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

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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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Teaching union criticises Ofsted chief over hijab ban for young girls

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 March, 2018 - 17:57

Amanda Spielman’s comments on young Muslim girls wearing headscarf could increase race attacks, says NEU

The country’s largest teaching union has criticised the head of Ofsted, accusing her of pressuring schools into banning the hijab worn by young girls, amid a claim that the watchdog’s position could lead to “increased physical and verbal attacks” on Muslim girls.

The motion to be debated at the National Education Union (NEU) meeting in Brighton over the Easter weekend takes aim at recent remarks by Amanda Spielman and her concerns over Muslim girls as young as five wearing the headscarf.

Related: East London primary school backs down over hijab ban

Related: Schoolgirls wearing a hijab is a path to extremism? Now that’s a leap | Samira Shackle

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MPs condemn Leave.EU tweet on Labour antisemitism

The Guardian World news: Islam - 29 March, 2018 - 19:09

Tweet claims Labour ‘can’t be bothered’ to deal with antisemitism because party is ‘so reliant’ on Muslim votes

MPs have issued a formal protest over an Islamophobic tweet by the Leave.EU campaign that implied Labour could not be bothered to deal with antisemitism because there were more votes in supporting Muslims.

Is it any wonder that Labour can't be bothered to deal with the disgusting antisemitism in their party when they are so reliant on the votes of Britain's exploding Muslim population? It's a question of maths for these people, not justice!

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I hope any Conservatives involved with now withdraw. Worst kind of dog whistle.

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When racists rage against racism

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 March, 2018 - 21:51

A Facebook post showing a mural, the centrepiece of which is an image of a number of old, grey-beareded, stiff-collared men playing a Monopoly game where the board rests on the naked bodies of men. Above the image of the mural it says "It's happening again! Get the full story on where I defend against the false accusations and gross misinterpretations of my mural by self-interested British politicians and the mainstream media. #FreedomforHumaniy".The controversy that started last week when someone dug up a five-year-old Facebook comment by Jeremy Corbyn on a picture of an anti-Semitic mural by an obscure London artist has not gone away. What is surprising is that he is still leader. The number of MPs who have spoken out is small; they have not threatened to defect to any other party or resign as of the next general election, or made a challenge to Corbyn’s leadership. There are a lot of supporters who have criticised his stance and called on him to take a stronger stand, but others who remain convinced that he can do no wrong and that this is all a conspiracy to undermine his leadership and others who believe it is quite consistent with his previous behaviour, that he may not be an anti-Semite as such but he does not mind rubbing shoulders with people who are. I have a couple of theories as to why the response to this has been so limited compared to even previous rows about the same issue.

First: the Labour MPs who are taking the strongest stance know they are in the minority within the party. They have tried to remove him once; their candidate lost by a large margin as Corbyn’s supporters are (or at least were) the majority of ordinary party members. There are no other strong parties for them to defect to; the Liberal Democrats are hugely weakened from the 2010-15 coalition and the subsequent devastating result in 2015 which was only slightly reversed in 2017 and not all of them represent constituencies where the Lib Dems were ever strong. The Tories, as already discussed, are far more tainted by racism than Jeremy Corbyn. There is no place for a Scottish or Welsh nationalist MP in a north London constituency and the Greens have yet to win a constituency beyond Brighton. There is simply nowhere for them to go.

Second, there have simply been too many “wolf cries” about anti-Semitism and there is fatigue to it; now that a genuine case has been unearthed, albeit from years ago, very many people are unwilling to listen. The previous cases involved hostility to Jewish individuals (e.g. the MP Ruth Smeeth) that was assumed to be anti-Semitic for whatever reason, or someone suggesting that Israel has no right to exist — again, years before they became an MP — because the difference between a ‘reasonable’, ‘moderate’ supporter of Palestinian rights and an “anti-Semite” is that the latter will suggest a solution to the Palestinian situation that does not (a) acknowledge that it’s all the Arabs’ fault and (b) leave Israel dominant. The anti-Semitism in the mural in this case would only have struck an educated person as such, and the artist’s explanation makes it clearer that this is what it was (in that the elderly stiff-collared figures were Rothschilds and the like) — there were no Stars of David or any other overt Jewish symbols, so it’s possible that at first glance it didn’t appear anti-Semitic.

Speaking as a Muslim, I would find it easier to condemn minor incidents of anti-Semitism if mainstream politicians would condemn and isolate those guilty of far more severe incidents of Islamophobia — notably, that of Boris Johnson who remains foreign secretary despite countless casual and premeditated incidents of Islamophobia and other racism over the years. It appears that this prejudice is considered a more serious and shameful matter than any other expression of prejudice at a time when Muslims have faced a long-running vilification campaign in both tabloid and (former) broadsheet newspapers and frequent undercover investigations to find out if prominent Muslims have opinions white people might not like, which do not have to be racist or in favour of terrorism; Channel 4’s Dispatches earlier this week ‘exposed’ Cardiff-based Muslim activist Sahar al-Faifi for suggesting that the government might have taken their eye off a particular terrorist for political gain. Muslims are being targeted with ‘investigations’ on prime-time TV calculated to foment suspicion, with front-page attacks on our culture and on individuals, and by organised gangs of football hooligans and by individuals ‘provoked’ by what they read in the papers and see on TV. There’s a Twitter thread going round with a ‘test’ of whether someone is an anti-Semite, and one of the criteria is that they will not condemn anti-Semitism without qualifying it with a comparison to the suffering of any other group; but it has to be looked at in the context of other prejudices. Anti-Semitism is not unique, it is not greatly unlike other forms of racism and neither have been its consequences. The mural Corbyn is being condemned for approving of uses stereotypes of a Jewish élite; much of the material targeted at Muslims refers to ordinary Muslims, not a few wealthy financiers.

Some of the most racist individuals in this country’s media and politics, and those who are at least tolerant of other prejudices, are among the first to identify and condemn anti-Semitism. Why is this? It’s clearly not because they’re against racism in general, except when it uses obvious nasty words (which gives the game away; best keep to euphemisms). It’s not even because of “where it leads” (i.e. the Holocaust); there have been two other genocides since (Bosnia and Rwanda) and the rhetoric used to justify both (e.g., blaming ordinary people today for historical grievances, comparing people to vermin and so on) was very similar to that of the Holocaust. It’s because they regard a prosperous, mostly white minority whose religious mainstream is closely linked to the Establishment both here and in the USA as less deserving of hostility than a more visible and obviously ‘different’ minority. This is not anti-racism. It is racism itself.

Finally, I have a suspicion that some expressions of anti-Semitism come from a desire to provoke and outrage polite opinion rather than out of a belief in what is being said. The Daily Mail, in their front page yesterday, proclaimed that British Jews had been “goaded beyond endurance by the rise of anti-Semitism in Labour”. There is a certain satisfaction in goading someone who is self-righteous, hypocritical or both and baiting a racist with the one form of racism he can’t stomach falls into that category. Of course, tu quoque or accusing your critic of being a hypocrite is not really a defence; someone else being racist does not make being a racist acceptable. But all the same, demands to condemn one particular form of racism ring hollow when they come from racists.

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