No basis for attack on niqaab

The front page of the Sun from tomorrow, calling for so-called vital reforms on niqabMy veil epiphany | Victoria Coren Mitchell | Comment is free | The Observer

Last Thursday a major further education college in Birmingham, the Birmingham Metropolitan College, backed down on a decision to ban face-coverings, including the niqaab worn by some Muslim women, after protests from the NUS Black students’ organisation and from a Muslim women’s group which called the ban “disproportionate” given the supposedly few wearers (there are actually a great many wearers in Birmingham, as well as other parts of the Midlands). I received a number of appeals to sign a petition opposing the ban, both from Muslim friends and others (particularly feminists); the petition gathered 8,000 signatures and a protest was planned for Friday, by which time the policy had already been reversed. This week, a judge also allowed a Muslim woman to appear in court without removing her veil (she showed her face to a female police officer who then affirmed her identity). Her barrister argued that there is no law in the UK on the niqaab and no rules prohibiting wearing it in court. It is she who is on trial for intimidating a witness, but her name has no far not been revealed.

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TSB is nobody’s local bank

I’m one of the people who’s been “bumped” from Lloyd’s Bank to the new TSB, a spin-off set up because the EU decided that Lloyds/TSB was too big after getting a government subsidy. The bit that’s now being branded TSB was going to be sold to the Co-Operative Bank, but they pulled out because they have financial trouble of their own. The new branding appeared on a number of Lloyds/TSB and Cheltenham and Gloucester branches last Monday, along with an advertising campaign trumpeting their return to “local banking”. These include adverts at railway stations like the one below (there was a similar one at Vauxhall, the first station out), which reads “Hello Waterloo, welcome back to local banking”.

A large advertisement from the TSB bank at a railway station, reading "Hello Waterloo, welcome back to local banking"

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Why do you believe her?

Last Tuesday a British soap actor, Michael “Le Vell” Turner, was found not guilty of multiple counts of rape and sexual assault on a child (now 17). There has been some suggestions that his prosecution was part of a “celebrity witch-hunt” in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, something the prosecution service denies. In the wake of the acquittal, my Twitter feed became full of tweets tagged “#ibelieveher”, a tag that first became popular after the conviction of the footballer Ched Evans, whose victim was named on Twitter and accused of being a liar by some of his friends and fans. There was a useful article by Glosswitch about the reaction, which I found linked from this tweet:

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Apple needs more than a cheap phone to wipe out Android

A Galaxy Nexus, a Nexus 4 and a Nexus 7 side by side

iPhone 5C: if Apple produces a cheap phone, it could wipe out its rivals

Mic Wright (@brokenbottleboy on Twitter) says that if Apple launches a cheap iPhone tonight (the rumoured iPhone 5C), it could do serious damage to both Android and the new Microsoft-owned Nokia handset business:

It wants to produce a phone that is rugged enough to appeal to African consumers, modern enough for tech-savvy Chinese buyers and cheap enough to capture even more market share in Western markets.

If we do see the “iPhone 5C” tonight – and I do think it’s a strong bet – it will be a major headache for Android phone makers of all stripes and the newly minted Mokia (Microsoft + Nokia) alliance. Apple’s big gap in iPhone dominance is the lower end of the market where cheap phones available free on contract from day one are keeping Nokia and the less high-end Android models afloat. Samsung is ably battling and often beating Apple in the premium market but if Apple launches a compelling iPhone that can be offered free-on-contract and for a very, very low unlocked price, it will run the table.

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Ariel Castro’s suicide is no tragedy

Ohio captor ‘needed suicide watch’:

Ariel Castro, the man who kept three young women captive in his house in Ohio for several years, was found hanged in his cell on Tuesday. According to the above news report:

The prosecutor who tried Castro called him a “coward” unable to withstand “a small portion” of what he had inflicted.

But Mr Weintraub told Cleveland newspaper the Plain Dealer: “He’s still a human being. This is still a civilised society.”

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Issy Stapleton: suspicious timing

Picture of a young girl in a red sweater holding a black cat Recently a mother who was known to the online autism community and kept a blog about parenting her autistic daughter was found in a fume-filled van with her. Both the mother, Kelli Stapleton, and her daughter Issy are alive, although Issy may have sustained permanent brain damage. The mother is facing an attempted murder charge and possible life imprisonment.

In every such case, there is an outpouring of support for the parent who killed or injured their child and the assumption that they must have done it because of the stress of parenting an autistic child and the lack of support. It is the only circumstance in which the killing of a child by an adult elicits any sympathy for the perpetrator. One very suspicious aspect of this incident that should be emphasised in all this is the timing: the day her mother tried to kill her, she recorded that Issy had returned home from a residential treatment programme of some kind, where she’d been for about six months.

Also the same day, Kelli (the mother) posted the “power player” article, about how her school’s special needs teacher refused to cooperate with her support plan:

All this must have happened in a very short space of time, so anyone who wants to portray Kelli Stapleton as a “stressed autism mom” needs to explain how she got stressed enough to try to kill her daughter in a matter of a day or so.

I should add that I’ve been in a special school where there were boys who were prone to violence at very trivial provocations, such as a refused demand or not liking someone’s tone of voice. There were a couple of incidents of people threatening others with knives while I was there, but no killings in the whole history of the place, and some of us were in considerably more vulnerable positions than these parents. And if I had done any such thing, I would have been sent to a secure home or young offenders’ institution. We should not be so quick to jump to a sympathetic position when the killer or attacker is a parent.

Ukraine and Drugs: the vapidity of Stacey Dooley

Picture of Stacey Dooley, a young white woman with light brown hair, talking to a customs officer in OdessaEurope’s Dirty Drug Secret: Stacey Dooley Investigates (viewable in the UK until next Sunday)

Last Monday I saw a programme featuring Stacey Dooley, the British “investigative journalist” whose efforts at understanding the divisions in Luton and the origins of the English Defence League I previously reviewed here. Every time Dooley is on TV, the hits I get for that entry make a huge jump, and last week it was the single most viewed entry on this blog, and so I thought I’d better watch her latest effort, an investigation into the smuggling of drugs such as cocaine through Ukraine into western Europe. She also looked at the effects of home-made drugs on poor people in Ukraine, who cannot afford imported cocaine; the two principal home-made concoctions are said to result in permanent brain damage in one case and a two-year life expectancy in the other for users. As in previous reports by her, there is too much emphasis on her personal reactions to the situations she encounters, and her remarks are often vapid and sometimes downright inappropriate.

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Parliament got it right on Syria (for now)

Picture of a man holding a banner saying 'Dear free world, enjoy watching us burn', with a picture of several dead bodies from the recent chemical attacks.Last Thursday, the British Parliament resoundingly defeated a government motion to join military action in Syria in response to the recent chemical weapon attacks in the suburbs of Damascus. Labour were joined in their opposition by a large number of Tory MPs, and it led to David Cameron blaming Tony Blair for “poisoning the well” of public opinion against British involvement in such actions. He may be partly right but as I have said before, British public opinion has supported more recent military action in support of Arab Spring uprisings such as in Libya. Syria is different, both politically and geographically, and this situation has all the warning signs of the kind of costly, long-term military entanglement that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan proved to be, which the British public understandably have no appetite for.

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Don’t mind the monkeys

A still from the BBC's Winterbourne View Panorama documentary, showing a male care worker standing over a male patient who is stuck under a chair, while another man sits on the chair.Carers and care workers are the best kind of people. So why are they treated so disgracefully?

Yesterday the Guardian published the above article by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, best known for co-founding Vagenda magazine and for a column in the New Statesman, which romanticised the role of carers both paid and unpaid. She has a brother who is autistic and has learning disabilities, and recently one of his carers had to resign because her relationship ended and she could not afford to live by herself on a carer’s wages, so had to go and live with her parents a long way away. She called carers “the best kind of people”, doing an often unpleasant job for little money or a small sum in benefits. This provoked quite a bit of debate on Twitter among people who had both been carers and those who needed their care. The general consensus was that calling them “the best people” was not only far too simplistic but also patronising, serving to cover up low pay and stress among the carers themselves and abuse of the people who receive care.

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Muslims must pay to save Academy

Recently I saw a number of appeals on Facebook and other social media to sign a petition to save a “mosque” in Manchester, the Islamic Academy of Manchester, which had been sold to a property developer and is likely to be converted into flats by a specialist church conversion firm. The building had been owned by the council which leased part of it to a Muslim organisation, but the lease has expired and the building sold. The academy’s website has a press release and an article calling for “urgent action”, including contacting the media to protest “misrepresentations” and putting forward objections to the new owners’ planning application, but one kind of action is conspicuously missing.

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‘Road tax’ and the state of the A1

The BBC’s online “Magazine” last week published three articles about transport issues, one of them about the notion of “road tax” and how it’s commonly used as a trump card in arguments between motorists and cyclists, and two about various major road and railway projects and how likely they are to happen. One of those is a bridge or tunnel across from the mainland to the Isle of Wight, which despite being right next to three small cities on the south coast is linked to it only by ferries; another is a motorway running northwards through eastern England, such as an extension of the M11 or an upgrade of most or all of the A1 to motorway. Having been up the A1 quite recently, I can agree that parts of it badly need upgrading, but not the parts that are commonly assumed.

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Benefits Britain 1949: yes, the world has changed since then

A light brown-skinned woman with braided hair, wearing a red jumper and a black top under it, holding a crutch in her hand, getting out of a metallic grey Nissan carCurrently Channel 4 is running a series called Benefits Britain 1949, in which people are invited to live on benefits at 1949 levels (supposedly adjusted to inflation) for a week. The Daily Mail has published an article by Melissa Kite in which it is declared that this “extraordinary experiment … PROVES the welfare state has lost its way”. The three people featured are a 54-year-old grandmother who it claims is “smartly dressed in fashionable clothes, jewellery and sports an immaculate manicure”, a 24-year-old man with spina bifida who uses a wheelchair, and a 71-year-old widower, all from Nottingham where, she says “half the population is on some kind of benefit. Yes, half”. The experiment sees the disabled man get his “first real job” while the pensioner is packed off to an old people’s home.

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No, it’s not fascism

Recently there has been some well-deserved condemnation on blogs and Twitter feeds that I read about the British government’s attacks on immigration, which took the form of vans telling people who are in the country illegally to “go home or face arrest”, as well as spot checks on people coming through certain London train stations, in which UKBA (UK Border Agency) officers were observed to be stopping non-white travellers. This has led to some to declare that the UK is sinking into fascism, which seems to be based on ignorance of what fascism really is.

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Twitter silence is not an answer

Drawing of Jane AustenRecently in the UK (not sure how many of my overseas readers are aware of it) there has been a major controversy about abuse of women activists on Twitter, which erupted when a feminist campaigner was targeted with threats of rape after her campaign to get a woman’s face (Jane Austen’s) on a UK banknote, as that of Elizabeth Fry, a 19th-century prison reformer, is about to disappear from them. Three others — historian Mary Beard, MP Stella Creasy and journalist Hadley Freeman — all subsequently reported that they had received either rape threats or bomb threats, and it was suggested, I believe by the Times columnist Caitlin Moran, that we all stay off Twitter last Sunday as some sort of protest because the site does not have an “abuse” button in the same way it has a “spam” button. There are two major objections to this reaction: one is that many people rely on social media, including Twitter, for any kind of social life, the other that it is a cave-in to the bullies.

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Justice for Jenny: delivered

Picture of Jenny Hatch in between her friends Kelly Morris and Jim Talbert. Morris is wearing a black short-sleeved top with white trouses, Jenny a multi-coloured, horizontally-striped, knee-length dress and Talbert a grey suit jacket with black trousersWoman with Down syndrome prevails over parents in guardianship case (from the Washington Post website)

Yesterday Jenny Hatch, who had been fighting to free herself from a restrictive guardianship arrangement which required her to live in a group home against her wishes, won her case (see earlier entry). Jenny (officially Margaret Jean Hatch) had lived in the community in Hampton, Virginia, until last year when a bicycle accident meant she had to seek medical care, and although her friends were willing for her to live with them (and had been employing them in their thrift store, which is a kind of second-hand shop for British readers), they were under the impression that she could not get a Medicaid waiver (an allowance for free healthcare) unless she was in a group home. Shortly afterwards, her parents filed for legal guardianship and she was forced to live in group homes while the proceedings were ongoing. Her mother was awarded temporary guardianship in February. Yesterday that was quashed; temporary guardianship was awarded to her friends, Jim Talbert and Kelly Morris, for a year with the expectation that she will be released from any such arrangement after that. There are two local TV news reports here and an earlier Washington Post report here.

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Young people’s mental health: failed by the system

Picture of Jonny Benjamin, a white man with stubble in a thick blue jacket with a furry collarBBC Three: Failed by the NHS

Last night there was a documentary on BBC Three about young people whose mental health conditions went untreated for months or years by the NHS mental health services, including in cases where they were experiencing severe psychosis and were at risk of killing themselves. The programme was part of the same “It’s a Mad World” season as Don’t Call Me Crazy, which I reviewed here three weeks ago, and the presenter, Jonny Benjamin, suffers from schizoaffective disorder and has been running a YouTube channel about his conditions (he also has Crohn’s disease) for three years and works for a TV production company (he is interviewed by Mind’s Time to Change here). As great as this documentary was, the title feeds into a media culture of blaming “the NHS” for things that are wrong with the health system, and plays into the hands of those who want to destroy or privatise it.

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Are the Tories evil? What is evil, anyway?

Picture of Iain Duncan Smith, a white man in a dark-coloured jacket and trousers, white shirt and blue tie, standing with a microphone in his handOwen Jones: Cruel? Certainly. Unforgivable? Beyond doubt. But the Tories aren't actually evil - Comment - Voices - The Independent

Last week Sunny Hundal posted an article on Liberal Conspiracy in which he made the choice that the Tories were evil because they advanced policies which caused misery, suffering and even death, lied to the public about it, suppressed the truth about global warming by removing it from the school curriculum, and supported dictators who were mass murderers. Mark Ferguson on LabourList countered by claiming that the Tories actually think their policies are for the greater good, and that calling them evil devalues the term, which really belongs to the likes of Pol Pot, Stalin and Hitler. Owen Jones argues that calling someone evil makes it impossible to understand your enemy:

“Evil” is a comforting, but worrying concept. Its connotations are so extreme that, by applying it to someone, you at a stroke strip them of their humanity; you cease in any way to be able to imagine their rationales or thought processes; they simply become a cartoon villain, for whom the ultimate thrill is the inflicting of misery. As soon as you fail to understand your enemy, they have already defeated you. It would be easy to imagine the Tories as a cabal of upper-class sadomasochists, spending their evenings plotting ever more devious ways to hunt children on council estates like rural foxes. But it misses the point.

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Why compulsory school dinners are a bad idea

A school dinner, consisting of a blue tray with compartments containing pasta, peas and mincemeat, an orange cut into quarters, a red cup of water, a piece of French bread and a fork and spoonBan packed lunches, head teachers urged (from BBC News)

The government has commissioned a report by two founders of the Leon restaurant chain (!) that says that take-up of school meals is low (43%) despite “huge quality improvements”. It claims that if everyone had school dinners then quality could improve as there would be more money in the system, that packed lunches are nearly always less nutritious than a cooked meal and should be banned, and also suggests subsidised school meals for the first years of primary and secondary schools (Reception and Year 7), but does not recommend free school meals for everyone. (More: Tattooed Mummy, Same Difference.)

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Review: Don’t Call Me Crazy

A still picture of a young woman sitting on a bed with her knees up and her hands over her face, behind a heavy lockable (but unlocked) doorRecently a series called Don’t Call Me Crazy, set inside an adolescent mental health unit in Manchester, the now-closed McGuinness Unit, was screened on BBC Three, apparently the first time cameras had been allowed to film inside such a unit. They were given access to patients and staff, although some of both declined to be featured (or were unable to give consent) and their faces were disguised in the programme. The most prominently featured was Beth Whittaker, who had an eating disorder and was in the unit for six months, much of it on a section as she failed to comply with the treatment, but other patients had OCD, depression, psychosis and one had suffered a nervous breakdown. All three episodes are currently available online in the UK until next Monday (Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3) and you can read an interview with Beth here and some interviews with Beth and three members of staff on the programme’s website here. (More: Ilona Richards @ Mind [1], [2], [3], Secret Schizophrenic, And Then She Disappeared [1], [2], [3].) Also, Katy Gray published a very critical comment on this programme on TwitLonger, relating to consent issues.

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Who’s helping disabled Muslims this Ramadan?

Picture of a small, hexagonal domed building set inside a mosque, set on pillars.BBC News - Frederic Kanoute supports disabled man's Ramadan fast

Imraan Adam is a Muslim who lives in Derby and has cerebral palsy, and earlier this week it was reported that the council in Derby could no longer pay for the support for him to eat before sunrise and thus be able to fast the day. Imraan has fasted in Ramadan since age 10 (it doesn’t say how old he is now, although he must be over 21 as he has a degree) and in previous years the council has arranged for extra support, but has now refused, citing its difficult financial situation. In this case, the footballer Frederic Kanoute has stepped in and provided the money for him to pay for his extra care.

There are, of course, some people who will say that Muslims shouldn’t expect the wider community to fund “special treatment” like this, although the cost cannot be that great as the number affected (who do not live with families and are severely physically disabled) cannot be that many. This is really something that the Muslim community should be doing for its members, and if the money involved is not that great for a local authority, it shouldn’t be for a local Muslim community either. Every mosque, or at least one in every community, should have a fund to pay for this support. I would imagine that there are a lot of converts in that number. It’s an extra hour’s support for at most 30 days every year, and the community would not have to hire carers but simply pay a care agency (most likely the ones that the people affected are already using) to send someone round.

While on the subject of Ramadan, it’s a great thing that this year everyone in Europe is starting on the same day, and that the “Saudi followers” (mostly the so-called major mosques such as Regent’s Park, Westbourne Park and East London) are not starting a day early. The last time everyone started and finished on the same day was 2008 (when the month coincided with September), and it was widely regarded as a cause for celebration. We do not make a fuss about moon-sighting, or “moon fighting” as some people call it, for kicks or because we just hate the Saudis, but because we do not want to be fasting when it’s not Ramadan and having a big feast while it actually is Ramadan.