You were warned

A white woman wearing a grey suit and blouse, with an upset expression.I rarely watch Question Time, the late-night show on BBC1 in which an audience gets to ask questions of a panel of politicians and journalists, because it’s on too late (I usually start work at 7am). However, last night the talk of Twitter was a woman who attacked the Tories for cutting working tax credits after promising not to before the General Election. She said she had voted Tory at the last election because she thought they offered the “best chance” for her family, but wailed that they were now taking that away from her. She shouted that she worked “bloody hard” and cannot pay her rent or bills. The Daily Mirror’s report has a one-minute clip of the exchange in which they say Amber Rudd, the Tory Energy minister, “looked away in silence”. The Mirror’s headline claimed that the woman “totally nails” Rudd. She does no such thing. Complaints of this sort, that “I voted Tory and now my benefits are being cut / local hospital is closing”, go back to the 1980s and usually reflect astonishment that Tory attacks on waste, scroungers and the like won’t affect them. (You can view the programme here in the UK for the next year.)

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On Jeremy Corbyn and those nukes

A missile being launched from the sea, with fire projecting from its rear and much water thrown up in the airLast week Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader, said in an interview that if he were Prime Minister, he would not use nuclear weapons under any circumstances, which provoked a storm of controversy with some commentators declaring that he had in effect disarmed the country. He is also known to be against commissioning a replacement for Trident, Britain’s nuclear submarines which carry American missiles and warheads. On this position he is not supported by a lot of Labour MPs who regard opposition to Trident as being a major factor in Labour’s unpopularity in the 1980s. Others have noted that Corbyn’s opposition to nuclear weapons is long established, that it was part of his platform while campaigning for the leadership, and that Trident is a 1980s answer to a 1980s situation, i.e. the Cold War, which is no longer going on.

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No, meat is not murder (and other reflections on Corbyn)

Picture of Kerry McCarthy, a white woman with a rounded face and shoulder-length hair wearing a black jumper with a "tweet for Labour" badge.Last week it was revealed (or we were reminded) that the new shadow cabinet member for agriculture and the environment, Kerry McCarthy, was a vegan who gave an interview with the vegan magazine Viva!Life, published March 2015, in which she called for meat-eating to be treated like smoking, with public campaigns to encourage people to stop eating it, because of its environmental impact. She said, “Progress on animal welfare is being made at the EU level and I feel it is best left to those campaigning groups working there but in the end it comes down to not eating meat and dairy. … The constant challenging of the environmental impact of livestock farming is making me more and more militant, not least that CAP [common agricultural policy] payments are available for grouse shooting, controlling buzzards and forestry”.

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‘House Muslims’, whatever we call them, are a thing

A word cloud consisting of words used in hate crimes reported to Tell MAMA; prominent ones include terrorism, beheading, rape, Rotherham, ISIS, scum, rape, UKIP and Paki. It also includes more common racial slurs, swear words, terrorism references, and misspellings of all of the above.The other day Tell MAMA, which monitors hate crimes against Muslims, published an anonymous article claiming that certain unnamed “moral guardians of the Internet”, mainly aged between 20 and 35 “who spend their time on Twitter railing against prejudice and Islamophobia” and “shout Islamophobia at the slightest drop of a hat”, are in the habit of calling Muslims they disagree with on matters like extremism or Prevent “house Muslims”, “equivalent to the House Slaves who kept the machinery of oppression through slavery going” and “who ensured that the South’s policy of slavery continued on longer since they had sold their labour just to receive some basic privileges”. They continue:

Why are these statements problematic? They are problematic since those making them leave themselves open to the charge that they have no moral mandate in countering intolerance and prejudice, when they themselves are promoting a form of bigotry. They have no mandate since tackling racism and prejudice, speaks to power. These individuals do not speak to power, they simply re-enforce a mob-like mentality that bays, taunts and attempts to humiliate the individual, thereby re-enforcing power structures. This statement is also problematic, since it shows the hypocrisy in some who claim to be part of the anti-racist movement and who are nothing but charlatans and snake-skin salespeople playing to a mob mentality. Underneath the facade, they have slightly more in common with the plantation owner who sought to keep his slaves subjugated and controlled; boxed off and easy to understand. Well, we will have no part of it.

Anyone who uses the term ‘House Muslim’ should be regarded as being akin in his/her views to those who promote the false narrative that Muslims cannot be trusted and that they are secret Sharia or taqiyya peddlers. Both narratives are toxic and we simply should reject both with all of our energies.

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Saudi Arabia minimising civilian casualties?

Gabriel Gatehouse, a white male TV reporter wearing a blue shirt and black trousers, walking through a mosque with a red carpet strewn with debris left by a suicide bombingI was rather surprised to hear the ongoing war in Yemen being described as the “forgotten war” on BBC’s Newsnight, as I’ve been hearing about it almost non-stop on my social media feeds; but then, I don’t watch the TV news much anymore (although do listen to the radio news and I admit I haven’t heard much about it there). Newsnight featured the war in Yemen Thursday and Friday nights last week, showing the aftermath of a suicide bombing in a mosque and the bombing by the “Saudi-led coalition” of what they claimed was a training centre for African jihadists, but whose owners said it was a water bottling plant; the TV crew found no evidence for the Saudis’ claims. O’Brien interviewed a Saudi brigadier general, Ahmad Assiri, and a Tory MP, Daniel Kawczynski, a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

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Name the problem: White Bigotry

Still of a woman wearing a black headscarf and niqaab, with only her eyes showing, on the left and a white woman with her hair clipped at the back, wearing a black jacket, on the rightThere are some themes which will be familiar to anyone who follows or is involved in feminist discourses about rape and other violence against women and children: that the perpetrators often go unnamed while victims are blamed; that the crimes are treated as if they were inevitable or natural occurrences, rather than the choice of some men to hurt women; that the attitudes which lead to male violence are not being tackled; that reporting or discussion of violent or sexual crime does not “name the problem” which is male violence. I was reminded of these arguments while listening to the reporting on both Radio 4 and BBC London this morning about hate attacks against Muslims, which according to Metropolitan Police statistics rose by 70% in the past year and which Tell MAMA claims mostly target visible Muslim women, during which someone from Tell MAMA, the organisation set up to “monitor anti-Muslim attacks”, claimed that the spike in attacks followed terrorist attacks by ISIS such as the shooting in Tunisia. This analysis fails to acknowledge contributing factors closer to home. The issue was also featured on the BBC’s Inside Out London programme this evening.

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Jeremy Corbyn, ‘Islamists’ and women-only carriages

Picture of Jeremy Corbyn, a middle-aged white man with white hair, wearing a cream shirt with a pen in its pocket, standing in front of a microphone in front of a London buildingEarlier this week Jeremy Corbyn (right) gave his support to considering reintroducing women-only carriages on trains, which were found in the UK until the 1970s and still in a number of other countries, particularly Japan. He actually did not come up with the idea himself, but in a policy document noted that he had been asked to consider it by women and was open to the idea:

“Some women have raised with me that a solution to the rise in assault and harassment on public transport could be to introduce women-only carriages. My intention would be to make public transport safer for everyone from the train platform to the bus stop to the mode of transport itself,” he said. “However, I would consult with women and hear their views on whether women-only carriages would be welcome – and also if piloting this at times and on modes of transport where harassment is reported most frequently would be of interest.”

This has provoked a mixed response, being rejected by the other three candidates (two of them women). Liz Kendall said that ‘gender segregation’ would be like ‘admitting defeat’ while Yvette Cooper said it would amount to “turning the clock back, not tackling the problem”. (Two Labour mayoral candidates, Gareth Thomas and Diane Abbott, said they were open to the idea, however.) Many feminists (and indeed many women) on my social media feeds like the idea, but a particular group claims it would open the door to ‘victim blaming’ against women attacked or harassed while using a mixed carriage. There has also been the suggestion that Corbyn got the idea from his ‘Islamist friends’, and attempts to compare the idea to segregation, as if men and women were to be forcibly separated. Some people clearly see this in the same light as the ‘university segregation’ issue.

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No, we can’t hold all air shows by the sea

A picture of a Hawker Hunter jet in mid-air. The plane has been painted mostly blue with red, white and blue target symbols.I heard the most extraordinary and ridiculous interview on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning. John Humphrys was interviewing John Turner from the British Air Display Association about the accident outside Shoreham, West Sussex on Saturday in which a 1950s fighter jet (a Hawker Hunter, right) crashed onto a highway, the A27, killing up to 20 people. In an interview with people around Shoreham, the last thing said was that local people wanted to make sure ‘something was done’ so that the annual air show could continue but that there were no future disasters. Humphrys started by asking him if he agreed with the sentiment that “something must be done”, and Turner responded by saying that his association had had 63 years of accident-free shows and that it was important not to speculate until proper investigations had been done.

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Review: The World’s Worst Place to be Disabled

The World’s Worst Place… is a documentary featuring Sophie Morgan, a British model and TV presenter who has been a wheelchair user since being paralysed in a car accident twelve years ago, travelling to Ghana to investigate the situation facing disabled people there. She had been told by Shantha Rau Barriga, director of disability rights at Human Rights Watch, that Ghana was the world’s worst place to be disabled and that she would have to see it herself to believe it. So off she went, with her brother, to see various examples of poverty and discrimination facing disabled people, including children, around the country. I’m late reviewing this, so it’s only available for the next week here; the presenter has written a piece for the Huffington Post about the investigation.

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Fear-free healthcare, revisited

Picture of Emily Collingridge, a young white woman with shoulder-length brown hair, wearing a cream colour T-shirt wiht a long necklace of ornaments and a thick braceletBack in 2012, I published on this site a manifesto of sorts, calling for healthcare in the UK to be free of fear. Back then I was heavily involved in ME activism and three people with severe ME had died, notably the author and charity volunteer Emily Collingridge. These days my activism is mostly in the area of learning disability, but the same problems which provoked that article exist in this area too: where people need to go into hospital, neither they nor their family can be confident that they will not encounter prejudice against their condition, hard-set beliefs, abuse, neglect or isolation from their friends and family.

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Why does Amnesty need a policy on prostitution?

A group of people, mainly women, holding glasses of what looks like champaigne. One of them is holding a yellow rosette.Last week, Amnesty International adopted a policy supporting the decriminalisation of the sex trade after a debate in which it was subjected to intense lobbying from two groups of feminists (amid renewed mud-slinging between them; the two groups are the same as the pro- and anti-transgender feminist groups), one of which supports it because it claims a large proportion of ‘sex workers’ are in the business out of choice and need safer working conditions, while another regards the trade as inherently exploitative and abusive, questions the ‘choices’ that led to most of the women coming into the industry, and supports a “Nordic model” in which the selling of sex (mostly done by women) is decriminalised but the buying of it (mostly done by men) is a criminal offence. When Amnesty adopted the policy, feminists (those who had opposed it) denounced it as voting “in favour of pimps and johns over women’s human right to safety”; particular distaste was expressed for the spectacle of Amnesty staff sharing a bottle of champagne (!) after the vote was passed. This is how Amnesty justified their new policy.

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Review of Wanted: A Very Personal Assistant

Wanted: A Very Personal Assistant is another part of BBC Three’s ongoing season of programmes about disability, Defying the Label. In this two-part series, four young people with mobility impairments of differing severity were matched with carers by another disabled man who apparently specialises in matching carers to disabled people. This programme sought to get unemployed and inexperienced young people into caring jobs under the premise that there were all these unemployed young people and all these disabled people who needed carers or assistants. The result, as you might imagine, was that some of the recruits were very poorly matched indeed. (If you’re in the UK, you can watch episode 1 here for the next two weeks, and episode 2 here for the next three.)

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Yes, we do get rid of ‘hate preachers’

A picture of a group of migrants or refugees standing or sitting on a ramp behind a metal fench, behind which are several lanes of queueing cars, approaching the Calais ferry port‘If you hate the migrants in Calais, you hate yourself’ | Nick Cohen (in today’s Observer)

People have been sharing this feature by Nick Cohen since it first appeared online yesterday (and I had a hard job getting to it on the Guardian’s website, eventually having to scroll through all the contributors with C surnames before finding his among the Cohens which weren’t in alphabetical order). Someone pointed out that Cohen has been publishing Islamophobic, warmongering posts for years, and people forget this as soon as he writes something “right-on”. But actually, there’s nothing much right-on about this piece. It follows a very typical pattern for him.

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There’s more to the Binladins than OBL

The main building and control tower of Blackbushe AirportYesterday a light aircraft crashed when attempting to land at Blackbushe airfield near Farnborough. The airfield is a former RAF base which has also been a passenger airport, but these days is used for executive jets and for pilots’ training. More significantly, there is a big car auction site next to it, which has an auction house as well as acres and acres of car park used to store the goods (cars). The aircraft came down in the middle of one of these car lots and destroyed several cars. I’ve delivered there (during a three-week period driving cars to and from that site for British Car Auctions) and my first thought was that the plane might have hit the auction house, which would have caused far more casualties, but which it did not. Anyway, the three passengers all belonged to the Saudi Binladin family, a large and wealthy Saudi family which owns, among other things, a large construction company, but whose most famous member over here was Osama, who is better known for demolition.

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On Jeremy Corbyn: no, it’s not about purity

Black and white picture of Jeremy Corbyn, standing in front of a lectern addressing the 2014 People's AssemblyThe Labour Party are currently holding their leadership election following the resignation of Ed Miliband after he lost the general election in May. The four candidates are Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper and Jeremy Corbyn, the last being the only left-wing candidate who has been widely ridiculed as a throwback to the early 80s and a certain election loser. Meanwhile, the others are being condemned as closet Tories at worst and uninspiring Blairite functionaries at best. As Corbyn is deemed the most likely candidate to lose the 2020 election, there has been a campaign to encourage Tories to join the party as “supporters” so as to get a vote in the leadership election. That the party’s rules allow this is pretty stupid; most parties (including, for example, the Tories at the time David Cameron was elected leader) do not allow new members to vote.

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Review: Don’t Take My Baby

Picture of Anna, a young white woman in a wheelchair, played by Ruth MadeleyDon’t Take My Baby is an hour-long BBC drama, broadcast on BBC Three (which is likely to be removed from digital TV and only shown online as of next year, something one review says this programme helps make the case against) as part of a series of programmes titled Defying the Label, challenging popular stereotypes about disability. It tells the story of Anna, a wheelchair user with a muscle-wasting condition, and Tom, a man with a hereditary visual impairment that gets worse as the programme goes on. Anna and Tom have a baby, Danielle (Dani), who becomes the subject of a “child in need investigation” in which Anna (played by Ruth Madeley, who is a wheelchair user, albeit with spina bifida rather than muscular dystrophy) and Tom have to prove that they are fit parents before they are even allowed to take Dani home. The couple’s relationships with their parents, who clearly disapprove of their relationship and their decision to have the child, is explored and they have some rows, but eventually work through their difficulties and their fears. Eventually the couple are allowed to keep Dani.

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Anti-FGM crusade brings out the busybodies

Picture of Jenny TongeThe crusade against FGM is out of control - Spectator Blogs

Brendan O’Neill wrote the above article on the incident reported recently in the British press, in which Baroness Jenny Tonge took a flight to Addis Ababa that was full of what appeared to her to be British-Somali families, including a lot of women and girls, and immediately formed the suspicion that they, or at least some of them, were going for the purpose of undergoing FGM. She said she “chickened out” of actually talking to them and asking, but informed the police on return who are apparently going to “check the passenger list”. (I checked Tonge’s FB page and it is either private or has been removed.) O’Neill mentions a few of the other problems that arise from the “crusade” against FGM:

There is a new raft of anti-FGM measures that could have a seriously detrimental impact on community relations. As of this month, anyone — literally anyone — can apply for an FGM Protection Order to prevent people from travelling abroad if there’s any reason to think they might be going for FGM. Are your Somalian neighbours planning a six-week trip abroad? Do they have daughters? Are their daughters a bit moody? Quick, get an FGM Protection Order.

Starting in Autumn, all teachers and health workers will be legally required to report cases of FGM to the authorities. According to the NSPCC, signs of FGM can include girls ‘spending longer than normal in the bathroom’ or talking about being ‘taken “home” to visit family’. Is this for real? Every girl going though puberty takes long trips to the loo. And loads of children of immigrants spend their summers abroad (as I did). To become suspicious of girls who start to feel embarrassed around the age of 12 and who talk about going on holiday to Africa is to be suspicious of virtually every pubescent African girl in Britain.

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On feminists and girls’ school uniforms

Picture of Sarah Pashley, a middle-aged white woman with reddish hair, wearing a dark grey jacket over a white blouse.Last Thursday Woman’s Hour, the 10am slot on BBC Radio 4, had a feature on the growing trend in the UK for schools to ban girls from wearing skirts (it starts at 32:25, not where the dividing line is), after teachers have got sick of sending girls home or into isolation for wearing their skirts too short. Most recently this has included Bridlington School in Hull, whose headteacher Sarah Pashley (right) said that the behaviour of some girls was causing incidents that had made male teachers uncomfortable. Over the years schools have moved from making skirts compulsory for girls to allowing trousers and the ban on skirts has come more recently. The first I remember was Kesgrave High near Ipswich, which banned skirts in 2004 because the (female) chair of governors said she did not like girls cycling to school in short skirts which gave them what she called a “come hither” look. (The ban remains in place.) These days such bans are often justified in terms of preventing girls’ dress becoming a distraction for both boys and male teachers, and the same is true of similar rules in non-uniform dress codes in other schools, particularly in the USA. The Woman’s Hour feature included two male teachers (Vic Goddard, who has featured in Educating Essex, and Francis Gilbert), oddly given that some of those who have introduced these rules are themselves women, and a female gender studies academic, Jessica Ringrose of University College London.

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‘Hadith 38’ isn’t about war

Picture of a young man of Arab appearance, with dark hair and a large dark beard and moustache, with an orange shirt.The BBC reported today that Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez (right), the gunman of Kuwaiti origin who murdered five US marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last week, had sent what it called a “war text” to a friend the day before the shooting. The text quoted what the BBC calls “hadith 38”, which the friend “said he thought nothing of the text at the time, but now wonders if it was a hint at the attack to come”. Other friends (also not named) said that he “spoke of his anger about conflicts in the Middle East, including Israeli bombing campaigns in Gaza and the civil war in Syria, after returning from a trip to Jordan last year”, and that “his level of understanding and awareness really rose after he came back”.

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Close the units down?

Picture of Josh and Phill Wills (a white teenage boy and man) sitting on a park bench, with deep blue sky and trees behind themLast Wednesday the BBC’s Call You and Yours programme on Radio 4 held a feature on the ‘progress’ in getting long-term residents out of assessment and treatment units (ATUs), the type of short-term mental health units for people with learning disabilities that includes Winterbourne View, where abuse was exposed in Panorama in 2011, and the Slade House STATT unit in Oxford in which Connor Sparrowhawk died because of neglect in 2013. The programme featured an interview with Phill Wills, whose son Josh has been in a residential unit in Birmingham since 2012, 260 miles from his family who live in Cornwall, and with Sir Stephen Bubb, who this week published a report which showed that thousands of people were still languishing in ATUs despite ministers’ pledging four years ago to get them out.

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