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Money versus culture in care

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 May, 2018 - 14:41

Picture of Oliver McGowan, a young white man with light brown hair combed from a parting on the left side, wearing a blue and white patterned shirt and a tweed waistcoat, standing in front of a large parasol.In the light of two recent inquests into the deaths of young men with learning disabilities, one in an NHS hospital (Oliver McGowan, right) and one in a Mencap-run care home (Danny Tozer), both of which resulted in very bitterly disputed findings of no neglect and no suggestion of error in Oliver’s case, Rosi Reed (mother of Nico Reed whose death in 2012 was the subject of an earlier campaign and inquest) retweeted a link to a blog entry she wrote in 2015 titled “What does good look like?”. She quoted at length from a speech in 2011 by Jim Mansell, a professor of learning disability in Kent who had pioneered living in the community for people with learning disabilities and had managed the closure of long-stay hospitals (such as Darenth Park in Kent), in which he said that “good services cost the same as poor services. Good services are not more expensive, they’re just better”.

He is right, up to a point. It’s certainly possible to spend lots of money and still deliver bad care, and the consultant who ignored multiple written warnings and administered the anti-psychotic to Oliver McGowan, who was suffering a seizure (not psychosis) and was understood to be allergic to the medication in question after a previous reaction, resulting in his death, was not an underpaid care worker but a senior medic likely earning a six-figure salary. Furthermore, such people are more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt when they make a fatal mistake in their work than someone in a less prestigious occupation, such as a chimney sweep, a gas fitter or a truck driver — such people have received jail sentences for mistakes of forgetfulness which have led to someone’s death. Monica Mohan, the doctor responsible in this case, is unlikely to face any sanction, because the coroner deferred to her ‘expertise’ rather than entertaining the family’s view that it reflected arrogance.

Money is no excuse for neglect, and the boards and managements of the institutions responsible often have enough money to pay themselves very generous salaries and to spend it on pointless PR and development seminars and so on. The novelist Diana Athill, when writing about her experience in a women’s retirement community in London, wrote that she was aware of care and nursing homes which charge fees much higher than hers (which, admittedly, was not a nursing home and was for generally healthy older people) but were much worse places in which to live. However, it is not the whole picture and to say that “good care is not more expensive, it is just better” lets the people who pull the purse strings off the hook. Underfunding often results in wages taking the biggest hit because mortgages, fuel bills and so on are less likely to give, and poor pay means it is difficult to attract and staff and especially the right calibre of staff. I have known people who had carers they trusted but who left because they were offered better pay in a care home or in another industry entirely; others left the area because they could not afford to live there on a carer’s wages; needless to say, this is a particular problem in areas such as London with high rents and house prices. It also means that there is less money for training and often less time to make sure a newcomer knows how to do some of the caring tasks and is aware of common hygiene practices. I have also been told by friends that carers who worked for agencies did not know some of these things.

It is a fact that capitalism tends to reward jobs that are most closely linked to making money with the most money; jobs that simply need doing but which do not make anybody any money are often paid as little as the employer can get away with. People resent paying taxes; a party promising a tax cut is more likely to win votes than one promising an increase, while there have been incidences of local councils running consultations, asking people what they would not mind paying more council tax for, and the people respond that they just want to pay less. In addition, the personal budgets which are now regarded as important to facilitate a disabled person’s independence can easily be portrayed, politically, as a large handout to an individual (even if wrongly). People might assume (certainly wrongly in a lot of cases) that a corporate body such as a care home (or a whole chain of them) might spend the money more responsibly and these bodies are better able to lobby politicians than disabled individuals and their families. There is also pressure from councils to double down on conditions for employed carers, by using zero-hours contracts instead of regular employment.

Many of the things Professor Mansell advocated in that speech — services being person-centred, treating the family as experts rather than as an annoyance or obstruction — are not things money can buy on its own, and the signs of a badly-run home such as staff talking to each other rather than with the residents and not knowing what to do unless they are told, can be found in places which charge high fees as well as those which charge less. However, to maintain a culture of person-centredness and empowerment, especially in this day and age when those things are not yet the norm, it is necessary to have the resources to pay staff so that there will not be a high turnover of staff as people find better-paid jobs elsewhere or leave a region because of unaffordable costs of living.

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Ukip leader plans to move party towards hard right

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 May, 2018 - 14:35

Gerard Batten urges people to read Qur’an to ‘educate’ themselves about Islamic threat

Ukip’s new leader, Gerard Batten, has reiterated his intention to move the party towards the hard right by urging people to read the Qur’an so they can “educate” themselves about the threat posed by Islam.

Batten, who took over in February after the removal of Henry Bolton, repeated his belief that Islam is inherently antisemitic and the Labour party is deliberately tolerant of the prejudice in order to attract Muslim votes.

.@UKIP leader @GerardBattenMEP claims there are degrees of anti-semitism in the Labour party because it “depends on the Muslim vote in inner cities and the Islamic religion is inherently anti semitic”. #Peston pic.twitter.com/rBd8YvolEr

Related: Labour has not done enough to tackle antisemitism, says shadow minister

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Court's niqab ban led to miscarriage of justice, Sydney hearing told

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 April, 2018 - 08:43

Religious beliefs meant woman did not give ‘crucial’ evidence about police raid, lawyer says

A Sydney Muslim woman suffered a miscarriage of justice at her terrorism raid lawsuit because she was not allowed to give evidence with her face covered, an appeal court has been told.

The “deeply held religious beliefs” of Moutia Elzahed meant that she did not give “crucial” evidence about her version of what police did during the September 2014 raid, her lawyer, Jeremy Kirk SC, argued on Monday in the New South Wales court of appeal.

Related: Woman cannot give evidence in a niqab, Australian court rules

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Fun, fashion and halal lipstick: retailers cash in on £200m Ramadan economy

The Guardian World news: Islam - 29 April, 2018 - 06:59
Store chains plan special offers, products and events for month of fasting

Muslims observing Ramadan are increasingly being targeted by supermarkets and brands in the UK, which has led to a rise in spending on food and gifts during the month, according to new research.

The Ramadan economy in the UK is worth at least £200m, with supermarket chains such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons increasingly gearing products, displays and special offers on popular food items to Ramadan in areas with significant Muslim populations. This year, for example, Morrisons is selling a Ramadan countdown calendar, similar to an Advent calendar, aimed at children.

Following only Christmas and Easter in scale and size, this is surely Britain’s biggest untapped business opportunity

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When women were forced to choose between faith and football | Shireen Ahmed

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 April, 2018 - 09:00

History tends to overlook the incredible contributions of women in football, which is why it is important to tell the story of Fifa’s hijab ban and those who helped overturn it

Football is full of incredible histories, many that remain undocumented and unknown. In particular, women’s football history gets left aside. There are efforts by historians and football lovers to educate the public on the incredible contributions of women in football. On International Women’s Day I was at the National Football Museum in Manchester for a women’s football conference to present on football and the hijab to a room of academics and researchers. Although there is much to be celebrated, there is still a sordid past that, as footballers, supporters and writers, we must understand in order to do justice to the beautiful game. There are stories that are hard to tell but must be told.

Related: Nike's Pro Hijab: a great leap into modest sportswear, but they're not the first

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The Wadsworth affair and the “anti-Semitic trope” gambit

Indigo Jo Blogs - 27 April, 2018 - 22:31

Picture of Marc Wadsworth, a middle aged, portly Black man with a receding hairline, wearing a red jumper with a black jacket over it, holding a microphone. The forehead of a white woman in the audience can be seen at the bottom.So, today a Labour and Momentum activist (and film-maker and co-founder of the campaign for justice for Stephen Lawrence) named Marc Wadsworth was expelled from the party by the National Constitutional Committee (NCC) for “bringing the party into disrepute and embarrassing the leader” by making an accusation to the Jewish Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth, that she was “working hand-in-hand with the media” to discredit the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, at a launch event for the Chakrabarti report into anti-Semitism in the Labour party in 2016. Wadsworth, who was represented by Harriet Wistrich (best known for her work on domestic violence) has said he is looking into ways he could challenge the ruling but also said that Corbyn had told him after the event that he could have used “kinder language” but has also said he is not embarrassed by Wadsworth. The Derby North MP, Chris Williamson, condemned the ruling, saying it “flies in the face of the evidence presented and offends against the principles of natural justice”, suggesting that it was the result of predetermination; an unnamed former Labour staffer wrote to the party’s general secretary accusing Williamson of “[bringing] the Party into disrepute by questioning and undermining the impartiality of the NEC and the NCC”.

The comments made to Ruth Smeeth were deemed anti-Semitic because they supposedly echo an “anti-Semitic trope”, that Jews “control the media”. This particular type of accusation, rather than the use of explicit anti-Semitic slurs, expressions of hatred or threats of violence, have formed the bulk of claims of anti-Semitism within the Labour party. Other such ‘tropes’ include the claim that Jews control the financial system or the entertainment industry or that they rule the world from behind the scenes as some sort of conspiracy. The problem is that some of the accusations relate to suggestions that fall far short of any of these tropes by people who do not believe those things and indeed would regard all of them as ridiculous. There is a big difference between saying that the west supports Israel because of the influence of a “Jewish lobby” and saying that Jews control the west; if they had such control, they would need no lobby after all. For anyone wondering why the West supports Israel with, in the case of the USA, billions of dollars of aid (including military technology and firepower) a year despite its rhetoric of human rights and democracy and the denial of these things to the native Palestinians, it’s a quite natural conclusion to come to.

Similarly, there is a wide gulf between saying that Jews have strong connections to the media — the major broadcast and print media — and saying that they control it. In the UK, none of the major newspaper proprietors is Jewish, but a fair number of Jewish columnists get print space in most of the broadsheets every week, and this goes for the left- and right-leaning papers. To say that they are, in general, a prosperous community is not to say that they are “all rich” or that they own all the banks (they do not). And I have even seen it demanded that we not call Israeli soldiers and settlers who kill Palestinian children “bloodthirsty”, as this echoes the “blood libel”, that Jews kill Christian children to use their blood in matzos at Passover — a myth that originated in England with a child found dead and mutilated in the then Jewish quarter of Lincoln, probably the result of a sex attack, but which has been repeated in Arabic propaganda films lately. This term is very commonly used of people who kill for no reason or seem to take delight in doing so; the blood libel is probably the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, especially when the dead are not even Christian anyway.

We often see it demanded that non-Jews not ‘presume’ to say what is anti-Semitic and what is not. However, even if we leave this up to Jews, the question remains of which Jews, since the Jewish organisations that are usually most ready to make such accusations are also wont to claim that dissenting voices are not Jewish enough; the former are generally ‘eligible’ Jews who are synagogue-goers or who would be welcomed into one, rather than people merely of Jewish origin, not all of whom are religious at all. The problem here is that the most convinced anti-Semites do not make any such distinction; racialised anti-Semitism emerged only when Jews started to become integrated into European societies and some greatly modified or abandoned their religion — that ‘integration’ is precisely part of the conspiracy. The same is true of Muslims: there is a Muslim definition of a Muslim which excludes such groups as the Qadianis (Ahmadiyya) and Isma’ilis, but racists do not usually care for this distinction, especially if their objection is to non-white people or ‘foreigners’ rather than Muslims as such. The people most likely to make accusations of anti-Semitism based on tenuous connections to “anti-Semitic tropes” seem to be the first type; the second are less likely to be noticeably Jewish, but also have little or no connection to Israel, and so are less likely to use “anti-Semitism” to attack anti-Zionism.

We cannot trust people who defend an oppressive régime and who would use accusations of racism to defend it, to ‘define’ what is a manifestation of that prejudice and what it not. If it really is to be “left to Jews” then it must be people of Jewish origin in general and not merely those in the ‘mainstream’ (modern-Orthodox, Zionist) Jewish community. It does appear that the effect of such demands is that people have to watch what they say in the presence of white people, and white middle-class people in particular, lest the person turns out to be Jewish and their comment can be interpreted as an “anti-Semitic trope”. After all, it is generally accepted that white people cannot be victims of racism as such, because racism involves power and not just prejudice, but whites can hide behind their Jewish minority and eagerly echo claims of anti-Semitism whenever an uppity member of a minority (or an outsider to the posh media clique) needs to be silenced. If that’s not what is intended, then one might consider the doctrine that the intent is irrelevant and it’s the impact (including on a third party) that counts — a fairly well-recognised doctrine among anti-racism activists and one that is very convenient to and much utilised by people making false accusations, including of anti-Semitism.

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Judge rules coroner's 'cab rank' policy discriminatory

The Guardian World news: Islam - 27 April, 2018 - 12:42

Jewish and Muslim groups welcome decision that beliefs can allow funeral to be expedited

A senior coroner has been ordered to abandon a “cab rank” policy on hearings after a high court judge ruled it was unlawful and discriminatory as it refused to take account of religious beliefs.

Mary Hassell, the coroner for inner north London, was told to draft a new policy that met the needs of all members of the community.

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Islamophobia not an issue in the British press? You’ve got to be kidding | Miqdaad Versi

The Guardian World news: Islam - 27 April, 2018 - 11:30
I’ve personally complained and won corrections from national papers on more than 40 stories related to Islam and Muslims

This week the home affairs select committee’s inquiry into hate crime turned to Islamophobia and the press. Many greeted with surprise the idea expressed by one witness: that anti-Muslim sentiment wasn’t much of an issue in the mainstream media.

Related: Daily Express editor calls its front pages 'downright offensive'

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Supreme court appears to lean in favor of Trump's right to impose travel ban

The Guardian World news: Islam - 25 April, 2018 - 19:26

Key judges signal support for president’s authority, as court weighs whether his motivation was national security or religious animus

Two key judges on the US supreme court signaled support on Wednesday for Donald Trump’s authority to impose his controversial travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries, as fierce arguments raged before the bench in Washington.

Chief justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, the two most likely swing votes on the nine-judge court, both expressed skepticism over attempts to undermine Trump’s authority on what the president’s side insists is a matter of national security.

Related: Tears, despair and shattered hopes: the families torn apart by Trump's travel ban

Related: Despite California's liberal image, half favor travel ban and more deportations

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Passages from the Bible discovered behind Qur'an manuscript

The Guardian World news: Islam - 25 April, 2018 - 10:30

The only recorded palimpsest in which a Christian text has been effaced to make way for the Islamic holy text is to go on sale at Christie’s

An “extraordinary” discovery by an eagle-eyed scholar has identified the shadowy outlines of passages from the Bible behind an eighth-century manuscript of the Qur’an – the only recorded palimpsest in which a Christian text has been effaced to make way for the Islamic holy text.

French scholar Dr Eléonore Cellard was looking for images of a palimpsest page sold a decade earlier by Christie’s when she came across the auction house’s latest catalogue, which included fragments from a manuscript of the Qur’an which Christie’s had dated to the eighth century AD, or the second century of Islam. Scrutinising the image, she noticed that, appearing faintly behind the Arabic script, were Coptic letters. She contacted Christie’s, and they managed to identify the Coptic text as coming from the Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy – part of the Torah and the Christian Old Testament.

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Times forced to admit: we printed garbage

Indigo Jo Blogs - 25 April, 2018 - 08:00

A front page from the Times newspaper, with the headline "Ban on junk food deals as obesity drive unites MPs" and a smaller story headlined "Judge slams advisers to parents of Alfie Evans". A one-paragraph story about the IPSO judgement on the Muslim foster care story is at the bottom right of the page.Last year, the Times carried a story that a young girl of Christian background had not been allowed to eat pork under her Muslim foster carers’ roof, on their front page. They also claimed that the mother of the family wore a ‘burka’ and did not let her wear a cross on a chain, and that the girl cried when she had to return to the foster home and begged not to have to go there. Yesterday, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) upheld a complaint by Tower Hamlets borough council against the Times on the grounds that it broke clause 1 (accuracy) of its code, and a reference is made on the front page (see the red rectangle in the attached image). (See earlier entries: [1], [2], [3].)

Ipso have not mentioned the ruling either on its website or its Twitter feed; the ruling is published in full in the Times today. According to the Press Gazette, the story provoked 178 complaints to Ipso. Within a couple of days of the story being printed, a family court judgement was published which revealed that a number of the ‘facts’ in the Times’ original story were false, including that the girl was a Christian (her family were in fact non-practising Muslims), that the foster family did not speak English (they did), that the girl’s mother objected to the placement (she did not); there were so many inaccuracies and distortions. It is a good thing that Ipso, an industry-owned regulator that is as notorious as the PCC before it for being soft on newspapers that print inflammatory stories, has found this story beyond the pale.

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Complaint upheld over Times story about girl fostered by Muslims

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 April, 2018 - 23:25

Council wins ruling from press watchdog over claims in story also picked up by Daily Mail

A press watchdog has upheld a complaint against the Times over its coverage of the fostering placement of a young girl in east London.

Notice of a ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) was published on the front page of Wednesday’s print edition.

Related: Daily Express editor calls its front pages 'downright offensive'

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Daily Express editor calls its front pages 'downright offensive'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 April, 2018 - 19:09

Recently appointed Gary Jones tells MPs some stories helped stir Islamophobic feeling in media

The Daily Express editor has said some of his newspaper’s past front pages have been “downright offensive”, made him feel “very uncomfortable” and contributed to an “Islamophobic sentiment” in the media.

Gary Jones, who took over at the newspaper last month, said he was unhappy with some of its previous coverage and would be looking to change the tone of the Express.

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Has the “Human Rights movement” failed?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 24 April, 2018 - 16:36

A front cover of the Amnesty International magazine Wire. The word WIRE is printed in black capital letters at top left, underneath which it reads "For people passionate about human rights. January/February 2014, Volume 44, issue 001". The name Amnesty International and their logo of a candle with a piece of barbed wire round it appears on the right on the yellow strip. Below is a picture of a Hindu woman wearing a pink, yellow and turcquoise headscarf with a gold nose ring, a red dot above her nose and a red vertical line above that. Next to her, in yellow capital letters on a black background, it reads "My body, my rights".How the Human Rights movement failed (from the New York Times)

In this article, Yale law and history professor Samuel Moyn argues that the backsliding of various countries such as the Philippines and Hungary, whose leaders show explicit contempt for human rights and their defenders, shows that the movement for and idea of human rights is in crisis and the major watchdogs have failed to learn from the mistakes of the past:

But from the biggest watchdogs to monitors at the United Nations, the human rights movement, like the rest of the global elite, seems to be drawing the wrong lessons from its difficulties.

Advocates have doubled down on old strategies without reckoning that their attempts to name and shame can do more to stoke anger than to change behavior. Above all, they have ignored how the grievances of newly mobilized majorities have to be addressed if there is to be an opening for better treatment of vulnerable minorities.

Moyn argues that in the late 20th century when activists took up the cause of human rights when much of the world was under dictatorship, they forgot about “social citizenship”:

The signature group of that era, Amnesty International, focused narrowly on imprisonment and torture; similarly, Human Rights Watch rejected advocating economic and social rights.

[…]

In the 1990s, after the Cold War ended, both human rights and pro-market policies reached the apogee of their prestige. In Eastern Europe, human rights activists concentrated on ousting old elites and supporting basic liberal principles even as state assets were sold off to oligarchs and inequality exploded. In Latin America, the movement focused on putting former despots behind bars. But a neoliberal program that had arisen under the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet swept the continent along with democracy, while the human rights movement did not learn enough of a new interest in distributional fairness to keep inequality from spiking.

In other words, the narrow focus on campaigning against torture and the imprisonment of people for the mere expression of political or religious beliefs meant that the movement could not survive and maintain credibility when activists’ focus turns towards tackling the inequality and poverty caused by neoliberal politics which were favoured both by many of the dictatorships (especially in South America) and the democracies from which human rights campaigns were run: it begins to look like the two are in cahoots, allowing newly risen demagogues such as Duterte and Orban to be seen explicitly disregarding them.

I was never a member of Amnesty International, but I was briefly involved when I was at school (early 90s) as a relative, a friend and a teacher were members so I read various books, reports and magazines they produced and took part in some of their letter-writing campaigns. The focus on political prisoners was deliberate: the whole point was that we did not discriminate between different types of political regime or their approaches to economics. In the period from the 60s to the early 90s, much of the world outside Western Europe, North America and Australasia was under a dictatorship of some sort: one-party states in Africa and parts of south-east Asia, Communism in Eastern Europe and much of Asia, absolute monarchies in parts of the Middle East and fascist dictatorships in other parts, military dictatorships in South America and white minority rule in Southern Africa. Amnesty’s policy allowed us to put political differences aside to campaign against unjust imprisonment and torture in all of these places, with varying results; the fact that many of the regimes were western clients meant that we could (independently of Amnesty, of course) pressure our governments to stop supporting them or make foreign aid dependent on human rights pressure.

In my opinion, Amnesty has broadened its remit too much and in the wrong direction, towards campaigning for every pet cause of white liberals in its base countries — often things that not everyone can get behind. There were solid reasons for adopting a policy of opposition to the death penalty, because (particularly in the USA, the sole western country that still used it by the 1990s) it was frequently observed to be applied in a racist or capricious fashion or for political motives, but it still caused some discontent when people were asked to write letters in support of, say, a rapist and murderer facing the death penalty in Guatemala. The fact that it focussed on political prisoners, torture and the death penalty in the 1990s meant people of any religious belief could be involved and that schools, including Catholic schools, encouraged children to participate. That was the whole point. Now that it also advocates the legalisation of abortion and sex work, both of which attract large-scale religious opposition and the second of which is opposed by many non-religious people as harmful to women, the pool of potential participants is narrowed somewhat. Their campaign for wider reproductive rights (see this magazine whose cover is at the top of this entry), while not restricted to abortion, is far beyond anything we could have anticipated being asked to campaign for, or contribute to, until very recently; it was just not what Amnesty International was set up to campaign for. There never was any prohibition on people who were active members of Amnesty campaigning on these two issues, much as you could be a Thatcherite or a socialist in the 1980s and still participate, but many people will not want their membership fees going towards campaigning for the legalisation or decriminalisation of the sex trade.

It could be said that the Amnesty approach has become less fashionable because many westerners are more concerned about anti-imperialism than about the human rights records of some of the regimes abroad they consider to be “anti-imperialist”, often quite wrongly (Assad of Syria is not a western client but a client of the just as imperialist Russia and also Iran, which uses it to bolster its influence in the region). Association of the west with human rights undermines it when the west itself indulges in violent racism and blames the victims (the US in particular) and explicitly supports a racist ‘democratic’ regime in the Middle East, as well as its usual autocratic clients; the tendency of the west to close its mind, to turn in, often in ways that explicitly discriminate against minorities (e.g. Muslims) in their countries makes any talk of human rights look a lot like hypocrisy. All this enables dictatorships to use the “also defence” — to claim that their abuses are mirrored in the western countries whose activists (and celebrities) criticise them. Finally, the outward focus on human rights abuses everywhere but at home enables people to ignore abuses on their doorstep — physical abuse was rampant at the school I was at, ‘rights’ was a dirty word that was used contemptuously, and the teacher who introduced us to Amnesty was one of the abusers.

But that doesn’t mean the idea of human rights is a failure. Amnesty managed to operate in a variety of regimes for many years and its campaigns resulted in the freeing of many, many political prisoners; it indirectly mobilised support in rich countries for democratic reforms abroad and the maintenance of civil liberties at home when they were not always popular; the fact that, for example, it noted that trade and student unions were being targeted by dictatorships because they campaigned against impoverishment meant that these institutions gained sympathy. It did not have the answer to everything, but it has a lot of achievements it can be proud of and of those who have turned to fighting inequality now that the shackles of dictatorship have been thrown off, many are people Amnesty told us about in the 1980s or at least are associated with those people. It’s not about economic or social justice as such, but it helped those of us who fight for those things.

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'A vigilante state': Aceh's citizens take sharia law into their own hands

The Guardian World news: Islam - 23 April, 2018 - 01:36

People have started raiding, arresting and shaming anyone accused of violating the Indonesia region’s militant moral laws

Everyone in the village saw it, either in the flesh or later when it was immortalised on YouTube. Local children even stuck their heads through the grates of a fence to watch, their attention trained on the spectacle in front of them: a young couple being doused in sewage.

Humiliated but compliant, the couple sat on the edge of a well in Kayee Lee, a village in the Indonesian province of Aceh, as the liquid ran off them in thick black streams.

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The Lib Dems’ despicable bargain

Indigo Jo Blogs - 21 April, 2018 - 22:38

 "Victory for Mail's six-year campaign as Ministers force reluctant supermarkets to impose 5p charge". Above the clipping is the slogan "Banish the bags" and the Daily Mail's name in its usual masthead font.I sometimes regret the fact that I still live in a fairly affluent part of outer London which has been, for most of the past generation, a Lib Dem stronghold, particularly when I see people elsewhere get enthusiastic about the Corbyn project and realise that I won’t have a chance to vote for him, because there aren’t enough Labour voters round here to do more than split the anti-Tory vote. Generally speaking, Edward Davey was a good and responsive constituency MP for decades, only to throw away years of building up people’s trust to throw in his lot with David Cameron’s Tories in 2010. He lost his seat (to a Tory) in 2015, only to win it back in 2017. This past week, during the “plastic straws” debate, a former Lib Dem strategist (now director of Demos) named Polly Mackenzie boasted of how they had managed to get David Cameron to agree to their “5p tax on carrier bags” idea while in government: Cameron wanted their support to tighten up the rules for benefit claimants, and got it (though the rule change found to be illegal and never went ahead; whether the Lib Dems knew that would happen or not, I don’t know). The full thread on Twitter starts here and ends here. Incidentally, the Daily Mail had been campaigning for a ban on plastic bags since 2008.

Polly Mackenzie claims that the plastic bag ban was “popular and impactful in equal measure” despite having been watered down with exemptions by the Tories. I’m not sure how popular it is, although people have not resisted it despite plenty of opportunity as there is not always someone watching when you take that bag, especially at a self-service checkout, although some retailers have simply taken the old thin bags away and replacing them with stronger ones that can be reused more than once. I certainly did not just use the bags once; I would use them for shopping more than once and then use them to dispose of food waste or other personal waste, for which I now have to use bin bags which, of course, cost money — the whole thing has been a money-spinner for the supermarkets who do not have to produce bags for free anymore. As with the plastic straws, the biggest issue with plastic bags was not plastic ending up in the ocean and killing fish (that plastic comes from down drains, such as fibres from synthetic clothing when washed, microbeads from some body wash products and traces of non-stick pan coatings); the bags were ending up in landfill, but often they were ending up there full of rubbish, as the bin bags that replace them now will, and other waste bags can still cause environmental damage on land or at sea when not disposed of properly.

Plastic straws, the latest thing the government wants to ban for the sake of environmental brownie points, are often vital for disabled people to be able to enjoy a drink without help; the alternatives do not work as well (paper straws disintegrate and do not bend, reusable straws are not always easy to clean, especially of drinks such as fruit juices that contain sediment, and so on). There are a whole host of reasons why people need straws and as with any physical impairment, they are not always obvious — one Twitter friend wrote of having Reynaud’s syndrome and being unable to pick up a cold glass, while others lack the physical co-ordination to be able to do so without risking dropping it, and so on. It would be hugely burdensome on them to have to prove their disability to obtain a simple drinking aid, much as when using the “blue badge” parking spaces they are legally entitled to use, and so on.

It fits the coalition era pattern of the Lib Dems securing a few concessions from the Tories (mostly on things that appeal to middle-class voters), such as a referendum on the alternative vote (which nobody wanted and was heavily defeated), while capitulating on austerity measures that largely did not personally affect their voter base even though they might have felt strongly about them (hence their not voting for the Tories) but which caused widespread poverty, hardship and stress to families in poverty and people and families dealing with disability and long-term illness as well as the “hostile environment” immigration policy that is now resulting in people being expelled from the country, or threatened with expulsion and prevented from working, receiving healthcare and so on, when in fact they are citizens or are here perfectly legally. Labour (with a few exceptions, most of them now in Corbyn’s camp) also waved that bill through, reflecting their usual fear of appearing “soft on immigration” in the right-wing commercial media.

Which should really be a salutary warning to anyone thinking of voting for them because they find Jeremy Corbyn unpalatable (especially over anti-Semitism which, as explained previously, is vastly outweighed by more overt racism on the other side); if offered a bone by the Tories they will take it, and will go along with the most extreme Tory policies for the sake of the trappings of power; and if the Tories force through Brexit and destroy the Human Rights Act, there will be no concessions for the Lib Dems to wring out of the Tories anyway. If you’re even thinking of doing this, make sure the candidate has a record of dissenting on coalition policies or has not been around that long, because otherwise you are voting for an unprincipled politician who will accept any bone from the Tories if that’s how the pieces fall at the next election — and the longer the Tories remain in power, the fewer concessions the Lib Dems will be able wring out of them anyway.

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Animal rights are no excuse for racism

Indigo Jo Blogs - 19 April, 2018 - 15:57

 a large piece of chicken surrounded by fried onions and with a mushroom sauce on top, on a black plate on top of a wooden plate; behind it is a portion of potato chips in a metal mesh container with a long handle, on a plate with a small portion of salad. A glass of water to the left with a bottle of water behind the plate with the chips on. Behind the glass of water is a container with three pairs of knives and forks wrapped in a red paper tissue.The other day the 80’s pop star Morrissey, best known for being the frontman for the Smiths, gave an interview in which he backed the far-right party called For Britain, set up by a former UKIP member called Anne Marie Waters, and condemned halal (and kosher) slaughter, calling it ‘evil’ and ‘cruel’ and claiming that “if you use the term ‘humane slaughter’ then you might as well talk in terms of ‘humane rape’”, also claiming that “halal slaughter requires certification that can only be given by supporters of ISIS”. He also poked fun at various politicians, claiming that “even Tesco wouldn’t employ Diane Abbott” and that Sadiq Khan “tells us about neighbourhood policin’” and on that basis “cannot talk properly”. I made a point of going to one of my favourite HMC halal restaurants in Tooting and having their chicken steak (their red-meat steaks are rather too expensive for me at the moment) but it exposes a familiar problem in our society: people who think racism is acceptable in the name of animal rights or animal welfare.

Personally, I make a point of getting my meat from HMC-affiliated butchers and eating at similarly certified restaurants. The reason is less to do with stunning and more to do with the fact that other certifiers have been rather lax and that there are widespread reports that mechanical slaughtering (e.g. with an electric rotary blade) is used (when it has to be the slaughterer that does it with a knife in his or her hand) and that the blessing is in fact played over a loudspeaker rather than recited by a human being. The HMC monitors the supply chain from the abbatoir to the butcher’s or restaurant, not just the abbatoir. I would accept meat that had been stunned (electrically, not with a captive bolt) if all the other conditions were met. This is how meat was obtained for centuries before industrialised farming and slaughtering became a thing in the 19th century; Islam requires that animals not be slaughtered and knives not be sharpened in front of other animals, things that weren’t standard in western abbatoirs until quite recently (consider the cattle chutes invented by Temple Grandin, intended so that cattle were not stressed by seeing other animals slaughtered).

Over the years, I’ve come across many examples of racism prompted by examples of animal cruelty in other parts of the world. The usual excuse is the eating of dog meat, which goes on in parts of the Far East — China, Korea, Vietnam and a few other places. Morrissey himself has previously indulged in this kind of racism against Chinese people, calling them a “sub-species” on account of reports he had read of cruelty in Chinese circuses and zoos. Most recently I saw a Facebook post telling people to cancel their holidays in Indonesia because there was a community on one island that ate dog. Anyone who knows a thing or two about Indonesia will know that the majority of Indonesians are Muslims who do not eat dogs and that most holidaymakers to the country go to Bali, which was not the place mentioned in the post. China, like Indonesia, is a big country with many cultures and languages spoken and there are places where dogs are eaten and places where they are not, so we cannot make generalisations and call the Chinese cruel because we hear of this happening in one or two places.

Another favourite excuse for racism is the perception that the community or ethnic group one dislikes oppresses women; however, animal rights activists are generally no great friends of women either, however many women are willing to debase themselves for the cause. The group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are notorious for stunts in which women walk semi-naked, or are caged “like animals”, and advertisements in which women have fur coats ripped off them or are compared to the “dumb animals” whose fur they wear. Never mind the fact that in some very cold countries, fur is the ideal material to wear to keep oneself safe from the extreme cold. A couple of years ago I saw a video in which a woman was shown running from a hunt pack whose dogs overpowered her and tore her apart, aimed at maintaining pressure to keep the ban on fox hunting. Clearly, the comparison was between a human being (a woman was chosen supposedly because she was a mother and a vixen could have cubs when killed by a fox hunt) and an animal of a type known to menace livestock from chickens to sheep. Foxes are vermin, human beings are not. What part of that do these fools not get?

Among the wealthy, a more sophisticated kind of racist animal activism exists: the multi-million pound campaigns for ‘conservation’ of so-called charismatic megafauna in impoverished countries in Africa, often at the expense of local people who are not allowed to farm or herd in whole tracts of their own countries so that westerners can admire the magnificent elephants, wildebeest, lions and so on, and may not shoot animals which menace them or their livestock. In the West, we regard the taming of the natural landscape as a mark of civilisation and we kill animals that get in the way, which is why we no longer have leopards in Europe or wolves and wildcats in Britain, but we expect African people to suffer so that rich whites can admire animals we would never allow to run loose in our own backyard.

There is a logical reason why non-stun slaughtering is allowed in countries with large enough religious minorities to demand it: they want to eat meat, there are farmers in this country who produce meat and want to sell meat, and it makes sense for it to be made available the way people want it, because they will otherwise source meat from out of the country or resort to other, not necessarily sustainable, sources of food (e.g. fish). There are so many examples of cruelty in western farming, not only to animals but also to the people living around the farms who, in some cases, are expected to live with the stench of pig manure in the air for much of the year (the farmers call it the “smell of money”), and as Animal Aid noted in a 2016 report on stunning, there is actually cruelty in the stunning process and the stunning devices are used to goad animals, not just to stun them before slaughter, so banning non-stun slaughter would not make farming in Britain, the USA or anywhere else a cruelty-free industry.

I’m glad Morrissey’s interview has provoked a backlash from fans and others; a much-retweeted response from one Beth McColl said that Morrissey had “erased his whole legacy of making music that people LOVED” and now sounded like a “topless granddad who ruined yet another barbecue by being racist”, and a range of bags with the slogan “Shut up, Morrissey” printed on them has gone for another production run. Personally, I always found his music dreary, tuneless and boring. But I would really like people to be less ready to make unpleasant generalisations about cultures they do not know much about based on reports of animal cruelty, because they do not usually reflect the whole culture and very often they are no worse than how farm animals are treated here.

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'Haifa is essentially segregated': cracks appear in Israel's capital of coexistence

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 April, 2018 - 07:00

For decades, Haifa has been Israel’s model of what a ‘mixed’ Jewish-Arab city could be. But as the country’s 70th anniversary nears, the strain is showing

Ben-Gurion Boulevard climbs from the bustling port on Haifa’s Mediterranean shore up Mount Carmel towards the famous Bahai shrine, its gleaming golden dome surrounded by lush terraced gardens. On the south side of the palm-lined road, on a spring lunchtime, the Fattoush restaurant is packed with customers chatting noisily in Arabic and Hebrew over Levantine and fusion salads, cardamom-flavoured coffee and exquisite Palestinian knafeh desserts.

Fashionable eateries like Fattoush are one reason why Israel’s third largest city and its biggest “mixed” one, as officially classified, is held up as a model of Jewish-Arab coexistence. Not everyone agrees with the concept, of course, and the “c” word is often qualified, placed in inverted commas, or simply dismissed as propaganda. Official figures say Arabs make up 14% of Haifa’s 280,000-strong population; unofficial estimates are closer to 18%, swelled by students and commuters from nearby Galilee. Public spaces, at least, are open to all. And the ever-present Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, usually, softer-edged than elsewhere in the country.

I can’t tell you that all Jews love Arabs and vice versa, but people do feel safe here

Related: The contested centenary of Britain’s ‘calamitous promise’

Co-existence is not equality. Speaking the same language and eating hummus together doesn’t mean Jews and Arabs are equal

The whole country is based one separation in a very profound way

Related: 'This land is just dirt': a rooftop view of Jerusalem

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