Last week, someone posted a picture to the Mencap Facebook page, and the picture has been widely shared on social media and has found its way into the mainstream press. It shows a young woman standing next to an elderly man in a wheelchair, in a small recess outside two fire exits. The woman is smoking and is talking on a mobile phone. The man has shopping hanging from the handles of his wheelchair and three bags piled on his lap tray, one of which is pressing into his face. Mencap responded by telling the original poster they were “appalled” and had suspended the support worker in the picture and reported it to the relevant local authority safeguarding team; the picture has generated outrage in the learning disability blogging community; Neil Crowther and Mark Neary both posted articles which took apart Mencap’s response to the picture. Personally, while I agree with the criticism of Mencap, I think we are jumping to too many conclusions about the woman’s behaviour. (I’ve not named the woman or her home town in this article.)
So, the date for the referendum on Britain’s exit from the European Union has been set (23rd June) and politicians on both sides are coming out with their position on the matter. Unusually, David Cameron has allowed members of his cabinet freedom to support either side in this (he and George Osborne support staying in; Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith and London mayor Boris Johnson support leaving). On the Labour side, all but 7 support remaining, as well as all 54 from the SNP, and all members from the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. The Remain side point to the fact that the EU countries are our closest neighours and that as a member of the EU we get a say in writing the rules of the ‘club’. The Leave side claim that we could have a mutual trading agreement similar to that ‘enjoyed’ by Norway and Switzerland, and that we could build up closer trading relationships with ‘emerging economies’ such as India and China. If things in Europe in June are as they are now, I will be voting to stay in. Whatever the faults of the European Union, I do not trust the people who are trying to drag us out and to leave now would give them untrammelled power.
ThinkProgress, a site some of us had taken for a progressive opinion site, recently published a piece titled “Why Converts To Islam Are So Susceptible To Becoming Terrorists”, by one Beenish Ahmed (right). That this is true was news to some of us who are converts to Islam and have been quietly getting on with our lives for years, or decades, some of us quite successfully and some of us struggling a bit. The article claims, on the basis of a report from George Washington University titled ISIS in America (PDF), that 40% of “those arrested on terrorism-related charges” in 2015 were Muslim converts; 23% of American Muslims, it claims, are converts. The article is long on “illustrative examples”, some of which have nothing to do with terrorism at all, and uses a picture of a woman in niqaab to illustrate the point, when in fact the majority of terrorists are men and the majority of women who wear it, even if they belong to puritanical groups within Islam (which not all do), are not terrorists.
I had a brief look at the GWU report as I suspected that the 40% figure must be based on a very small sample, and was right: it’s not 40% of terrorists as a whole but of people charged with ISIS-related activity, and the total number is 71. That’s an extremely small number of people and cannot be treated as representative of the American Muslim convert population. (It is not clear whether they distinguish between actual converts and Muslims descended from them.) Not all the cases involved plotting terrorist acts as such, but were related to affiliation or planning to emigrate to ISIS-controlled parts of Syria and Iraq. And not all “terrorist plots” uncovered by the FBI originate with the arrestee; many of them are fabricated by the agents themselves. Eliminate those from the statistics, and the number of American Muslim converts charged with ISIS-related terrorist activity becomes even less significant.
It has been revealed that Sarah Reed, the woman who was found dead in her cell at Holloway Prison in London last month, having supposedly strangled herself, had been remanded following an incident in a secure ward at the Maudsley psychiatric unit in south London. Ms Reed wrote to her parents to tell them that an old white man had sexually assaulted her while in the unit and she fought back, resulting in her being charged with causing grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent. Rather than being released back to that or another unit, she was remanded in custody. This would have been the decision of a medical ‘expert’ from the local health authority, rather than a judge or prison service official. Reed was the victim in 2012 of an assault by a police officer, who was later dismissed from the Metropolitan Police and sentenced to community service.
They first sent me to Windsor, and then to Stoke on Trent
In a holding cell in Liverpool three days and nights I spent
My solicitor can’t find me and my family don’t know
I keep telling them I’m innocent; they say “come on son, in you go”.
— Billy Bragg, “Rotting On Remand”, 1988
These words were written about the state of Britain’s prisons in the mid-1980s, when overcrowding was a problem and prisoners were moved frequently, including remand prisoners who were awaiting trial and thus often innocent. Much the same is still true of the treatment of some of our young people in Britain’s mental health system, where someone on section can be moved on the say-so of a consultant psychiatrist who believes that their behaviour has got a bit too much for his staff. This is what enabled the transfer of Claire Dyer, then aged 20, from Swansea to a private medium-secure unit near Brighton in 2014; she was released from there after less than three months. Many people with learning disabilities, particularly autism, and mentally-ill young people are not so lucky and face years in multiple locked or secure units because of lack of funding for home-based care or a community placement, or because the consultant in charge does not understand their condition.
Last weekend David Bowie died, and amid the non-stop media tributes (which have been compared to the relentless coverage of Lady Diana’s death in 1997, although they can’t have really approached that — normal TV programming was stopped for most of that Sunday), there were a few dissenters who called Bowie a ‘rapist’ because he slept with a teenage groupie (or more than one) in LA some time in the 1970s. There is an unusually balanced view from Julie Burchill in the Spectator, who called Bowie’s behaviour ‘creepy’ but criticised feminists for their tendency to “strip women they do not agree with of agency, and seek to paint them as confused poltroons suffering from good old ‘false consciousness’”. A number of feminist blogs have no such qualms, however, with Louise Pennington (referred to in Burchill’s article) writing anoymously on a site called “Everyday Victim Blaming” about her own experience of sexual abuse as a (much younger) child and drawing dubious links between Bowie’s behaviour and that of Bill Cosby and Jimmy Savile. She has published two separate articles on her own blog also (, ). There have been a number of other articles expressing a similar viewpoint (, , , ), as well as a more balanced piece by Mic Wright here.
On New Year’s Eve, an organised gang of hundreds of young men, described as being of Arab or North African appearance, descended on the main railway station in Cologne, Germany, and molested and robbed hundreds of women who were out to take part in the city’s NYE celebrations. At least two rapes were reported as well. It transpires that of the 31 arrested over the incident (and, it should be pointed out, some have been released for lack of evidence), 18 were asylum seekers from those two areas, but they also include Germans, Serbs and an American. The speculation and then confirmation that many or not most of the attackers were Arabs or North Africans and possibly asylum seekers has led to a flurry of demands for a tightening of Germany’s asylum laws as well as the return of asylum seekers who commit crimes (the chancellor is drafting laws which will do this, making it possible to deport those sentenced to less than three years, the current threshold), as well as calls to “face facts” about Arab and Muslim culture and Islam itself and the attitudes to women they encounter. Some have responded that sexual harassment and rape culture are already well-established in western societies, including Germany, and does not need to be imported by immigrants from anywhere.
A week or so ago, I found a link that Karen Ingala-Smith, a prominent British campaigner against violence against women, posted about an ‘experiment’ in Harrow, north-west London, in which victims of domestic violence will discuss their abuse “face-to-face with the perpetrators” in an effort to “break the cycle”. The experiment is based on an American model and will be run by psychotherapists and counsellors from the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships. A local councillor is quoted as saying that “if the abusers understand the impact their behaviour has on their family, we hope they can change” and that the experiment would be combined with a campaign to encourage victims to come forward. The article quotes Karen Ingala-Smith and another anti-violence campaigner, Sarah Green of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, who said:
The assumption in such couple counselling approaches tends to be that both parties must be at fault and they simply need to learn better behaviours. Domestic violence is about bullying and control, not misunderstanding. It is a choice, and it is deeply related to power between men and women.
In today’s Guardian there is a feature on why the AK-47 has suddenly become the weapon of choice for terrorists, replacing suicide belts and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The article features a petty arms dealer from Montenegro, one Vlatko Vucelic, who was stopped on the motorway in Germany carrying “a whole arsenal”, which consisted of three handguns, two grenades, 200g of TNT and eight Kalashnikovs. The assault rifles, which originate in Russia, are now manufactured in more than 30 countries (including EU states that used to be in the Warsaw Pact, some of which sold the weapons to Libya), most of them in China, and are exported to Africa where it is believed most of the illicit AKs come from, having been supplied to rebel groups in other countries or sold by underpaid soldiers. (TW: picture of assault rifle with bayonet under the fold.)
Back in the late 1990s I remember watching a documentary about a young girl then named Joella Holliday, whose mother had been fighting to get a birth certificate issued that said she was female. She had been hastily named Joel David as a newborn when doctors could not identify a sex because several of her abdominal organs were malformed or absent and it was feared that she would not survive very long, but doctors believed she should have been assigned female as she had no penis at all. It took nearly ten years and a public legal battle to get the certificate issued, but the publicity caused her to be bullied at school and to ultimately be withdrawn. I saw a couple of other interviews with Joella over the years and a literary agent’s website carried details of a forthcoming book, but this year the book was published, and Joella is now Joel (or Joe) again, and has reverted to living as a man. He and his ghost writer have done interviews and published articles calling for an end to the medical reassignment of gender to intersexed babies, claiming that studies have found that many of those with genders reassigned (usually female) for medical reasons or because they’re “not quite male” have rejected their assigned gender as adults, and attributed the depression he had suffered in his early 20s, prior to having a routine chromosome test which revealed he had XY (male) chromosomes, to being raised in the wrong sex.
Earlier today I got an email ostensibly from Apple, which told me that my iCloud ID was facing deletion because I had not ‘confirmed’ it. The email read:
You’ve not yet confirmed your iCloud ID [redacted] and it’s now pending removal from all associated services.
Apple Account: [redacted]
Customer ID: [a 7-figure number, redacted just in case it’s real]
To comply with mandatory EU regulation and to confirm your details, we need to fully certify your Apple ID. You can do this by visiting Apple Store with a valid form of ID or electronically as long as all the information you have provided is valid. To complete this online please proceed to login below.
In today’s Observer, there is a long article by former Labour stragegist (now a London headteacher) Peter Hyman in which he claims that the current Labour party is a party of “pacifism, republicanism and anti-capitalism” which could only appeal to “a mix of metropolitan elites, students and some trade unionists” and many of whose supporters “want to win an argument rather than an election” and is uninterested in education. He calls for the Blair wing of the party to split away, to form a new ‘project’ which “does not try to recreate New Labour, because the world has moved on, but learns from it”, and accuses Blairites who remain and consider staging a coup of “deluding themselves”:
At its heart would be a renewed sense of moral purpose – a commitment to social mobility – breaking down all barriers to people getting on in life. It would believe in a leaner, more agile, empowering state that supports social entrepreneurs in the building of strong, diverse and democratic communities. This would be in sharp relief to the cuts of the Tories and the big state solutions of the traditional left.
This project would tap into the urgent needs of the country and the new aspirations of the public. This project would need to come up with fresh thinking about how to shape a growing, creative, greener economy and schools that prepare young people properly with the knowledge, skills and character to thrive in this economy.
Instead of just attacking the current reforms to welfare, the project would need to champion the overhaul of the welfare state to provide a more modern contributory system and new institutions such as a National Care Service for the elderly to run alongside the NHS. It would be seen as grappling seriously with the big questions of the day: migration, globalisation, terrorism, the environment, welfare, housing, our place in the world.
A news article based on this claims that Hyman had said that “it may even be necessary to form a new party with others, including the Lib Dems”, but nowhere are the Lib Dems mentioned in the article. (It erroneously calls Hyman’s school a comprehensive; it is in fact a free school.)
Yesterday there was an article published in the Times by Melanie Phillips (it is paywalled, but a scanned image can be found here), a writer whose rantings against Muslims used to be a favourite topic of mine here. Phillips is, for anyone who doesn’t remember, is a conservative who used to be a liberal and who still calls herself a liberal, who used to write for the Guardian until she decided they no longer suited her, whereupon she took her column to the Times, then the Daily Mail until they decided she was too extreme for them, whereupon she went back to the Times. She labels herself a “neo-conservative”, which means a pro-war Zionist who recycles claims from the Zionist propaganda industry (MEMRI et al) and complains of “bias” when the media fails to show sufficient bias in favour of Israel. Yesterday’s article has a headline that brands Donald Trump’s “attackers”, those who seek to ban him from the UK, as the “real fascists”, but the article really does not bear this out; it does, however, peddle the idea that the popularity of his bigotry gives it legitimacy and claims that “the public have had it up to here with politicians and the intelligentsia refusing to acknowledge the fanatical religious roots of Islamic terrorism”.
This morning I was listening to Vanessa Feltz’s phone-in show in London which is every weekday from 9am to noon. I tuned in just before 10am at which point I was heading out on the M3 towards Andover, and they were talking about Islamophobia in the light of an arson attack on Finsbury Park mosque in north London, and an interview with its general secretary on the station’s morning show (about an hour in). Feltz said that a previous caller had said that Muslim women should “show solidarity” with the victims of the French attacks by going out without their head or face-coverings for the day. This was in among a lot of claims that, despite the press releases and open letters, Muslims weren’t condemning ISIS loudly enough — the usual complaints at a time like this, mostly from people who don’t know that many Muslims and a long, bigoted email which among other things criticised the host for giving too much airtime to Muslim women and accused Muslims of showy praying at various motorway service stations. (Feltz read out a letter from me; it’s after 1hr 44min.)
I saw a graphic that was presented next to an article for childminders on how to teach ‘British values’, as now required by the government, and the schools inspectorate Ofsted (which also governs children’s homes and childminders) will demand evidence of “actively promoting” something they call “British values”. The graphic includes some examples of good manners, some sly promotion of white cultural norms, as well as some examples of British culture such as “British music” and “British artists and sculptors”. The person who shared the graphic on Twitter thought it might be a troll, but it is presented in all seriousness albeit as “pointers” rather than as an actual educational resource:
In April 2014, Tania Clarence smothered three of her four children, Olivia, Ben and Max, all of whom had spinal muscular atrophy type 2 (SMA2), at the family home in New Malden (see earlier entry). At trial, she pled guilty to manslaughter due to diminished responsibility and received a hospital order (which means indefinite detention in a psychiatric institution). In March 2015, newspapers were reporting that Clarence had started receiving home leave. This past week, the Kingston and Richmond Safeguarding Children Board published the results of its Serious Case Review (SCA), in which the family was anonymised (exactly why is not clear, given that all of the family’s names, including the surviving daughter’s, are in the public domain), which reveals among other things the mother’s continual failure to co-operate with medical interventions that could have guaranteed the children a longer and healthier life.
The report also alluded to difficulties the couple had relating to medical and social work staff because of their cultural background (they are from South Africa) and class. This prompted an article by Ian Birrell in the Daily Mail, who suggested that the Clarences were “a devoted couple who weren’t trusted to judge what was best for their children with disastrous consequences” and who were “scorned as pushy middle-class parents after rejecting advice from the professionals, leading to a breakdown in their relationship with them”. It’s a quite astonishing piece of self-victimisation, although pretty typical for the Daily Mail, which (like the Telegraph) never shies away from criticising social workers when they interfere in middle-class family life, rather than that of the lower orders.
On Monday night Channel 4 broadcast what purported to be an investigation into a group of British Muslim women who supported ISIS and who ran stalls and study circles around London, as well as using social media (principally Twitter) to raise support for ISIS. What it actually found was nothing the women’s section of the remnants of al-Muhajiroun, a dwindling and banned group known for disruptive and provocative rallies and posters. They added some interviews with Sara Khan of Inspire, a woman from the Henry Jackson society (a neo-conservative think tank) and Crown prosecutor Nazir Afzal, as well as footage of the Paris terrorist attacks, all of which, along with the suggestive voiceovers about the sinister implications of what the subjects were saying, seemed intended to make the findings look scarier than they actually were.
So, a week and a half after the attacks on civilian targets in central Paris, including a stadium, a concert hall and several restaurants on Friday night supposedly by ISIS (or rather, a group of local supporters), the nonsense in the mainstream media is in full flow, with various pundits and so-called experts proclaiming it a “game changer” and others resorting to the tired clichés about blaming Sunni/Shi’a tensions, “Wahhabis” or the Saudis. Several newspapers led with ill-informed speculation that some of the terrorists came into Europe as “fake refugees” and the discovery of Syrian and Egyptian passports near the sites of the attacks immediately raised suspicion (the Egyptian government claimed that the Egyptian passport belonged to a victim, not an attacker). The attacks happened the same night as someone you might better expect to be a target spoke to an audience of 60,000 at Wembley stadium in London, including the Leicester MP Keith Vaz who donated his pay rise to fund the event: Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, who was governor of the state of Gujarat when thousands of his fellow Hindu extremists went on the rampage, killing thousands of Muslims, raping others and burning houses and businesses in an obviously orchestrated pogrom. His event passed off without so much as a stone thrown.
When I used to read the print edition of the Guardian, the paper I’ve read for most of my adolescent and adult life, a pet hate of mine in the last few years was the wastage of space, particularly after it moved to the Berliner format. As a standard part of their ‘style’, there were almost whole columns of empty space and on one occasion, a four-page feature on Syria (early in the civil war) featured a headline that spanned the top half of two pages, along with a small picture and some empty space. I wrote to complain, because the cover price had just gone up and I was annoyed at having to pay extra for blank paper. The wastage would have meant that another whole feature had to be cut.
But actual features can be a waste of space too. Back in the days of Q-News, the Muslim youth magazine that ran through most of the 90s and early 2000s, I once wrote them a fairly constructive letter, I thought, and it was never published — but a foully-worded letter, calling the writers “vermin” and “sewar (sic) rats Wahabi/Salafi” was. In the Family section of today’s Guardian, there’s an anonymous letter from an uncle who says he has cut ties with his godson/nephew because he won’t communicate promptly or warmly enough after the author cut ties with his parents.
The Goldfish last week posted an entry in which she examined the complaints of ‘silencing’ and ‘censorship’ regarding the petition to prevent Germaine Greer from speaking at Cardiff University on the grounds of having transphobic views, as well as picking apart an article by Roger Scruton, on the BBC News website, in which he complained that freedom of speech was being infringed by recent laws banning the incitement of hatred and by politicians seeking to introduce more such bans. Neither can claim to be suffering silencing or censorship, she says, because both have platforms in the mainstream press and on TV which far outstretch the audience they might reach at some university auditorium, and that some of the other claims of harassment against people who have expressed sexist, anti-gay or transphobic views (e.g. Tim Hunt) have been wildly exaggerated, while some of those affected by the views in question have suffered real social costs.