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Morrissey denounces halal meat as 'evil', and attacks May, Khan, Abbott and more

The Guardian World news: Islam - 17 April, 2018 - 14:24

Ex-Smiths frontman claims ‘halal slaughter requires certification that can only be given by supporters of Isis’, and throws his support behind far-right For Britain party

Morrissey has made an extraordinary – even by his standards – series of pronouncements in a new interview published on his website, attacking halal meat producers, Theresa May, Diane Abbott and Sadiq Khan, among others.

The former Smiths frontman – already infamous for his statements on race, animal welfare and more – criticised halal meat production, the Islamic method of animal slaughter. He claimed that “halal slaughter requires certification that can only be given by supporters of Isis”, and described it as “evil”. He also described Jewish kosher food production as “very cruel”, and called for it to be banned.

Related: I started something I couldn't finish: the Smiths reunion that wasn't

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Who really loses out here?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 16 April, 2018 - 22:03

A sign with letters in black on glass, fixed by metal bolts to the wall behind. There are arrows pointing left with the room number 716, underneath which it says "Male washroom" with a man symbol and a circle with a wheelchair with a line through it. Next to the right arrow are the room numbers 714 and 722 and underneath that is "Universal washroom with hoist and adult change table", with signs representing men, women, wheelchairs and the hoist.This is a sign which, allegedly, appeared on a college hall of residence in Toronto, Canada. It points left to a non-accessible bathroom for men, and right for an accessible one with a hoist and an adult changing table, for everyone else including all women and any men who want to use it. Feminists of a certain sect have been sharing this image with the suggestion that it requires women to share a toilet with men, and when I pointed out to one of them yesterday that it really (very seriously) inconveniences many disabled people, she accused me of glossing over the implications to women’s safety of having to share a bathroom with men. In fact, such toilets are always single cubicles, so this will not happen.

What might happen is serious enough. This is the type of toilet known in the UK as a Changing Place, which campaigners have been trying to get fitted to as many places such as shopping centres, airports and other public buildings as possible because without it, a severely disabled person who is too big to just lift out of their wheelchair when they need the toilet (or a change of incontinence pad) and cannot make the transfer themselves would otherwise not be able to remain away from their home for very long. Generally speaking, disabled people do not like people using disabled toilets if they do not need them, as having to wait for a toilet can have unpleasant consequences — anything from wet clothes and wheelchair seat to a urinary tract infection, and for some people (e.g. those with high-level spinal cord injuries) a life-threatening blood pressure disorder called autonomic dysreflexia (a common cause of which is a blocked catheter, causing the bladder to overfill).

If a specialised Changing Places type toilet is present, it really should not be the toilet used by 50% or more of the population on campus because this will lead to wear and tear; it should be reserved for those who actually need it. One presumes that not every residence on this campus has a specialised toilet and that any students with the need for a hoist will be in this dormitory or perhaps one or two others, so it is highly likely that it will be needed. In any recently-built hall of residence, it is ludicrous and unconscionable that all female students are expected to use a single cubicle and that all disabled students are expected to use the same one. If the male toilet is not a single cubicle but a communal one with multiple cubicles and urinals, that is also highly discriminatory against the women but let’s not lose sight of whose safety is under threat here.

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The race to get the Outer Hebrides’ first mosque ready for Ramadan

The Guardian World news: Islam - 16 April, 2018 - 16:30

On the Isle of Lewis, support for the project is flooding in from Muslims and non-Muslims alike

A couple of weeks ago, Aihtsham Rashid was standing in front of a derelict building in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, considering the scale of the task of turning it into the first mosque in the Outer Hebrides.

“This could take years,” the Leeds-based builder told crestfallen members of the town’s Muslim community as they gazed at the crumbling walls, sagging roof and broken windows, and weighed up logistical problems of supplies and labour.

Related: Outer Hebrides to get its first mosque after crowdsourcing campaign

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Does it matter where the term ‘Islamophobia’ comes from?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 15 April, 2018 - 21:41

Picture of Julie Bindel, a middle-aged white woman with short, greying brown hair, wearing thick-rimmed glasses and a grey suit jacket with a name badge pinned to it and a low-cut top underneath, sitting typing on an Apple laptop.Why are so many left-wing progressives silent about Islam’s totalitarian tendencies? by Julie Bindel (free registration required)

This article is on Unherd, a right-leaning opinion site edited by Tim Montgomerie (founder of ConservativeHome), and filed in a section called “Flyover Country”. Julie Bindel proclaims herself to be a “lifelong feminist, and firmly on the political left”. The notion of “flyover country” comes from the American Right, who spent years proclaiming on talk radio and blogs, etc., that (white) provincials were being ignored by the chattering classes who were overwhelmingly located on the two coasts. The fact that the Electoral College delivered the presidency to two extreme right-wing, incompetent Republican candidates (in 2000 and 2016) precisely by privileging their votes over votes cast in populous coastal states such as New York and California never seems to occur to them. They just repeat the “republic not a democracy!” mantra.

The blog’s name is UnHerd — a pun on “unheard”, obviously, when their opinions are regularly ‘heard’ on talk radio, on BBC panel shows, in magazines like Standpoint (where Bindel has been publishing for years, alongside the rather more blunt bigot Douglas Murray) and major newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Times. So, her claim to be “firmly on the political Left” rings rather hollow, as she has no problem rubbing shoulders with members of the extreme political Right and echoing their persecution fantasies.

She claims:

I am appalled at so-called progressives that capitulate to Islamist men, and make an exception for Islam as a religion – when being (rightly) critical of Judaism and Catholicism.

How often do we hear mainstream feminists criticise Judaism? Apart from the specific policy of allowing men to refuse their wives a divorce in orthodox Judaism, I’ve never heard a serious critique of Judaism itself coming from the political Left in recent years. The issue of orthodox Jewish men refusing to sit next to women on aeroplanes is confined to Israel, specifically the El Al airline, and has been ruled unlawful even there; it did not receive much media coverage anywhere else. As for Catholicism, criticism of that is mostly confined to the particular issue of abortion and laws which privilege the rights of an unborn child over its mother, to the point of endangering the lives of both in many cases, and to the culture of abuse that exists in many of its institutions and the church’s reaction to it. The latter is not even about Catholicism itself though, but about the men who run the church.

What is behind this hypocrisy? From where I am standing it is simple: the fear of being labelled ‘Islamophobic’.

As Anna Pak, an Iranian exile to France, and staunch secularist feminist explains, the Islamophobic term originated from 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. “Women went to the streets and marched to be free of the veil,” she says. “Khomeini and the Islamists obliged them to wear the veil, and that’s when they started calling these women Islamophobic.”

I find that an extremely dubious claim. Iranians speak Persian (some speak other languages, such as Kurdish or Azeri); Islamophobia is a Greek-based English term. The term commonly used in Iran was Gharb-Zadigi, meaning west-drunk; intoxicated by ideas they found in the west, or preoccupied by the notion that the west was best. I can’t find any other trace of this Anna Pak, but anyone who knows a little bit of Iranian history will know that the previous régime had forced people to stop wearing the Islamically-based dress which had been customary up until the Pahlavi dynasty took power in the early 20th century. The women principally targeted were members of the same urban elite which had forced other Iranians to dress their way when they were in power. Among the other exiles were Marxists, who had hoped to capitalise on the revolution for their own purposes but were outmanoevred by the far more numerous Islamists. They are some of the most prominent exiles now lecturing to secularist audiences in London.

I first heard the term Islamophobia in the late 90s, when it was being used to mean bigotry being directed at Muslims. I presume it was derived from the term “homophobia” which had come into popular use at that time.

These cultural relativists have given their support to sharia courts, the wearing of the full-face veil, arranged marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), and gender segregation in public places. What’s more, many do it in the name of women’s emancipation. Supporting traditional Islam flies in the face of the feminist quest for liberation from patriarchal structures.

I have actually never heard any feminist express approval of FGM. The closest anyone has come is Germaine Greer, who said that the ceremony itself, barring the actual FGM, could be very beautiful. Some have opposed excessive scrutiny of minority communities on the pretext that girls are at risk of FGM when in fact they might not be, and some have (particularly recently) questioned claims about the prevalence of FGM among minority communities here, for very good reasons. There are no “Sharia courts” in this country; there are some arbitration tribunals, the participation in which is voluntary. As for segregation, TERFs have held women-only events on multiple occasions in London and elsewhere, and one should remember that the ‘controversy’ in London occurred when a group of men invaded a section of seating that was reserved for women.

As far as the “full-face veil” is concerned: to begin with, almost nobody wears a full-face veil — usually they wear a veil that leaves the eyes exposed and is easy to flip up or remove when it’s not needed. Second, it’s not about approving of it, it’s about allowing women who wear it to walk in the streets unmolested, or to enter public buildings such as colleges. As with the headscarf, the issue is about the right of women whose religion dictates that they wear these items to access public services and education and to feel safe; your opinion on what it represents is irrelevant as it may not represent the same thing to them. It is also a fact that the number of women wearing the face-veil declined in the late 2000s as a result of hostile press coverage, and resulting public hostility, that made the women feel unsafe. It was not Muslim men responsible for this.

“They think they are being oh-so anti-racist,” says Sabrina, who I met in Paris at a meeting recently of ex-Muslim women who were launching a campaign against political Islamism, “but their often mindless capitulation to misogynistic ideology has a detrimental effect on Muslim women.” These white do-gooders, she says, give a “shot in the arm” to the worst religious patriarchs.

Again, an appeal to an anonymous nobody that Julie has met. We have to take Julie’s word for it that ‘Sabrina’ exists, of course. But French ‘feminists’ have agitated against the hijab, leading to a right-wing government banning it in schools so as to force an uppity minority to behave and look like the white majority. That is a fairly good definition of racist policy, much as in many British and American schools, Black hairstyles are more aggressively policed than White ones. “Neutrality” is conflated with everyone behaving like the dominant group.

What’s more, it would appear that the support given by (mainly white) leftists towards certain so-called ‘traditions’ within Islamic culture include in particular, aspects that specifically affect women and girls. In the same way that self identified ‘pro-feminist’ men feel able to put their support behind lap dancing, prostitution, and slut-walking, by arguing it is ‘empowering’ and a ‘positive choice’, they are not reticent in handing out insults to feminists – like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown – who critique the wearing of the niqab.

The “Slut Walk” was a movement which happened as a reaction to a comment by a Canadian senior police officer who told women not to “dress like sluts” if they did not want to be victimised. It was a protest against victim blaming which lasted only a few months. It was more than just “pro-feminist men” who disagree with Bindel’s position on the sex industry; many women campaign for sex work to be legalised as they believe it would make it safer for the women involved, so that (for example) they could work together in the same house rather than being alone with a potentially abusive client. Even if you disagree with their views on this, Bindel’s claim misrepresents the situation (much as with the debate over transgenderism; it is common for anti-trans feminists to misrepresent the supporters of trans women as mostly men or as misguided young women, when in fact many women of all ages are represented).

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is widely distrusted by the Muslim community, because she represents herself to the non-Muslim media by calling herself a Muslim when in fact, by origin, she is a member of a small sect which diverged from Islam several centuries ago and today its practices bear little resemblance to Islam’s. It is a sect with an infallible leader, a concept Islam shuns and always has done. She relies on the fact that her non-Muslim audience (and media friends) do not know the difference between her and the average Muslim. Furthermore, no woman who actually wears hijab, let alone niqaab, gets a fifth of the media exposure for their opinions that she does.

Growing numbers of women that grew up under Muslim laws are resisting religious tyranny. Maryam Namazie, an Iranian feminist, and founder of One Law for All, a secularist organisation that campaigns against parallel legal systems, believes that it is now seen as “perfectly acceptable” for feminists and other progressives, including secularists, to defend sharia courts or gender segregation as a “right to religion”.

Maryam Namazie is an Iranian communist exile. The majority of Muslims in this country have no link to Iran at all. What growing numbers of Muslims, male and female, have been doing for the past twenty years is to campaign for themselves to be able to go about their business without discrimination based on their religious practices, including their dress, and to an end to unwarranted, hostile media coverage that translates into discrimination and violence against them. Namazie has never been involved in any of this.

I was the first journalist to write about the phenomenon of ‘grooming gangs’ that target and sexually exploit young women in towns and cities across England, but it was far from easy to get such stories published in the supposedly liberal press. My first piece on this, which focussed on gangs of men of Pakistani Muslim origin, targeting and pimping girls in Lancashire, was published by The Sunday Times Magazine just over a decade ago.

When, the following year I published my investigation into the disappearance of Blackpool schoolgirl Charlene Downes, my name was added to the website, Islamaphobia Watch, accused of demonising Muslims. My crime? Pointing out that police officers refusing to investigate these crimes were taking a ‘hands off’ approach for fear of having to police a ‘race riot’. I was told by a number of men, and some feminists, that by exposing the grooming gang phenomenon I was, in the words of one ‘anti-racist feminist’ that I was playing into the hands of the BNP (British National Party). I was truly staggered – it would appear that I was being told not to wash dirty linen in public, and to hell with the rape and abuse of teenage girls.

A search for Bindel’s name on the (now defunct, but kept up in archive form) Islamophobia Watch site gets six hits — the top one is from 2010, for an article in which she criticised Green MP Caroline Lucas for supporting the Pro-Hijab group, set up to oppose bans on the hijab in Europe. The actual entry on the site she is referring to is this one, which simply notes that the BNP and BNP-supporting bloggers were approvingly quoting an article she had written for the Sunday Times, and links her Guardian article about Charlene Downes (which does not mention the Asian grooming issue at all) at the bottom.

Bindel makes much of the claim that the police and media did not pursue the Asian grooming gangs until they had been active for many years out of fear of being called racist. In fact, they (and many of the social workers who were supposed to protect the girls) regarded the girls themselves as wayward and the sexual acts they were the victims of as consensual, regardless of what the law says about the matter. The BNP did make a meal out of it as well and media coverage in recent years has over-emphasised the question of generalised Muslim responsibility for the behaviour of a small minority. But it wasn’t why the activity was allowed to persist.

The quibbling over the term ‘Islamophobia’ or where it originates or what it really means is a staple of the racist right; objections like “it’s not Islamophobia, it’s Islamo-realism” have been commonly seen on the far-right blogosphere going back at least to 2001. People will object that Islam is not like racism (Islamophobia Watch used to define the term as “anti-Muslim racism”) because Muslims are not a race and that a religion did not deserve the same protection from ‘criticism’. However, there are indeed criticisms of Islam that do not veer into hate or threaten actual Muslims, but much of what passes for “criticism of Islam” is actually excuses for intolerance towards Islam itself and Muslims, as well as normal Muslim customs such as hijab that of themselves cause no harm. In short, such quibbles about the term ‘Islamophobia’ are aimed at legitimising the thing itself. No, it’s not fear, it’s hate or at least hostility. That’s no defence.

In her final paragraph she proclaims “disrespect for religion, including Islam, should be at the heart of feminism”. But many of the women who are fighting to preserve their right to an education, to work, to walk the streets without fear of racist attack from men, do not do so from a perspective of disrespect for their religion and should not expect that any ‘ally’ from the majority community should show it such disrespect either. There’s a reason Julie Bindel cannot get this kind of thing published in a mainstream “Left” journal anymore: because it contributes to racism, and if you feel the need to complain that you cannot say this or that for fear of being called a racist, your opinion probably is racist.

Image source: Saeima - Starptautiska konference “Drošības kompass - efektīvi risinājumi cilvēktirdzniecības novēršanai”, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA 2.0) licence: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58907832.

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Book Review: The Qur’an – A Historical-Critical Introduction by Nicolai Sinai

Inayat's Corner - 15 April, 2018 - 14:00

I first read the Qur’an in English translation at the age of 18 during the summer break following my ‘A’ level exams and the start of university. Up until then I had largely only read the Qur’an in Arabic – a language I did not understand at the time – at the madrasa. The translation that I first read was by Marmaduke Pickthall which my mother had bought for me some years previously and I had put it aside as I was uninterested at the time. Now, during that long summer, on beginning to read the Qur’an I was at once gripped by the authority and immediacy with which the Qur’an spoke. This really was like no other book I had ever previously read. The Qur’an repeatedly claimed to be Divine speech and demanded to be taken seriously by the reader.

In the many years since that summer, I have purchased and read many different English translations of the Qur’an and have also sought out Western critiques of the Qur’an too. After all, a true faith should be able to withstand criticism, right?

Beginning in the late 1970’s a revisionist school of thought appeared amongst some influential Western scholars including John Wansbrough, Patricia Crone and Michael Cook. This school claimed to have uncovered findings which undermined the traditional Muslim accounts of Islamic/Qur’anic history and argued that the Qur’an was not revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the early 7th century (610 – 632 CE according to traditional Muslim accounts), but was produced much later. Wansbrough argued that the Qur’an was produced in the late 8th/early 9th century during the Abbasid era. If true, these claims would cause immense damage to the Muslim worldview.

In his latest book “The Qur’an: A Historical-Critical Introduction“, Nicolai Sinai, an Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University, says that the “…aim of the present book is to induct readers into the current state of the historical-critical study of the Qur’an.” His findings will be of interest to many Muslims and some detractors too.

Sinai quickly disposes of the revisionist school’s arguments. In the years since Wansbrough/Crone/Cook made their claims a number of Qur’anic fragments have been discovered – including a few years ago in Birmingham – that appear to strongly support the traditional Muslim account of the Qur’an’s genesis.

“…it appears increasingly certain that at least a large part of the Qur’an was extant by the middle of the seventh century, since several sheets from early Qur’anic manuscripts have now been subjected to radiocarbon dating. Thus, the testing of a folio belonging to a very substantial Qur’anic palimpsest discovered in the Grand Mosque of San’a has produced a likelihood of more than 95% that the parchment is older than 660 CE…the increasing number of such tests would appear to confirm that a very considerable portion of the Qur’anic text was around, albeit not without variants, by the 650s.”

The revisionist school had also claimed that Islam had not originated in the Hijaz but much further to the north near the border of Palestine. This argument was also taken up by Tom Holland in his book, In The Shadow of the Sword (which I reviewed here) and his accompanying sensationalist Channel 4 documentary “Islam: The Untold Story”. Holland argued that Islam’s origins lay not in the Makka that we know today, but much closer to the modern Israeli border in the north. Makka, argued Holland, was a much later creation by the Umayyads. Sinai debunks this hypothesis too. Sinai adduces a number of arguments which support the traditional Muslim history of Islam’s origins including pointing out that the Qur’an (33:13) explicitly refers to Yathrib (later renamed to al-Madinah) which is in the Hijaz and has been attested to in other literary and epigraphic sources. Sinai says:

“…[I have ended up] endorsing core aspects of [the traditional Muslim] scenario, namely, the historical existence of Muhammad, a default dating of most of the Qur’an to his lifetime and…a placement of the Qur’an’s genesis in the Hijaz region of Western Arabia…the prospects for identifying a compelling alternative to the traditional Hijazi locale and for explaining why and how the Qur’an’s true birthplace could have been so completely obliterated from Islamic historical memory are unpromising, to say the least.”

Sinai’s book also takes a look at how in the past many Western scholars had simply assumed that the Qur’anic suras (chapters) were roughly compiled out of groups of verses and observes how by contrast “a growing tendency in Western scholarship since the 1980s has insisted that many Qur’anic texts are in fact much tighter literary unities”. This is an interesting development and some Muslim readers will recognise that the late Pakistani Islamic scholar, Amin Ahsan Islahi, was one of the pioneers of this school of thought.

Overall, Sinai’s book has much to recommend it. His conclusions do not mean that the Qur’an is God’s Word of course – and I have written previously of how certain Qur’anic passages do pose a problem for modern readers – but it does serve to confirm that the traditional Muslim accounts of the Qur’an’s birthplace do appear to be sound.

About those free rides …

Indigo Jo Blogs - 14 April, 2018 - 21:54

A still from a Labour election video, showing the statement "The next Labour government will provide free bus travel to under 25s in England" with a bus stop that reads "U25 bus stop"Some friends of mine have been sharing a Labour election video on Facebook. The 15-second video claims that the next Labour government will make bus travel free for under-25s in England before telling people, “Get on board and vote Labour on Thursday 3 May”. This is a misleading advert, for a number of reasons, because it makes promises that Labour cannot deliver in the forthcoming election and may not still be part of their policy by the time of the next general election.

First: a local council cannot deliver something as radical as free bus travel for as many people as all under-25s. That is something that would cost a lot of money, and requires intervention from central government. Their powers are circumscribed, and they can in any case only influence fares on bus services which they run or subsidise. This is not the case for many services, especially outside major cities, which are run by private companies and others are run by a neighbouring local authority (e.g. Transport for London sponsored bus services in Surrey, such as the K3 and 405).

Second, you will not be voting for a government on the 3rd of May this year. You are voting for a council in your county, borough or district (a full list of which councils have elections can be found here). A Labour council cannot deliver a Labour government. The results of these elections may have an influence on the following general election, such as prompting policy or even leadership changes in one or other party, perhaps including Labour. But who you vote for next month will only affect the people on your county or borough council, which has specific functions. It cannot make laws but must disburse a budget for specific things such as education, social work, social care, waste disposal and recycling, road maintenance and so on. So, your vote on 3rd May cannot deliver the policy in the video.

A graphic showing a turcquoise coloured single-decker bus with the number U25 in the driver's window, approaching the "U25 bus stop" shown in the above stillThird, the Labour leadership will be asked, if this policy is still in its manifesto come the next election, how they intend to pay for this. When a large cohort of young adults are going to be relieved of having to pay for bus fares, it will cost a lot of money which will have to come from somewhere because running a bus service costs money for fuel, wages, maintenance and so on. The money will have to come either from a tax rise or from cutting something else which no doubt the party will say is unimportant but others may well disagree. They may say something about cutting bureaucracy or dead wood somewhere; this means they will sack a whole lot of people or abolish a service that some people might value, or put pressure on council workers or civil servants to do more in the same time and for the same money. There is only so far you can take this policy: it causes stress, and causes people to leave the profession which causes the service to break down. If you have a relative who is a teacher or nurse, you will be aware that they are doing a lot of paperwork and may be working from home after their school hours finish; this is because the government has imposed more and more of this on them over the years.

If you live in the city, you may not be aware that outside the city bus services are sparse. Many areas have very limited bus services and often they run along main routes but do not branch off into the back lanes, meaning if you live in a village you might not have a bus service at all. In the city, bus services often run every five or ten minutes, or more; in rural areas, they often run every half-hour or less, or there are a few every day, and none in the evening. In many rural areas, old “cast-off” buses that were displaced from London and other major cities when new accessible buses were introduced in the early 2000s are still in use. People who live in these places will not appreciate being asked to pay for free bus rides for people in areas far better served by public transport than they have been for years. Perhaps Labour will promise to restore bus services at public expense, but this will also need to be paid for and in areas surrounding cities where many wealthy commuters with multiple cars live, a lot of people will not feel the need for vastly improved bus services. They may remember the “old buses” from the 1980s and before and say “we don’t want them back”, even though this may not be the intention.

This promise is a kind of policy Labour had before Blair called “tax and spend”. This means what it says: tax people’s earnings and spend it on services. The problem is that many people do not want to pay for services they do not receive, and will never receive. Sometimes this objection is selfish, but people do not want to look at their payslips and find that a large section has been taken away by the government to benefit someone else. Sometimes they have good reason. On one occasion, the then Greater London Council tried to use everyone’s rates (the local council tax of the time) to pay for reduced fares on the London Underground but were challenged in court by the London Borough of Bromley, which is in south-east London and is miles from the nearest Tube station at its nearest point. The borough won. If you are a first-time voter you will not remember these things; they happened in the 1980s but there are lots of people who remember them. For better or worse, the government then got people used to paying much less tax than they had before and they will not want to go back.

A still from the Labour "free bus rides" election video, which reads "Get on board and vote Labour on Thursday 3rd May" with the Labour party red rose symbol and a square with an X in it underneath.Labour are wrong to tell people to vote in a council election on the basis of a policy only a Labour government can deliver. It is of course important to vote, but you must know what your council can do and what each party’s policies are locally. The next general election will be some time in the next four years and that is the only election that can deliver a Labour government, or any other, and give Labour the power to deliver the sorts of radical changes they are talking about. You will not get free bus rides for under-25s with a Labour council this year.

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On DIY SOS and accessibility

Indigo Jo Blogs - 14 April, 2018 - 17:35

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, a 50-year-old white man with a beard and moustache and shoulder-length hair, wearing an open-necked white shirt with a green suit jacket over it, holding a hat decorated with white skulls under his left arm, standing next to Nick Knowles, a middle-aged, clean-shaven white man wearing a purple polo-neck T-shirt with a white hard hat on his head; a red-brick house can be seen in the background with workmen with flourescent jackets and hard hats can be seen behind the the two men.The other day I watched a repeat of an episode of the BBC series DIY SOS: The Big Build. It’s where the BBC get some architects, designers and local builders and other workers and they all pitch in to drastically modify someone’s house for the benefit of a disabled person. Last week it was a young lady with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Antonia Payne-Cheney, who had been trapped in hospital for four years because her family home was unsuitable for her wheelchair. (You may remember that the same series also helped another young woman with the same condition and in a similar situation, Chloe Print-Lambert, a couple of years ago.) In both cases, they built a large downstairs extension with an accessible bedroom and bathroom for the disabled person, with a ceiling track hoist to get them between, and into the living room which is shared with other family members; they also hire designers (or they work for free, I’m not sure) who design furnishings and wallpapers and modify existing furniture to personalise it for them. In the episode that was on last week, that included a zebra-themed wallpaper for Antonia; the zebra is a symbol associated with EDS.

What’s the problem? In many of their big builds, the bedrooms of the non-disabled members of the family remain upstairs and inaccessible to the wheelchair user. Worse, in some episodes the presenter talks with the non-disabled family members about how the new arrangements give them a space where they can be themselves — it’s almost as if the inaccessibility of “their space” to their disabled relative is a good thing, a feature, not an unavoidable necessity (if that is even what it is). Of course, it’s a good thing that a disabled person can escape from hospital and live more independently with their family, but how is it that a huge project spearheaded by a major broadcaster always leaves this out, when it is actually possible to obtain lifts that would enable a wheelchair user to get upstairs so their whole home is accessible? When the disabled person is not the child but the parent, this would be vital, as you cannot have a section of the house, let alone the children’s bedrooms, accessible to a child but not a parent.

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Canada mosque shooter says he was motivated by Trudeau welcoming refugees

The Guardian World news: Islam - 13 April, 2018 - 20:19

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to killing six in Quebec attack, cites prime minister’s comments following Trump’s travel ban

The man who shot and killed six men at a Canadian mosque told police that his attack was motivated by Justin Trudeau’s message of welcome to refugees following Donald Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries.

Alexandre Bissonnette pleaded guilty last month to six charges of first degree murder and now faces up to 150 years in prison for the attack in which 19 other people were injured.

Related: Quebec community rallies for mosque attack hero: 'He sacrificed his legs for us'

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Keeping Corbyn out is not enough

Indigo Jo Blogs - 10 April, 2018 - 18:26

A cartoon of what looks like a red-faced adult sitting in a pram and throwing a mobile phone, laptop, camera and other electronic devices out of it. The signature "Adams" is in the top right-hand cornerYesterday I came across a blog post by Nora Mulready, one of the most sanctimonious anti-Corbyn agitators among the centre-Left, welcoming the announcement of a “new party” in last Sunday’s Observer — which, as you might discover if you read the whole article rather than just the headline, hasn’t been founded yet. The same article was tweeted out by John Rentoul, a columnist for the Independent and biographer of Tony Blair, with a quote which really sums up the attitudes of many of the supporters of this “new party”:

In response, I asked Rentoul, Mulready and a third person (who retweeted it, which is how I found out) if they knew anyone using food banks, or who had been a victim of lying by benefits assessors, or whose disabled children had no school to go to or who had had to wait months or years for vital surgery. One person said she was in that position herself but could not bring herself to vote Labour under Corbyn but “obviously … won’t vote Conservative either”. Mulready responded:

So that’s all right then. You won’t vote Tory, presumably because there’s a safe third option in your constituency (Lib Dem probably, or maybe a Labour MP who is anti-Corbyn), but will carry on publicly throwing your toys out of the pram so that enough people know that the Labour party is divided within itself and vote for anyone but — which usually, in many swing constituencies, means the Tories. They will then proclaim that it’s Corbyn’s fault if the Tories win the next election — exactly what Blair’s allies said about dissenters who failed to vote for him in 2005 or 2010, so it is always the Left’s fault and never anyone else’s. They complain about anti-Semitism or weakness towards Russia, yet along with their policy of harassing elderly Black people to leave the country after being here for 50 years or more, the Tories still keep Boris Johnson in high office despite a long history of racism and, only this week, endorsing the racist Hungarian president who has made barely-concealed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories part of his platform for years:

I get the impression that the majority of people agitating against Corbyn are those who can personally afford a few more years of Tory rule: it’s no secret that the British media is dominated by people from private schools or at least grammar schools (never forget this boast by Nick Cohen on Twitter); only this week Sarah Montague, formerly of Radio 4’s Today programme, was said to be “incandescent with rage” at discovering that her £133,000 annual salary was the only Today presenter’s salary that was not above £150K per year (the highest was John Humphrys, which was between £600K and £649K, though another female presenter’s was above £200K), so their unjustly discriminated against are considerably better off than most of us. Most of them are not poor or disabled; most of them are not Black; none of them are Muslims, the major target of right-wing hate and suspicion, and Mulready herself has posted distinctly Islamophobic articles on her blog, for example calling for “the Left” not to use images of women in hijab to represent Muslim women — effectively, calling on them to be made invisible, for Labour to disassociate itself from them. Effectively this is the so-called decent Left — the pro-war, anti-Muslim soft left — of the mid-2000s raising its head again. Mulready calls anti-Semitism “the prejudice that led to the most terrible period of inhumanity and mass murder” but any prejudice can lead to mass murder, whether by the machete, the gun or the gas chamber. Examples of right-wing Islamophobia in this country recently far outweigh anything found in the Labour party in terms of their viciousness, their tendency to violence, even their reliance on tropes of conspiracy and takeover.

Dividing the Labour party so that the Tories win is not a price worth paying to keep Jeremy Corbyn out. It will not achieve any progressive objective, even what should be at the top of their agenda, namely staving off Brexit. Any party which could divide both the Labour and Tory votes to cream off Brexit opponents could stand a chance if it did not stand against other pro-EU candidates at the next election, but will power-hungry Labour right-wingers take a stand on this issue or will they put their ambitions first even if they defect to this new party? A new party without a strong anti-Brexit stand is pointless and stands no chance of doing anything except keeping the Tories in power. They can blame Corbyn for that if they like, but the Corbyn-supporting membership will blame them, and the divisions in the Labour party will not heal any time soon.

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Outer Hebrides to get its first mosque after crowdsourcing campaign

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 April, 2018 - 16:05

Leeds businessman Aihtsham Rashid has raised more than £63,000 to renovate derelict building in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis

The Outer Hebrides is to get its first mosque in time for the start of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan in May.

A Leeds businessman has raised more than £63,000 through donations from across the world to renovate a derelict building in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis.

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Centrists must learn that it’s not 1997 anymore

Indigo Jo Blogs - 8 April, 2018 - 19:18

 Jeremy Corbyn on the election that will define our futures.According to a report in today’s Observer (effectively the Guardian on Sunday), a group of “entrepreneurs, philanthropists and donors” have been developing plans for a new centrist party for about a year. The foundation, Project One Movement for the UK, which has attracted former Labour and Tory donors and has plans to run candidates in the next election, due in 2022 (unless something happens before then, which is thought likely), was set up by Simon Franks, founder of LoveFilm, and its policies are supposed to appeal to a “liberal, centre-left audience”:

Potential policy proposals include asking the rich to pay a fairer share of tax, better funding for the NHS and improved social mobility. However, it also backs centre-right ideas on wealth creation and entrepreneurship, and is keen to explore tighter immigration controls. A source said some Brexit supporters are involved.

The article compares the “new party” with both Emmanuel Macron, who won the French presidential election on a centrist ticket last year, and the former SDP, founded as a breakaway party by former Labour cabinet ministers but which, even in an alliance with the Liberal Party, won only 23 seats. Needless to say, Macron did not have to contend with the same electoral system the SDP did; the French presidential election uses run-offs so that a candidate needs an actual majority to win. In this country, any new party runs the risk of dividing a sympathetic vote as they cannot force existing parties out of the race and the established parties will not withdraw. Labour, in particular, will usually not withdraw from constituencies in general elections for this reason and they will need to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats if they are not to split anti-Brexit votes; if they field a candidate against Edward Davey in this area, for example, they will lose, and it is likely that a Conservative will win.

The biggest contributor to any such breakaway party is likely to be ‘centrist’ Labour MPs disenchanted with the current direction of the party under Jeremy Corbyn. Their list of complaints are very familiar: acquiescence to Brexit, weak leadership over Brexit, tolerance of anti-Semitism among his supporters, weakness towards Russia, past associations with various people that would put off older voters, policies that did not win elections in the 1980s and will not now. In my opinion a lot of these centrist Labour MPs have contempt for the party’s left and its supporters and believe that they have a divine right to run the party because it was they who delivered the 1997 and 2001 election victories. Many of them believe that it was a disastrous mistake to both open up the membership and give it more power, and to nominate Corbyn in 2015. They forget how mediocre and uninspiring the other choices for that year’s leadership election were.

They also forget that 1997 was 21 years ago and that the strategy that victory was based on would not work now: it was a strategy of appealing to middle-class voters in the suburbs and Shires rather than the “core vote” which was assumed to be “in the bag”. This strategy was taught in politics classes in the 1990s; any party which expects to win power must appeal to the so-called C2s or lower-middle class, particularly in the Midlands, as classes above that (A, B and C1) will overwhelmingly vote Tory and classes below (D and E) will overwhelmingly vote Labour. This, the story goes, is how both Thatcher and Blair won overwhelming majorities. However, the 2008 economic crash and the 2016 Brexit referendum result make this strategy not one worth repeating in the 2010s or 2020s, especially for a new rival to the Labour party. Labour voters from the provincial white working class and ethnic minorities who voted for Brexit will not vote for any “no Brexit, business as usual” centrist party, even if the candidate is a former Labour cabinet minister who has jumped ship. They will need radical new policies which will answer the grievances which led to the Brexit vote. Opposing Brexit is a viable policy — 48% is the kind of figure that wins elections in this country when its opponents are divided, after all — but in this case it will not win on its own because it faces two major blocs which generally support Brexit.

And as John McDonnell, the arch-Corbynite MP for Hayes and Harlington in west London, tweeted this morning:

While not a member of the Labour Party myself, I am very much supportive of their links to the trade unions and of that important financial connection. Without it, the party would have to appeal for donations from the wealthy, as does the US Democratic Party, which would oblige it to adjust its policies to support them. We see the effects where the same monied interests bankroll both Republican and Democratic candidates and some policies barely change (on Israel, for example) regardless of who is in the White House or even in Congress. The Labour Party is funded by large-scale public subscription which can be opted out of but still enables them a certain amount of independence from the demands of wealthy donors whose personal interests are often diametrically opposed to social justice. It would be a tragedy to see British politics reduced to a battle between two parties bankrolled by the same wealthy men.

And one more thing: like a lot of people who aren’t ‘centrists’ or old Blairites nor full-on Corbynites, I’ve found the attitudes of some of the latter just as frustrating as some of the former, in particular the attitude that Corbyn can do no wrong and that everything is a conspiracy against him. I’ve heard them accused of being obsessive about such things as the “Russian hat affair” and preoccupied by media bias, and there’s no dispute that they have a preference for partisan ‘news’ sites (e.g. the Canary) with a loose connection to fact. However, Labour supporters have always been aware of media bias; it was a major reason for why Labour leaders from Kinnock onwards sought to distance themselves from the politics of the 1980s and any vaguely radical policy (e.g. withdrawing charitable status from private schools, a policy suggested in the mid-90s and quickly withdrawn after condemnation from the Tory press). What is different now is that there is a Labour leadership which is not offering soft Toryism with a change of decor (and policies that a future Tory government can easily reverse, as seen in the 2010-15 Parliament) but real, radical policies and hope for change which, say, Ed Miliband did not and none of the other 2015 leadership candidates did. They did not even defend Blair’s own legacy.

When the people attacking Corbyn are a mixture of old New Labourites who favour a clapped-out strategy and Tories who want Labour to fail anyway, it is no surprise that many of them plug their ears when they read familiar criticisms of their leader. Even in the event that Corbyn’s position becomes untenable, his replacement will not be one of them; they will have to learn to live with the membership and its candidate and any new rival will have to answer the needs of those let down by the Blair strategy and who voted to leave the EU. Contempt will not win either group an election.

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Antisemitism on the left and Jeremy Corbyn | Letters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 5 April, 2018 - 17:57
Israeli ambassador Mark Regev and other readers respond to recent articles on an issue that has dominated recent headlines

Owen Jones’s contribution to the discussion of left antisemitism (Labour’s mission is to transform Britain. It can’t let bigotry get in the way, 4 April) tackles several important issues, yet overlooks the elephant in the room: the obsessive and irrational hatred of the Jewish state.

When pro-Palestinian social media pages are awash with anti-Jewish vitriol, including neo-Nazi type Holocaust denial, we are looking at raw antisemitism dressed up as political concern.

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Review: The Silent Child

Indigo Jo Blogs - 4 April, 2018 - 17:06

A still from The Silent Child showing Libby and Joanne, a woman and girl, silhoutted under a tree, signing to each other.The Silent Child is a 20-minute film which won an Oscar at the recent Academy Awards (for the best Live Action Short Film) which focuses on a four-year-old deaf girl named Libby who comes from a hearing family and who has not developed enough speech as she approaches school. The family brings in a ‘help’ named Joanne, who we are told in the descriptions is a social worker but appears to be simply a tutor, to try to improve her communication skills and she immediately begins teaching Libby sign language, of which she learns the basics quickly and begins to enjoy talking, playing and going to the park with Joanne. However, the mother gets cold feet and decides that it would be best for Libby to concentrate on developing her speech and cuts off her contact with Joanne. In the final scene, Libby is seen standing alone in the playground while other children play; Joanne stands across the fence and they sign “I love you” to each other. It finishes with some statistics about deaf children from hearing families and how many do not have any support when they go to school. The film can be seen here for the next few weeks and has mandatory subtitles.

The film was rather reminiscent of the TV series The A Word, about a young boy with autism. That series was set around a middle-class, rural English family and the same was true of this film. There was not as much time here, obviously, for family drama (I gave up on The A Word because it became more of a family drama than a drama about autism) but they got some in and it was key to the mother’s attitude: Libby’s dad wasn’t her dad, as Joanne found out by talking to an old lady she met by chance, and her real dad’s dad was deaf. The mother’s objection to sign language wasn’t rooted in the old debate about sign language making it possible for deaf people to communicate with each other but nobody else; she was more concerned about how much trouble it would be to fit learning sign language among all their other extra-curriculars; she also appeared resentful that her daughter was being taught something she didn’t know (at one point arguing with her husband about this woman coming in and telling such-and-such to her daughter) and would have to make an effort to learn. She shut Joanne’s objections down by telling her “you must understand, I have been a mother for a long time”.

A still from the film A Silent Child, showing Joanne, a white woman with brown hair wearing a cream-coloured blouse with various symbols dotted over it, a short brown skirt and thick, dark tights, looking at Libby, a four-year-old white girl with blond hair wearing a dark grey dress with little black diamonds dotted over it, pointing towards the camera and telling her "Your mum's here" (which is subtitled at the bottom of the screen).The film’s central point was that deaf children needed support if they are not going to be isolated, and that if they communicate best using sign language, this should be facilitated, but the “Mum doesn’t always know best” message will strike a big chord with a lot of disabled people and I’m sure it will anger a lot of parents (although I have seen some eagerly recommending it). The sight of Libby being offered a chance to communicate with someone who understood her and then having it snatched away was very sad to see and will bring tears to a lot of people’s eyes, I suspect. Interestingly it makes no issue of government funding cuts as a reason why children are not getting the support they need, and as the reason in this case was the mother’s attitude, it might have helped to make this point in the words on-screen at the end. But it’s an important film, well-scripted and shot and it deserved that Oscar.

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Thanks, but a ‘Love a Muslim Day’ isn’t enough to counter Islamophobia | Shaista Aziz

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 April, 2018 - 16:44

The rising tide of bigotry against Britain’s Muslim communities needs tackling head-on – and Theresa May should take the lead

Twenty-four hours on from the “Punish a Muslim Day” and the well-meaning but deeply reductive framing of “Love a Muslim Day”, the UK’s Muslim communities and no doubt the police and authorities are breathing a huge sigh of relief that this designated day of hate passed off without major incident.

“Punish a Muslim Day” started off last month, with a number of anonymous letters arriving at the homes of Muslims in the north of England, the Midlands and east London. Four Muslim MPs received it, including at least one copy being received in parliament, leading to a security alert. The letter boasted of horrific “rewards”, encouraging people to carry out attacks on Muslims, including torture, burning down mosques and throwing acid in Muslims’ faces. It is still not known who was behind them, although counter-terror police are investigating,

Related: UK communities take action against 'Punish a Muslim Day' letter

Islamophobia is now mainstream and is part of our daily public and political discourse

Related: Jeremy Corbyn attacks Islamophobia during mosque visit

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UK communities take action against 'Punish a Muslim Day' letter

The Guardian World news: Islam - 3 April, 2018 - 13:40

Letter called for day of attacks on Muslims but people have hit back by showing love and solidarity

Communities across the UK have been responding to violent threats contained in a letter promising that 3 April would be “Punish a Muslim Day”.

The phrase was coined in an anonymous letter distributed to some homes and businesses last month, with recipients in east London, the Midlands and Yorkshire. The letter suggested people could win “points” for a range of activities aimed at Muslims, including removing a headscarf from a woman or beating a person up. Muslim MPs were also sent the letter.

3rd of April has been planned as a "PunishAMuslimDay" To help our community feel safe, we have organised the #ProtectAMuslimDay initiative. We have organised volunteers from around the UK to help you if you feel unsafe on the day, call: 07985606148 or 07985601849. More info pic.twitter.com/XbzWd9qMC5

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Why Egyptian TV covers American police violence

Indigo Jo Blogs - 2 April, 2018 - 21:29

Earlier today I saw a tweet by Shaun King, an American race activist, about Egyptian media coverage and popular interest in American police shootings and resulting protests:

I’m quite shocked, actually, that a fairly well-educated and apparently politically astute American would fail to understand the reasons why the media in Egypt would take an interest in police violence in the USA. Egypt is a dictatorship whose president Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi (who you may remember seized power in a coup five years ago, ousting the president who was elected after popular protests unseated the previous dictator, Muhammad Hosni Mubarak) was holding a sham election, has eliminated much of the competition and has since won more than 97% of the vote, compared to just under 3% of the only ‘opponent’ (whose party has previously endorsed Sisi). If the media are heavily focussing on injustices in another country, particularly a country generally regarded (rightly or wrongly) as a beacon of democratic values, it is to distract the people from the injustices going on in their own country: the fact that their elected president is in prison and thought to be dying, the fact that there is a secret police and a system of ‘emergency’ laws under which people can be locked up indefinitely on a pretext because the regime considers them a threat, the fact that religion is suppressed and that men cannot even grow beards without being harassed by the police, and so on.

The media in a dictatorship often does this: concentrate on bad things happening in other countries, particularly those the régime has designated an enemy but at least a country on which it’s not on particularly friendly terms and from which criticism has come in the past. I once read, for example, that Syrian state media gave the conflict in Northern Ireland particularly detailed coverage; anything to give the impression that the outside world is a dangerous place and that the status quo offers security — as a certain South American dictator would say, and have displayed widely throughout the country, paz, trabajo e bienestar (peace, work and well-being).

A group of demonstrators in Egypt holding up yellow signs showing hands with four fingers raised, a reference to the Rabaa Massacre of 14th August 2013. Another demonstrator is holding a picture of president Morsi.As for popular interest in injustices abroad, this is also a sign that the people cannot protest against what is happening in their own country for fear of being shot dead, sexually assaulted or rounded up and jailed, as happened to Egyptians in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising and in the demonstrations after the coup against President Morsi. It is a regime-approved distraction. (Every so often we see protests “against terrorism” in an Arab country where street demonstrations are usually prohibited, and this is trumpeted by western media and bloggers; this is actually stage-managed by the government as the terrorists they are demonstrating against are also against the government.)

The r&eacutegime in Egypt is not a great advertisement for racial harmony either. In 2005, the police raided a Sudanese refugee camp in the wealthy Mohandiseen district in east Cairo, killing 20 and injuring 50 while evicting the 2,000 refugees who had chosen that location because it was near to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. More recently, 15 Sudanese were killed in crossfire between Egyptian ‘security’ forces and Bedouin smugglers in the Sinai as the migrants attempted to reach Israel — a new favoured destination since the 2005 Mohandiseen massacre. You’d expect a Black American race activist to take account of these things — the name Sudan means land of Black people, after all.

Of course, Egypt isn’t the only country where American racist shootings are known of and discussed; the situation is sometimes reported on in the media here in the UK and anyone can follow the relevant accounts on Twitter. But the fact that Egyptians may be hyper-aware of these things isn’t really a wake-up call to Americans that “the whole world is watching”. It’s just the particular thing the unfree media uses to distract people from the poverty and oppression of their own country.

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How (not) to argue with Brexiteers

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 April, 2018 - 23:36

A picture of Nigel Farage, a white man in a black suit jacket with a white shirt and dark grey, pink and light purple striped tie, against the blue and pink backdrop of the BBC's weekly Question Time panel show.Last Friday Nick Cohen posted a series of tweets about what he described as the tendency of Labour Remainers to “snuggle down in the soft warm bed of conspiracy theory” in explaining why the Leave vote won the 2016 referendum; he accuses Andrew Adonis and Alastair Campbell of attributing it to BBC bias rather than “examining his [Adonis’s] own faults, and acknowledging where he went wrong”. Cohen concluded “Despite stiff competition, the Brexit vote is the stupidest thing Britain has done in my lifetime. But it won’t be reversed unless my side argues with leave voters respectfully.”

He’s right in that we cannot reverse the vote by arguing with leave voters and calling them dumb bigots. But not for the reasons he thinks.

Since June 2016, the people have not been in charge of what happens as a result of the referendum vote. Even in the 2017 general election, there was no major party that campaigned on a platform of staying in the EU although a few individual MPs did. The agenda of what Brexit will even mean has galloped far away from what most people imagined in June 2016, with the media having given the impression that an arrangement similar to Norway’s was the most likely outcome, even though it would mean us having to implement EU directives without having a seat at the table where they were formulated. It was only after the vote that politicians decided that the motive for the vote to leave was immigration and that freedom of movement between the UK and the EU had to end.

With the Pound having lost a significant about of value against the US Dollar and Euro shortly after the vote, and there being much uncertainty about Britain’s strength on the international stage in light of the aggression by Russia and about the viability of British business after the loss of tariff-free access to European markets, it might be expected that some people who voted to leave might have changed their minds and there is evidence that some have, particularly in light of revelations about Leave campaign overspending and the involvement of Cambridge Analytica. People are starting to realise they had been duped.

But the people no longer have any say in what form Brexit takes, if any. It is entirely in the government’s gift to decide if there will even be another referendum, and currently they are insisting there will not be one; with both parties knowing that significant parts of their base voted Out and the Tory parliamentary party in particular having fallen to the anti-EU tendency in the years since they were voted out of office in 1997 and Jeremy Corbyn beholden to people who cling to a “workers’ Brexit” fantasy (and possibly entertaining such delusions himself), neither party will admit that leaving the EU right now would bring only disaster. They both repeat the mantra that “the people have spoken” and do not want to take the risk of allowing them to speak again. And calling politicians hidebound fools is not the same as calling voters the same thing, to their faces or otherwise.

And yes, New Labour policies (and electoral strategy) did contribute to Brexit, and there is no possibility of re-running the 1997 campaign, something the remnants of New Labour seem unable to grasp now. It’s one reason why Tony Blair and other figures from that period are not really the best suited to lead any fightback against Brexit.

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Hijab ban attempt is 'racism dressed up as liberalism', teachers' conference told

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 April, 2018 - 13:15

Union votes to challenge Ofsted chief’s linking of hijab to sexualisation of young girls

Efforts to ban young girls wearing the hijab at primary schools were “naked racism dressed up as liberalism”, a teachers’ union conference heard as it unanimously backed a motion accusing school inspectors of inappropriate behaviour.

The National Education Union’s annual conference in Brighton voted to challenge statements by Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted and the chief inspector of schools in England, over the issue of girls as young as five wearing the hijab in state schools.

Related: East London primary school backs down over hijab ban

Related: Inspectors to question primary school girls who wear hijab

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A Look at the Prevent Strategy – 15 years on…

Inayat's Corner - 31 March, 2018 - 08:00

It is fifteen years now since the then Labour government set up the Prevent programme back in 2003 as one of the four key strands of its overall CONTEST strategy (Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare) to try and reduce the threat of terrorism, yet it continues to remain highly controversial especially amongst UK Muslims.

Over the years there have been a number of widely publicised questionable referrals made to Prevent which have served to increase suspicions about its purpose. That sort of publicity understandably damages the standing of Prevent and contributes to increasing fears amongst other Muslims about how they and their children too might perhaps be suspected of being extremists by over-zealous officials.

It would be a mistake, however, to allow unfortunate referrals to overshadow the necessity of the Prevent programme in the first place. Mistakes are bound to occur.  In ordinary police work not every line of inquiry for a suspected crime leads to an arrest. Not every arrest leads to a criminal charge. Not every charge leads to a conviction. And not every conviction is safe. We are all human beings and human beings are fallible.

So, as Will Baldet, co-ordinator, Prevent Leicester, comments in a video about Prevent: “If inappropriate referrals are being made then I would want the training to be improved. What I don’t think is appropriate is that you abandon a strategy because somebody in the strategy has made a mistake. What you do is hone and refine the strategy.”

Back in 2010, I met with the then head of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, Charles Farr. Farr argued that the government had – quite rightly – set up anti-knife, anti-gun and anti-drug programmes to try and dissuade young people from getting involved in activities that might harm themselves and harm others. He said it would be untenable, therefore, if the government did not also have a programme to dissuade people from getting involved in terrorist activities. The government, regardless of its political complexion, has a primary duty of protecting its citizens and Prevent needs to be viewed in that light.

Earlier this week, the Home Office released figures for the year ending March 2017 which showed that suspected far-right extremists constituted 16% percent of those who had been referred to the Prevent anti-radicalisation programme. This was an increase of a quarter over the previous year’s figures. As we discovered earlier this year at the trial of Darren Osborne – the man who attacked worshippers outside Finsbury Park Mosque – he had, according to the judge, been “rapidly radicalised over the internet by those determined to spread hatred of Muslims…Your use of Twitter exposed you to racists and anti-Islamic ideology…In short, you allowed your mind to be poisoned by those who claimed to be leaders.”

In his parting speech in February 2018, Mark Rowley, the former head of counter-terrorism policing, warned “against the rise of the far right as he revealed that four extremist rightwing plots had been thwarted in 2017.”

Would we not want to see attempts made to engage with others like Osborne, whether they are suspected far-right activists or Muslims or whoever else, well before they get to the stage of actually carrying out terrorist attacks? That is the purpose of Prevent.

Roshan Salih, the editor of the 5 Pillarz website refers to Prevent as constituting “state Islamophobia” in the video I have linked to above. That criticism seems rather overdone and unhelpful. Let’s be frank about what a referral to Prevent actually means. It means that your case – if it is deemed to be a cause for concern – will be assessed by a panel which will include local police officials and local authority figures and they will discuss whether your case may benefit from intervention in the form of mentoring etc that might perhaps be useful to you. It is hardly waterboarding, right?

It is true that some of the Muslims associated with promoting the Prevent agenda are viewed with concern by the wider UK Muslim community as not being sufficiently independent. Certainly their lionising by journalists such as Nick Cohen, John Ware and Andrew Gilligan – who are not viewed as being exactly friendly to UK Muslims – continues to damage the Prevent brand. At the same time the reluctance of the government to engage with organisations that by all accounts do genuinely have significant support amongst UK Muslims, such as the Muslim Council of Britain and MEND, adds to the impression that the government is only willing to talk with Muslims that are sufficiently deferential and pliable.

And yet…the safety of the UK and our fellow citizens should be a concern for all of us. We should not refrain from co-operating with those tasked with maintaining our security. At the same time, it is absolutely right to raise any concerns we have about how Prevent is operating. And the government and authorities should be seen to be engaging with those concerns seriously with a view to improving the effectiveness of the Prevent strategy.

Why are service stations a rip-off?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 30 March, 2018 - 20:09

An overhead view of the Cobham service area on the M25 motorway. A junction has been built to allow traffic from both sides of the motorway to access the services.Today the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, called for an investigation into what he called “exploitative” fuel prices at motorway service stations, which are typically 20p per litre above prices elsewhere (and the gap between service stations and supermarkets is even bigger). This has been the case for years; most products available at motorway service stations (and stations run by the same companies off motorways) are priced considerably higher than they are elsewhere, except for a few categories of items which are fixed, such as newspapers. Service station operators blame the ‘complexities’ of motorway trading, such as the need for 24-hour staffing. I am surprised, though, that this needs any investigation as the causes of overpricing at service stations are obvious.

To begin with, many motorways have very few services; the older ones like the M1, M4 and M5 have more while newer ones such as the M20 and M25 have far fewer and also long stretches without any. Non-motorway major roads are much better served; on a dual carriageway trunk road, you will pass a large filling station which has toilets, basic food and papers on sale and a few parking spaces with much greater frequency than on a motorway. Prices at these are often higher than at small filling stations but considerably lower than on motorways, and increasingly they do offer 24-hour service though, for truckers, they do not always have a high enough canopy to accommodate a large trailer (the European standard is 4m high, or 13ft 2in, but British trailers can be as high as 5m and are frequently 14 or 15ft high). The difference is that there is competition and stations are bought and built by operators as an investment.

Motorway service stations aren’t like that; they are designed to be one-stop shops for all travellers’ needs with a hotel (usually a Travelodge or similar), a filling station and a building containing a newsagent, various food outlets, toilets, showers and a few other small shops such as a small ‘gaming’ arcade and a mobile phone accessories shop. Increasingly they also have a drive-through café operated by Costa or Starbucks. They are, by intention, few and far between. The M40 has four over an 89-mile distance; when it first opened it had none, and neither did the M20, M26 and M25 that linked it to the Channel ports at Folkestone and Dover. The M25 still has no services on its western side (i.e. in between the A3 and M1), probably because land prices are much higher there than further out, but this is still the busiest stretch which links all the major roads heading south-west, west or north-west. A few years ago one was built at Cobham, just east of the A3 junction, but the place it was most needed was probably between the M4 and M40 junctions. While there is nothing to stop drivers who know of the existence of off-motorway services from diverting to use them (and some sat-navs will show them to the driver), they are almost never signposted, and advertising to motorway drivers is prohibited, supposedly to avoid distraction (though other dual carriageways, where speed limits are the same and the quality of the road often poorer in terms of gradients, curves, the length of slip roads etc, are not covered by this law).

The free parking (for up to two hours) should not be used as an excuse to overcharge. Service stations are a social necessity: driving long distances, especially on tedious and unchanging roads, makes people tired, and people need food and toilet facilities. This is partly a consequence of the ‘closed’ motorway model and this needs to be compensated for rather than used as a means to make extra money. While I am not saying the food should be free, it should be ensured that prices are not higher than they are elsewhere. Concessionary traders should not be paying higher rents than for a shopping-centre or high-street pitch, and operators should not be paying rents that would give rise to the need for excessively high pitch rents that lead to overcharging. The stations could not be built without government intervention as they need slip roads off the motorways and sometimes whole junctions (e.g. Cobham); the government should be intervening to make sure prices are reasonable, and certainly not intervening to drive prices up.

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