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Pressure grows for May to tackle Islamophobia in Conservative party

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 June, 2018 - 14:30

Tory peer Lord Sheikh calls for an independent inquiry in open letter to the prime minister

Theresa May is under growing pressure to investigate Islamophobia in the Conservative party after a top Tory peer echoed calls made this week by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and Sayeeda Warsi.

Mohamed Sheikh said an independent inquiry was required to “show we will not tolerate any form of discrimination within our own party”.

Related: Conservatives under fire for failing to tackle party's Islamophobia

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The Tories have an Islamophobia problem. Will they tackle it? | Miqdaad Versi

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 June, 2018 - 17:39

The Muslim Council of Britain has given the party a long list of legitimate concerns. Now the ball is in Brandon Lewis’s court

Related: Conservatives under fire for failing to tackle party's Islamophobia

This week, the Muslim Council of Britain – of which I am assistant secretary general – wrote to the Conservative chair, Brandon Lewis, detailing the many incidents of unchecked Islamophobia within his party. The MCB chose its words carefully, explicitly refraining from calling the party inherently Islamophobic. But the letter did call for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia so that the Conservatives could acknowledge the problem and find ways to fix it.

Related: 'He inferred I wasn't British': Tory members tell of Islamophobia

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Muslim leaders urge investigation into 'Tory Islamophobia' claims

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 May, 2018 - 18:44

Letter to party chair Brandon Lewis lists 10 alleged cases at local and national level

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has written to the Conservative chair, Brandon Lewis, calling for an independent investigation into Islamophobia in the party. The letter lists what it says are nine instances in the past two months, and also cites the actions of one MP, Bob Blackman. These are the details of the cases.

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'He inferred I wasn't British': Tory members tell of Islamophobia

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 May, 2018 - 18:10

Muslims in the party say their complaints over the issue have been brushed under the carpet

When Ahmed (not his real name) joined the Conservative party six years ago, he thought it was a natural fit. “A lot of Muslims share conservative values,” he says. “I stood to be a councillor and there was talk of me going on to the party lists to become an MP.”

He says he worked hard during election time, increasing the south Asian vote in his ward in Yorkshire. But a simple question about postal votes to the MP suddenly made him feel like he did not belong in the party. “I just asked a question,” he says. “In no way did I insinuate that I was going to do anything silly or illegal regarding postal votes. But his response was ‘This is the UK, sunshine’. It was really patronising – would he have said that to someone not of colour? He was inferring that I wasn’t British.”

Related: Conservatives must deal with Islamophobia in party, says Warsi

It makes me feel like we are back in the days of Enoch Powell

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Denmark passes law banning burqa and niqab

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 May, 2018 - 11:20

Campaigners say ban violates rights to freedom of expression and religion

Denmark has joined several other European countries in banning garments that cover the face, including Islamic veils such as the niqab or burqa, in a move condemned by human rights campaigners as “neither necessary nor proportionate”.

In a 75-30 vote with 74 absentees on Thursday, Danish lawmakers approved the law presented by Denmark’s centre-right governing coalition. The government says it is not aimed at any religions and does not ban headscarves, turbans or the traditional Jewish skull cap.

Related: Burqa bans, headscarves and veils: a timeline of legislation in the west

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Burqa bans, headscarves and veils: a timeline of legislation in the west

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 May, 2018 - 10:57

European states have moved over the years to outlaw Muslim headwear in public

The movement to limit women wearing headscarves and Muslim veils, such as the burqa and niqab, has been growing in Europe for more than a decade. Now the European court of justice, the EU’s highest court, has ruled that employers can ban staff from wearing headscarves, its first decision on the issue of employees wearing visible religious symbols at work.

Related: Employers can ban staff from wearing headscarves, European court rules

When you are coming into contact either with different institutions or, for instance, you are in court, or you need to see someone’s face at the border, then I would always back the authorities or the institutions that have put in place proper and sensible rules.

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Muslim group calls for inquiry into Conservative party Islamophobia

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 May, 2018 - 08:55

MCB writes open letter alleging there are ‘more than weekly incidents’ in the party

Sayeeda Warsi, the former Conservative cabinet minister, has backed calls by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) for an independent inquiry into allegations of Islamophobia within the Conservative party.

In a letter to the party chair, Brandon Lewis, the group said there were “more than weekly incidents” of Islamophobia within the party.

We are calling for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party following more than weekly occurrences of Islamophobia in the party last month pic.twitter.com/ymkFRDs5sF

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Bavarians wary of new law requiring crosses in all public buildings

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 May, 2018 - 06:00

State premier brings in rule in reaction to migrant influx, to reinforce ‘Bavarian identity’

Bavaria is bracing itself for the introduction of a new law under which Christian crosses will have to hang in the entrance of all public buildings.

Despite opposition from prominent members of the Catholic church and leading theologians, the law will come into effect in the southern German state on Friday.

Related: Bavarian leader orders Christian crosses on all state buildings

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Book Review: The Human Instinct by Kenneth R. Miller

Inayat's Corner - 28 May, 2018 - 18:10

I have written previously on several occasions (see here for an example) about the influence that Professor Kenneth R. Miller’s splendid book “Finding Darwin’s God” had on me. Miller, a believing Catholic, very persuasively tackled a series of common objections to Darwin’s important theory and explained just how crucial it was to our understanding of the natural world. In the years since, I have recommended Miller’s book to many Muslims who have come to me with questions about evolution and the feedback I have received has always been very positive.

So, it was with a keen sense of excitement that I learned that Miller had just published a new book, The Human Instinct, this time tackling the issues of free will and consciousness and humankind’s place in the world.

One of the most common reasons for rejecting evolution is surely a fear that we would be relegated to being just another animal. Are we just another animal sculpted by evolution? Yes we most definitely are, insists Miller, but he points out that this is certainly not the end of the story.

“We are surely part of Darwin’s tangled bank. But we are also the only creatures to be able to transcend it.”

Along the way to establishing the key unique characteristics of human beings, Miller takes aim at some evolutionary psychologists who would seek to reduce all our behaviour simply to adaptations caused by Natural Selection.

There is no question that we are part of the natural world and that we evolved from earlier species and share common ancestors with the rest of the natural world. So what does Miller mean to tell us with his statement above that we “are able to transcend” those origins? Miller provides a telling example. He cites a Canadian study which found that stepchildren were 120 times more likely to be beaten to death by their stepfathers than children who were killed by their genetic fathers. Miller points out that this study was not a one-off. Similar results have been found in other studies in the US and elsewhere. This is a “chilling” statistic as Miller says, and appears to provide data to back up the thesis that there is a greater likelihood that stepfathers will kill children not related to them to ensure that their resources go only to their biological offspring and not unrelated children. That seems to be sadly true judging by the data, yet Miller refuses to allow the argument to rest there. He delves deeper and finds that the actual rate of stepfather infanticide in Canada was 321.6 per million i.e. the frequency of such tragedies was less than 1 in 2500.

“…the real question is not why evolutionary pressures are powerful enough to induce murder, but rather why they are so incredibly weak that in reality they almost never do…One might fairly generalise that stepfathers, by a huge margin, love and care for their spouses’ offspring effectively and are certainly not inclined toward violence directed at their stepchildren. If the drive to propagate one’s genes, which resides at the theoretical heart of evolutionary psychology, is so powerful, we should ask what other forces exist that seem to have checked that drive so dramatically. What about human nature today has enabled us to largely escape the amoral behavioural claims of our evolutionary past? There must be another, even more powerful influence, acting on the behaviour of stepfathers and everyone else, and I think we know what that is.”

Miller also looks at the current arguments promoted by the neuroscientist Sam Harris and others that seek to portray free will as being an illusion. The argument for behavioural determinism goes something like this: we, including our brains, are made of atoms. These atoms obey physical laws. Hence, there is no room for free will. What we think of as “our choices” are in reality made by our brains in advance according to physical laws. Miller disputes this line of reasoning and says that if we lack free will then our scientific logic itself would not be valid. We would no longer be able to claim we are making decisions on the basis of evidence and reason because our “reasoning” would be due to a combination of “genetics, circumstance, and uncontrollable external stimuli.”  So, the argument that free will is an illusion would appear to undermine the whole of the scientific endeavour.

Miller’s book can be regarded as a welcome pep-talk to remind humankind that although we are creatures of evolution that is not something to be ashamed of. Indeed, there is something truly unique to celebrate.

“What is truly remarkable…is that a mind made up of atoms was able to discover the atom. It is that a creature composed of cells was able to discover, dissect, and understand the cell. And finally, that an animal produced by evolution could identify that very process, to understand the marks that descent with modification left on body and mind, and then to rise far above the demands of mere survival. Evolution does not undermine our humanity, our capacity for reason, or our science. It is, in fact the foundation of each. We have become the reasoning animals we are because we are the products of evolution.”

Miller’s latest book contains evidence of his prodigious reading and mastery of his subject matter on virtually every page and this makes for a wondrous read.

A student leader is the latest victim of France’s obsession with the hijab | Rokhaya Diallo

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 May, 2018 - 11:17
Media attacks on Maryam Pougetoux show how Muslim women are prevented from engaging in French public life

“She wears a particular veil that covers all her hair, the neck: a hijab”. Last Tuesday on French TV two men – a pundit, Thomas Legrand, and celebrity host, Yann Barthès – described in detail a woman’s outfit before labelling it “the opposite of feminism”. Few people in France appeared surprised. For the past two weeks the hijab has once more been at the centre of a national debate that has verged on hysteria.

It all started on 12 May when the political scientist Laurent Bouvet, known for his activism and sometimes referred to as a “gladiator of secularism”, published on his Facebook page an image taken from a televised interview with the elected president of the Sorbonne branch of the national student union (Unef), Maryam Pougetoux. The interview was about student protests against government reforms, but Bouvet’s attention was caught not by Pougetoux’s comments but by the hijab that surrounds her face.

Related: The hijab ruling is a ban on Muslim women | Iman Amrani

Related: Burqa bans, headscarves and veils: a timeline of legislation in the west

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'It's brought us together': at Ramadan, American Muslims on life in the age of Trump

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 May, 2018 - 06:00

In Hamtramck, Michigan, many feel a sense of foreboding – and a connection to their community – in a difficult political climate

The call to prayer bounces off the walls of the Hamtramck Islamic centre, punctuated by the sipping of lemon juice and the chewing of dates. It’s 8.53pm, the sun has set, and around 100 Yemeni-American men and boys sit cross-legged on the carpet, giving thanks and breaking fast for the seventh time this month.

Related: US liberal Islamophobia is rising – and more insidious than rightwing bigotry | Khaled A Beydoun

Since Trump won, yes we’ve become more alert but it kind of brought our community together

I don’t feel safe. I feel like something is going to happen. We don’t turnaround until the prayer is done

Related: The fight for the right to be a Muslim in America

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Why is Quilliam pamphleteering about FGM?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 27 May, 2018 - 20:49

 a national scandal". The crop has the title at the top in white on a black background; below is a picture of a Black woman wearing a black headscarf wrapped around her face, with a red and black cap on underneath. The background is a blur of grey and green.Last week Quilliam, the self-styled counter-extremism think-tank set up by former member of Hizb-ut-Tahreer Maajid Nawaz, released a pamphlet on FGM written by one Muna Adil, complete with a foreword by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali emigree who teamed up with the extreme racist Theo Van Gogh to vilify Islam in the Netherlands ten years ago before a deception in her asylum application was discovered and she moved to the US and married Niall Ferguson. The pamphlet was given some advance publicity by the Sunday Times last weekend and was tweeted out by a bunch of the usual liberal suspects (often overseas, where the paper’s history of bias and bigotry towards Muslims is less well-known than it is here) but a quick look at it reveals a lack of any original research; rather it relies on well-known existing statistics which do not prove that FGM is taking place on any significant scale in the UK, spices it up with some familiar accusations about political correctness and offers some ‘solutions’. The publication is available here, though you will have to give them an address.

Before I even look into the pamphlet’s content, I have to ask what Quilliam is doing publishing pamphlets on this issue. They are supposed to be an anti-extremist think tank; FGM is an old cultural practice which pre-dates any of the modern Islamist movements by many centuries, which is practised by people, mostly in Africa, who are Muslim, Christian and followers of local religions, and which (at least in its severe forms) modern fundamentalist Islamic movements actually oppose. Its correlation with extremist or political-fundamentalist Islam is very weak, if there is indeed any. The choice of Ayaan Hirsi Ali to write the foreword, rather than one of the many anti-FGM activists that are in the UK (some of whom have foundations of their own who at least better understand the culture here in the UK better than would someone who lives in the USA) is a revealing choice; it reveals that they have no interest in maintaining the trust (or pretending to, as they never really had it) of the Muslim community here. And the front cover shows a Black woman wearing a niqaab, something women in most countries with endemic FGM do not wear. Clearly the image is an attempt to stereotype FGM as a Muslim issue and to link it primarily with Somalis, when it is prevalent among people originating from across Africa, including Nigeria and Sierra Leone

On page 5, they repeat the statistic that 5,391 “new cases” of FGM were recorded in the 2016-7 period. As discussed elsewhere, this does not equate to evidence of that many cases having been carried out here; it means that many women who had experienced it at some point presenting to healthcare workers. The number is exaggerated because mandatory reporting on FGM was introduced only recently, so all the women who experienced it at any point who gave birth, had a smear test or needed any other gynaecological treatment would have come to the authorities during that year or the year or two before it, not at any time previously despite their having lived in the UK and accessed British healthcare services during that time.

On page 8, they suggest seven reasons for the zero rate of FGM convictions in the UK. They include: “disempowered survivors”, lack of witnesses (because of cultural acceptance of FGM), cultural sensitivity, lack of education about the dangers of FGM among the communities involved, lack of resources for FGM victims, difficulty in prosecuting due to the secrecy in which it is carried out and the fact that the perpetrators are usually otherwise law-abiding citizens, and legal loopholes, such as that the legislation only applies to girls who are British citizens or residents. The most obvious explanation, low incidence of FGM, is not among them. The author prefers to entertain the outlandish theory that several large communities, which are not closed, could have kept something like this secret for decades without at least one adult victim coming forward with a complaint or one infection or other serious complication becoming known to the authorities at the time, which is what would happen if someone was piercing ears, let alone taking knives to girls’ genitals, in basements without proper hygiene. Infibulation and other severe forms of FGM kill. (Significantly, the one prosecution they can name from the USA, which like the UK has a large Somali community, was of a doctor from the Dawoodi Bohra sect, a closed religious community based in Bombay.)

On page 10, there is a panel devoted to the matter of “political correctness” in which they claim:

This notion that certain cultures are out-of-bounds when it comes to criticism is not just misguided and misinformed, but often allows the most vulnerable individuals from society to continue to be victimised and abused.

In our misguided attempts to protect the ‘sentiments’ of minority communities, we have failed the vulnerable young girls and women who have suffered years of irreversible damage, and who are perhaps the most well-positioned individuals to bring about real change. By refusing to address the specifics of the issue, we delegitimise the concerns of some of the most well-informed members of the concerned community and effectively dismiss what is probably our best shot to commit to significant, long- term solutions.

But why would anyone assume, in 2018, that such sensitivities are the reason why the authorities would not act to protect children? FGM has never been out of the news for more than a few months at a time for years and every statistic about it makes headlines. Hostile headlines about Muslims in particular have freely been printed in major newspapers, often without regard for their veracity (e.g. the foster care story from last summer) let alone sensitivity. As the story of Ann John (in the panel above on the same page) demonstrates, the view that FGM should be respected as ‘culture’ had some currency 20 to 30 years ago, but doesn’t now, and other qualms about cultural sensitivity have been overcome to the point of being considered risible. The claim is so ridiculous in this day and age that the best explanation for it is malice.

The ‘solutions’ (on page 11) consist of proposals for more surveillance on the minority communities suspected of clinging to FGM: making investigators rather than victims responsible for proving FGM, for example. But proving a crime is never left to the victim in a public prosecution; it is up to the police and the CPS to put together a case and prove it in court, and a victim coming forward to report having been injured is only one way a case can start to be built. The reason given is still heavily based on cultural stereotypes, as they claim “victims of FGM are often left demoralised, ashamed and depressed”, something that may be true of other forms of abuse as well, but victims of other forms of abuse come forward; again, it relies on stereotypes of African and Asian homes being dominated by abusive men and a culture of silence, which some may be, but after years of having gone to schools where they are able to meet, play with and work with children of their own and similar cultures and others, it is implausible to claim that so many are like this to silence every story of abuse.

They also propose that the authorities “identify high-risk communities and vulnerable girls”. But it’s already known which communities come from places where FGM is endemic, but it is necessary to engage with these communities to ascertain which ones cling to the practice and which ones have let it go. However, this cannot happen if FGM activists are unwilling to hear facts that contradict their preconceived ideas.

This is, therefore, a slim pamphlet based on even slimmer research; it simply throws together a few well-reported facts, some uncontested assumptions and stereotypes and some opinions based on them and packages it with an irrelevant stereotype of Islam — because Quilliam is a Muslim-targeted “counter-extremism” think-tank — so as to generate more excuses to maintain a culture of suspicion and surveillance. The fact remains that hearsay, rumour and suspicion do not prove that FGM is a common problem in the UK and that scare statistics about “new cases” are being bandied around but very little evidence of this going on in the UK is ever published. If there was evidence of girls presenting with complications of FGM in British hospitals, we would surely hear of it, but we do not. Without such evidence, it is impossible not to conclude that this is a non-issue in the UK which is being exaggerated and exploited for racist reasons, as well as to maintain the careers and egos of activists.

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Egypt blocks YouTube over film denigrating prophet Muhammad

The Guardian World news: Islam - 27 May, 2018 - 01:53

Court ruling ends years-long appeals process over film that sparked deadly anti-US riots

Egypt’s top administrative court ordered authorities to block video-sharing website YouTube for a month over a film denigrating Islam’s prophet Muhammad.

The ruling on Saturday ends a years-long appeals process over the 2012 amateurish film, Innocence of Muslims, which depicts the prophet Muhammad as a buffoon and a paedophile.

Related: Egyptian pop singer sent to prison for video that 'incited debauchery'

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Ed Husain: from Islamist radical … to champion of liberal Muslims

The Guardian World news: Islam - 26 May, 2018 - 21:30

The British writer explains why his new book calls for a battle for the moderate and inclusive soul of Islam

The house of Islam is on fire and its Muslim arsonists must be expelled. So comes the provocation from Ed Husain, self-proclaimed former Islamist radical, who puts much of the blame for Isis, Syria, Hamas and beyond on Saudi-sponsored Salafism and the export of Wahhabism across the world. “We can’t blame the rest of the global neighbourhood for the fire we’ve lit in our own home,” he says, in an empty Brick Lane cafe on the first morning of Ramadan.

Through writing his new book, an attempt at condensing a global history of Islam, Husain arrives at the logical, albeit frequently observed, conclusion that the spread of this rigid, literalist interpretation of Islam “rejected by the vast majority of Muslims and imposed on them” is the biggest threat to the religion. The solution? To defeat the ideology.

We can’t blame the rest of the global neighbourhood for the fire we’ve lit in our own home

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US liberal Islamophobia is rising – and more insidious than rightwing bigotry | Khaled A Beydoun

The Guardian World news: Islam - 26 May, 2018 - 17:00

We must not ignore the spread of leftists who preach that Islam is inimical to liberal values

“When will Muslims step up and reform Islam?” asked the self-identified “progressive and intersectional” college student, following a presentation of my book, American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear, at New York University.

The student wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and a colorful assortment of pins and patches on his camouflage backpack calling for “equality now” and claiming that “The future is female”. The young man, by way of verbal admission and the myriad of political statements he proudly wore, was a political progressive. And indeed, a representative of a swelling population of leftists who embrace progressive principles yet see Islam as inimical to liberal values and in conflict with American identity.

Related: Let’s be clear: Muslims are neither good nor bad. We’re just human | Farah Elahi

For liberal Islamophobes, much like their rightwing counterparts, 'Muslims are the quintessentially illiberal subjects'

Related: The fight for the right to be a Muslim in America

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Is Ramadan easier in Nigeria than New York? | Bim Adewunmi

The Guardian World news: Islam - 26 May, 2018 - 06:00

Back when we lived in Nigeria, the rules were simple and the daylight hours of the fasting month remained (almost) constant

It’s that time of year again. Thanks to the vagaries of a lunar calendar, Ramadan 2018 is upon us a little earlier.

When I lived in Nigeria, the rules were simple and the daylight hours of the fasting month remained (almost) constant. Day 1 was not that dissimilar to Day 15 or even Day 26, year in, year out; our position just north of the equator served to bring a reliable sameness to the holy month. Day followed night in a strict schedule which is, as a teen, exactly what you crave after a day of fasting.

Related: I dream of a TV drama about my own schooldays | Bim Adewunmi

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Danish politician says Muslims stay off work during Ramadan

The Guardian World news: Islam - 21 May, 2018 - 22:19

Critics scorn Inger Støjberg’s ‘completely absurd idea’ that daylight fasting is dangerous

A Danish government minister has asserted that Muslims should not work during Ramadan because the month-long daylight fasting period poses safety hazards in some professions and makes the practice “dangerous for us all.”

The integration minister, Inger Støjberg, an immigration hardliner in Denmark’s centre-right government, questioned in a blog post on Monday how “commanding observance to a 1,400-year-old pillar of Islam” was compatible with modern labour markets.

Related: Danish government proposes ban on full-face veils

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Sheffield's lord mayor might be a 'zaddy' but he's serious about change | Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff

The Guardian World news: Islam - 21 May, 2018 - 13:33

Suave and sexy Magid Magid knows how to utilise humour in the internet age of celebrity, but by being himself he can inspire others

The new lord mayor of Sheffield, Magid Magid, announced his tenure to the world on Twitter in a font only marginally better than comic sans. At his mayor-making ceremony, Darth Vader’s Imperial March from Star Wars played over the speakers, followed by the Superman theme tune as invitees made their way to the seats. And thanks to his suave, unofficial inaugural photographs – showing him squatting on a marble staircase in the Sheffield town hall, clad in his livery collar and Dr. Martens – he has been pronounced a “zaddy” (a sexy, fashionable man who could be your “daddy”.

He reflects the realities of most young black and brown people from working-class backgrounds

Related: We Greens aren’t uniting with Labour: small parties must stand firm | Jonathan Bartley and Caroline Lucas

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Far-right activists who invaded mass would be charged with terrorism if Muslim, rector says

The Guardian World news: Islam - 21 May, 2018 - 08:01

Father Rod Bower says his church was probably targeted over support for refugees and inclusive stance towards Muslims

The rector of Gosford Anglican church has said a group of far right activists who marched into a service carrying a whip and a toy sword would be charged with terrorism if they were Muslim.

Father Rod Bower, who was leading the Saturday evening mass, said the church was probably targeted over its vocal support for refugees and its inclusive stance towards Muslims.

Related: Far-right protesters interrupt Anglican service clothed in mock Islamic dress

Christianist #Terrorists traumatized our 6pm congregation last night through violence and intimidation. What have we become? #Auspol @abcsydney pic.twitter.com/C9TjFZbhwf

The #Holocaust is what happens when #Christians give into #nationalism . Full reflection here: https://t.co/eV8h0LntFN #Auspol pic.twitter.com/INgzuRkC4y

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Is there really a driver shortage?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 20 May, 2018 - 20:22

An aerial image of the car park and buildings at Cobham services in Surrey. A couple of weeks ago I had a very brief stab at being an all-week truck driver, or as they call them in this country, a tramper. The job would have involved picking up loaded containers at the various ports in the south-east, taking them to their destination and then either having them swapped or unloaded and then taking them back to a port (not necessarily the same one) and then starting again. I didn’t really want to do that job but I had not had either much work out of the agencies nor much success in finding permanent work since the start of the year; for whatever reason it’s been an unusually slow few months. About the same time, an article appeared on the website of a British truckers’ magazine that said drivers were being forced to sleep in places that were not easy to sleep in: service station truck parks and roadside lay-bys which often had no facilities, and that frequently they were not able to sleep properly and were driving tired. And then a familiar moan about a driver shortage.

In my experience, there is no shortage of drivers for the good jobs. There is a shortage of drivers for tramping work, which is for good reason. To give an example, on the day I interviewed for the shipping container job, I had another interview that afternoon for another tramping job, but the first company I went to were obviously so desperate to start me as soon as possible (no doubt because they had a truck sitting idle which they were paying a daily road user levy for, but was not earning them any money) that they just gave me the job even though they had other candidates to interview. The second company had been advertising for tramping drivers for months, and when I called them that week for the second time in about a month, the job was still available. Companies cannot give these jobs away and when they do, the drivers often do not last long.

I enjoy the actual driving bit. It gets me out across the country, seeing the countryside, allows me to listen to whatever I want to for hours at a time with nobody looking over my shoulder. However, the nights are another matter. Many companies refuse to reimburse drivers for parking in service stations because they cost £25 or more per night, even though, apart from truck stops which are less well-advertised, they are the only places about which have facilities such as toilets and showers. I drove around looking for places near my home where I could park the truck, but everywhere was too narrow or already taken, so I headed out to Cobham services. The truck park there is awfully noisy, with the M25 yards away with no trees or anything to screen you from the noise, and the surface is appalling, with blocks of concrete with thick joins so you can hear it every time a vehicle goes over it. Partly because of that and partly because of the heat, I was unable to get more than about an hour’s sleep that night. I gave my notice in before the night was out and refused to carry another container once I’d dropped that one off; I went home and slept both in the afternoon and, quite soundly, that night as well.

I’ve never spent a night in a proper truck stop so perhaps the facilities there are a bit better, but at Cobham there are just four showers for all the (male) truck drivers who stop there overnight, and the ones I saw were not very clean and the handwash basins were clogged. I’ve stopped at Warwick in the past and they have a shower room in the filling station building which has a toilet and wash-basin inside; surely they should all at least have the washbasin, as it allows you to wash your hands before you put your clothes on, but most of them do not have this. They also only have overhead shower heads, never hoses, which means that if you need to wash part of yourself that doesn’t face upwards, you’ll need to bring a water bottle or watering can or stand on your head. Not very accessible. I know that standard bathroom hoses can be stolen easily, but surely someone should have developed a shower hose attachment that cannot be easily unscrewed and removed? Or at least, people should be able to plug in their own hoses. Oh, and the usual way of preparing food when tramping is to use a camping gas stove, but Cobham has a sign saying “no naked flames” even if this may be frequently ignored.

As for sleeping in lay-bys, it’s no surprise that someone who could barely stomach spending the night in a service station that at least has toilets, could not tolerate spending it in a lay-by which does not even have those (and where the truck shakes every time another vehicle passes by). And yet this is where many transport bosses insist that tramping drivers spend 11 hours on the average night, because they cannot spare £25 for a service station spot or an account to pay for truck stop parking. Is it any wonder nobody wants the jobs?

Perhaps I’m too picky; the job I really want is a day-time, longish distance driving job. But from having spent months trying to find one without much success, I can say that there is no shortage of drivers for this type of work, nor for daytime urban driving in the building materials or waste disposal industries that let you spend the night in your own bed, cook in your own kitchen (if you’ve nobody to cook for you!) and shower in your own bathroom. If roughing it for the whole week appeals, then there is no shortage of work and companies so desperate that they will let you walk off the street into a job.

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