mock Corbyn’s appeal to the youth vote, particularly in regard to the party’s decision to allow trans women to be nominated to all-female shortlists. One feminist opponent accused Corbyn of banking on a “pretend youthquake” while ignoring those that count — people like herself. A similar sentiment was expressed by Claire Jones, displaying the disdain for young people that is typical of radical feminists:

With the country inexorably heading towards the Brexit cliff-edge, any election without a major party advocating caution on or reconsideration of Brexit will be an apathy election in every district where there is a red-blue contest unless one contestant is vocally anti- or pro-Brexit (in my area it’s a Tory/Lib Dem contest, although even here, despondency about Brexit could easily cost the Lib Dem candidate votes). His best hope of getting young voters out is to make a second referendum on Brexit part of his party’s manifesto. This would have the advantage of offering a bone to Brexiteers who would at least have the chance to vote to leave again, while attracting both those who voted Remain last time and those who voted Leave, perhaps on the understanding that Brexit would take the form of the “Norway option” rather than vague talk of some sort of bespoke trade deal the details of which we still do not know a year before we are due to leave. The second referendum should take place on a public holiday (possibly a special one) so that retired people have no advantage over those who have to rush off to work, and not on a day that coincides with a major sporting event or music festival such as Glastonbury.

(On the subject of rad fems, I saw some tweets earlier from the so-called Socialist Feminist Network complaining that Labour’s policy on transgender women on all-female shortlists had been made without consulting “women or the trade union movement”. I asked them what they would say to women thinking of changing their vote for this reason, particularly if they had previously voted Labour. I’ve had no reply as yet. I think that if they are willing to squander the best chance we will have for perhaps another five years to end the Tory austerity regime because of discomfort over or animus towards trans women, they have no right to call themselves socialists — I’ll leave it to others to decide whether they merit the name ‘feminist’ but the hardship that this government has caused women who are disabled, who are carers, who live in poverty or in insecure rented housing, etc should be taken into consideration.)

Image source: A. Belani, cropped from an original image by David Herrera. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence.

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Why I’d happily give up my place in the burials ‘cab rank’ queue | Peter Ormerod

The Guardian World news: Islam - 5 March, 2018 - 12:23
The coroner who insists on the first-come, first-served principle when releasing bodies for burial misunderstands religion

It seems fair enough. Death treats us all equally; it pays no heed to our wealth, our status, our beliefs. So when a coroner has to decide in what order to release bodies for burial, she may well think it reasonable to adopt what has become known as the cab-rank principle: to put it crudely, a sort of first-come, first-served approach.

This is indeed what Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for inner north London, has decided to do. She has alighted on a policy of treating everyone equally, regardless of their religious belief. Under Jewish and Islamic law, bodies must be buried on the day of death or as soon as possible afterwards; yet Hassell will not prioritise any death for religious reasons. In doing so, she has exposed a faultline in British society, and finds herself facing criticism from Jeremy Corbyn, Sadiq Khan, the chief rabbi, the Muslim Council of Britain and the chief coroner. And, for what it’s worth, me.

Related: Chief coroner says officer's ‘cab rank’ approach to burials is unjustified

To speak in broad terms, religions are far more about practice and custom than they are about theology or ideology

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Unite, but follow me

Indigo Jo Blogs - 2 March, 2018 - 23:03

 Is It Worth It?" and the URL below, making its way down a narrow London street with cars either sideAs a Muslim I have much experience of being lectured about ‘unity’ by certain people and most of it has come from people primarily responsible for causing the division. For example, almost every Ramadan and every Eid-ul-Fitr (the festival after the end of Ramadan) we are told by people following misguided opinions (sometimes plainly contradicting the relevant facts) from Saudi Arabia that it’s Ramadan when it’s not, or (worse) that it’s Eid when it’s not. So I was not particularly receptive to the sentiment Theresa May was expressing, reported on the front page of today’s Guardian, claiming “we must bring our country back together, taking into account the views of everyone who cares about this issue, from both sides of the debate”. I presume ‘we’ refers to the government, but her speech is not about bringing anyone together but about reaffirming the supremacy of the extremist tendency that has gained the upper hand since the 2016 referendum. (The full speech can be found here.)

The posturing of Theresa May and her Tory Brexiteer allies towards her EU negotiating partners has been belligerent and arrogant. The EU naturally takes an interest in the situation of the border on the island of Ireland: it is in the interests of the state of Ireland and of people in the North living close to the border that there be no return to a full-blown border. Ireland is Catholic as is most of mainland Europe, with the exception of Scandinavia, northern Germany and parts of the Netherlands. The Tories insist that there be no “Irish Sea border”, yet this is a more logical place for a border than across any tract of land, least of all one where the erasure of the same border 20 years ago was central to a hard-won peace and where the people living near it very heavily voted against leaving the EU. The EU knows that support for leaving was only just above 50% across Britain as a whole and also that few competent politicians and technocrats in the UK support it.

In the opening few sentences, she reels off a barrage of empty slogans and promises:

The government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws, we’ll listen not to the mighty but to you. When it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you. When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few. We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.

But this is a government of the rich and powerful. May is married to an investment fund manager; her foreign secretary is Boris Johnson, a notoriously over-indulged, gaffe-prone buffoon who, if he came from a more modest background (let alone, as Gary Younge noted in today’s Guardian, if he were Black, or a woman), would never have had the opportunities in journalism or politics he has had, or got away with so much. We know that this is not a government that represents everyone; that is why it went into an agreement with a sectarian party in Northern Ireland rather than a government of national unity with Labour, which (officially) also accepts Brexit. Currently it ‘listens’ only to those who say what it wants to hear, while its press hurls abuse at dissenters, calling them “unpatriotic” and worse (as if there was much to be patriotic about right now).

She outlines five “tests” any agreement with the EU must pass. The first is that it “must respect the referendum”. But a ‘deal’ which plunges the country into isolation is not one that respects a referendum in which nearly half the population (including most of her own constituents) voted to remain in, and including the majorities in two of the four nations. In the run-up to the referendum the status of Norway was suggested as the best hope for us outside the EU (depsite the fact, stated at the time, that it would mean less control over the laws we had to implement from Europe, not more); now, it’s dismissed for that very reason. Some Tories have advocated it as a means to a quick and easy Brexit but it is a minority view. May also rejects the “Canada option” of a free trade deal, or trading on WTO terms, which she says “would mean a significant reduction in our access to each other’s markets compared to that which we currently enjoy” and “mean customs and regulatory checks at the border that would damage the integrated supply chains that our industries depend on and be inconsistent with the commitments that both we and the EU have made in respect of Northern Ireland”. Yet she cannot guarantee that she will get any better offer than that, and many in her own party prefer to talk about free trade deals with far-off countries and to downplay the importance of the EU to British trade.

Like it or not, there just is no good deal outside the EU for the UK other than what Norway or Switzerland enjoy; no other country is comparable, because countries surrounding the EU that are not in it are either very large (Russia), poor (much of North Africa, Ukraine, Albania) or far away and engaged in other free trade zones (Canada). We cannot simply go back to trading mostly with the Commonwealth as all those countries have found other trading partners since. It is not the European Union’s fault that parts of the UK have been “left behind” by the economics of the past 35 years; it is the result of British policy, and the present government show no sign of changing it. Discontent with the EU is largely the result of misinformation and propaganda in the popular press, most of it in the Tory media and Boris Johnson himself being the origin of many of the most egregious myths. The EU knows this; it knows that the better educated are against Brexit, and that Theresa May (who was against Brexit before the referndum) is desperate. Why on earth would anyone want ‘unity’ with small-minded, ignorant people or with politicians who do not know what they are doing?

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Chief coroner says officer's ‘cab rank’ approach to burials is unjustified

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 March, 2018 - 17:46

Judge adds voice to Jewish and Muslim critics of Mary Hassell, Hackney coroner who will not prioritise burial on religious grounds

The chief coroner of England and Wales has said the controversial “cab rank” policy of one of his senior officers is over-rigid and unjustified ahead of a judicial review later this month.

Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for inner north London, has enraged Jews and Muslims by refusing to prioritise any death on the grounds of the religious beliefs of the deceased or their family.

Related: 'The most religiously intense street in the UK' – Sounds Jewish podcast

Related: Jewish leaders call for London coroner to be fired over burial delays

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Mental health campaigner Claire Greaves dies in Cygnet unit

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 March, 2018 - 16:13

Picture of a young white woman with dark hair tied up with a large clip at the back of her head, wearing a white T-shirt with the logo "Beat eating disorders", a rainbow-striped pair of long socks and a pair of black leggings with a white flower pattern on them.I learned this morning that Claire Greaves, a mental health blogger and campaigner who has worked with Mind, Fixers and eating disorder charity Beat until she was moved to a secure unit in 2016, and who tweeted under the handle @mentalbattle, has died in an eating disorders unit run by the private company Cygnet, owned by Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services, in Coventry. Although she suffered from anorexia which nearly killed her in early 2017, sources on Twitter say she took her own life. She had been moved to that unit in May 2017 after five months in a mainstream hospital receiving tube-feeding after the crisis brought on by the anorexia in the Partnerships in ‘Care’/Priory-run secure unit, Ty Catrin, in south Wales, the conditions of which were the subject of this interview and which she wrote about on her blog here.

I previously wrote about Greaves’s experience at Ty Catrin in my BADD post last May here. It ticked all the boxes of bad mental healthcare: excessive security (including unnecessary denial of internet access), denial of family visits and using them as a weapon, poor safety, lack of activities, lack of privacy and deliberate and cruel denial of dignity:

I never went outside, the whole 8 months I was there the only times I went out of the tiny ward were to go to hospital. I wasn’t allowed anything in my room, not even cards people sent me, I wasn’t allowed a pen or cutlery or access to the Internet or my phone or iPad or computer. At one point I wasn’t even allowed my clothes and I wore anti rip smocks for months. One time early on in my admission when I was still having periods I wasn’t allowed a sanitary towel and I literally had blood running down the insides of my legs.

We were often locked out of our bedrooms leaving us with a little room with a tv to spend our entire day in with very few activities going on. We were never allowed in the toilet alone and were given toilet tissue one square at a time.

I had to move rooms during my admission after another patient tried to strangle me and I have to admit I didn’t resist. I hoped she would kill me.

To reiterate what I said in my BADD post:

It is well-known that a major cause of eating disorders in girls is discomfort with the changing body, which includes starting periods, and part of recovering from malnutrition is starting periods again; the fear of further indignity will make this process an awful lot harder, especially if someone is out of hospital and not compelled to eat, or tube-fed. The insistence on ‘supervising’ people in the toilet also strikes me as an abuse stemming from disregard for dignity: some people find it difficult to ‘go’ when being watched, and it cannot be necessary for everyone, particularly when they are intensively supervised in everything else they do.

If her death was indeed suicide, we need to ask not “why was she able to take her own life?” but “what is it about this unit and her treatment that was so wretched that she felt the need to take that action?”. We cannot simply chalk her death up to her illness; she was under section in a locked mental health ward and her life was what the staff made it. A friend who was in contact with her on Facebook tweeted that her last post said she was going to die there and remarked “after seeing her ‘care’ over the last few days I am sadly not surprised” (about her death). Issues with Cygnet’s units were known of before Claire was sent to one (which was newly opened at that time); friends tried to warn her but she regarded this as potentially “her way back into the world” and in any case had no choice in the matter.

Both Cygnet and Priory need to be held accountable for what happened to Claire. Mental health care which is undignified, unsafe and unnecessarily restrictive is not therapeutic and adds trauma to people’s existing difficulties. We must bring back localised, publicly-funded inpatient mental health care and stop sending people hundreds of miles to private units which are run for profit.

(Also: this week a study on seclusion of women with learning disabilities in mental health units was published by Lancaster University and found that the practice is “counter-therapeutic” and that the victims find it “aversive, bewildering and distressing”. While not directly relevant as she did not have a learning disability, Claire suffered this as well while in hospital. It should go without saying that men with learning disabilities probably do not benefit from this treatment either, and that this should be the subject of further research.)

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