Today the Daily Mail published a quite astonishing and appalling article by Mark Littlewood of the Institute of Economic Affairs (and former spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, the Pro-Euro Conservative Party and NO2ID) calling for the government to publish the names and addresses of every individual claiming benefits in the UK. This has already been reacted to with fury by disabled people on Twitter, many of whom have already faced public hostility by people who perceive them as benefit claimants. He compares benefit recipients to the companies whose tax affairs have come under scrutiny in the media (and, supposedly, at the G8 summit); he calls those companies “wealth creators and tax contributors” and benefit claimants “tax consumers”. (More: David Gillon @ Where’s the Benefit?, Latent Existence, Tom Pride.)
Yesterday the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, which has been holding “rallies” (I’d call them meetings, rather than rallies which I always thought were held in the street or at least in the open) around the country, including one in Brighton which I went to on 30th May, featuring Owen Jones, Mark Steel and local MP Caroline Lucas (there was a London one the same day, but it was in a pub and the ‘star’ speakers were Ken Livingstone and Lindsey German), held its big event at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. The Brighton one was somewhat disappointing as, taking place two weeks after Woolwich, the speakers (and workshop sessions) focussed entirely on economic matters and barely acknowledged (it was mentioned about three times) that the EDL were on the march again and racism and, particularly, Islamophobia were a major issue again. This time, though, there were sessions on the anti-war movement and combating the far right, of which I attended the latter (they were on at the same time). I’ve published a set of pictures of the parts of the event I attended on Flickr.
Last week I heard the news that a 14-year-old boy with severe autism, Alex Spourdalakis, had been murdered by his mother and another female carer in a suburban area near Chicago after they had made appeals to get what they considered suitable care for him. Alex himself was first given an overdose of painkillers and when that failed to kill him, they stabbed him in his chest. They then attempted to take their own lives by an overdose, but were found alive and are now in custody, charged with first-degree murder. The American media (the story was not broadcast in the UK, although the Daily Mail reported it on their website) branded it a “tragedy”, quickly attributed the murder to the difficulty of caring for a boy with a learning disability, and implied that it had been waiting to happen. This is the stock response to the murder of a disabled child, and it’s wrong. (More: Ariana Zurchner, David Gorski @ Science-based Medicine, Wendy Baskin, Michael Scott Monae jr, Jo Ashline, Kassiane @ Time to Listen, Same Difference.)
The above bit of EDL apologism by Charles Moore appeared in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph, and it also contains a dig at Tell MAMA, the formerly state-funded body that monitored anti-Muslim attacks (hence the acronym) and an attempt to stir up fresh outrage over the murder of Lee Rigby four weeks or so ago, claiming it has died down and people are focussing on a backlash against Muslims which he claims is exaggerated. The fact that it has prompted a resurgence of a formerly moribund violent street gang as well as at least three arson attacks on Muslim properties, one of them burned to the ground, is no exaggeration.
Laurie Penny has an article in the latest New Statesman (not online yet) in which she bemoans the lack of graffiti on the trains and buses in London, which she says is ubiquitous on public transport and buildings in other cities such as New York and Berlin. She puts this down to the huge concentration of CCTVs in London and people’s willingness to accept them, and in the context of the revelations about the American National Security Agency’s data snooping operations, represents a “gradual chilling effect” of people getting used to constant surveillance. I’m not so sure.
This is a petition to proscribe the English Defence League. This will not force the EDL out of existence, of course, but it will mean no more of their demonstrations and the public violence that always accompany them. It will mean displaying signs of belonging to the EDL, such as shouting slogans associated with it and wearing their T-shirts, will become a crime. It will likely mean that successor groups are banned as well if they are deemed to be the EDL rebranded, as has been the case with al-Muhajiroun. As with al-Muhajiroun, their reach will be greatly reduced and will have to go underground if they are to operate at all; any violent operations will be put down to “gangs of thugs” with “EDL links”, and it will not be mistaken for a lawful popular movement.
If you are in the UK I urge you to sign this petition. If enough people sign it, it may be debated in Parliament.
Yesterday a 21-year-old Somali woman from London was given a community service order for posting an offensive tweet about the soldier Lee Rigby after his stabbing last month (but before the full facts about the attack became known), to the effect that anyone who would wear a Help for Heroes T-shirt deserves to be beheaded (she claimed this was a comment on the design of the T-shirt). She admitted “sending a malicious electronic message” and ordered to complete 250 hours of unpaid work by Hendon magistrates, who warned her that she could have been imprisoned and that her words “had a huge impact and clearly caused offence and distress”. The “offence and distress” manifested itself in threats to rape her and kill her by burning her house down, and she was arrested after going to the police to report this.
Last night a mosque in Muswell Hill, north London, was firebombed and the letters “EDL” were spray-painted onto the burned-out remains. Who exactly might have done this is still being investigated, and the fact that the EDL’s initials were sprayed on it doesn’t mean it was them, as opposed to a sympathiser. The mosque is next to houses, which meant that lives could have been endangered even if nobody was in the building, and is also very close to a primary school.
My experience with the Bravanese community (which originates from Brava or Baraawe in southern Somalia) is that they are far removed from extremism: they are traditional Sufi-type Muslims who have held out against the spread of “salafism” in the Somali community, let alone jihadi extremism. This is not to say that no Bravanese Muslim has ever become an extremist (although the killers of Lee Rigby were not even Somali and were not from that area), but it is highly unlikely that extremist ideas were being preached there. It is likely that the common denominator was race: most Somalis are black, like the two men of Nigerian origin who committed the Woolwich murder.
As the dust settles on the Woolwich murder, so the vultures are starting to circle and the ground is being prepared for generalised attacks on the Muslim community, however much it was made clear that ordinary Muslims condemn the murder and were not responsible for it. The Sun has another front-page story about a video’ed “rant” (meaning a lecture or speech) given by Anjem Choudary in an office in London (the same report was reproduced in the Evening Standard); Tony Blair last weekend wrote in the Mail on Sunday that the “ideology which inspired [the murder] is profound and dangerous” and that there was “not a problem with Islam” but “within Islam”, contrasting “Islamists who have this exclusivist and reactionary world view” with “the modern-minded … who hated the old oppression by corrupt dictators and who hate the new oppression by religious fanatics”, as if there were no in-betweens. Glasgow Labour MP Tom Harris (a member of Labour Friends of Israel) dismisses the idea that the EDL are bigger threat to “our way of life” than Islamists when they “can barely spell ‘fascist’”, as if you need to be able to spell to beat someone up and form a mass to cause enormous disruption and menace the public. Finally, David Cameron also harped on the “extremist ideology that perverts and warps Islam” and claimed that “it is not simply enough to target and go after violent extremists after they’ve become violent. We have to drain the swamp in which they inhabit”, referring to university campuses, mosques and madrassas.
In the wake of the conviction of Mark Bridger yesterday for killing April Jones, a 5-year-old girl he kidnapped from a green on a housing estate in Machynlleth, mid Wales, last year, the focus has been on his fondness for child and child-abuse pornography which was found on his computer (along with other abusive images and film, including a rape scene from a film which had been copied to a video tape without the rest of the film). The Daily Mail led with the headline “What will it take for Google to block child porn?”, claiming that Bridger had searched the network for phrases like “naked five-year-old girls’, ‘nudism five-year-olds’ and ‘pictures of naked virgin teens’”, and that “child safety charities, including the NSPCC, demanded that the internet giants introduce immediate controls to stop paedophiles gaining access to child pornography”:
John Carr of the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety said: ‘If these images were not available on the internet then men like Hazell and Bridger might not go on to kill.
‘We cannot blame the internet for these people but it has opened pathways that lead them on to violent pornography and paedophile material.’
In the wake of last week’s Woolwich stabbing, there have been renewed calls to ban “hate preachers” from appearing on TV, most notably Anjem Choudary, the leader of al-Muhajiroun. Muslims, including myself, have for years called for him (and Omar Bakri before him) not to be given the oxygen of publicity, because he has only a tiny following and his stunts are almost always harmful to the Muslim community he purports to represent, yet he was presented as the voice of radical Islam to the nation, mostly by the right-wing tabloids. This week, two high-profile voices have been raised against banning him from TV: first Jack Straw, who compared the idea to the “IRA broadcasting ban” of the 1980s (which was easily circumvented by having an actor read the words of a Sinn Fein politician, usually Gerry Adams), and today David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, who said on the BBC’s PM programme last night on Radio 4, that “it’s important to give these people a hard time and to expose to the audience the sort of things they have been saying when they have not been wearing a tie in the television studio”. (You can hear the programme here until next Wednesday.)
Last Friday at 1pm, Jeremy Vine had a slot about Islam and Muslims on his talk show on BBC Radio 2 — nice timing. This was, of course, prompted by the brutal murder of a soldier in Woolwich last Wednesday. Who should turn up on his show this time than Taj Hargey, yet again, as well as Usama Hasan from the Quilliam Foundation. The former spouted his usual rubbish, blaming “mullahs” who teach standard Islamic beliefs for the deranged behaviour of the two men who were members of al-Muhajiroun but struck out on their own. Usama Hasan told a slightly more interesting story about how he fought in the jihad in Afghanistan in the 1980s before beginning his “path to moderate Islam” after 9/11. There were, of course, no other guests representing the Muslim community. The programme can be found here and the slot starts 1hr 10mins in.
This letter from Anthony Stansfeld of Thames Valley police appeared in yesterday’s Guardian, and attributes the grooming and rape of girls in Oxford and elsewhere to the lack of supervision and safeguarding:
The problem is not only did people look the other way, but that the rules under which they operate can make safeguarding extremely difficult – that is what an inquiry needs to look into.
How can a pre-teenage girl in social care go missing 126 times? The answer is that her right to go to town and be groomed, then abused and raped, seems to have been regarded as more important than her being safeguarded. Until this is sorted out it is difficult for social services to do their job properly. Social care for pre-age-of-consent children must be looked into and proper rules established that makes their safeguarding easier.
Yesterday a British soldier was attacked by two men with butchers’ knives on a street in Woolwich, south-east London, and killed in broad daylight in public view near to a primary school not long before the end of the school day. The men made no attempt to flee, one of them making a political statement to a passer-by’s camera or mobile phone, the footage of which was released to the press. When the police finally arrived, they then made to attack the police but were both shot and are now in separate hospitals. The area around the scene of the crime (which is on part of the South Circular Road, a major route for trucks) is still closed off. Last night the government’s emergency committee, known as COBRA, was meeting and the incident was said to be being treated as a “terrorist incident”. The Daily Mail has a pretty comprehensive coverage of the incident, along with some gratuitous sideswipes at local minority populations (including the clear images of two Black women walking past the attacker, in obvious contrast with the white woman who confronted him). Note: a picture of the attacker (taken from the video footage) is over the fold. (More: Half a Giraffe, The Goldfish on phony mental health speculations, Scriptonite Daily.)
Last week seven men from Oxford were found guilty of various sexual offences, including rape, for ‘grooming’ young girls and ultimately raping and allowing other men to rape them. Many of them were in local authority care and others (as in Rochdale) were placed in care by their parents in an attempt to stop the abuse that they were complaining about, but carers refused to listen to the girls’ and their parents’ complaints, in one case telling one of the victims that it was ‘inappropriate’ to talk about the issue at that time. On Wednesday’s Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2, he had two guests: John Brown of the NSPCC’s sexual abuse programme, and Taj Hargey, an “imam” that the media commonly wheels out to issue sweeping negative generalisations about Muslims. The programme can be listened to here until next Wednesday and is the first feature (which starts after Michael Jackson’s Thriller ends).
Last week Professor Stephen Hawking pulled out of a conference in Israel, reportedly as part of an academic boycott of Israeli institutions on the grounds of it operating an Apartheid-type regime against its Palestinian subjects. The decision prompted a number of Israeli sympathisers to reassess their views of Hawking from being a genius who triumphed over adversity to being a “stupid cripple” who should hurry up and die, or similar, but one Israeli law firm recommended that Hawking change the processor he uses in his tablet to communicate, namely the Intel Core i7 which is developed at an Intel base in Israel. There are a number of reasons why the demand represents the ignorance and bias of those making it.
“I’m not a ‘person with a disablity’, I’m a disabled person” (from xojane by Lisa Egan)
Recently I’ve noticed that a number of blogs by disabled people in the UK insist on referring to themselves, and similarly affected people, as “disabled people” rather than “people with disabilities”, the internationally recognised term which was commonly used in the UK until fairly recently, and that this term has become common (though not used consistently) in organisations such as government departments and student unions. The theory behind this is that the former term reflects a “social model” in which disability is the product of social barriers rather than a person’s physical impairments — the latter being termed the “medical model” in which disability is a medical problem to be cured, if possible. I see several problems with this use of language: it puts the British disability community out of step with those abroad, it regularly causes misunderstandings and misrepresentations, it is not inclusive, and is a false dichotomy in which an ideal model is presented in opposition to a composite of the worst disablist attitudes. (More: Emma’s Hope Book.)
Yesterday there were local elections in large parts of the UK and the news reported the fact that UKIP had made significant gains, with their number of councillors rising from eight to 147 and both the Tories and Liberal Democrats losing huge numbers (335 and 124 respectively). You can find the full results (including a clickable version of the map on the right) here among other places, and it is noticeable that three rural councils in the western Midlands and three in eastern England have gone grey for ‘no overall control’. In some of these places, the Tories could form an alliance with UKIP to control the council, but not all of them — in others (e.g. Gloucestershire), the Liberal Democrats are still the second party. The press made the UKIP surge the story because it’s new; what they do not report is what has not changed, and this reporting makes UKIP look more important than they really are.
I received a letter today from the Attorney General’s office, in response to an open letter I had sent (which many readers of this blog had signed) regarding the sentence of Jordan Sheard, who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for the killing of Stephen Simpson at a party in June 2012. The letter was dated 18th April, so it may well have been sitting in our mailbox for a couple of weeks (we tend to pull letters out of the top of it rather than open it up), and this news has already appeared in the local media in Sheffield. The letter says that the Attorney General (Dominic Grieve, QC MP) has decided to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal, where it will be heard by three Court of Appeal judges who will decide whether or not to increase the sentence.
I am very pleased with this news: three and a half years is a derisory sentence for causing a brutal death to a vulnerable man. It is still a mystery that he was not charged with murder.
Rosa Monckton, as I have written on this page before, is an extremely privileged lady. I do not mean privilege as in white or, needless to say, male privilege. I mean she has enormous advantages: a lot of money, very powerful political connections and the ear of the national media. Not for her an article published in an obscure corner of the Daily Mail website, no, this woman can get a BBC documentary produced to air her views. She was a friend of Princess Di, she’s married to the former editor of the Sunday Telegraph who is also the son of a cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher. Her views are taken seriously, particularly when they concern something which is no doubt very dear to her: the welfare of people with learning disabilities. Like her daughter, Domenica, who has Down’s syndrome. Unfortunately, she is somewhat set in her ways, not very fond of people with such disabilities having personal autonomy, and her articles bring out the prejudice in a lot of readers, such as the comment posted below her most recent lengthy article in the Daily Mail:
Thank you for highlighting this…independent living didn’t work before it won’t work again, nothing has changed people with downs are children and the do gooders need to get to grips with that ,not promoting human rights on the vulnerable people that are at risk..at the bottom of this it purely down to finances …yet again.