Christmas, converts and that fatwa

Just before last Christmas, the Egyptian Muslim scholar (currently Grand Mufti of Egypt), Ali Gomaa (or Ali Jumu’ah) replied to a question from someone whose mother had left Islam, as to whether he and his brother should spend Christmas with her, as she would otherwise have nobody to spend the time with. The mother had continued to serve her sons halaal meat when they visited and greeted them at Eid. The shaikh responded by emphasising the importance of maintaining family ties, including with non-Muslim family members, condemning what he calls “the unauthentic opinions of some self claimed scholars who equate spending time with one’s non Muslim family during Christmas and the like with shirk or polytheism”, and claiming that Islam is “an open system” and that Muslims respect and honour all the Prophets (peace be up on them) including Jesus, and that “there is no legal impediment to participating in celebrating the birth of Jesus (peace be upon him)”. Other scholars have rebutted his opinion, the reply by Shaikh Muhammad Daniel having been shared the most, along with some Hanafi opinions quoted by Abdus-Shakur Brooks.

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Simon Wessely: more sinning than sinned against

Picture of Simon WesselyIn the current New Year honours, Professor Simon Wessely has received a knighthood and will henceforth be known as Professor Sir Simon Wessely. In this he joins the company of Roy Meadow, the doctor who testified against various mothers who had lost multiple babies to cot death, leading to at least three of them being jailed for murder until his errors were unveiled by the BBC. It has already been commented that the knighthood also went to Jimmy Savile, recently exposed (albeit posthumously) as a prolific sex offender, and that the awarding of knighthoods to pop stars and to athletes who have only just proved themselves somewhat devalues them. However, professors, civil servants, military officers and the like do not get knighthoods unless they really are seen as distinguised, so this demonstrates that Wessely is very much an establishment figure.

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Christian persecution campaigners lose Sunday work case

Picture of Paul Diamond, addressing a 'pro-family' rally in MassachusettsChristians have no right to refuse to work on Sundays, rules judge - Telegraph

This is the latest appeal in the case of Celestine Mba, a former carer for children with learning disabilities in south-west London, who had resigned from her job when the management refused to allow her every Sunday off to go to her Baptist church. (She claims they initially did, then changed their minds.) She has now lost the appeal, with the judges citing the fact that most Christians did not demand to have every Sunday off and thus there was no reason for her to. The Telegraph’s report, which seems to rely heavily on material from various “Christian rights” campaigners including the “Christian Legal Centre” which brought this case, alleges that various other faith groups have secured accommodations, such as the right to wear a bangle for Sikh women or the right for Muslims to attend prayers or wear the hijab, a standard plank of the Christian persecution campaigners’ case.

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Tories have lost 2015 already, says Conservative Home editor

Picture of Paul Goodman, a white man with grey hair wearing a dark-coloured suit, a white shirt and blue tie. To his left is what looks like a school display from an Islamic school, with Arabic writing.This article has been appearing in my Twitter feed a lot this morning; it’s by the executive editor of ConservativeHome (and former MP for Wycome in Buckinghamshire), Paul Goodman, and predicts that 2015 is already lost for the Tories and the likely outcome is a Labour-led government. The reasons are mainly that the Left is united as Respect has failed to take off and left-wing Lib Dem voters have defected en masse back to Labour, while the Tories’ vote is being eaten away by UKIP. He also claims that the Tories need to increase their party’s share of the vote by four points or more, which no governing party has ever managed to do. I think the Left should beware of crowing over this article which has appeared nearly two-and-a-half years before the final date for any 2015 election.

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Will Huntingdon toll scheme drive traffic away?

Picture of a dual carriageway full of cars and trucks, and a green direction sign on the leftBBC News - Road pricing: More new roads could be funded by tolls

The battle goes on to find a way to fund a supposedly much-needed upgrade to the A14 in Cambridgeshire, which is a heavily-used cross-country dual carriageway that has two roundabouts in the middle of it, from when that bit of it was just a regional main road from Cambridge to Kettering. The government seems to favour contracting it out to a private company which will fund it through a toll. They seem not to remember the problems that toll roads have always had in this country: people avoid them.

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The problem with ‘privilege’ (and the anti-cuts movement)

The problem with privilege-checking by Tom Midlane (from the New Statesman website)

I had this article tweeted at me earlier this week and the accompanying comment read “Privilege is a myth. Guess before you read whether it’s written by someone with a lot of it”. Actually, the article doesn’t say privilege is a myth, just that sections of the progressive Left have become tangled up in obsessive “privilege checking” while the Right gets on with cutting the NHS and other public services and benefits:

In October Ariel Meadow Stallings, founder of Offbeat Empire (a series of alternative lifestyle blogs), wrote a brilliant blog entitled “Liberal bullying: privilege-checking and semantics-scolding as internet sport”. Meadow Stallings diagnosed the problem as progressives being over-zealous in their privilege-checking and turning their fire on each other, but personally I’m not so sure. While the idea is obviously born out of honourable intentions, I believe the whole discourse around privilege is inherently destructive – at best, a colossal distraction, and at worst a means of turning us all into self-appointed moral guardians out to aggressively police even fellow travellers’ speech and behaviour.

Why does this matter, you ask? The answer is simple: it matters because privilege-checking has thoroughly infected progressive thought. While large swathes of the left are obsessively pouncing on verbal slips on Twitter, the right are acting: systematically deconstructing not just the welfare state, but the state itself.

Privilege-checking plays into the dangerous postmodern fallacy that we can only understand things we have direct experience of. In place of concepts like empathy and imagination, which help us recognise our shared humanity, it atomises us into a series of ever-smaller taxonomical groups: working class transsexual, disabled black woman, heteronormative male.

The NS posted a response from Zoe Stavri (AKA Stavvers) here.

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Kesgrave Hall abuse in the Guardian

Picture of Kesgrave Hall, a yellowish Georgian building surrounded by hills and woodsFormer pupils call for new investigation into abuse claims at Suffolk school | Society | The Guardian

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a journalist from the Guardian, Josh Halliday, who saw a blog post I made in response to the story of Jimmy Savile’s alleged abuse at Duncroft school in the 1970s, and contacted me and a number of other boys who had suffered or witnessed abuse at my school, Kesgrave Hall, in the late 1980s. The story is on page 24 of today’s print edition, and there is an accompanying piece and a video focussing on one particular victim’s story (not mine). Halliday has interviewed a number of former pupils, including me and one of my friends from the same form, and a few older boys (nobody younger than me), and also two former headmasters but no other staff (a director refused to comment). The piece does reflect the violent atmosphere at the school but in some cases trivialises it, and the headmaster’s response is frankly ludicrous.

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There’s no “war” on Britain’s roads

Last Wednesday there was a programme on BBC1 called “The War on Britain’s Roads”, which was based on footage shot from cyclists’ helmets, and included various encounters with dangerous drivers and cyclists and confrontations that sometimes resulted, including a physical assault. They also interviewed a policeman who deals with cycling-related offences and confrontations as well as a woman whose daughter was killed by a truck driver making a left turn. There was a truck driver and a cab driver interviewed as well as two of the cycle filmers, and there was also the usual bellyaching about cyclists jumping red lights and how that could get them killed. It was obvious, though, that the major threat to cyclists’ safety came from aggressive car drivers and negligent truck drivers.

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Ayn van Dyk: beginning of the happy ending

Picture of Ayn van Dyk, a 9-year-old (at the time of this photo) white girl with short blonde hair, wearing a pink top and trousers, the top with grey sleeves and a white CND-type logo on it. She is sitting on a green sofa with a set of brightly-coloured soft toys behind it.This past week I heard some very happy news from the family of Ayn van Dyk, the young autistic Canadian girl who was seized from her home by social workers in British Columbia after a brief wandering incident. Last Tuesday her father signed an agreement with the department to allow Ayn to return home in the next couple of months. This is an agreement that had been suggested about a year ago, but to which they have finally agreed, just as her case was about to go to trial. This means it is highly unlikely that she will be back home for her birthday, which is this month, or Christmas, but she is likely to return in January or February. (More: Hellcat Trish.)

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Labour ‘expels councillors’ who campaigned for rival

A picture of a Sunday market in Brick Lane, part of the area involved in this dispute. Labour party expels councillors who ‘supported rival’ (BBC News; more at The Wharf)

This report is about three former Labour councillors who were expelled from the party in east London for supporting an independent candidate, Gulam Rabbani, in a council by-election in Spitalfields in April 2012. The party has a policy of expelling any member who stands against a Labour candidate in any election or supports a rival candidate in any way. In recent years, in some areas, they have policed this quite ruthlessly, with people expelled in south Wales even for writing a letter to a paper giving a link to a website on tactical voting.

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Final Overground section opens; BBC mourns ‘loss’

A view from a train driver's cab, showing trees to the left, trackbed in front and a block of flats behind it.Tomrrow (Sunday) the last section of the London ‘Overground’ (a mostly overground but partly underground group of railway services which run mostly just outside central London) is opening; this is a line from Clapham Junction to Surrey Quays, where it joins the old East London line which is already operating Overground services from Islington to Croydon via Whitechapel. No new station is opening — the line runs through Clapham, Camberwell and Peckham, and there is one bit of line which has been built across the industrial area north-east of Peckham. This provides an important link from south-east London to the Docklands, but it also ends the Victoria to London Bridge service which has been running, says the BBC, since 1867.

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Punish bad nurses, but don’t let the bosses off the hook

Picture of Kane Gorny, a young man with a tube in his nose wearing a hospital gown, hugging his mother. He died because of negligence at St George's hospital, LondonLast Wednesday the secretary of state for health, Jeremy Hunt, made a speech at the King’s Fund on “the quality of care”, in which he alleged, among other things, that there had been a “normalisation of cruelty” and gave as examples “patients left to lie in their own excrement in Stafford Hospital”, “the residents kicked, punched, humiliated, dragged by their hair, forced through cold showers at Winterbourne View”, “the elderly woman with dementia repeatedly punched and slapped at Ash Court care home” and “the cancer patient at St George’s, Tooting, who lost a third of his body fluid, desperately ringing the police for help, because staff didn’t listen or check his medical records”. He claimed that this culture of cruelty was “perhaps the biggest problem of all facing the NHS”, apparently ignorant of the fact that the second and third of these examples were not in NHS facilities at all — a pretty staggering oversight.

Ellie Mae O’Hagan, in yesterday’s Guardian, argues that nurses really haven’t stopped caring as it has become fashionable to claim; nursing is a low-status, lower-middle-class profession and any attempt to raise its status is met with ridicule, as with the common perception that degree nurses are “too posh to wash”. She also notes that when there is misconduct in a public institution it is deemed to be a sign of a disease in the system, while when the institution is private, it is “a few bad apples”, and that “when a government wants to dismantle a beloved institution, it is expedient to suggest that it is suffering from a malignancy”, as others have observed about the flurry of horror stories about cruel nurses — and it seems to be always nurses and never doctors). In fact, few people who are not extremely rich can afford to support its dismantling.

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Leveson: what about the content?

Picture of Lord Leveson, chairman of the Leveson inquiry into the British pressLast week the Leveson inquiry finally reported, and the key points can be found here, but they include a new independent regulator backed by statute but independent of government and the industry, with membership not compulsory but non-members monitored by Ofcom; the watchdog should have the power to fine a newspaper up to 1% of turnover or £1m, whichever is smaller, with “sufficient powers of investigation”, a libel resolution unit, and possibly a First Amendment-style law. David Cameron immediately opposed statute-backed regulation, claiming that it would “mean for the first time we have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into law of the land”. He is opposed in this by Labour, the Lib Dems and much of the Tory party as well as some of those who reported to the inquiry about their experience of press intrusion, phone hacking etc., but supported by the Tories in his cabinet (and, of course, the commercial media).

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Good enough for Olympians, good enough for the plebs

Picture of a dark-coloured sheep in a grassy field next to a stream in a valleyBBC News - Lancashire Muslims Halal school dinner boycott call

The Lancashire Council of Mosques has advised Muslim parents in the county to boycott the new ‘halaal’ dinners being offered to their children by the local council in the schools because the meat comes from animals which were stunned before slaughter (press release here in PDF). The council previously had an arrangement with another supplier, which it terminated after an inspection, but council leader Geoff Driver insisted that the council would not supply meat from non-stunned animals and that the suppliers were accredited by the same body that certified meat for the Olympics last year.

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What’s this? Hope Not Hate endorsing racism?

Picture of Anjum Chouday, the leader of al-Muhajiroun, speaking into a microphoneHope Not Hate has reproduced an article by Shiraz Maher from the Spectator, titled “Few would shed tears if Britain barred Anjem Choudary from returning”. Choudary is currently in Pakistan attending a conference of extremists at the Red Mosque in Lahore, where he is expected to issue a “fatwa” (which is not qualified to do, but anyway) against the teenage education activist Malala Yousufzai, who was recently shot by the Pakistani Taliban and is receiving treatment in the UK. He quotes a number of local religious leaders and secular columnists who say that Choudary should be barred from entering Pakistan, but concludes by referring to Choudary’s “spritual leader” Omar Bakri Muhammad who left “shortly after 7/7 after abusing our hospitality for years”.

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What don’t we know about the UKIP fostering case?

Picture of Joyce Thacker of Rotherham children's services, a white woman with fairly short, dark hair wearing a blue and white check jacket with black ruffles at the collarA number of newspapers, and the BBC, have reported today that a foster family from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, have had three children removed from their care allegedly becuase they are members of the UK Independence Party, which supports withdrawal from the European Union and a restriction on immigration, especially from eastern Europe. The children had been placed with them on an emergency basis in September, and according to Joyce Thacker of the borough council, the removal of the children from that couple’s care was planned and not sudden as they allege. The council has also been criticised by the courts for not meeting the children’s “cultural and ethnic needs”. (More: Zarathustra @ Not So Big Society, Same Difference, Simon Wilson (Tory candidate in Rotherham by-election).)

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Bishops are not mere middle management

Picture of Rowan Williams, outgoing archbishop of Canterbury, a balding white man with a white beard, with a black robe and a barely visible white 'dog collar' insertI’ve been pretty astounded at the tone of the response to the Church of England’s General Synod’s decision to reject the appointment of female bishops on Wednesday. The motion had been supported by the incoming and outgoing Archbishops of Canterbury and passed by two of the three houses — the Bishops and Clergy — but rejected by the Laity. This has led to the suggestion that the church is out of step with the rest of British society, almost making itself irrelevant, and that if it continues to refuse, its 26 bishops who sit in the House of Lords should no longer be allowed to do so. Rowan Williams (right), the outgoing archbishop of Canterbury, articulated the view of “irrelevance” particularly vociferously.

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Lynton and Boris – Islamophobia isn’t news

Front page of the Mail on Sunday, with headline reading "PM's new fixer in racist rant at Muslims"Islamophobia Watch - Documenting anti Muslim bigotry - Lynton Crosby told Boris Johnson not to waste his time chasing votes from ‘f***ing Muslims’

Lynton Crosby is the Australian electioneer who ran the campaign that saw John Howard elected for four terms in office there, mostly on anti-immigration platforms. He also ran Boris Johnson’s mayoral campaign in 2008, and the Daily Mail’s report the above Islamophobia Watch entry is based on is actually about something Crosby is alleged to have said when he was running that campaign. Crosby and Johnson today both said they had no recollection of this alleged incident, which is understandable even if he did say them, because such things tend to stick in the minds of those who hear them but don’t agree with them.

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Casualty, Morquio syndrome and incest

A couple consisting of a young white man and an older white woman in a hospital bed. Yet again, Casualty gets the medical facts wrong in one of their plotlines. This time the condition involved was Morquio syndrome (pronounced Morkio), a genetic disorder which results in dwarfism, spinal defects and visual impairment. The condition is recessive and both parents have to carry the gene for the child to have the condition, but Casualty extrapolated from that to imply that the parents were usually related, and in this story the parents turned out to be brother and sister and not know it. (More: Normal Plus Wheelchair, written by someone with Morquio which gives far more detail than I have.)

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The reach of Wessely’s theories

Picture of Lynn Gilderdale, a young white woman lying in a hospital bed. She is wearing a light blue nightgown, has a feeding tube in her nose and Hickman lines on her chest.Last Friday I wrote here about Simon Wessely, the psychiatric professor at King’s College Hospital in London who is notorious for promoting psychological theories about certain chronic illnesses, won an award for “courage” presented by an organisation he is on the board of. The organisation was Sense About Science, which claims to champion sound science over “dodgy science” as well as campaigning for the rights of scientists (such as by campaigning to reform libel laws so that scientists are not caught up in libel suits as a result of debate). I actually know of a few people in the chronic illness community who are strong supporters of most of what SAS stand for, and this made their endorsement of Wessely all the more disappointing to these people. However, a conversation with an activist friend last Thursday brought home how much damage Wessely’s theories have really done.

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