The hysteria of the Labour Leadership.

August 21, 2015

The Labour leadership contest has descended into a playground argument. All sides of this drawn out election battle are one step away from a full of fist fight, and blaming the other for starting it. The Tory Party must be sitting back with glee, recalling their similar breakdown in 1997.

On the one side, if you scrutinise Corbyn’s clear excuses for religious fascists, you’re referred to as ‘tabloid journalism‘ by Corbyn. Indeed, If you dare to criticise Hamas to a Corbyn supporter, be prepared to be told you’re an evil war mongering Zionist. Here:

zionist
– One has to wonder what it is these people consider “social justice” when they read Hamas’ Theocratic charter.

But you would be forgiven for thinking after all the protestations of Corbyn’s supporters using abusive “You’re a Tory!” language directed at the the Cooper, Burnham, and Kendall camps, that they weren’t playing the exact same game of child-like abuse themselves, just a little more subtle. Take these two headlines from The Guardian recently:

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– The hypocrisy is clear. Burnham finds it unacceptable to be labelled a Tory (meaning not true Labour) whilst insisting that a vote for the other guy is a vote to turn Labour into a ‘Party of protest‘ (which I’d presume he believes is also… not true Labour). Dan Hodges of The Telegraph similarly is unhappy with ‘personal abuse‘ whilst at the same time referring to new members as ‘rent-a-Trot‘:
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– We shouldn’t be all that surprised, from a commentator of a newspaper that today ran with this corker:
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Back to Burnham. I take issue with this ‘Party of protest‘ line. If you’re complaining about being labelled ‘Tory‘ whilst dismissing my beliefs as nothing more than ‘party of protest‘… you’re a bit of a whining hypocrite. The ‘party of protest‘ line is based on the presumption that you win an election from the centre, but it seems to me that the centre moves based on the narrative of the victorious party, and so the job of the opposition must be to reframe the narrative, thus shifting the centre on their terms. The Tories have moved as far to the right as permitted by their five years of rhetoric aimed at dehumanising all those who inevitably suffer from the subsequent policies, and they’ve become electable from that position. This isn’t winning from the centre, it’s winning from the right. You may recall a few years back that when Mick Philpott murdered his children in a house fire, George Osborne – the Chancellor of the UK – used it as a reason to take to the airwaves to bemoan welfare. Less than six months later, Labour – instead of ceaselessly pointing out just how utterly hideous this tactic was – chose to chase the Tories on this portrayal of welfare, with shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves insisting that Labour ‘would be tougher‘ on welfare, than the Tories. Recently, Andy Burnham referred to the proposed mansion tax using that trusty Tory phrase: “the politics of envy“. Labour are chasing the Tories to the right, by playing to a Tory narrative & using Tory rhetoric in the hope that it might win back Tory voters. They don’t seem to be able to shape political discourse, or understand what it is they actually believe. The implication from that weak position, is that the Tories are right, and Labour are trying hard not to say it, whilst thinking it. To charge that the choice is either austerity or ‘unelectable party of protest‘ is a worrying development for the Labour Party. It is designed to shut out dissenting voices.
Earlier this year, Liz Kendall refused to condemn massive cuts planned by the Conservatives, with Yvette Cooper responding by insisting – and reflecting comments by Corbyn supporters that Kendall is some sort of closet Tory – that some of her colleagues were “swallowing the Tory manifesto“. Kendall said:

“The only thing I’ve swallowed is the sheer scale of defeat that we faced at the election and the huge changes we need to win again. People didn’t trust us with their money and the economy.”

– This is a convenient way to frame the debate in her favour, but it’s not entirely true. Labour were neck and neck with the Tories in the polls, just five years after leaving government in the midst of a massive economic crisis. Five years later, and after constant attacks on the most vulnerable, blaming the concept of welfare for child murders, TV show after TV show – like ‘Benefits Street‘ – aimed at dehumanising those struggling, and a Chancellor telling us to take it easy on bankers (the ones who caused the crisis). We were subjected to millionaires on TV telling us how a mansion tax would harm them, whilst hearing almost no stories of how the bedroom tax and the increased need for food banks was harming those who aren’t millionaires. At this stage, the Labour Party were neck and neck, with Miliband the clear favourite to be the next PM. That’s a massive achievement. In the final two weeks, the tide was turning – i’d argue – due largely to fear of the SNP. A good family friend who never votes Tory, did so in 2015 because he told us he feared for the country with an SNP partner in government. Negative Tory campaigning whipping up English nationalism, a press convinced that the Earth would collapse with an SNP partner in government, and a Miliband camp that had no idea how to counter this new widespread fear, was enough for the Labour campaign to collapse.

So, Corbyn fans referring to opponents as Zionists, Cooper insisting that Kendall swallowed the Tory manifesto, Burnham tantruming at being labelled Tory whilst insulting those on the left as nothing more than ‘protesters‘. Let’s also not forget that Kendall is no stranger to refusing to actually focus on substance, instead using subtle, fanciful phrases to insult her rival:
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– This hysteria was then backed by a name from the past. David Miliband has spent more time criticising Jeremy Corbyn, then he’s spent opposing any Tory policy of the past five years. He is convinced that until the sun burns out in a few billion years time, we are going to have a perpetual Tory government, because only a shift to the right – which won an election on a ‘massive‘ 35% of a 60% turnout in 2005 – is ‘credible‘:

miliband
– It is as if we’re taking lessons on mass hysteria from the US Tea Party movement convinced in 2008 that a vote for Obama was a vote for a Communist takeover.

It is frustrating on so many levels. I don’t have a preferred candidate, I quite like parts of each of their platforms, and thoroughly dislike others. As a Labour voter, I do not have any faith in any of the candidates, that they can win in 2020.

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Dear Mr Corbyn… You demanded that we should “respect” religions. Here’s why you’re wrong:

August 17, 2015

Dear Mr Corbyn,

Firstly, I think I should lay out my beliefs; I quite like those who satirise ideological frameworks of power. Whether it be Charlie Hebdo with a picture of Muhammad, or Monty Python with ‘The Life of Brian‘ or Have I Got News For You satirising modern politics… I think one of the main weapons against ideas becoming far too powerful and having too much of a say over the lives of others, is our right to laugh at it as an illiberal concept, especially if in countries that don’t have the benefit of protection for free expression, it is considered a punishable offence to do so. In fact, I’m quite certain that those seeking to protect Islam from satire, are the ones who perpetuate its status as a taboo concept that is somehow different, which in turn, empowers those who use it to harm others. That’s where I stand, but I’m a little concerned that you don’t agree.

Back in 2006, you joined a 5000 strong crowd gathered at Trafalgar Square to protest the publishing of cartoons that satirised Muhammad by Danish publication Jyllands-Posten. The event – called ‘United Against Incitement and Islamophobia‘ – was organised by The Muslim Council of Britain, who, as i’m sure you’re aware, are themselves are no strangers to ‘inciting‘ bigotry, when they opposed the repeal of Section 28 on the grounds that:

“…homosexual practice as equivalent to marriage or in a morally neutral way is deeply offensive to Muslims”

– At the event organised by a religious group who do not simply hold their faith to be inner, spiritual, a personal guide, but also containing a political element (which, as I’ll go on to point out, opens it up even more to free expression given that it is a power structure), placards insisted that to satirise that particular power structure and its figurehead is to be “Islamophobic“. At that rally, you said:

“We demand that people show respect for each other’s community, each other’s faith and each other’s religion.”

– I wondered if you still believe that religions are inherently respectable? Because I don’t. And here’s why:

For me, religion is simply a grouping of the outcome of moral debates from an era that pre-dates science. It is the anchoring of morality to a specific time and place, and so it is often very misogynistic having grown up in patriarchal societies, it is often very homophobic, it builds and maintains power by threatening non-believers with unseen damnation, and it often permits power over other people. Christianity does this, Judaism does this, Islam does this. All three have control over the lives of others, all across the World. Human beings are threatened if they question it. Others killed for leaving it. I wonder then, what is it about religion, that you think should be inherently respected?

It seems to me that if satirising a religion, its figurehead (for whom believers try best to emulate, and use his sayings to judge others), or its dogmas can lead in any way to you being murdered for doing so, to bloggers in Bangladesh being cut to pieces, to Raif Badawi tied to a wooden post in Saudi Arabia and whipped, to the murders of cartoonists in Paris, to Salman Rushdie having to go into hiding for writing a book, then that religion, its figurehead, and its dogma are a system of power that must be criticised, ridiculed, and satirised at every possible opportunity in order to strip it of its perceived superiority (this is not to be confused with anti-Muslim hate, or calls to disenfranchise & dehumanise individual Muslims, which is entirely different and of course must be opposed). Would you not agree? If not, why not?

It is clear to me that in countries in which Islam is institutionally enshrined, free expression and inquiry is suppressed violently. I was recently asked by a gentleman in Tunisia, why it is I wasn’t Muslim (he presumed I was, because I have a spectacular beard… seriously, you should see it). I quickly remembered that it is illegal to proselytize Muslims. If I had explained why I didn’t believe in a God, I could potentially be breaking the law. My liberty as an adult to speak my mind, and the gentleman’s liberty to hear other ideas, are both caged by religious supremacists. To me, this is a sign of great weakness and insecurity, if you must silence others to preserve your perceived right to keep them caged. Indeed, if 99 people out of 100 believe one thing to be true, they have absolutely no inherent right to persecute the 1 remaining dissenting voice. We must support that 1 remaining voice to be free to be heard. The 99 do not have a monopoly on expression. Nevertheless, and more worryingly, it is also clear that in democratic countries, free expression and inquiry is suppressed psychologically. The motives are the same; the preservative of the perceived relevance of that particular power structure, in a World that has discovered empowering individuals. In her book ‘Allah, Liberty, and Love‘ Irshad Manji recalls messages she receives from young Muslims from across the World, scared to express themselves through fear of upsetting their conservative Muslim families who place group-identity above individual rights of expression. I would argue that you empower those same illiberal, conservative people and their delusions of superiority and perceived right of control over others, when we insist that Islam is off-limits to forms of criticism – like satire – that all other ideas are open to. Indeed, by doing so, we create a taboo out of that one religion, further empowering those who believe that breaking that taboo should be punishable. In reality, it isn’t a taboo, it is an exercise in free expression. How do you propose we empower individuals who do feel their voices are caged by imposed conservative dogmas, if you condemn all those who do criticise religious structures that you believe must be “respected“? By claiming that they must be “respected” you immediately cast those dissenting voices as undesirable, or bigoted, or negative, because they’re – by definition – doing something that you don’t consider “respectable“.

And finally, would you not agree that the freedom to believe and express that non-believers are destined an eternity of violent torture in hell – alongside our apostate and LGBT friends – or left-leaning Mehdi Hasan’s belief that we non-believers live “like animals“, is my freedom to openly mock that ridiculous (and frankly, offensive) belief? Would you not accept that if a religion impacts upon the lives of anyone but the individual believer, if it criticises the beliefs and lifestyles of others, it instantly becomes a system of power that requires all the scrutiny and criticism, especially from those who would – and do – ultimately suffer if it were to have state power? Why would you ‘demand‘ those of us who absolutely do find religion to be fundamentally offensive, and who are told we will be tortured for non-belief, as well as critics threatened across World for ‘offending‘ those beliefs that we must simply ‘respect‘ those religions? I am quite certain that you find certain ideologies offensive, are you obliged to respect them Mr Corbyn? Do you ‘respect‘ fascism? Do you ‘respect‘ Soviet Communism? Is this different because they don’t begin their oppressive words & dogmas with “God says…“? I would argue that you are confusing respect for the right to believe as one choices according to one’s conscience, with respect for the belief itself. The former must be defended by anyone who wishes the same right for themselves, the latter is not inherently respectable, if an individual simply doesn’t. As a liberal, you should know that. If you are not confusing those two, and you genuinely do believe we should all inherently “respect” religion… we should all be concerned if you ever became Prime Minister.

Sorry Mr Corbyn, but you do not get to claim to be liberal, to be fighting for human and civil rights, free from oppression, if you believe some structures of power are off-limits, and should be inherently “respected“. Especially if you do this, whilst offering words of support to groups – like Hamas (whose shockingly illiberal ideas you referred to as “dedicated to social justice“) – that seek Theocratic control across an entire region. If criticising or mocking an illiberal power structure can cause such uproar (including death) as it did in 2006, whilst maintaining its violent control in states that enshrine it, why would you join that uproar, give credit to that uproar and the perpetuation of the oppressive notion in those states that it is ethically wrong to satirise that illiberal idea, rather than defend and promote basic liberal values like the right to express ideas that ‘offend‘ that power structure?

Kind regards,

Jamie.

PS:
I notice that you weren’t present when Christian supremacists ‘Christian Voice‘ were busy picketing “Jerry Springer the Musical” for satirising their religion and prophet. Why is that?


‘Christian Voice’ and Liz Kendall.

August 15, 2015

Stephen Green, the national director of Christian lobby group ‘Christian Voice‘ is a controversial figure. He has in the past supported the death penalty for homosexuality, lending his voice to the hideous Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill. His ex-wife accused him of domestic abuse. His group believes marital rape is simply not a thing, and they equate abortion to the holocaust. Green has attempted in the past to pursue private prosecution against General of the BBC Mark Thompson for blasphemy, and in 2005 they threatened to picket cancer charity, Maggie’s Centres if the Centres accepted a donation from ‘Jerry Springer The Opera’. Maggie’s Centres – who offer palliative care to cancer sufferers thus felt they had to decline a £3,000 donation.

In 2010, Christian Voice threw its support behind the ‘Westminster Declaration of Faith‘ initially drafted by the Christian Medical Fellowship and signed by a number of people, including a number of MPs and candidates. Along with the absurd fundamentalist positions of Christian Voice, the CMF on their website wrongly describe marriage as:

“Stable marriages and families headed by a mother and a father are the bedrock of society and the state has a duty to protect the uniqueness of these key institutions. There is considerable evidence (2) to show that marriage leads to better family relationships, less economic dependence, better physical health and longevity, improved mental health and emotional well-being, and reduced crime and domestic violence. Same-sex marriage, in comparison with marriage, is an unproven and experimental social model.”

– Wrong, because almost all studies show children of same-sex parents are not in any way held back by the sexuality of their parents. But let’s not allow facts to get in the way of a good supremacist narrative.

Back to Christian Voice. They posted the entire declaration on their website. One of the points of The Declaration states:

“We pledge to support marriage, the lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife. We believe it is divinely ordained, the only context for sexual intercourse, and the most important unit for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all. We call on government to honour, promote and protect marriage and we refuse to submit to any edict forcing us to equate any other form of sexual partnership with marriage. We commit ourselves to continue affirming what we believe as Christians about sexual morality, marriage, and the family.”

– The distinctly homophobic organisers of The Declaration apparently took it to Parliamentary candidates with a watered-down, slightly more secular and palatable version. Christian Voice attached it to the entire declaration. It states:

“The Westminster 2010 organisers say: ‘We did not ask candidates to sign the Westminster declaration itself, but only to make the pledge to “…respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience”. ‘
Their website lists those candidates who made that pledge. Christian Voice has extracted the successful candidates who signed, and also those who refused. It is shocking that so few MP’s – just 57 – could bring themselves to promise to maintain Christian liberties, and that 16 – real enemies of the Gospel – went out of their way to refuse to sign.”

– One of those 57 MPs – according to Christian Voice (and Christian Today) – was Labour leadership candidate Liz Kendall. But here’s the thing…. It turns out since researching this a little deeper, Kendall didn’t sign the declaration at all. That’s not to say that a number of MPs didn’t sign it, because they did, and to be clear; whilst the MPs were not given the full declaration, only a slightly more secular, palatable version, I would still argue that it represents a massive lapse in judgement for Parliamentary candidates to sign any old declaration without first checking who it is they’re signing for. For example, if we didn’t know who the National Front are, it would be hugely contentious for MPs to sign a declaration – regardless of how watered-down that declaration was – that is written, and promoted by racial supremacists, and so equally it must be considered contentious to throw any words of support behind religious supremacists. At the most it represents a worrying set of beliefs for a candidate, and the very least it represents a huge lapse in judgement.

Yesterday I linked to the Christian Voice page that features her name, and asked Liz Kendall’s social media team to clarify her position (and here’s a mistake that I should admit; I thought she had signed it, due entirely to Christian Voice’s website). I got this response:

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– Confused, I figured the only two options were that Kendall did sign the watered down version, and just didn’t know who it was for, or that Christian Voice were lying. Though I don’t trust much a politician will say, I trust Christian Voice even less, and so I checked.

Two points stuck out; firstly Liz Kendall has consistently voted for LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage and challenged anti-abortion bills that used contentious phrases like “the unborn child“. Liz Kendall is no Christian fundamentalist, and has voted for measures that remove religious privileges from state matters. It would be a little bizarre if she suddenly rushed to sign a document created by religious supremacists. And secondly, and most importantly…. it seems her name doesn’t actually appear on the list at all, and some of us – including me – were duped by Christian Voice.

I worked my way through 28 pages of names on the list from the official website of ‘The Westminster Declaration‘ and there was just one mention of Liz. But that’d be ‘Lizzie Kendal‘, not Liz Kendall:

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– And so it would seem that Christian Voice saw that entirely different name, decided it was Liz Kendall MP, and put her on a list featuring 56 other names they may have picked out in much the same dishonest fashion. Interestingly, they also have Lib Dem leader Tim Farron’s name on their list, and yet when I search the official website, his name doesn’t appear at all, not even with a slightly different spelling.

Whilst she may not be my preferred candidate for Labour leader, Liz Kendall has rightly voted to remove barriers to same-sex rights, and opposing pro-life rhetoric, thus breaking down walls to liberty imposed by the very religious fundamentalists who now use her name to further their cause. Most importantly; she is not on their list of signatories. And when it comes to Christian Voice; it is perhaps best that we question absolutely everything that awful, supremacist group, and their hideous leader says at all times.


Khirbet Susiya: A tale of disenfranchising, dispossessing, and dehumanising.

August 14, 2015

Susiya

Area C of the West Bank makes up about 60% of the West Bank. Prior to 1971, Jordanian Planning Law applied to the region, giving local planning committees (communities in the area) the ability to zone and plan. District Committees could approve community plans and were represented by people from surrounding communities, offering appeals for any grievances. In 1971, a number of provisions were abolished including the two above. And so now, to build on the land in Area C requires permission from Israeli Civil Administration, which has absolutely no Palestinian representation. According to a UN report in 2009:

“Palestinian construction is effectively prohibited in some 70 percent of Area C, while in the remaining 30 percent, a range of restrictions virtually eliminate the possibility of obtaining a building permit.”

– As a consequence of a vastly discriminatory policy toward settlement building (Israeli settlements – according to the UN report – by contrast, include settlers in the planning and zoning process), and the inability in law for local communities to have any input into planning and zoning, Palestinians in Area C are forced into creating tiny villages, without basic human requirements, that Israel – having completely abandoned its responsibility toward the welfare of all who live in Area C – considers ‘illegal’ (it’s easy to refer to people as ‘illegal’ when you’ve taken away their right to have any say over the process of planning). Thus villages like Khirbet Susiya.

The EU, the UK, the US, Palestinians, Rabbis For Human Rights, and Israeli activists are united in the fight to save the tiny Palestinian village of Khirbet Susiya in the occupied territories from being demolished by Israeli authorities. It is a village of around 300 Palestinian people, next to an Israeli settlement and an archaeological site, both of which were inhabited by Palestinians prior to a string of evictions and the building of Israeli settlements & sites. Whilst most of the World notes how one-sided & discriminatory the settlement building project is in the West Bank, the Israeli right wing – in all its desperation – has decided upon a quite bizarre claim in order to justify the demolition of the village. Nadav Abramov- manages the declared national heritage site at the ancient Jewish village Susya – says:

“…there is no village here. This is a hamula, a family (of Arabs) that arrived 20 years ago from (the nearby town of) Yatta; they settled on agricultural land upon which building is forbidden, including the archaeological site of Susya, they built tents and tin shacks all while illegally squatting.”

– This is a lovely little victim blaming narrative, but it lacks that important element of basic truth. Take for example the quickness to claim Susya as an archaeological site. This is true, but it was declared an archaeological site after Palestinians living on it were expelled from it in the 1980s, from there they were moved to a nearby village, in 2001 they were expelled again, and from there they moved where they are now. Their threat of eviction is due entirely to the discriminatory planning laws. According to al-monitor, a 70 year old villager named ‘Muhammad Nawajeh’ has been forceably moved on from his home in Tel Arad in the 1950s, and then from his home in Susiya, and now from his home in Khirbet Susiya. He isn’t a man trying his best to undermine the state of Israel, he isn’t an Iranian general who thinks Israel should be wiped off the map, or Hamas dedicated to a Theocratic hellhole. He is a man who has lived his entire life under the threat of eviction simply for existing in an area of the World dominated by the political ambitions of religious fanatics.

Then take the claim that the village never existed. Again, false. British Mandatory maps from 1885 through to 1940 show the village, with a 1982 legal opinion by Plea Albeck acknowledging that:

“The synagogue is located in an area known as the lands of Khirbet Susiya, surrounded by an Arab village, which is situated among ancient ruins. The lands of Khirbet Susiya are registered with the Israel Land Authority (ILA) as territory spanning 3,000 dunams and privately owned by numerous Arabs.”

– Whilst Israel’s right wing insist the village was built illegally (a word that the UN General Assembly, the UNSC, & the ICJ use to describe Israel’s continued settlement building projects in the area) Israeli planning laws are so vastly discriminatory in the region, that make it easy for Israeli settlements to expand and prosper (a key block to any peace negotiation) whilst making it practically impossible for Palestinian people to gain permission to live on land that they should never have been removed from in the first place.

The World Bank in a report in 2008 noted that harsh one-sided controls over planning and zoning in Area C – which has a knock-on effect for Palestinian communities across the West Bank, given its agricultural significance – mean that Israeli policy in the area:

“… “has become an increasingly severe constraint to [Palestinian] economic activity.”

– The World Bank continues:

“Using the powers of the 1967 Military Order that requires permits for all water structures, Israel monitors and intervenes to control all water related activities in Area C. There has also been use of military control in Area C to enforce Israeli authority over water resources … Even rainwater harvesting cisterns have been destroyed by the IDF.”

– Israel has a responsibility to the people in territory that it occupies, to ensure their needs are met, and the communities can thrive. It must not discriminate or privilege its own people. At the moment, it is still breaking that responsibility. In 1995, the Interim Agreement describes Area C as:

“…areas of the West Bank outside Areas A and B, which, except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, will be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction in accordance with this Agreement.”

– And whilst the Interim Agreement clearly implied gradual transfer of power from the Israeli Civil Administration to the Palestinian Authority to be completed by 1999, today Palestinians still have absolutely no role in planning and zoning in the region. And so, with no control, and discriminatory policy by the ICA, Palestinians build “illegally” on land that was either theirs originally, or that they’ve been disenfranchised from having any say over by an occupying force, with the threat of demolition and displacement looming daily. This is the case with Khirbet Susiya. The cruel evictions of people who are not a threat, they are not Hamas, people who have already been evicted and replaced by Israeli settlers & sites whilst their own needs haven’t been met by the occupying force, has angered communities across the World, that it is now being met with manipulative narratives from the Israeli right wing. That the Israeli right wing does not get to rewrite the history of powerless Palestinian communities, is an important acknowledgement to make if a peaceful future for the region is ever to be achieved.

Khirbet Susiya must be protected, it must be given the opportunity to thrive; linked up to water and power supplies, the people’s right to health and education in an occupied region must be guaranteed by the occupying force, but most of all, its people must be given key input into its continued growth. Privileging your own citizens in occupied territory whilst sisenfranchising, dispossessing, and dehumanising others is not a policy upon which peaceful relations and any future permanent deal can be achieved. They have suffered for long enough.