Last Thursday, the Guardian carried a lengthy feature (the “big read” in their comment section) as well as a front-page article on how prominent members of al-Qa’ida have come out against ISIS. The long piece, written by Shiv Malik, Ali Younes, Spencer Ackerman and Mustafa Khalili, features an interview with Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a leader of al-Qa’ida in Jordan who spent many years in jail, as well as Abu Qatada (Omar Mahmoud Othman, right), a Palestinian preacher and scholar who operated in London from 1993 to 2002 and who some claim was a leading ideologue for al-Qa’ida. He was arrested in 2002 and spent much of the next 11 years in prison fighting deportation to Jordan, where he had been convicted of terrorism offences; he was acquitted of those in 2014.
Today would have been Thomas Rawnsley’s 21st birthday. Thomas was a man with Down’s syndrome and autism, who was in a succession of care homes and NHS hospital units from 2013 until he died of pneumonia earlier this year. His mother had been fighting to get him individual provision in his home town, but a Court of Protection judge last year sided with those who wanted to keep him institutionalised. Thomas’s family were planning a protest outside Downing Street to mark his birthday, but had to cancel it because of a planned rail strike (which was itself, in the event, cancelled). Bringing Us Together have a collection of blog posts about Thomas and you may like to read my post from the week after he died. There is still an appeal for Thomas’s family’s costs, which have raised £4,345 (of a target of £20,000) at the time of writing. (More: Justice for Nico.)
There is a story going around that the NUS recently passed a motion to align itself with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, while a year ago having rejected a motion to boycott ISIS. The Jerusalem Post reported the Israeli PM’s reaction to the vote, which in another story it claimed was passed 19-14. JPost put it in the context of all the forces ranged against Israel worldwide, such as how “in the UN, Turkey and Iran voted in favor of recognizing as an NGO a group linked to Hamas which fires missiles on Israeli cities, while hiding behind civilians”, also quoting a dissenting NEC member, Joe Vinson, who “tweeted later that anti-Semitism is like a virus, it mutates and infects everything it touches, it has mutated into BDS and the NUS is infected”. (There is a response from Electronic Intifada here.) Nobody passing the story around seems to have considered why one vote passed and the other didn’t: what on earth is there to boycott about ISIS?
Yesterday a story started circulating on social media in which an American female Muslim chaplain named Tahera Ahmad, who was travelling on a United Airlines flight (run by a partner, Shuttle America), asked for a Diet Coke and was given a can which had already been opened. The stewardess refused to give her one that was unopened because it could be used as a weapon, and her behaviour made it clear that this was because of her religion (she gave an unopened beer can to the white male passenger next to her, although when she challenged this, the stewardess took it and opened it for him). The incident, which she reported on Facebook and the screenshot from which has been shared thousands of times, has led to a call to boycott United until they apologise. I think there needs to be more pressure on airlines, and it has to come from above as well as from below. (United published a response to the story; Tahera Ahmad has published her response to that on Facebook, saying she is “truly disappointed”.)
Last week I got a letter printed in the New Statesman, in response to their leader column which, without naming names (although elsewhere in the edition, the criticism was levelled at Len McCluskey, the general secretary of the Unite union), claimed that some on the left preferred futile opposition to power. I responded that people who believe in social justice will not campaign enthusiastically for someone who promises to do no more than mind the shop for the Tories and take the edge off one or two of their worst policies. It would be hard to get people out to vote for such a man either, and Labour risk losing more of their core vote to nationalist parties (right now, UKIP, but who knows what parties will be on the scene by 2020). Andy Burnham, the front-runner for the Labour leadership, exposed himself as another shop-minder in a speech to ‘workers’ at Ernst and Young in London reported in the Western Daily Press today (also on the BBC website): that “Labour cannot win the next election while voters believe it gives the workshy an ‘easy ride’”, that “society’s wealth-creators must be valued as highly as NHS staff” and that Labour mismanaged the economy before the credit crunch, allowing a significant deficit to grow.
Today the Guardian published an interview with Britain’s “most senior Muslim police officer”, Scotland Yard commander Mak Chishty, head of community engagement for the Metropolitan police, in which he claimed that earlier and more intrusive intervention is needed to counter radicalisation at younger ages and earlier stages, that there is Islamist propaganda so powerful that he fears his own children could be radicalised and that children as young as five are being influenced, and that the state should intervene in “private spaces”, including what people read on their mobile phones or computers or talk about in a “shisha cafe”. Needless to say, the judgement on (mainstream) Muslim social media, and even from some outside the community, is pretty damning: “batshit crazy”, intrusive, “house Muslim”, “thought police”.
This bit of self-serving liberal Zionist guff was in yesterday’s Guardian — actually, it was the most prominent opinion piece on the tablet edition (I don’t get the print anymore), despite being more or less a rehash of another piece Pogrund wrote for the Guardian several years ago in which he claimed that whatever you could call Israel’s stranglehold over Palestinian life was, it wasn’t Apartheid. In this case “the A-word” raised its head when Israel’s defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, approved a scheme which would involve the segregation of buses in the occupied territories, with Arabs banned from using Israeli-run services. As someone who really knows what Apartheid is, having spent 26 years as a journalist in South Africa and having been the first non-family visitor to Nelson Mandela while he was in prison, he claims that “there are few charges more grave” and that there is no comparison. The piece boils down to a criticism of tone and presents technical details as if they were fundamental differences, with a fair element of arguing from authority and a touch of The Color Purple’s Miss Millie (“ain’t I always been good to you people?”).
So, in today’s Telegraph there’s an interview with Prince Harry (right), who is set to leave the Army next month after ten years of service, in which he calls for the return of National Service because being in the Army kept him out of trouble and helped some of the men in his command turn their lives around. While Harry the Spare doesn’t have any political role, clearly when he speaks, the Establishment media listens, and while in opposition David Cameron proposed some kind of “school leaver programme” which might entail some kind of community service for a year but, as I pointed out at the time, could default to military conscription where no such civilian options were available.
As anyone who reads the news will know, last Thursday there was a general election here and on Friday morning we learned that the Tories had gained an absolute majority of the seats, which means we have a Tory-only government without a Lib Dem coalition. The Lib Dems lost all but 8 of their seats (there is a full list of MPs who lost their seats at Wikipedia here); they are left with only one seat in London (Carshalton and Wallington) and none in their former south-western heartland. The Scottish National Party won all but three seats in Scotland, the Lib Dems, Labour and Tories being left with one seat each. The Tories now intend another £12m of public service cuts and have already earmarked the Access to Work scheme, which assists disabled people in finding work (so, it’s not an out-of-work benefit), for cuts; they also intend to press ahead with boundary changes which, according to the Telegraph, could “lock Labour out of power for a decades (sic)”, and to extending state surveillance powers, both of which they were unable to do while in coalition. They are also committed to a referendum on leaving the EU by 2017 and to abolishing the Human Rights Act. (More: Looking for Blue Sky, Lenin’s Tomb, Islamicate.)
Today the Sun put that picture of Ed Miliband trying to eat a bacon butty and getting it all down his shirt, suggesting that if he can’t even eat without making a
mess, he’ll do the same to the country if elected as Prime Minister tomorrow. A few people on Twitter have suggested that the picture is a reference to his Jewish background, because anti-Semites have a history of depicting Jews as pigs and because people will make the link if they see a Jew and pork together, even though the association is negative. I’m not so sure - if there’s one thing you can’t accuse the Sun of, it’s anti-Semitism, given that Rupert Murdoch is a noted Zionist. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t subliminal messages in the use of the picture.
Earlier today I left a message on the local Lib Dem constituency office’s answerphone, as our MP, who is defending his seat, is the Lib Dem Energy secretary Edward Davey. I asked him what his positions were on the matter of the Human Rights Act and us staying in the EU, as without these two things there was little to make it worth voting for him just to keep the Tories out. I didn’t get the caller’s name (it wasn’t Davey), but he did tell me that he couldn’t say if the HRA was a red line for the party but it was for Ed Davey, and that the party would agree to a referendum on the EU but would campaign for the UK to stay in. He said Davey would be writing to me himself later; I told him I’d like him to get clarification on party policy first.
Phill Wills, the father of Josh Wills, an autistic boy from Cornwall who has been in a hospital unit in Birmingham since 2012 and has been promised a return home for mid-June, once commented regarding the care his son is receiving that “it’s about the miles, not the care”. He or other members of his family have to make a 260-mile trek north every weekend to spend a couple of days with Josh — including during the time when the only rail link to Cornwall had been severed during the 2014 floods. However, for some families and some disabled people, the problem is both. In the last year, one of the cases I have been following has had a happy ending, while another has ended suddenly in tragedy; there have also been two inquests into deaths of people with learning disabilities in residential or NHS care, while another is to begin in the autumn, more than two years after the person concerned died.
As I think I’ve said here in the past, I live in a Lib Dem constituency — specifically, Ed Davey’s constituency, Kingston and Surbiton, a constituency where the only main challenger is a Tory and Lib Dem publicity threatens us that Labour “cannot win here” (a tactic they have been using in their fiefdoms for decades — I recall seeing it while on holiday in Somerset in the mid-90s). I’ve seen quite a few of the standard Lib Dem yellow diamond signs with his name on it around, and nobody else’s that I’ve noticed. A couple of weeks ago Ed Davey (right) came to our house while I was at work and my mother spoke to him at length. He came on his own, without any minders or other help, which Mum said made her respect him a bit more, and she told him that she felt betrayed by his party’s coalition with the Tories (she and my Dad were Labour voters their whole adult lives until we moved to New Malden in 2001), and at the end of the conversation, she told him that she would consider voting for him again but could not guarantee it. Personally, I probably will vote for him as the Labour party have not put much effort in around here and so a vote for them probably is a vote for the Tories, but I can see a lot of his 2010 vote melting away, something the local party should have taken into account in good time for this election.
Last week the former Prime Minister, John Major (right), popped up to have a go at the Scottish National Party, which opinion polls suggest is likely to get a majority of the seats in Scotland next month and which could all but wipe out the Scottish Labour party. He warned that a minority Labour government would be held to ransom or subjected to “a daily dose of blackmail” by the Nationalists who would nudge them further and further left, which would be “a recipe for mayhem”. Of course, this was aimed at English voters rather than Scottish ones; he knows that Tory voters north of the border are hard to come by nowadays. They have only one MP there, in Dumfries and Galloway in the far south-west.
Yesterday the Sun published an article by Katie Hopkins, former Apprentice contestant and professional loudmouth and bigot, suggesting that we “use gunships” to tackle the problem of migrants coming across the Mediterranean in unsafe boats, many of them drowning, rather than laying on a search and rescue mission at the taxpayers’ expense. She claims that the migrants trying to get across the Med are the same ones trying to get across the English Channel by stowing away on British trucks. She suggests that we “get Australian” by turning the boats back to “their shores” and destroying them. She also uses genocidal slurs on a number of occasions: “spreading like norovirus on a cruise ship”, “festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants”, “like cockroaches”. And her assessment of the situation at Calais is just plain inaccurate.
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, an investigative journalist best known for work on Muslim civil rights and terrorism, wrote the above article for the Ecologist website last month and posted it on the Radical Middle Way Facebook group although it really has nothing to do with Islam other than having a Muslim author. (The Ecologist still has its own website, but merged with Satish Kumar’s Resurgence magazine in 2012.) He starts off with a familiar exposition of the present environmental crisis, about how “our global system is, increasingly, in breach of the natural limits of our environment”, but drops ‘patriarchy’ in at the last sentence before giving a series of examples of how the crisis disproportionately affects women, but at no point spells out how precisely patriarchy is at the root of the global environmental crisis. The truth is that it predates it by millenia; the modern lifestyle is the cause of it.
In today’s Daily Mail there is a report that Maajid Nawaz, the founder of the so-called counter-extremist Muslim organisation Quilliam and Liberal Democrat candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn in the forthcoming election, was filmed in a strip club in Whitechapel last year during Ramadan, where he ‘received’ two five-minute lap dances, got heavily drunk (staff threatened to remove him several times) and tried repeatedly to touch the woman who danced for him, which is against club policy. (The report includes photos and a video of the incident.) Nawaz’s spokesman said that the incident was his stag night which he held with the full knowledge of his now wife; Nawaz himself tweeted:
Tonight at midnight, the speed limits for trucks on roads in England and Wales go up by 10mph: the maximum speed on single-carriageway roads to 50mph, and on dual carriageways to 60mph (in practice, vehicles will not be able to exceed 56mph as they are all fitted with speed restrictors). This is something the industry has been campaigning for for some time, but safety charities have criticised it as giving into law-breaking and some drivers complain that it will mean they are paid less as they can complete jobs more quickly. Personally, I welcome it, although I think it should be accompanied by speed limit adjustments for other vehicles as it still leaves trucks doing 10mph less than cars.
Last night there was a big debate featuring the leaders of the seven major political parties in next month’s elections (Labour, Tories, Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the SNP). I was driving, so listened to the debate on BBC Radio 5 Live rather than watching it on the TV. The debates all started with questions from the floor, and covered major areas such as welfare, the economy, immigration, the NHS and education. Perhaps I missed out on a lot by not seeing it on TV, but I didn’t believe any of the leaders were particularly impressive and this includes the women, contrary to some of the opinions I heard in the debates afterwards and the opinion polls on the front of some of the papers, especially the Tory papers. (I thought the Times’s poll was aimed at scaring the Tories into action on immigration rather than reflecting reality or promoting UKIP.) You can listen to 5 Live’s broadcast here and watch the ITV version on their website here in the UK.
Last week a GermanWings airliner was crashed into a moutainside in south-western France, killing everyone on board. The evidence seems to suggest that the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, crashed it deliberately, and investigations have turned up evidence of fairly minor mental illness and deteriorating eyesight that could have been the motive for his apparent decision. The day after the flight data and voice recorders were investigated and prosecutors announced what they believed happened, newspapers demanded to know why he was allowed to fly, as if this sort of thing could have been predicted from the evidence that was available.