‘Normalisation’ is real and has consequences

An old white man points to himself (saying "I belong here!") while racially abusing a black security guard in a Sainsbury's shop. The tobacco counter is visible behind him.‘Normalisation’ is the idea that if the media gives too much exposure to extreme views or those without any basis in fact or science, they become the political mainstream and will come to be widely accepted as fact, or people will feel obliged to accommodate them despite disagreeing with them or knowing that they are baseless. I have heard this word used a lot in recent years, mainly by the left who are rightly concerned about the effect of the rise of the “alt-right” on things such as women’s rights, the right of minorities to live in peace and in some cases the rule of law itself. Peter Hurst, who writes mainly on Medium as “Post Liberal Bot”, calls the “normalisation narrative” an example of left-wing authoritarianism in which we lament the “loss of traditional gatekeepers to news and information, due to the decline of old media and the advent of social media”. He cites calls by politicians for bans on anonymous accounts and closed forums on social media and for a social media regulator.

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Truckers blocking London? Get real.

Two trucks travelling side by side in the two leftmost lanes on a British motorway.This morning I saw a longish interview on the BBC Breakfast show with some guy called Richard Tice, who was identified only as a spokesman for “Leave Means Leave”. I didn’t hear most of it as I was having a haircut and the electric shaver started up almost as soon as he opened his mouth, but I did catch him call the marchers “losers” who should “get behind us Brexiteers” instead of trying to undermine the government’s negotiations. However, on a truck drivers’ Facebook forum, someone quoted him as saying that a trucker had said to him that he could just give him the word and he would block London. This is baloney and whether he knows it or not, his alleged friend does.

Most of us truck drivers do not own a vehicle other than private car or maybe a motorbike. We drive our bosses’ trucks and often those bosses are big companies such as DHL which are based abroad, often in mainland Europe, and often they are involved in moving freight to and from the mainland. I happen to know that my boss supports Brexit, but he’s a subcontractor to a major contractor to a big online ordering company and most of the journeys his vehicles make are to pull that company’s trailers. Said big company is based in a mainland European tax haven. He will not be using his vehicles to stop his client from doing their business, regardless of politics. Nobody will thank him for doing that and they might remember it the next time he needs some business. Besides, those of us who have Saturday off will often have spent all week working and will be spending Saturday doing a mixture of house chores and relaxation and then preparation for the week ahead. Brexit is not enough to get anyone blockading roads (unlike the fuel price crisis of 2000 or so, which really was impacting on business even though prices were much lower than they are now).

As I write this I’m on the way to the demonstration; not everyone who opposes Brexit is a comfortably-off academic or financier.

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What really lies behind Trump, Brexit and “national populism”?

A front page from the Daily Mail, with the headline "Europe's war on British justice: UK loses three out of four human rights cases, damning report reveals"During the post Iraq War days (when Iraq was effectively if not in name under occupation), the pro-war blogger Norman Geras ran an article on what it called the Single Transferable Article About Iraq or STAI. The easy way to spot a STAI, according to him, was silence on one date, that of the first democratic elections in Iraq in history or since God knows when (30th Jan 2005). They were always written by anti-war leftists who, they believed, could not bring themselves to accept that the outcome of the invasion was good (as we now know, it really was not, despite some glimmers of hope such as that occasion). In the post-2016 era, a common feature in the media and blogosphere is what I have come to call the STAB: the Single Transferable Article about Brexit. STABs are typically all about why the Brexit vote was perfectly legitimate, represents a lasting shift in public opinion and that the liberal Remainer elite consoles itself with myths (such as that voters were deceived by Russian-sponsored propaganda) and stereotypes (such as that most retainers were racists or old white bigots). What defines the STAB is silence on the role of the mass media in fomenting the attitudes and beliefs that led to the 2016 result. The latest example was in last Sunday’s Sunday Times, an extract from a book by Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin, which sought to debunk a number of the comforting myths and stereotypes that Remainers use to discredit the 2016 referendum result and that liberal intellectuals use to explain the popularity of Donald Trump and various ‘national populist’ movements across Europe. (Article is paywalled; you need to register to read it.)

Incidentally, the book is being promoted in a series of talks by the authors over the next couple of months, and interestingly for a book aimed at debunking the myths of a “comfortable elite”, five of their eight appearances are in London (the others are in Bristol, Birmingham and Canterbury), so they are not straying far beyond that elite’s comfort zone themselves.

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Stacey Dooley and the environmental impact of fashion

Stacey Dooley, a young white woman with blonde hair wearing a white top with a dark blue or black sleeveless top over it, in conversation with a south-east Asian man with very short hair. A tree is out of focus in the background. The words "There is a CCTV over there" can be seen at the bottom.I haven’t watched any Stacey Dooley for about five years, since I watched her programme on drug smuggling through Ukraine in 2013 and gave it this scathing review. In tonight’s BBC Three documentary (shown on BBC1; BBC Three is now online only), she tries to expose the environmental impact of the fashion industry and to test and try and raise people’s awareness of it. She visits Kazakhstan, where almost an entire inland sea, the Aral Sea, was lost because the rivers that fed it were diverted to irrigate cotton fields in what it now Uzbekistan, and then to Indonesia where textile factories were shown dumping large quantities of chemicals in a river that locals used to drink, wash and irrigate crops with. She interviews the head of a local textile manufacturers’ association and tries to get answers out of big fashion bosses and the UK government, all to no avail.

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Is Britain really the most tolerant country in Europe?

A young white man wearing an open-collared black shirt, with hands moving as he talks, sitting in a TV studio audience. A South Asian man is sitting in front of him.Last Thursday, on the BBC’s Question Time programme (a weekly late-night political panel show in which a panel of politicians and an academic, writer or other lay ‘expert’), there was a contribution from an audience member who claimed that Britain is “one of the least racist societies across Europe” and that one of the supposed benefits of Brexit would be that it would end preferential treatment for (white) European immigrants and allow more people to come from places like Malaysia and Singapore. One panel member (who was Black) countered that he had been stopped by police while just sitting on his mother’s front porch while a Muslim woman (wearing a headscarf) argued that he was a white man and that he wasn’t the person experiencing racism, such as being screamed at while in hijab or being stopped by police while walking across the street. I saw a Twitter thread explaining various measures by which Britain could be considered the least racist or most tolerant country in Europe, in terms of things like positive attitudes to Muslims or other minorities as expressed in opinion polls. But that does not tell the whole story.

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High-tech barbarism

A picture of a very wide Victorian building, with a central three-storey block with two-storey extensions to the side. In the foreground is an extensive green. The sky is cloudy and grey in parts.

Last Tuesday evening there was a 45-minute programme on Radio 4 (part of its File on 4 slot) exposing the abusive treatment of an autistic teenage girl at the St Andrew’s hospital in Northampton, an institution which has been the focus of at least one other documentary exposing its treatment of adolescents, particularly those with autism, and adults as well as a number of inadequate CQC reports. My last entry was a commentary on the programme (which also exposed the failure of councils to protect people in care homes from abuse or to bring negligent management to book, which is why I recommend listening to it in full), but since then I have heard from Bethany’s father Jeremy on Twitter who answered some of the questions about her treatment the documentary raised.

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Transforming care? More like history repeating itself

Stephanie BincliffeLast night BBC’s File on 4 programme was dedicated to how well the government’s declared intention to get people with learning disabilities out of short-term mental health care and into the community where they belong was progressing, seven years after it was announced following the Panorama expose of physical abuse at the privately-run (but NHS-contracted) unit near Bristol, Winterbourne View. Since then there have been a number of deaths in such care that were related to neglect, most famously that of Connor Sparrowhawk but also Nico Reed (in Oxfordshire like Connor), Stephanie Bincliffe (right) and Thomas Rawnsley (both in Yorkshire). Yesterday it featured an interview with the father of a teenage girl who was being held in the St Andrew’s hospital in Northampton, in conditions that sounded a lot like those that led to the death of Stephanie Bincliffe but are also somewhat reminiscent of how convicted criminals are treated in some American (though not British) prisons. It also touched on the excessive use of restraint, and finding out how prevalent that was took a lot of detective work on their part as it was not readily available under the Freedom of Information Act. (More: Mark Neary.)

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A bridge to Ireland?

A picture of some fields in undulating high ground with a white lighthouse at the back, with the sea at the back behind a cliff.In an interview with the Sunday Times, which is paywalled, Boris Johnson, the former British foreign secretary recently notorious for his derogatory remarks about Muslim women, attacked the prime minister’s plans for Brexit, boasting that unlike her, he campaigned for Brexit and believes it is best for Britain (by the way: we all know he actually wrote pro- and anti-Brexit opinion pieces in the run-up to the 2016 referendum and was undecided until almost the last minute). He called for a bridge to be built between Britain and Ireland and the HS2 rail project to be shelved in favour of a high-speed link across northern England. The latter is a fairly reasonable demand because east-west links in the north are notoriously bad, particularly Trans-Pennine links between Manchester and Yorkshire. The first, however, although possible, is preposterous.

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Want justice? Tell us your whole life story first

A stack of papers, including a ring binder at the bottomYesterday it was reported that the police in some parts of the UK, notably London and Merseyside, demand that women reporting rape submit both medical records and an extraordinary array of electronic data to them which can then be handed over to the Defence. Complainants are being asked to hand over all of their counselling notes and school health and social services records as well as all data from their electronic devices such as text messages, social media postings, documents and web browsing history; this data can then be kept for up to 100 years. People are being advised that if they fail to disclose what is demanded, the prosecution cannot go ahead; meanwhile, suspects cannot be forced to hand over this amount of information and police are complaining that they are inundated with data.

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Show some respect

A view through an archway into the courtyard of the Qayrawiyyin mosque in Fes, Morocco. There is a tiled marble floor and a fountain in the middle, with a portico at the rear and a Moroccan type square minaret behind it.Yesterday I came across a tweet on Twitter which made some unpleasant generalisations about Muslim women and Islamic knowledge. It claimed that when men study the Shari’ah, it leads to “More ibadah > more humility > teaching others > dawah > serving the community” while when women do the same, they end up becoming hijabi fashion bloggers, then eventually taking off the hijab and dating non-Muslim men. I became aware of this because someone quoted him and noted that they were disgusted with his remarks, but I also discovered that a few of the people I follow also follow him. The man is not noted as a scholar or speaker on Islam but is a business copyrighter and branding consultant of some sort based in Dubai, and his website consists of endorsements by various customers. When this comment was challenged, another individual said that it was not all Muslim women who studied Islam that were described but just “SOAS students”, which is also a slur on a great many of them.

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Karanbir Cheema case: intention matters

Picture of Karanbir Cheema, a young South Asian boy wearing thin, black-rimmed spectacles. He has a blue school uniform jumper on with a logo of two hands holding the world, with "Perivale Primary School" in white capital letters around the top, and an open-necked white shirt underneath.Last week an inquest opened on the case of a 13-year-old boy with a severe allergy to dairy products who died in a London school playground after allegedly having cheese put down his shirt. People were sharing the story on Twitter and saying “they killed him” and accusing the other children (allegedly) involved of murder. I pointed out that whether it was murder would depend on whether they intended to cause him serious harm and whether they knew about his allergy at all or whether it could cause such serious harm especially from mere skin contact (as opposed to ingesting the foods concerned). As a result of this I was deluged with tweets from people telling me that everyone will have known about his allergy, that it was at the very least manslaughter but that they probably did it deliberately because children are cruel to each other. I (and the lady who retweeted the story into my timeline) got a two-day flood of mentions and notifications as people all around the world reacted to the story.

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Who gets believed?

Recently a lot of people have been retweeting a tweet by one Amanda Brown Lierman, “political & Organizing Director for @theDemocrats” (not sure if she means the whole party or a local branch of it), which moans:

A lot of people retweeting it don’t stop to think because if they did, they might realise how factually wrong, inappropriate and offensive it is.

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Teenage boys do know rape is wrong

The seal of the US Supreme Court, consisting of a stylised eagle holding out arrows in one foot and an olive branch in the other, the slogan "E pluribus unum" on a banner round the back of its neck and the words "Seal of the Supreme Court of the United States" in all caps round the outside.In the debate over whether the conservative American judge Bret Kavanaugh is fit to serve as a Supreme Court judge, an accusation has emerged that when in high school, he held down and groped a female schoolmate, now a professor, named Christine Blasey Ford. One of the defences that has been used for him is that the incident happened years ago when he was a high school student and that it was just juvenile high jinks, and some are suggesting that teenage boys are too immature to understand issues of consent. A female high school student who identifies with the conservative Future Female Leader movement has tweeted that this is “probably one of the most unsettling things [she has] ever witnessed” despite having supported Kavanaugh before the accusations emerged. As someone who remembers my mid-teens rather well, I can say that we did in fact know that this sort of thing was wrong, and was illegal.

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What is a garment of liberty, really?

Two women in a clothing shop, one of which is trying on a long, black, sleeveless dress with a fitted bodice and a full skirt.A couple of years ago there was a sketch on a Canadian comedy show (starts at 01:26), the Baroness Von Sketch Show, in which a woman walks into a clothing store and tries on a long, sleeveless black dress. She was, she said, “not feeling it” though it fit well, until she discovered it had pockets. “This dress has pockets?” she exclaimed. “Yes,” said the shopkeeper, “it is a garment of liberty”. The lady ecstatically reeled off the list of things she could put in those pockets, that she could go out “like a dude” without the tyranny of a ‘purse’ (handbag), and in her excitement walked straight out of the shop in it without paying, presumably leaving all her existing clothes behind. The sketch was brought to mind by an article on Quartz I read last weekend (published February 2017) in which Lucy Rycroft-Smith described how she liberated herself from the tyranny of modern women’s clothing by switching to men’s clothing. The experiment showed her, she said, that female fashion is a sign that “the world does not want women to get too comfortable”. (She posted an earlier article on the same subject at The F Word.)

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On mental health care and staying connected

A still image from the BBC documentary Don't Call Me Crazy, showing a girl sitting on the floor with her legs raised and her arm wrapped round her face.A few years ago I wrote a post on here (The Importance of Staying Connected) about how the Internet had changed from being a niche service which few people outside academia had access to, and which was a very definite luxury, to a mass medium which was a lifeline for very many people including disabled people. A friend who was a mental health inpatient had been transferred to a clinic in a remote part of Germany and had her phone and computer confiscated as the institution catered to people with dual diagnoses, including addictions, who could have used them to order drugs; after a few days, she jumped from a balcony. In that and other countries in Europe, including the UK, people receiving standard mental health inpatient care are allowed mobile phones and Internet access (though not provided with it) but not those in ‘secure’ units which house people who have been sent there on court orders as well as those detained under the Mental Health Act (which only needs two doctors) or in most adolescent units. In the USA, though, it appears to be different; people on mental health wards routinely have their phones taken away and a friend of mine who was recently admitted said she would not be able to keep in touch with us (or do the work she relies on the Internet to do) while in hospital.

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Why Muslims should protest public insults to the Prophet

A photograph of a rally in Pakistan, showing South Asian men in a variety of headwear including turbans, holding aloft a sign that reads "Stop blasphemers at social media, blasphemous sketches contest in Holland".Geert Wilders (or Geert Hitlers as I call him), a far-right Dutch opposition politician, has cancelled an event he had been planning (or claimed to have been planning) this coming November, a contest for cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam. He claimed he had cancelled the contest as a result of having received death threats and because he did not want others to become the “victims of Islamic violence”. According to Al-Jazeera, around 10,000 people had taken part in a protest organised by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik party in Islamabad, Pakistan, against the event and to call on prime minister Imran Khan to cut diplomatic ties with the Netherlands (and there have been others elsewhere, though often organised by certain Islamic schools). AJ quotes a Dutch political analyst in London, Stijn van Kessel, as saying that the event was “a way for him to generate media attention; he hopes that will eventually translate to votes”. A 26-year-old man, reportedly also from Pakistan, was arrested in the Hague for making a threat against Wilders. Unlike in the case of the Danish cartoons ten years ago, there have not been widespread Muslim protests in Europe against the event.

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Why “Jewish fears”, even if genuine, are misplaced

A man standing on grass holding a sign bearing the words "For the many, not the Jew" in white on a red background.Last week I saw two blog articles published by self-described left-wing Zionists, one of whom I know through disability activist circles, about why they are concerned about the “rising tide” of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party which they accuse Jeremy Corbyn of encouraging or condoning. Both of them spoke of their past; the father of one of the authors came to the UK in one of the pre-war Kindertransports from Nazi Germany, the other grew up in the Anglo-Jewish community which she fell away from in adulthood, but the state of the Labour Party since Corbyn’s rise has reminded her of her Jewishness and of the fear Jews traditionally felt, i.e. that however integrated they felt they were, they would always be reminded of being outsiders after a generation or two and had always lived in fear of having to pack their bags (or grab the one they had kept packed just in case) and run. One of the pieces is by Andrew Gilbert and titled The Stolen Pen: the resonance of anti-Semitism; the other is by ‘Ermintrude’, a social worker I know on Twitter, titled On Zionism, Anti-semitism and Racism — A personal response.

In other news, Frank Field yesterday (Thursday) resigned the Labour whip in the Commons citing the issue as the major reason, though there is also a campaign to deselect him in his constituency party; the New Statesman carried an interview with former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and an editorial demanding that the Labour Party adopt the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism including the disputed examples. I have made clear my objection to this demand and what it would mean, namely that there would effectively be no place for Muslims in the party.

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Muslimander TV: Are Asian lads lost, or is Mehreen Baig?

A picture of Mehreen Baig, a young South Asian woman wearing a black top with a jacket of uncertain colour over it, walking along a fence, with a low sun to the side.Lost Boys? What’s Going Wrong for Asian Men (BBC iPlayer, available in UK only until about 12th September)

Last Sunday there was an hour-long programme on BBC2 purported to be about the problems facing young British Asian men in the UK. It was presented by one Mehreen Baig, a former teacher who previously took part in BBC2’s two-part documentary Muslims Like Us and has been a presenter on the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live. Despite good reviews in the secular press, a number of my Muslim friends were deeply dissatisfied with the programme: Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan in a review on Al-Jazeera called it “a lazy reproduction of racist, culturally essentialist stereotypes approved by an ‘insider’” while Ahmed Hankir offers a perspective from an actual British Asian Muslim man. To their credit, the Daily Telegraph also published a critical review from a Muslim, Hussein Kesvani, which is paywalled but the headline summarises it: ‘Young Asian men’ are facing the same problem as other men: a crisis of masculinity. I recommend reading all these reviews. (More: The Muslim Vibe.)

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Why did I just lose 25 followers?

A male linnet, a small brown bird with a patch of red on its breast, sitting on a twig.The other day I logged onto an unfollower tracker and discovered that I’d lost 19 followers, which is rather unusual (I often lose a few over the average week, often suspended accounts — which are not named — or people who had followed me expecting me to follow back, then unfollowed when I did not, and sometimes people who had unfollowed because of a disagreement or blocked me). I checked who the unfollowers were and many of them were names I recognised from years ago: two in particular belonged to one person who has used various accounts and blogs over the years to blog particular aspects of her experience of spinal cord injury; others were just people who had fallen off Twitter and not bothered to close their accounts. I posted to both Twitter and Facebook asking why this had all happened and got a reply to the effect that people had just found better things to do with their lives than tweet or had pruned their social circle to get rid of the dead wood. But judging by which accounts these were, this could not have been the case.

A lot of people lost a large number of followers at the same time and a lot of people are asking why — some obviously think they annoyed someone or that a whole bunch of people have decided they don’t want them in their lives anymore. No. Twitter, for some reason, removed a whole bunch of moribund accounts from your followers list but for some reason did not just suspend them, which is what you might expect them to do. They really need to inform their users when they do something like this, as it may coincide with an argument, relationship break-up or some other event and some people have mental health problems that make them sensitive to these sorts of things. A lot of people think it’s ‘sad’ to use an unfollower tracker but in this case knowing who unfollowed me and being able to tell others is quite useful.

(And this would be a good place to announce that I am trying to get off Twitter and migrate to the open-source social media platform Mastodon. This is because, apart from the well-documented problems of Twitter suspending people for no real reason while allowing Nazis to prosper unchecked, they have also decided to cripple third-party Twitter clients such as Tweetbot and Tweetings which offered a straightforward chronological timeline rather than Twitter’s ‘curated’ one with numerous interpolations. I can be found as ij@knzk.me and you can join any Mastodon server and follow me. My Twitter account is, however, going to remain active for the foreseeable future.)

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Who wears the burqa?

A woman walking along a mud road wearing a blue full-length burqa which covers the whole of her body from head to foot. There are bushes behind her and mountains in the background.In an earlier entry I discussed the unhelpful ‘defence’ of niqaab that only a few thousand women wear the garment. However, a side argument is that only a few hundred wear the burqa, the garment best known from Afghanistan which covers the whole body including the eyes and face. I saw Miqdaad Versi of the Muslim Council of Britain make this argument on Twitter this morning. I find this a very dubious claim. I would imagine that the number wearing the Afghan burqa in the UK is closer to zero, if not actually zero. The burqa is a garment specific to rural Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan; only a minority of British Asian Muslims are Pashtun. The garment is not widely available here, it is not the Sunnah, and it is not practical. The niqaab is widely available both in shops and online and is practical in the sense that it can easily be flipped up when the wearer needs to show her face (there is also a layer that can cover the eyes which can also be flipped up or down; if you see a woman with her whole face covered, this is probably also a niqaab).

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