It was the Muslims

Three girls aged about 10 or perhaps less, jumping over a skipping rope. All are of South Asian appearance, wearing a blue school uniform jumper with black or blue trousers. The girl on the left has a black and white patterned wrap-around hijab; the girl on the right has a pink wrap-around hijab, while the girl in the middle is not wearing one. A brick wall with an orange hoop painted on it is behind themSo, last Friday the school in Newham, a borough in east London with a large Asian and Somali Muslim presence, which had introduced a ban on girls under age 8 wearing the hijab or fasting during Ramadan at school, backed down and the chair of governors, Arif Qawi, resigned (the headteacher, Neena Lall, remains in place at present). This followed a high-profile social media campaign to pressure the school to back down on the policy and a petition (to the local MP, Lyn Brown) posted by local activist and student Hafsah Dabiri which received 19,723 signatures, as well as some investigative work which revealed that Arif Qawi had made some derogatory remarks about local parents and imams in an email that he accidentally copied to one of the imams in question (all his social media posts have been removed or made private, but screenshots were posted on Twitter and elsewhere). This was the latest bit of mischief-making the Sunday Times had been involved in with Muslims in east London, having published the intrusive but false story about the Muslim foster carer not letting a child eat pork under her roof last August (people are claiming the paper “sullied itself” with its “embarrassing” story about a supposed Momentum plot to oust sitting Labour MPs on today’s front page, but it’s not the worst story the paper has produced recently, by a long shot).

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“I’ve stopped fighting for Britain”

Two hand-made signs on the wall of a house, one of which shows the Spanish, EU and British flags with the words "Mamá, Me, Daddy" under them respectively, followed by "I will not be forced to choose, I am European". The second says "I want to keep my European wife, not more cod" with a cartoon image of a fish.BBC Radio 5 live on Twitter: "“I’ve stopped fighting for Britain” Olaya has worked as an NHS nurse for fifteen years. Now she and her family are moving to Spain becaus… https://t.co/5X3puABDbN"

An interview with an NHS physiotherapist who is packing her things and moving back to Spain, where she intends to buy land and start a business, after 18 months of abuse from racists in this country and being let down by people she expects to help her — friends, colleagues, family members of EU nationals — who stand by when the abuse happens:

People who hurl abuse are being allowed to hurl their abuse unchallenged. So there might be many people out there who don’t feel that way, that would never say these things, but they’re not standing up and saying anything either and this apathy from friends, from family members of EU nationals, from neighbours, from co-workers, is the most hurtful thing — way more hurtful than the abuse we get in the first place. When I get told that I need to learn to speak English properly, that if I don’t like it I should leave, that it was the will of the British people and I had no say in it and that it was the right thing to do, even though I’ve lived here for seventeen years and my husband is British, my children are British.

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Please sign this petition: leave our hijab alone!

A picture of three young girls in long black dresses and headscarves, one in black, one in light pink and another in light blue. One of them is standing on a prayer mat.Petition · Lyn Brown MP: Make Neena Lall remove the hijab and fasting ban at St Stephens in Newham! · Change.org

This is a petition to the local MP in Newham, east London, against a ban on the hijab for younger girls at a primary school, St Stephen’s, in the borough of Newham in east London. (It should also be addressed to the local council as the MP cannot, on her own, force a school to change its policies while a local authority might be able to, if it’s a local authority school rather than an academy.) Although this ban only applies to girls under eight, and thus nobody for whom hijab is mandatory in Islam, it should be opposed because of what it represents: an attempt by a group of agitators, in collaboration with a newspaper with a recent history of hostility to Muslims who have resorted to publishing untrue stories to smear us, to control Muslims and interfere with how we bring up and educate our children. (Update 17th Jan: Sister Hafsah Dabiri, who started the petition, said on Twitter last night that she knows families with children at the school and that they only found out about this through the papers, not from the school. I’m watching this story to see what turns out to be inaccurate about the Times’s story — whether, for example, it had actually been approved by the governing board or just proposed.)

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The men alive because we can’t hang them

A view across the street to the front entrance of Manchester prison, a Victorian, red-brick, castle-like construction with several steeple-like chimneys and a large archway in the middle, the entrance to which is obstructed by five black bollards.The past two weeks it was separately announced that one serial rapist who preyed on women in London was to be released after serving nearly ten years and another, who attacked women and girls mainly in and around London and the surrounding area was to be considered for parole. This naturally has caused outrage. The first was John Worboys, a black cab driver who got away with a series of rapes and other sexual assaults for so long because the police refused to investigate his crimes, a failing that is still the subject of human rights litigation against the Metropolitan Police. The second was Antoni Imiela, known as the “M25 rapist”, who it was reported this week was to be considered for parole in six months’ time, although as a life sentence prisoner, his release can be vetoed by the Home Secretary.

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What’s “not Canada”?

A front page from the Toronto Sun showing a picture of a young, light-skinned girl wearing a white hijab with the headline "It's just not Canada", with (in smaller letters) "Mom of 11-year-old girl attacked for wearing hijab says 'This is not who we are'."This is a front page from today’s Toronto Sun about the 11-year-old girl who was attacked in the street by a man who cut her hijab with a pair of scissors as she walked to school in the morning. The paper tweeted the image and it’s been doing the rounds on social media. The sub-heading quotes the girl’s mother saying “this is not who we are”. But …

The page prominently features a young girl wearing a headscarf and the slogan “It’s just not Canada”. I’m sure that will strike a very different chord with many readers to the one intended.

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The “Workers’ Brexit” delusion

A cobbled bridge over a river, with a blue border sign faintly visible towards the other end. Three cars and a small van are parked to the left side in the foreground. There is no other sign of a border, such as an passport control post or any police.Yesterday, there was a letter printed in the Guardian from one Sarah Ansell about the notion that many of those who voted for Brexit in June 2016 are now experiencing “buyer’s remorse” after Larry Elliot claimed that the strategy “required the UK to fall into recession and it has not come remotely close”. She claims that remainers refuse to accept that the EU is a neoliberal institution and that its “four freedoms” were introduced for the benefit of the “capitalist class”, not the workers. She concludes: “what we need now is to wrench away the initiative from the right and come up with an alternative workers’ sovereignty – a new Bill of Rights or written constitution, new economic priorities”. (Update: the Guardian printed a letter from someone else in response to Sarah Ansell’s letter; it’s at the bottom of the page.)

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Review: House of Saud, episode 1

A picture showing four men, three in traditional Arabic clothing and a fourth wearing a suit and tie, walking down a red carpet away from a large aeroplane in white "Kingdom" livery with three green stripes, the thickest of them around the main row of windows.So, last night the first episode of a three-part series on BBC2, House of Saud: A Family at War was broadcast. I commented on the trailer last night as the language had been troubling me since I first saw it. However, the first episode seemed not to give out the message I had been expecting of enthusiasm for crown prince Muhammad bin Salman’s reforms which have been widely praised in the western media which has been quieter about the repression accompanying them. Instead, it focussed on ‘history’ and the implication seemed to be that MbS could not be trusted because he was still a Saudi, still a Wahhabi and still the son of king Salman. While it did conclude with a segment on the ongoing war in Yemen which it rightly said was fought using British weapons, much of it consisted of Islamophobic and anti-Arab clichés, irrelevances and veiled attacks on Islam itself. (You can watch the episode here for the next month if you’re in the UK.)

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Method acting

A picture of James FrancoA Twitter defence of James Franco (right), who has been accused of sexual assault explicitly by one actress and implicitly by others:

If you read closely, it said it happened during filming of Palo Alto. The movie stars Franco as a man who seduces a younger woman. James Franco is a method actor. Bad judgement yes, but you know how method actors immerse themselves in roles.

I hope nobody casts this guy in any film about the Holocaust or any other atrocity.

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What is a revolution anyway?

A still showing a group of soldiers marching in front of a larger-than-life portrait of crown prince Muhammad bin Salman, a middle-aged dark-white man with a thick black moustache and beard, wearing a red-and-white keffiyeh or Arab-style headscarf.I’ve been seeing trailers on BBC TV for a documentary on the changes being forced upon Saudi Arabia by the new crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman (his father, the actual king Salman is believed to have dementia). The show, House of Saud: A Family at War starts this evening at 9pm on BBC2. The trailer referred to MbS’s having “launched a revolution” and featured an ‘expert’ saying “this leadership has taken steps which the previous leadership, for fifty years, was afraid of taking” which seemed consistent with the western media’s adulation for him and his agenda, with a few progressive changes such as allowing women to drive overshadowing the repression. The truth is that this is not a revolution by any stretch of the imagination.

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Cold callers getting more sophisticated

Cartoon of a lawyer chasing after an ambulanceEarlier today while drinking my coffee I got a call from a woman who told me that there was some sort of payout waiting for me as a result of a vehicle incident that wasn’t my fault. I told her as soon as she mentioned that she’d been told of such an incident that in fact she hadn’t because no such incident had taken place. I asked her for details of the alleged incident, such as the date and location, and the registration number. She gave me a number (the number of my car) and a date (February 2015, suspiciously close to when I bought the car) but couldn’t furnish me with the location.

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Abortion and Down’s syndrome: I’m with Kasich

A wide-angle photograph of the inside of the Rotunda at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. The picture is taken looking up into a dome which is topped with blue, yellow and orange stained glass and the dome is light orange with blue alcoves. At the bottom is a mosaic floor and there is a painting of what looks like a battle scene, with a US flag flying, on the back wall. Through an archway at the back you can see a staircase leading upwards on both sides, and past that, a door to the outside.In an article for the website Global Comment, the British feminist writer Phillipa Willitts this week opposed the new law in the US state of Ohio that bans abortion where a foetus has been diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. The law, recently signed by Republican governor John Kasich, imposes penalties (potentially a fine, a prison sentence and the loss of their medical licence) only on the doctor who administers the abortion, and nothing on the woman “other than not being allowed control over their own body”. North Dakota and Indiana have passed similar legislation, the latter having been struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge and the former redundant because the only clinic in the state that performs abortions does not do so after 16 weeks. Willitts claims that the law was campaigned for chiefly by pro-life groups rather than by disability rights groups, and that the people behind it do not care for disabled people other than by forcing their mothers to carry them to term. This is, I believe, inaccurate.

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Things that don’t mean optional

The entrance to a British hospital which consists of Victorian red-brick buildings with a more modern addition towards the rear.Earlier last week (before the story about the multiple rapist John Worboys being released from prison) the news was dominated by two stories, one about health and one about transport. The first was that the government had instructed British NHS hospitals to cancel ‘elective’ surgeries and outpatient appointments for the whole month of January in response to increased emergency demand, and there was much discussion about what that says about the government’s health policy and how important the NHS is to the government. The second was that rail fares were to go up well above inflation for the umpteenth consecutive new year. These were the focus of conversation on the morning radio talk shows I listen to when driving in the morning, such as BBC London’s early morning show and Vanessa Feltz’s phone-in after it, and the Today programme on Radio 4. In the case of the transport story, someone referred to off-peak fares as ‘leisure’ fares, as opposed to the peak-hour fares paid by commuters who travel before 9.30am. This tied in to something that stuck out about the coverage of ‘elective’ surgeries: it wasn’t stressed enough that these surgeries aren’t optional, even if they’re not urgent.

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Opposition to the state of Israel is not racist

Picture of Ahed Tamimi, a white teenage girl with wavy light brown hair wearing a red and black patterned top under a black and white patterned jacket with a black and white Palestinian keffiyeh tied at her waist, standing next to Cyril Ramaphosa, a large Black man in late middle age wearing a shirt without a tie under a black blazer.Why anti-Zionism is seen as antisemitism | Letters | World news | The Guardian

This is a letter in today’s Guardian from Joseph Pearlman (who appears to be an economist at City of London University, judging by a Google search for his name), claiming that a previous letter-writer “makes the charge that UK governments have been unclear about the difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism” before claiming:

Most Jews in the UK would challenge the idea that there is much difference between the two. In recent years, anti-Zionism has manifested itself as opposition to the existence of a specifically Jewish state. In a 2015 survey, The Attitudes of British Jews to Israel, “90% of British Jews support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state”, the implication being that current anti-Zionism will be experienced as antisemitism.

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Look after your health, and fight for your healthcare

Picture of Erica Garner, a Black woman wearing a red sweatshirt with thin black horizontal stripes running across it. She also has a red ribbon pinned to her chest.Earlier today Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner who was choked to death by New York police for illegally selling cigarettes in 2014 (one of a series of unarmed Black Americans, mostly men, who died violent deaths at the hands of police in various states in the four years leading up to Trump’s election) died after having been in a coma since Christmas Day following a heart attack. I’ve seen a number of people on Twitter and Facebook claim that her death was contributed to her by what happened to her father and by the stress of being an activist: “This work takes a terrible toll on those who do the work despite their wounds. Reliving the pain, every time the families come out to speak, protest, write.”

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Amazon Tetris?!

A screenshot from a Windows version of TetrisScrolling through the timeline of “somebody that I used to know”, I saw a tweet which had been retweeted more than 25,000 times as of this writing and which has even been the subject of articles on mainstream media websites. It makes a claim about those weirdly oversized packages we sometimes get when we order things from Amazon — the cardboard envelopes which are several times larger than the thing you ordered. The tweeter, one Alexander Savin, is apparently quoting something he saw on Reddit but the words in the image read:

Amazon uses a complicated software system to determine the bay size that should be used based on what else is going in the same truck and the exact size of the cargo bay.

It is playing automated Tetris with the packages.

Sometimes it will select a larger box because there is nothing else that needs to go out on that specific truck, and by making it bigger, it is using up the remaining space so items don’t slide around and break.

This actually minimizes waste and is on the whole a greener system. Even if for some individual item is looks weird.

It is optimizing for the whole, not the individual.

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On Muslims, Christmas and other holidays

A picture of a Christmas tree decorated in large baubles and other decorations in the ornate lobby of a hotel; four storeys can be seen behind it.The other day someone posted an image to Facebook of two Christmas displays accompanied by a slogan to the effect that Muslims aren’t banning Christmas — this is how they do it in Malaysia and Abu Dhabi. The latter was in a shopping mall and there was a huge Christmas tree. Muslims looking to get Christmas ‘banned’ or it being ‘banned’ by various local authorities to avoid displeasing Muslims has been a staple of the British right-wing mid-market press for years, and usually on closer examination the thing that was being called something other than Christmas was not Christmas at all. The Daily Mail, which parroted the ‘Winterval’ claim numerous times, apologised after the truth about that was exposed during the Leveson inquiry, but more recently this was one of the asinine tweets of the US President, Donald Trump (who, as a landlord in the early 1980s, forbade his tenants from putting Christmas decorations in the lobby in an attempt to force them out): “People are proud to be saying Merry Christmas again. I am proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!”.

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Why is speeding not a taboo?

A lamppost under thick tree cover, with a 20mph speed limit sign and a banner reading "Welcome to Islington, London's first 20[mph] borough".There’s a video up on the BBC News website asking the above question, namely why speeding is not a taboo as drink driving became as a result of years of public campaigns including regular TV and billboard advertisements. Apparently speeding kills many more people than drunken driving, so it should be at least as much a ‘taboo’ thing that nobody would be seen doing. The argument is ‘supported’ with an appeal to emotion, namely a contribution from a woman who lost both her parents when they were run over by a speeding driver, and towards the end she accompanies some police officers using hand-held speed guns to detect people exceeding a 20mph speed limit and interviews a few drivers and asks them why or if they knew they were speeding. A few did not, but nobody just said they did not believe in the widespread 20mph speed limits that have been imposed by various local authorities, especially in London, with no great public debate.

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The best places to be average

The ruins of Odiham Castle, which dates from the 13th centuryA study commissioned by Halifax (part of the big HBOS banking group but formerly a mutual building society) has found that the district of Hart in Hampshire is the best place to live in the UK, a position it also held in this survey from 2011 to 2013 although it was only 26th last year. The study looks at such matters as life expectancy, health, crime rates, earnings, employment, ‘wellbeing’ and the weather; Hart has the longest female life expectancy in the UK, for example, at 86.7 years. The list contains mostly rural districts throughout the country including several affluent southern districts, though two are in North Yorkshire, the Orkney islands are in second place and the cities of London and Westminster are also included. One thing does not seem to count, though: diversity.

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Otto Frank and the editing of Anne Frank’s diary

A picture of a young Anne Frank sitting at an old-fashioned desk with an inkwellAn online women’s publication called “The Establishment” last year published an article attacking the editing of Anne Frank’s diary by her father, Otto Frank, for publication in the 1940s after the death of the author and several members of their family in the Nazi concentration camps. The article by one Stephanie Watson (of whom they give no biographical details) was written more than a year ago (November 2016) but the magazine has been re-publicising it on Twitter and has attracted a lot of quite justifiable criticism that it is offensive and in effect anti-Semitic. The final published work combined material from two versions Anne Frank wrote, one of them a personal diary and one of them a novelised version of the same that was intended for publication; the bits that were edited out consisted of unflattering remarks about her parents and comments on sexuality, menstruation and her own vulva. Watson considers the removal of this material ‘sexist’ and an invasion of Anne Frank’s privacy and says she turned off the audiobook version of the diary, read by Helena Bonham-Carter, before she had even heard the whole of the preface!

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How Labour’s researchers passed up a chance to expose Tory racism

A Liberal Democrat election poster that reads 'We propose putting patients first; we oppose putting targets first' above a Tory poster that reads 'Imagine 5 more years of it' above a newspaper clipping with the headline 'Council tax bills skyrocket'Yesterday Theo Bertram, a former advisor to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, posted a tweet thread (starts here, ends here) on his work as part of Labour’s research team during the 2005 general election (the one that featured Tory slogans such as “how hard is it to keep a hospital clean?” and “it’s not racist to support limits on immigration” with the strap line “are you thinking what we’re thinking?”. Labour won a Parliamentary majority albeit with a share of the vote of just 35.2% — far less than some parties have lost elections with (for example, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party gained 40% of the vote in this past election but still lost). The Tories under Michael Howard appealed to their Daily Mail-reading base, as they had in 2001 but with even more nastiness, and still lost, their anti-immigration stance being exposed when it was revealed that Michael Howard’s dad was an illegal immigrant from Romania, saved from deportation (and likely later death in the Nazi concentration camps) by the intervention of a Labour MP.

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