Gender, ‘censorship’ and campus free speech

Black and white picture of Germaine Greer, an older white woman wearing a black top, holding a glass of some drink in her handLast Sunday there was a letter in the Observer, the Sunday sister paper to the Guardian, from a long list of people (the principal signatories being Beatrix Campbell and Deborah Cameron; the others appeared only on the website) protesting against the censorship of opinions at British universities, principally those “whose views are deemed ‘transphobic’ or ‘whorephobic’”:

Last month, there were calls for the Cambridge Union to withdraw a speaking invitation to Germaine Greer; then the Green party came under pressure to repudiate the philosophy lecturer Rupert Read after he questioned the arguments put forward by some trans-activists. The feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel has been “no-platformed” by the National Union of Students for several years.

“No platforming” used to be a tactic used against self-proclaimed fascists and Holocaust-deniers. But today it is being used to prevent the expression of feminist arguments critical of the sex industry and of some demands made by trans activists. The feminists who hold these views have never advocated or engaged in violence against any group of people. Yet it is argued that the mere presence of anyone said to hold those views is a threat to a protected minority group’s safety.

The overreach of “no platform” policies is something I have been periodically campaigning against on this blog for years, as such policies have been used to silence speakers hostile to Israel or who espouse other views which go against fashionable liberal opinion. “No platform” was previously reserved for racists and fascists; in this day and age, they are used against any group that allegedly makes another group feel threatened. Racists and fascists were violent, as are the EDL whose leader has also been the focus of “no platform” policies; the same cannot be said of most radical feminists. I opposed the “no platform” policy against Julie Bindel last October, and my position has not changed. (More: Louise Pennington, Stavvers, Victoria Brownworth. A letter in response was published in today’s edition.)

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Where were you?

Today the Guardian published a long article on the late Lucy Glennon, who wrote for the paper, most memorably about her condition (epidermolysis bullosa or EB), but also about food and about the effects of cuts to disability benefits on the people who relied on them. Some friends of mine who knew Lucy have noted that under the online copy of today’s feature there are a number of comments calling her ‘brave’, an ‘inspiration’ and similar things that are often said about disabled people, yet when Lucy was alive and was fighting to stay in London (as she needed to do), the comments were full of complaints that she was demanding special treatment at the taxpayer’s expense, and the people calling her an inspiration today did not stick up for her then.

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Review: 100 Days of UKIP

Picture of Deepa Kaur (Priyanga Burford), a young South Asian woman wearing a black suit and blue scarf round her neck, shaking hands with a white female constituentUKIP: The First 100 Days (Channel 4; viewable for next 29 days in UK only)

Last night, Channel 4 screened a programme which imagined what the first 100 days of a UKIP government would be like if it won the election outright this coming May. It follows a Sikh woman elected as a UKIP MP in Romford in Essex (on the eastern fringe of London); she is apparently the party’s first Asian MP and much is made of her background and the friction this causes with other members of her family. It uses a lot of archive footage showing real statements by various UKIP candidates and councillors, some of which in this programme had become MPs or even ministers, and ends with the MP losing out on political promotion after siding with her own community after they are disproportionately hit by a UKIP immigration clampdown. (More: TiiRoaC.)

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Of course the ‘FGM doctor’ was innocent

Last Wednesday a doctor who had been charged with inflicting FGM (female genital mutilation) on a woman in the UK was found not guilty after a trial lasting two and a half weeks and jury deliberations that lasted only 30 minutes. The doctor was one Dhanuson Dharmasena and was charged after repairing a new mother’s previously ‘closed’ genitalia after childbirth, by re-stitching an incision he had made in her FGM scar tissue to enable her to give birth. A second man, who according to earlier reports is the woman’s husband, was cleared of aiding and abetting him.

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LB on Newsnight while BBC plugs Southern Health unit

So, last night Newsnight did a feature (34min in) on the ongoing ‘effort’ to get people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour out of assessment and treatment units (ATUs), more than two years after their colleagues at Panorama exposed the abuse of patients at Winterbourne View in Bristol. They interviewed Connor Sparrowhawk’s (LB’s) mother Sara Ryan and stepdad Richard Huggins, who made the point that when they had Connor admitted to Slade House in Oxford in 2013, they took it for granted that he would be safe and did not imagine for a minute that an NHS unit would let him drown in the bath. The same day, of course, it was announced on social media (but not in the news media) that Thomas Rawnsley had died following a heart attack (and as yet unexplained injuries) in a similar type of unit in Sheffield on Sunday.

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Thomas Rawnsley (1994-2015): abuse, separation, unexplained injuries … heart attack

Updated 5th February

Picture of Thomas Rawnsley, a young white man with Down's syndrome, squatting by the side of a lakeYesterday I learned that a young man with both autism and Down’s syndrome whose family were fighting to get him out of a ‘specialist’ hospital back to his family in Bradford had died in hospital following a heart attack on Monday in the unit in Sheffield which caused massive swelling of the brain, lungs and liver. It was initially thought that he was ‘clinically gone’ as a friend put it on Monday morning, but another doctor gave a second opinion and took him to ITU, but on Tuesday it was reported that he would not make it; his life support was turned off yesterday. The young man’s name was Thomas Rawnsley, and was the subject of various news reports in 2013 and 2014 as his mother tried to stop the authorities moving him from his home area in Bradford to a hospital in Peterborough. As it is, he was given a deprivation of liberty authorisation and transferred to Sheffield last year, after having initially being promised a bespoke living placement in his local area. (More: Zoe Thompson, Same Difference, Mark Neary.)

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No rape culture except Muslim rape culture?

A woman holding a banner which reads "You raped her because her clothes provoked you? I should break your face because your stupidity provokes me".Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, author of the book Love in a Headscarf, earlier posted a link to a ridiculous article by one Liam Deacon (whose other writings are at the Huffington Post) which was briefly published on the Spectator website and is due to go live on Monday, claiming that there is no such thing as “rape culture” in popular western culture, only among “minority non-western cultures” and, in particular, Muslims. He offers the examples of the supposed reasons why the hijab is worn, the (alleged) mass rape of Yazidi women in Iraq by ISIS, the “abuse of 1400 non-Muslim girls in Rotherham by predominantly Muslim men and the presence of concubines throughout the Islamic tradition”. He also accuses feminists of being too keen to point out examples of “rape culture” among westerners but too cowardly to accuse Muslim men.

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Review: The Theory of Everything

Picture of a young man and woman playing croquet on a lawn outside a grand stone buildingThe Theory of Everything is a bio-pic of Professor Stephen Hawking, the British professor of theoretical physics and former Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge university, who is best-known for his book A Brief History of Time and for being one of the world’s most famous severely disabled people. It tells the story of his life from his days as a graduate student in Cambridge, his romance and marriage to Jane Wilde Hawking, a professor of Romance languages on whose book Travelling to Inifinity the film is based, up to just after the publication of Brief History and his divorce from Jane. It stars Eddie Redmayne as Prof Hawking and Felicity Jones, previously best known for roles in The Worst Witch, Like Crazy and the BBC radio soap The Archers, as Jane.

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“Due process”: the baneful legacy of Magna Carta

This year marks the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, the treaty which protected the rights of the Norman barons during the reign of King John, and has since become a byword for long-established rights (even those not in it) both here and in other English-speaking countries. David Cameron has been harping on its virtues while campaigning to get rid of the Human Rights Act, which provides rights associated with a modern constitution and modern notions of human rights; Melvyn Bragg recently presented a four-part series on Radio 4 about the charter and the events leading up to its sealing. In the Daily Telegraph, Peter Oborne has criticised both the series and the political celebrations, the former for ignoring a charter issued around the same time which did protect common people’s rights and for glossing over how people’s rights have been trampled by this and the last government, and the latter for being full of hypocrites who themselves trample people’s rights. There is a crucial inadequacy in Magna Carta which has survived into both law and legal discourse throughout the English-speaking world to this day, which also should be considered when promoting its virtues above that of the Human Rights Act: the satisfaction with Due Process and the notion that it is synonymous with justice.

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Message to the animal rights lobby: women aren’t vermin

These days a regular annoyance is getting an email from a petition-hosting organisation (having absent-mindedly signed up for their emails when you signed a petition once) asking you to free someone who’s been “caged” for so many years and opening the email and finding that this someone is an animal, not a human being. The other day it was a bear which had been held captive in an ice-cream parlour (?!) for some years. As someone who has been following (and sometimes participating in) the efforts to get the illegal prison at Guantánamo Bay shut down and the illegally abducted detainees sent home, or to a safe place, it’s offensive to see an animal compared to them, or to a person held when they are innocent. The animal rights lobby routinely indulge in this tactic: during the protests against live animal exports in the UK a number of years ago, one woman was seen on TV comparing them to trains taking people to the gas chambers.

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No, not “regrettable errors”. Lies. #FoxNewsFacts

Image of a St Patrick's Day parade in Birmingham, showing at its centre a white woman and two girls playing drums, with various other white people wearing Irish flags and similar regaliaFox Correction: “We Have Made Some Regrettable Errors On-Air Regarding The Muslim Population In Europe” | Video | Media Matters for America

Fox News, on which a number of ludicrous and obviously false claims about British and French cities, that there were zones and “whole cities” where non-Muslims cannot go, have been made since the Charlie Hebdo attacks, has put out an “apology” in which they “apologised” for things that actually weren’t said. You can see the video at the above link, but here’s a transcript:

A correction now: over the course of this last week, we have made some regrettable errors on air regarding the Muslim population in Europe, particularly with regard to England and France. Now this applies especially to discussions of so-called no-go zones, areas where non-Muslims allegedly aren’t allowed in, and police supposedly won’t go. To be clear, there is no formal designation of these zones in either country and no credible information to support the assertion that there are specific areas in these countries that exclude individuals solely on the basis of their religion. There are certainly areas of high crime in Europe, as there are in the United States and other countries, where police and visitors enter with caution. We deeply regret the errors, and apologise to any and all who may have taken offence, including the people of France and England.

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Walking into Trouble: How ‘shared space’ shuts blind people out


Some friends drew my attention to the above video, which is about how the ludicrous “shared space” fad (in which ‘street furniture’ is ripped out, pavements and roads levelled, and surfaces smoothed out to give a more open, less ‘cluttered’ appearance) is shutting blind people out of town and city centres across the UK. A scheme like this was recently imposed on a busy road junction near where my sister used to live, which has already started causing accidents, as has been reported in the local media. It also tells how these schemes have been bulldozed through, and the well-grounded fears of blind people, that they are dangerous for them as they do not provide the tactile clues as to where the road begins and the pavement ends, were simply ignored. (More: Rob Imrie on Vimeo.)

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How France can really ‘protect all religions’

François HollandeFrance ‘to protect all religions’ (BBC News)

The French president, François Hollande, has announced that France “will protect all religions” and that Muslims are the “main victims of fanaticism” in a speech at the Arab World Institute:

Speaking at the Arab World Institute, he said:

Islam was compatible with democracy and thanked Arabs for their solidarity over terrorism in Paris.

“French Muslims have the same rights as all other French,” he said. “We have the obligation to protect them.

“Anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic acts have to be condemned and punished.”

Mr Hollande said that radical Islam had fed off contradictions, poverty, inequality and conflict, and that “it is Muslims who are the first victims of fanaticism, fundamentalism and intolerance”.

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Panorama: a parade of irrelevance

John Ware and the director of British Muslim TV, climing a flight of stairs.So, on Monday night BBC’s Panorama responded to last week’s massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices by dusting off a 25-minute feature on “British Islam”, in which John Ware, who had fronted a previous ‘investigation’ into Muslim leadership which used secret filming and promoted the wholly unrepresentative Taj Hargey as the answer to everything that is wrong with Muslims in Britain, used the “Happy Muslims” video and various other snippets of one or two Muslim scholars saying offensive things to promote the idea that the root of terrorism is a “them and us” attitude among Muslims, rather than genuine violent extremism or western foreign policy. No attempt was made to prove a link between the massacre in France and the state of the Muslim community here, probably because there isn’t one. (You can see it here until next year if you’re in the UK.)

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Charlie Hebdo and the limits of free speech

Front page of Charlie Hebdo, showing a cartoon of four women in different coloured hijabs saying (in French): 'Sex slaves of Boko Haram say: hands off our benefits!'.Last week three gunmen raided the offices of the French ‘satirical’ magazine Charlie Hebdo (Weekly) and killed its editor, three other contributors, two policemen and various other staff (including bodyguards but some not named) before taking hostages in a Jewish supermarket the next day and ultimately being killed in a shoot-out with police. Charlie Hebdo is best-known as the magazine which printed a derogatory cartoon strip called “The Life of Mahomet” (sic), as well as a number of other offensive cartoons, including one portraying Egyptian demonstrators being shot while holding copies of the Qur’an, with a slogan saying said text is rubbish if it cannot stop bullets. The incident made heroes of a Muslim policeman, who was shot by one of the attackers outside the Charlie offices, and a Muslim shopkeeper at the Jewish supermarket, but otherwise has led to the usual demands (both from non-Muslims and unrepresentative Muslims) for Muslims to apologise for or distance themselves from the attackers, and a series of “solidarity” marches, including one today which is led by kings, presidents and foreign ministers of various repressive régimes, several of them in the Arab and Muslim world.

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Review of 2014

Picture of an elderly white man with a grey patterned jumper, reading the Observer with a magnifying glassTwo big things happened in my life in 2014. The first was that my Grandad died, in January. He had been living with us since the previous November, and had been getting steadily weaker. He was 90. My Nan had died the previous August at age 87, following a stroke; after this, he began to visit us every weekend (he hadn’t been out of the house much in the years leading up to that, only to the shops) and we thought he would have a new life, but his health declined rapidly a couple of months after that. They lived in a two-bedroom house in East Dulwich, which we’re currently selling for more than £500K.

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City Link failure shows limits of cost-cutting

A depot with a green and yellow City Link sign above, and several green Renault Premium trucks with yellow City Link trailers halfway out.City Link: 2,000 staff to be made redundant on NYE - RMT

Last week the British logistics firm City Link went into administration, with the potential loss of nearly 5,000 jobs once self-employed contractors and the supply chain are taken into account. The firm started as an adjunct to the British Rail Red Star parcels operation, allowing parcels to be transported by rail without the need for direct train links and actually delivered rather than simply held at train stations, but since British Rail was broken up in the 1990s, they had to provide their own distribution network. The company had been part of the Rentokil Initial group from 2006 to 2013 but was sold for £1 in April 2013 to Better Capital, who reportedly invested £40m in the company (a small amount according to the staff union) but could not turn around the company’s losses or find a buyer. They went into administration on Christmas Eve and announced it on Christmas Day, presumably once most of the Christmas parcels had been delivered.

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Nick Cohen shows his irrational hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood

Why must we tolerate police spies in our midst? | Nick Cohen | Comment is free | The Observer

Nick Cohen, as long-time readers will know, has a long-standing hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood, as well he might, being an atheist secular liberal while they are a religiously-based party. When hundreds of thousands demonstrated in central London against the Iraq war that he supported, he ignored the people marching and looked only at the organisers — the “enemies of economic freedom” (communists) and the “enemies of sexual freedom” (the Brotherhood). This was a common theme of bourgeois liberal critics of the anti-war alliance. In today’s Observer, he has a long article denouncing police spying on environmental campaigns, setting the scene for another dig at the Muslim Brotherhood, all Muslim groups which included any of their activists, and non-Muslims who supported them. In this case, it was Bob Lambert, a former police spy who was the head of the Muslim Contact Unit from the time it was established in 2002 until he left the force in 2007 and went into academia. He has been exposed as having been an agent provocateur, helping to write the pamphlet that became the focus of the McLibel trial, as well as fathering a child with a member of London Greenpeace, and then abandoning both of them when the police pulled him out.

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Discriminatory on every level

'Welcome to Britain' sign at Heathrow airportMan faces deportation as UK wife’s salary too low

Last week a couple found out that they had been refused the right to settle in the UK and would have to split or resettle to the husband’s home country of South Africa (which is what they have decided to do). The reason was that the British wife’s income, at £19,786 for 2014 (she runs a craft-making business in Cornwall) was too low for a couple with a child; the British spouse must make £22,400, while if they do not have a child, the threshold is £18,600). This is ostensibly so that someone cannot bring in a spouse and expect the state to look after them, but this does not appear to have been the case here. A female friend of mine posted yesterday that the ruling was “inhumane and sexist”, the latter because it is more likely to discriminate against women because they tend to earn less money than men. However, it is discriminatory on every level you can think of. As the BBC article points out, average earnings in Cornwall and in much of northern England are around half of that of London and parts of the south-east, so someone on about average earnings for those regions would be more likely to fall below the threshold, while someone living in London is more likely to (although actually, there are plenty of people in London making around the threshold or less, and are much less likely to be able to afford a house on a single salary).

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Quality, not quantity

Picture of Nico Reed, a young white man with very short hair wearing a striped T-shirt, in a wheelchair with a leather harness, smiling.On Thursday the inquest into the death of Nico Reed, who died in a Southern Health supported living unit in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire, returned a narrative verdict which stated that his death was the result of “aspiration of gastric contents” with an “underlying cause of cerebral palsy”. He found that Nico could have been saved if he had been checked every 20 minutes, as stated in the care plan, but that this was intended as a guideline and could only be a guideline as there was only one members of staff at night to look after four severely disabled residents. Yesterday BBC Radio Oxford covered the inquest result, which I was able to hear as my work took me to Reading and Newbury which are well within range, and I caught a phone-call from another parent with a son or daughter in the same unit, who called up to defend the unit and the Trust, saying among other things that checking him every 20 minutes would have been intrusive. He also attacked the “nasty blog campaign” against the trust (you can add this blog to that description, but he mainly meant people like Nico’s mother Rosi Reed, Sara Ryan (whose son Connor Sparrowhawk also died in Southern Health’s ‘care’), George Julian, Gail Hanrahan, Mark Neary, Justice for LB, People First England and a few others), at which point the host, Phil Gayle (who has covered the Southern Health care scandals in depth) cut him short. (You can listen to it online here for the next four weeks; it starts at 2hrs 7min. You can also read Sara Ryan’s write-up of the Southern Health rep’s performance.)

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