London Bravanese mosque firebombed

Police probe mosque blaze amid fears 'firebomb attack' is Woolwich revenge - London Evening Standard

Picture of a burned-out red-brick building with yellow tape around it, with a fire engine and ladder to the right and houses behind

Last night a mosque in Muswell Hill, north London, was firebombed and the letters “EDL” were spray-painted onto the burned-out remains. Who exactly might have done this is still being investigated, and the fact that the EDL’s initials were sprayed on it doesn’t mean it was them, as opposed to a sympathiser. The mosque is next to houses, which meant that lives could have been endangered even if nobody was in the building, and is also very close to a primary school.

My experience with the Bravanese community (which originates from Brava or Baraawe in southern Somalia) is that they are far removed from extremism: they are traditional Sufi-type Muslims who have held out against the spread of “salafism” in the Somali community, let alone jihadi extremism. This is not to say that no Bravanese Muslim has ever become an extremist (although the killers of Lee Rigby were not even Somali and were not from that area), but it is highly unlikely that extremist ideas were being preached there. It is likely that the common denominator was race: most Somalis are black, like the two men of Nigerian origin who committed the Woolwich murder.

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Britain’s mosques are not a ‘swamp’

As the dust settles on the Woolwich murder, so the vultures are starting to circle and the ground is being prepared for generalised attacks on the Muslim community, however much it was made clear that ordinary Muslims condemn the murder and were not responsible for it. The Sun has another front-page story about a video’ed “rant” (meaning a lecture or speech) given by Anjem Choudary in an office in London (the same report was reproduced in the Evening Standard); Tony Blair last weekend wrote in the Mail on Sunday that the “ideology which inspired [the murder] is profound and dangerous” and that there was “not a problem with Islam” but “within Islam”, contrasting “Islamists who have this exclusivist and reactionary world view” with “the modern-minded … who hated the old oppression by corrupt dictators and who hate the new oppression by religious fanatics”, as if there were no in-betweens. Glasgow Labour MP Tom Harris (a member of Labour Friends of Israel) dismisses the idea that the EDL are bigger threat to “our way of life” than Islamists when they “can barely spell ‘fascist’”, as if you need to be able to spell to beat someone up and form a mass to cause enormous disruption and menace the public. Finally, David Cameron also harped on the “extremist ideology that perverts and warps Islam” and claimed that “it is not simply enough to target and go after violent extremists after they’ve become violent. We have to drain the swamp in which they inhabit”, referring to university campuses, mosques and madrassas.

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No, Google can’t censor all the child porn

Front page from the Daily Mail, featuring the headling "What will it take for Google to block child porn?" with a picture of Mark Bridger, the murderer of April JonesIn the wake of the conviction of Mark Bridger yesterday for killing April Jones, a 5-year-old girl he kidnapped from a green on a housing estate in Machynlleth, mid Wales, last year, the focus has been on his fondness for child and child-abuse pornography which was found on his computer (along with other abusive images and film, including a rape scene from a film which had been copied to a video tape without the rest of the film). The Daily Mail led with the headline “What will it take for Google to block child porn?”, claiming that Bridger had searched the network for phrases like “naked five-year-old girls’, ‘nudism five-year-olds’ and ‘pictures of naked virgin teens’”, and that “child safety charities, including the NSPCC, demanded that the internet giants introduce immediate controls to stop paedophiles gaining access to child pornography”:

John Carr of the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety said: ‘If these images were not available on the internet then men like Hazell and Bridger might not go on to kill.

‘We cannot blame the internet for these people but it has opened pathways that lead them on to violent pornography and paedophile material.’

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Anjem Choudary is not Gerry Adams

Picture of Anjem Choudary, a man of south Asian apperance wearing a white robe with a black and white Shahada flag behind him.In the wake of last week’s Woolwich stabbing, there have been renewed calls to ban “hate preachers” from appearing on TV, most notably Anjem Choudary, the leader of al-Muhajiroun. Muslims, including myself, have for years called for him (and Omar Bakri before him) not to be given the oxygen of publicity, because he has only a tiny following and his stunts are almost always harmful to the Muslim community he purports to represent, yet he was presented as the voice of radical Islam to the nation, mostly by the right-wing tabloids. This week, two high-profile voices have been raised against banning him from TV: first Jack Straw, who compared the idea to the “IRA broadcasting ban” of the 1980s (which was easily circumvented by having an actor read the words of a Sinn Fein politician, usually Gerry Adams), and today David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, who said on the BBC’s PM programme last night on Radio 4, that “it’s important to give these people a hard time and to expose to the audience the sort of things they have been saying when they have not been wearing a tie in the television studio”. (You can hear the programme here until next Wednesday.)

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What’s an imam to do?

Picture of Michael Adebolajo, a Black African man wearing a white cap and robe with a black and white checked Palestinian-style scarf round his neck, in front of Anjum Choudhary, a South Asian man with a beard wearing a black jacket, who is speaking into a microphoneLast Friday at 1pm, Jeremy Vine had a slot about Islam and Muslims on his talk show on BBC Radio 2 — nice timing. This was, of course, prompted by the brutal murder of a soldier in Woolwich last Wednesday. Who should turn up on his show this time than Taj Hargey, yet again, as well as Usama Hasan from the Quilliam Foundation. The former spouted his usual rubbish, blaming “mullahs” who teach standard Islamic beliefs for the deranged behaviour of the two men who were members of al-Muhajiroun but struck out on their own. Usama Hasan told a slightly more interesting story about how he fought in the jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s before beginning his “path to moderate Islam” after 9/11. There were, of course, no other guests representing the Muslim community. The programme can be found here and the slot starts 1hr 10mins in.

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Grooming: Loss of liberty does not equal safety

Letters: We need an inquiry into sex abuse cases | Society | The Guardian

This letter from Anthony Stansfeld of Thames Valley police appeared in yesterday’s Guardian, and attributes the grooming and rape of girls in Oxford and elsewhere to the lack of supervision and safeguarding:

The problem is not only did people look the other way, but that the rules under which they operate can make safeguarding extremely difficult – that is what an inquiry needs to look into.

How can a pre-teenage girl in social care go missing 126 times? The answer is that her right to go to town and be groomed, then abused and raped, seems to have been regarded as more important than her being safeguarded. Until this is sorted out it is difficult for social services to do their job properly. Social care for pre-age-of-consent children must be looked into and proper rules established that makes their safeguarding easier.

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Woolwich knife attack is not terrorism

Yesterday a British soldier was attacked by two men with butchers’ knives on a street in Woolwich, south-east London, and killed in broad daylight in public view near to a primary school not long before the end of the school day. The men made no attempt to flee, one of them making a political statement to a passer-by’s camera or mobile phone, the footage of which was released to the press. When the police finally arrived, they then made to attack the police but were both shot and are now in separate hospitals. The area around the scene of the crime (which is on part of the South Circular Road, a major route for trucks) is still closed off. Last night the government’s emergency committee, known as COBRA, was meeting and the incident was said to be being treated as a “terrorist incident”. The Daily Mail has a pretty comprehensive coverage of the incident, along with some gratuitous sideswipes at local minority populations (including the clear images of two Black women walking past the attacker, in obvious contrast with the white woman who confronted him). Note: a picture of the attacker (taken from the video footage) is over the fold. (More: Half a Giraffe, The Goldfish on phony mental health speculations, Scriptonite Daily.)

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Taj Hargey is wrong on grooming

Picture of Taj HargeyLast week seven men from Oxford were found guilty of various sexual offences, including rape, for ‘grooming’ young girls and ultimately raping and allowing other men to rape them. Many of them were in local authority care and others (as in Rochdale) were placed in care by their parents in an attempt to stop the abuse that they were complaining about, but carers refused to listen to the girls’ and their parents’ complaints, in one case telling one of the victims that it was ‘inappropriate’ to talk about the issue at that time. On Wednesday’s Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2, he had two guests: John Brown of the NSPCC’s sexual abuse programme, and Taj Hargey, an “imam” that the media commonly wheels out to issue sweeping negative generalisations about Muslims. The programme can be listened to here until next Wednesday and is the first feature (which starts after Michael Jackson’s Thriller ends).

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Hawking, the boycott and the Israeli CPU

Picture of Stephen Hawking, an elderly white man in a wheelchair, with his daughter Lucy Hawking, a white woman wearing a grey tight-fitting top and black trousers, with a picture of the earth on a black background behind him.Last week Professor Stephen Hawking pulled out of a conference in Israel, reportedly as part of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions on the grounds of it operating an Apartheid-type regime against its Palestinian subjects. The decision prompted a number of Israeli sympathisers to reassess their views of Hawking from being a genius who triumphed over adversity to being a “stupid cripple” who should hurry up and die, or similar, but one Israeli law firm recommended that Hawking change the processor he uses in his tablet to communicate, namely the Intel Core i7 which is developed at an Intel base in Israel. There are a number of reasons why the demand represents the ignorance and bias of those making it.

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The British Social Model of Disability and its drawbacks

“I’m not a ‘person with a disablity’, I’m a disabled person” (from xojane by Lisa Egan)

Recently I’ve noticed that a number of blogs by disabled people in the UK insist on referring to themselves, and similarly affected people, as “disabled people” rather than “people with disabilities”, the internationally recognised term which was commonly used in the UK until fairly recently, and that this term has become common (though not used consistently) in organisations such as government departments and student unions. The theory behind this is that the former term reflects a “social model” in which disability is the product of social barriers rather than a person’s physical impairments — the latter being termed the “medical model” in which disability is a medical problem to be cured, if possible. I see several problems with this use of language: it puts the British disability community out of step with those abroad, it regularly causes misunderstandings and misrepresentations, it is not inclusive, and is a false dichotomy in which an ideal model is presented in opposition to a composite of the worst disablist attitudes. (More: Emma’s Hope Book.)

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Let’s not over-hype the UKIP ‘phenomenon’

Yesterday there were local elections in large parts of the UK and the news reported the fact that UKIP had made significant gains, with their number of councillors rising from eight to 147 and both the Tories and Liberal Democrats losing huge numbers (335 and 124 respectively). You can find the full results (including a clickable version of the map on the right) here among other places, and it is noticeable that three rural councils in the western Midlands and three in eastern England have gone grey for ‘no overall control’. In some of these places, the Tories could form an alliance with UKIP to control the council, but not all of them — in others (e.g. Gloucestershire), the Liberal Democrats are still the second party. The press made the UKIP surge the story because it’s new; what they do not report is what has not changed, and this reporting makes UKIP look more important than they really are.

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Jordan Sheard’s sentence will be appealed

Picture of Stephen SimpsonI received a letter today from the Attorney General’s office, in response to an open letter I had sent (which many readers of this blog had signed) regarding the sentence of Jordan Sheard, who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for the killing of Stephen Simpson at a party in June 2012. The letter was dated 18th April, so it may well have been sitting in our mailbox for a couple of weeks (we tend to pull letters out of the top of it rather than open it up), and this news has already appeared in the local media in Sheffield. The letter says that the Attorney General (Dominic Grieve, QC MP) has decided to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal, where it will be heard by three Court of Appeal judges who will decide whether or not to increase the sentence.

I am very pleased with this news: three and a half years is a derisory sentence for causing a brutal death to a vulnerable man. It is still a mystery that he was not charged with murder.

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Rosa Monckton, learning disabilities and independence

A graphic with a grid on which man-like figures are displayed in each square, one of which has a stick and another is replaced by a wheelchair symbolThis post is part of Blogging Against Disabilism Day 2013

Rosa Monckton, as I have written on this page before, is an extremely privileged lady. I do not mean privilege as in white or, needless to say, male privilege. I mean she has enormous advantages: a lot of money, very powerful political connections and the ear of the national media. Not for her an article published in an obscure corner of the Daily Mail website, no, this woman can get a BBC documentary produced to air her views. She was a friend of Princess Di, she’s married to the former editor of the Sunday Telegraph who is also the son of a cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher. Her views are taken seriously, particularly when they concern something which is no doubt very dear to her: the welfare of people with learning disabilities. Like her daughter, Domenica, who has Down’s syndrome. Unfortunately, she is somewhat set in her ways, not very fond of people with such disabilities having personal autonomy, and her articles bring out the prejudice in a lot of readers, such as the comment posted below her most recent lengthy article in the Daily Mail:

Thank you for highlighting this…independent living didn’t work before it won’t work again, nothing has changed people with downs are children and the do gooders need to get to grips with that ,not promoting human rights on the vulnerable people that are at risk..at the bottom of this it purely down to finances …yet again.

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Can’t eat on £1 a day? Cheat!

A bag of Waitrose's "Love Life" soup mix containing barley, yellow and green split peas, marrowfat peas, lentils and brown riceBBC News - How to eat healthily on £1 a day

This rather hilarious article represents a BBC journalist’s ostensible attempt to live on £1 worth of food a day. You’ll notice that the food is rather appetising and colourful and looks expensive. A brief look at the price lists reveal that it was in fact more expensive than the single-serving cost and that the journalist cheated, one ingredient from the first meal alone blowing his daily budget and the total spend (of that meal alone, remember) coming to £8.27. The article is an insult to those who really do have to live on a tiny amount of food a day. (More: Aethelred the Unread, Potato Skin Belt, The Plan.)

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Anti-vaxers, ME and desperate people

A cover of a book titled "No Vaccines for Me" by Kathleen Dunkelberger. It shows a young boy holding off a freaky-looking doctor with a white coat holding a syringe. In the background a cupboard says "Vaccines" accompanies by dollar signs.Recently there has been a major outbreak of measles in South Wales, thought to be largely the result of large numbers of parents not getting their children vaccinated during the MMR scare of 1998. Despite the scare, and its author, having been utterly discredited in the years since, there remains an industry seeking to ‘cure’ autism through purging the body of mercury, supposedly the agent (delivered in the MMR vaccine) that caused the condition. It’s not only autism: chronic illnesses in general are held up as reasons not to vaccinate and anyone with a chronic illness apparently triggered by a vaccine is seen as an easy mark, as I saw a couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine, who has severe ME, sought the advice of an anti-vaccine group on Facebook (which also has its own website) to “detox” from the chemical in a vaccine she received which triggered her illness.

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Innocent till proven guilty? Not if it’s rape

Rolf HarrisRecently you may have heard that Rolf Harris, a well-known Australian entertainer who has been on the TV for one purpose or another (and in the pop charts occasionally) since the 1960s, was taken in for questioning over a historic accusation of a sex offence of some sort, and released on police bail (i.e. he has yet to be charged with anything, let alone convicted). There is a post here on a feminist blog I read occasionally, which makes the not unreasonable point that Harris having been arrested hasn’t ruined anyone’s childhood even if it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth — it’s those who were sexually abused whose childhoods were ruined. I made the point in a comment that actually, Harris hasn’t been charged, let alone convicted, and that we do not know anything about the claims — where and when the alleged offence happened, for example. Stavvers (the blog owner) called my comment a “non-sequitur” which “smacks of being linked to this obsessive focus on perpetrators rather than survivors”. Another comment, however, from one “rachel scotland”, really took the biscuit:

I’m going to say this one more time today:

“Innocent until proven guilty” isn’t meant for individuals and it’s utterly disingenuous when people pretend it is.

People can (should) assume people are guilty simply on the word of the victim. That simple. There’s no philosophical victory to be won here over who is the most magnanimous towards accused rapists, or who’s the most even-handed with their “listening to both sides” of a sexual assault.

When someone tells you they were raped, you believe them. “Innocent until proven guilty” when you are not a fucking judge means “I don’t want to believe the victim”.

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Longer school times are not child-friendly

Picture of a yellowish Georgian building with sloped lawns and a driveway in the foregroundMichael Gove proposes longer school day and shorter holidays | Politics | guardian.co.uk

Michael Gove, the current education secretary, has announced extended school days and longer terms, allowing schools to stay open until 4:30pm and reduce the length of the summer holidays to four weeks. He has given two reasons: one being that British children are supposedly being left behind by those in Asia who already have longer days and shorter holidays, and the other being that the current pattern is out of date, not taking into account the fact that there will be nobody to pick many children up at 3pm as there were in the past. Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has pointed out that private schools have a holiday that is two weeks longer in the summer than state schools and do not apparently feel any need to change. David Priestland, in today’s Guardian, notes that Gove has already dismissed the reactions of experts, as free-market ideologues (both Tory and Labour) have done for the past 35 years, and will carry on and do what he thinks is right.

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Freedom for Jenny Hatch

Picture of two white women, one with a face characteristic of Down's syndrome, against a backdrop of an oak-panelled wall with pictures on itMargaret Jean “Jenny” Hatch is an American woman, aged 29, with Down’s syndrome. Until early last year, she lived independently in Newport News, Virginia, and had been working in her friends’ store. She had an active social life and according to the Quality Trust for Individuals for Disabilities, an organisation which campaigns for the rights of people with developmental disabilities, counted “past and present members of the Newport News City Council and the Virginia General Assembly” among her friends. In March 2012 she was involved in a road accident while cycling, and briefly moved in with her friends but because of a dispute over who was to pay for her care, she was forced to move into a “congregate setting”, i.e. a “group home” (or care home as we call it here in the UK), which confiscated her phone and computer, rendering her unable to communicate with her friends. Since then, her mother and stepfather have petitioned for guardianship and have insisted that she remains in the “home” against her wishes. Her mother acquired temporary guardianship in February and her case comes to trial early next month. (I first heard about this story through the blog of Rachel Cohen-Rottenburg, Disability and Representation, and a more detailed story, as of last November, is there.)

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Ed Balls

Now that I’ve got your attention …

There’s currently a measles outbreak in South Wales, the reason for which is that a lot of parents didn’t vaccinate their children with the MMR vaccine during the late 90s and early 2000s when the scare produced by Andrew Wakefield’s discredited and biased research was at its height. Many parents thought that these illnesses were mild, transient things that all children got and couldn’t do you any harm, least of all brain damage. In fact, measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) can cause encephalitis, which can lead to brain damage and death.

A boy with mumps, from WikimediaIf you’re an adult male who hasn’t had any children yet, mumps can harm you particularly — it causes inflammation of the testicles and that can make you sterile. So if you didn’t get vaccinated when you were a child, you are well-advised to go and get it done now. If you don’t have strong counter-indications (i.e. medical reasons not to get vaccinated) and you are healthy, you should get vaccinated because others who can’t rely on others’ immunity to stay clear of these diseases themselves (this is called herd immunity, and when I mentioned this to someone on Facebook, she haughtily told me “I’m not a heffer [sic] to be herded”, a prime example of the cluelessness of anti-vaccination activists).

I’ve mentioned some scare stories and misconceptions about vaccines and ME on this blog in the past. Although there have been cases of ME being triggered by vaccines, it can also be triggered by infections including mumps. Read the story of Emily Collingridge then put that scare story to the back of your mind.

(And here is the relevance of the title, if you were wondering. Image source: Wikipedia.)

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Thatcher cannot be judged on the 1970s

The panel for the 11th April 2013 Question Time: Menzies Campbell, Polly Toynbee, Kenneth Clarke, presenter David Dimbleby, David Blunkett and Charles MooreBBC Question Time from Finchley, north London, 11th April 2013 (available in UK until 11th April 2014)

Last night the BBC’s weekly Question Time programme was filmed in Finchley, the area of north London represented for more than thirty years by Margaret Thatcher, and focussed on her legacy, featuring Polly Toynbee (a Guardian columnist who was a member of the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s), David Blunkett, Charles Moore (former editor of the Daily Telegraph and Thatcher’s biographer), Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, and Kenneth Clarke, who served as a cabinet minister throughout Thatcher’s time in office. A stark distinction was obvious: those who lauded Thatcher talked about the past, the 1970s, before she came to power, and those who were against her usually talked about the time during and after.

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