The Labour membership should listen to the PLP.

July 24, 2016

The chamber of the House of Commons erupted at mid-day on Wednesday with the arrival of the new Prime Minister to her first PMQs. The Tory Party, torn apart by the EU referendum, was now seemingly united behind its leader. By contrast, the chamber fell silent on the arrival of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. His own backbenches, ignored after a no confidence vote, threatened with de-selection for disloyalty, constantly attacked as red Tories and Blairites for daring to criticise the leader, were understandably quiet. And yet, Diane Abbott took to the airwaves immediately afterwards to express surprise that the PLP isn’t dancing around like cheerleaders with Corbyn tattoos and unveiling massive statues to him around the World. Abbott, Corbyn, McDonnell, and members are unable to understand that the Labour leader cannot command any Parliamentary support, and that in itself is a massive problem.

Let’s quash the myth immediately that the Parliamentary Labour Party is in any way acting undemocratically in opposing the Labour Leader. It isn’t. When Jeremy Corbyn was a backbench MP and sought to dethrone both Kinnock and Blair, he was well within his right to do so. In 1988 when supporting Tony Benn’s campaign to oust Kinnock, Corbyn said:

“By having an election, we will force a debate about the direction of the party in which it will be more difficult for Kinnock to make everything an issue of loyalty to him.”

– Quite. One when or two Labour MPs rebel against the leadership, it’s easier to put down. But think of this recent rebellion as an entire Party of 1988 Jeremy Corbyn’s. The leadership simply cannot secure confidence in that environment.

Four years later, Corbyn was supporting a challenge against the next Labour leader he had no interest in supporting. In 1992, Corbyn insisted that John Smith had shown “no real opposition“. 10 years later in 2002, he did the same when asking for a challenger to Blair to come forward. In 2003, he demanded an annual leadership election. At no point did the hard-left accuse him of undemocratic disloyalty. Now that he has hold of the strings of power, their demand is loyalty or leave. Jeremy Corbyn was not undemocratic then, and the PLP are not undemocratic now.

Let’s also quash the myth that Labour MPs are not representative of Labour Party at large. Those Labour MPs were selected, cleared, and elected by constituents for the 2015 general election. They represent the Party as it was voted on by constituents. That is the epitome of Parliamentary democracy. Members were not trying to deselect those MPs when they were winning constituencies for Labour. New members may not represent the view of the 2015 Labour Parliamentary Party. They can change that in 2020 if they want. But right now, Labour is not a hard-left Parliamentary Party, it wasn’t elected as the main opposition party on a hard-left platform, and MPs should not be betraying the message they were voted on, to suit new members.

To be clear, the PLP’s first commitment is to maintain a Labour Party in Parliament as ready for government at any moment as the only way to legislate in favour of Labour principles. This means appealing to a broader coalition of voters, than simply the hard-left. This means being able to produce a full shadow cabinet with a reserve pool of talent as well. This means a leader that the PLP is willing to fully support. Everything the PLP has done has been democratic and with the aim in mind that in order to change the country, it needs to win an election. It has used a perfectly acceptable Parliamentary procedure to issue a vote of no confidence in its leader. Shadow Cabinet members tried to work for Corbyn, and it didn’t workout. For that, his supporters have abused and attacked them. The PLP then sparked a leadership challenge and asked for clarity on the rules. It will now run a leadership challenge on the basis of those rules. That’s it. That isn’t undemocratic.

On election of the leader, I would agree that the Parliamentary Party should listen to its members. The members vote for the candidate put forward by the PLP. Indeed, at that point the members haven’t challenged the idea that the PLP decides who can stand for leader. Their lack of challenge implies acceptance. They accept that the PLP has to have a form of power over the process of electing their leader in Parliament. I’d presume they accept this premise, because the Labour Party is a Parliamentary Party within a Parliamentary democracy. So clear is this, that The Labour Party’s own rulebook, Clause 1.2 says:

“Its purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.”

– It would seem clear to me, that if the Parliamentary Party that must be maintained and ready for an election cannot work with the leader nor has any confidence in the ability of the leader to win that election, it would relay this message back to the membership in the form of a vote of no confidence, and the membership then have a duty to return a leader that the people in Parliament – not the hard-left Parliamentarians they hope make up the majority of MPs – the ones elected on a far more moderate platform in 2015, can work with. At that point, it becomes the responsibility of the membership, to support the Parliamentary Party with a candidate they can rally behind. Continuously sending the same leader that the PLP decidedly cannot work with, implies that the membership care very little for actual political power – where societal and economic change happens – and only care for flexing hard-left muscles with the illusion of power.

At this point, it is the Labour membership that must return a Parliamentary leader the Parliamentary Party can support and unite behind. If the membership does the opposite, the membership is entirely to blame for handing the 2020 general election to the Conservative Party.


Canary, Corbyn, and Kennedy.

July 19, 2016

Fresh, fearless, independent journalism” is the roar you hear from The Canary. An online publication that seems to exist with the sole purpose to defend the Corbyn side of the Labour Party until its dying breath, with uncritical tales of sinister conspiracies that don’t exist, and words like ‘coup’ to describe a perfectly reasonable Parliamentary procedure in a Parliamentary democracy of a vote of no confidence in a leader seeking a Parliamentary majority to govern.

Around a week ago, The Canary published a story that has since disappeared. Owing, I’m guessing, to its utterly absurd premise:

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– That’s right, The Canary compared Jeremy Corbyn to John Kennedy.

The article tells us that the ‘establishment’ tried to stop Kennedy. I’m immediately suspicious of anyone telling me that an ill-defined ‘establishment’ acting as a coherent unit are working together to defeat an unpopular candidate. It stinks of a refusal to accept any responsibility. And when it comes to Kennedy, well, the establishment line simply doesn’t fit the same line they’re trying to apply to Corbyn. We should perhaps remember that Kennedy’s dad Joseph was the establishment. A high ranking member of the Democrats, Jo Kennedy was appointed chairman of the SEC, and Ambassador to the United Kingdom under FDR. His extreme wealth allowed him untold influence within Democrat Party politics. Joseph’s father Patrick also had great influence in the Democratic Party and held a lot of stock in a bank. John Kennedy himself had been in the House and the Senate, and easily won the nomination in 1960, his brothers had similar lives, with Edward Kennedy the Lion of the Senate for decades.

The article then presents a video of Kennedy giving a speech on the negative effects of censorship, govt secrecy & withholding information from the public, and that an enemy (he’s talking about the Soviet Union) who rely on subversion instead of elections are to be opposed.

Now, If we are to bring that speech into the 21st Century, we might apply it to the censorship, the threats to journalists, the imprisoning critics, of Chavez’s regime in what is now the failed state of Venezuela. The same regime that Corbyn’s Shadow Secretary of State for Justice Richard Burgon has such fond feelings towards:

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– This is the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice mourning the loss of a man who, according to Human Rights Watch, wasn’t too keen on justice:

“Lower-court judges have faced intense pressure not to issue rulings that could upset the government. In 2009, Chávez publicly called for the imprisonment of a judge for 30 years after she granted conditional liberty to a prominent government critic who had spent almost three years in prison awaiting trial. The judge, María Lourdes Afiuni, was arrested and spent more than a year in prison in pretrial detention, in deplorable conditions. She remains under house arrest.”

Indeed, Kennedy’s speech, when brought into the future, might even refer to Mao’s regime, who, ten years after Kennedy’s death, had the support of Corbyn’s then teenage spin doctor, Seumas Milne:

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– So similar is Corbyn to a Kennedy Administration that dedicated its entire foreign policy framework to anti-Soviet activities, that he appointed as his Justice Secretary a man who mourns the loss of a left wing leader who used the justice system to protect his position, and a press secretary who happened to once be a dedicated Maoist and went on to become business manager of a publication made by the publishing arm of the Communist Party of Great Britain (a publication – Straight Left – that supported the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s). The same Milne, who a couple of years back insisted that Stalin’s murders had been “exaggerated” and Nato was to blame for the violence in Ukraine, not Russia. I’m not entirely sure Kennedy would have approved. Though just in case you’re unsure, here’s Kennedy speaking in 1960:

“The enemy is the communist system itself — implacable, insatiable, unceasing in its drive for world domination.”

Kennedy himself was of course nothing like Jeremy Corbyn. Kennedy – in the context of the 1960s – flowed between liberal and conservative, he governed from the centre, he was slow on civil rights (his brother and his Vice President were far more liberally minded on that issue, far more progressive, and far more correct), but he defended and empowered unions, and took on big business when necessary. But he wasn’t dogmatic, indeed he took on unions and defended free trade when he thought it right to do so too. His Federal budget was lower than Eisenhower’s, yet he increased military spending. He was neither left nor right, he was a pragmatist, and a liberal.

The Canary article says of Kennedy:

“He alone dared to stand by principles of peace and equity at a time when the rest of the world seemed determined to self-destruct.”

– They must be wholly unaware of the Bay of Pigs, and the sanctioning of the overthrow of Diem. But I expect nothing more from an article that seems wholly unaware that the UK Prime Minister actually resigned as a result of the Brexit vote:

“This latest and most officious coup to topple Corbyn was supposedly born of disappointment – his alleged inability to galvanise Labour voters in the recent referendum. Hang on. Has nobody noticed our new Prime Minister was also of the “remain” camp, and barely uttered a word during the whole campaign? Why is it not our actual leader and governing party that are having to defend against votes of “no-confidence”, and being held accountable for the opening of Pandora’s Box?”

Back to Kennedy. In 1963 just two months before his fateful trip to Dallas, Kennedy signed a tax cut that slashed tax rates across the board, including the top rate of tax for the wealthiest and a 5% cut in corporation tax. David Rockefeller and Henry Ford II fully backed his plans. Indeed, when Kennedy’s US Ambassador to India – the Keynesian John Kenneth Galbraith – opposed the tax cuts, Kennedy called him into his office and told him to “shut up”. Kennedy was listening to Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors Walter Heller on the idea of tax cuts. The more left-leaning Democrats in the Party where complaining that the tax cuts were too beneficial to the wealthiest.

A year before the sweeping tax cuts, Kennedy proposed tariff reductions. In a speech in 1962 on the Free Trade Expansion Act, Kennedy said:

“This act recognizes, fully and completely, that we cannot protect our economy by stagnating behind tariff walls, but that the best protection possible is a mutual lowering of tariff barriers among friendly nations so that all may benefit from a free flow of goods. Increased economic activity resulting from increased trade will provide more job opportunities for our workers. Our industry, our agriculture, our mining will benefit from increased export opportunities as other nations agree to lower their tariffs. Increased exports and imports will benefit our ports, steamship lines, and airlines as they handle an increased amount of trade. Lowering of our tariffs will provide an increased flow of goods for our American consumers. Our industries will be stimulated by increased export opportunities and by freer competition with the industries of other nations for an even greater effort to develop an efficient, economic, and productive system. The results can bring a dynamic new era of growth.”

Whilst Kennedy – in a letter to Ben Gurion – is critical of Israel developing nuclear arms, because it might push hostile Arab states to leap to the Soviets, – his entire foreign policy was a framework of suspicion of the Soviets – he was especially and publicly supportive of Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself. Kennedy says:

“For Israel was not created in order to disappear – Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom; and no area of the world has ever had an overabundance of democracy and freedom.”

– This insistence that Israel will not be broken is in stark contrast to our old friend Seumas Milne, who in a video not too long ago, insisted that Hamas – a group of far-right Theocrats who want Israel to be eradicated – wont be broken.

Above all, Kennedy was a liberal. He believed in freeing individuals up to pursue their own goals; In the Senate he worked to eliminate the enforcement of oaths of loyalty from aid recipients; he opposed the sort of censorship we see from those Corbyn & his loyal following swoon over, he opposed Soviet influence across the World; he promoted free and open trade in the hope of encouraging struggling businesses; he was proud of his plan to lower tax rates for people across the board; he supported social security that protected individuals from soaring healthcare costs that rendered them less free; he believed workers have an inherent right to collective bargaining; and he advocated a Jewish right to self determination in Israel.

For The Canary to imply that Corbyn is at all similar to Kennedy, to have to use Kennedy’s memory as a great progressive to try to win over centre-left liberals who admire Kennedy, is to subtly and perhaps subconsciously accept that they cannot simply win a general election by preaching to the Socialist Workers Party, they have to win over the centre and centre-left, and that maybe, just maybe dismissing those people as red Tory, Blairite establishment, isn’t going to win over anyone.


Ayaan Hirsi Ali & the illiberal ‘liberals’.

March 30, 2015

In the past few months a string of new books ‘explaining’ the rise of ISIS have appeared on the shelves of the big book stores across the country. One of which is ‘ISIS: The State of Terror‘ by The excellent Jessica Stern & JM Berger. I wondered if perhaps this book – given that the authors are highly credited – would acknowledge at all the underlying problem of religious dogma (that is, the anchoring of morality to a single time & place, and belief in the universal viability of that), or if it begins from the premise that Islamic extremism is at its core geopolitical in nature, with religion as a sort of side note. My curiosity was answered on the first page, when we’re presented with a timeline, that begins “March 20th 2003 – President George W Bush announces the start of war against Iraq“.  Whilst it may go on to discuss Al Zarqawi’s beginnings and rise, the premise seems to be that we can blame everything & everyone else for the conditions in which Islamism flourishes, rather than the supremacist dogma itself. For those seeking to minimise the problem of religious dogma when accounting for conflict in the Middle East, there are two lines of attack. Firstly, claim the rise of groups like ISIS can be entirely divorced from religious dogma, and can instead be attached to geopolitics only (this feeds the larger Chomsky-esque narrative, that the US is the problem). Secondly, demonise any detractors who do focus on the problem of religious dogma. The latter – a tactic not used to quell criticism of any other concept on the planet – was surprisingly given credit this week, by anti-racism and anti-privilege writer and public speaker Tim Wise, when he posted a link to Max Blumenthal’s latest manipulation:

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Ironic, given that the man who wrote the article has several of his own less than true ideas exposed by historian and journalist Eric Alterman in a beautifully concise manner. Nevertheless, It is a matter of consistency for me, that systems of oppression & supremacy – whether they’re based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or religion – must be resisted and dogma that informs those systems, discredited and opposed by anyone considering themselves liberal, and secular. This doesn’t seem to be the case with some ‘liberals’ who rightfully fight racial supremacy, yet find it difficult to retain consistency when it comes to illiberal dogma found in a certain religion. The product of which, is a curious holding of hands between those ‘liberals’, and the systems of oppression they should otherwise be opposing.

In his latest piece – Exposing Anti-Islam Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Latest Deception Max Blumenthal goes all out to attack Ayaan Hirsi Ali in what I can only describe as reworded Wikipedia article on Hirsi Ali, and a few extra manipulative additions to aid his overall premise (with the added joy of “Neocon!” yelled at anyone who calls him out on his manipulations). Take for example this paragraph:

“In Heretic, a polemic recycling many of her past arguments against Islam, she calls for the emergence of a Muslim Martin Luther — the authoritarian 16th-century zealot who called for burning down the synagogues of Jews, whom he compared to a gangrenous disease.”

– We might here be tempted to play the illiberal ‘liberal’ game, and refer to Blumenthal as Lutheranophobic for his critique of Martin Luther. But putting aside the silly tactics that those seeking to silence critique of Islam play, you’ll perhaps note here the big manipulation in the paragraph. Hirsi Ali is not at all suggesting that Islam needs a Medieval authoritarian willing to burn down Jewish temples. Hamas already exists. Blumenthal purposely recast the point to focus on Luther’s character, when in fact, Hirsi Ali is actually suggesting that Islam needs a reformation, that opens it up far more to individual critique, that it is too dogmatic as it is, too unable to progress with the rest of the World. A critique that is either disliked, discouraged, or punished in much of the Islamic World, and dismissed as ‘Islamophobia’ in the Western World. The character of Martin Luther is irrelevant to that discussion. But if there is to be a focus on the character of historical revolutionaries, I’m more than happy to start with religious Prophets.

Blumenthal then accuses Hirsi Ali of defending Anders Breivik. This too is a crude manipulation. He says:

“Junketed to Berlin in 2012 to receive the Axel Springer Honorary Award from the right-wing German publisher, Hirsi Ali appeared to blame liberal defenders of multiculturalism for the killing spree committed by the Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik, claiming they left Breivik with “no other choice but to use violence. (Breivik cited Hirsi Ali’s work in his 1,500 page manifesto explaining his plans to commit a series of terrorist attacks across Norway.)”

– It’d be just terrible to get praise from a right winger….. Like Max Blumenthal did, when the website of white supremacist David Duke praised Blumenthal’s book. Or when – as Hirsi Ali later pointed out in a conversation with Sam Harris – Bin Laden cited Noam Chomsky in a recording obtained by Al Jazeera back in 2010. We can all play the “you’re supported by extremists!” game.

Onto Blumenthal’s main manipulation in that particular paragraph. Hirsi Ali was not blaming liberals, because actual liberals are fine with, and promote the notion that all ideas – religious included – should be open up to criticism, satire, and inquiry, and that no idea – religious included – should be shielded. Especially ideas that create barriers to the secular liberty of others. Her criticism is of those vastly illiberal ‘liberals’ who work to prevent criticism of one single idea – by, among other forms, silencing ex-Muslims with manipulative articles – that create an atmosphere in which one idea is considered taboo, and that is deeply unhealthy for any liberal, secular, democracy. In other words; to push discussion, criticism, satire, ridicule of an authoritarian idea – be it religious or political, thus confirming the zealots insistence that ‘blasphemy’ is a terrible crime of expression – out of the public sphere of acceptability, has consequences. It creates a taboo around that one idea, and it is latched onto by dangerous fanatics like Breivik, who undoubtedly do mix their dislike for a faith, with racism, Nationalism, and their grotesque delusions of power. As she rightly says:

“In the long run, you get more jihadist ghettoes and intolerant right-wing enclaves. ”

– I’m fine with illiberal ‘liberals’ disagreeing with this contention, but rather than debate the point, Blumenthal has decided to claim this is “defending Breivik” – when it quite clearly isn’t. This is not an acceptable, nor respectable form of challenging an idea. It is a silencing technique, and it works only to create the conditions that Hirsi Ali speaks of.

Later, Blumenthal recounts the tale that Hirsi Ali had told the Netherlands authorities when applying for asylum, and giving a modified version of her name, and age:

” “Yeah, I made up the whole thing,” Hirsi Ali admitted on camera to a Zembla reporter who confronted her with her lies. “I said my name was Ayaan Hirsi Ali instead of Ayaan Hirsi Magan. I also said I was born in 1967 while I was actually born in 1969.”

– Now let’s look at the actual story behind the quote, rather than the simplified line Blumenthal has used. In an interview with Sam Harris, Hirsi Ali is quite clear on why she felt she had to hide her identity:

“When I arrived in the Netherlands, in 1992, I misrepresented the year of my birth at my intake interview. I said I was born in 1967, but I was born in 1969. I also changed my grandfather’s name. In many tribal societies, instead of a surname you have a string of names—I am Ayaan; my father is Hirsi; and my father’s father, when he was born, was named Ali. But later on, when he grew up and became a warrior, he was called Magan (Somali for “protection” or “refuge”), because he protected some of the peoples whom he conquered. Magan is, basically, a nickname that he acquired later in life. Technically, I did not lie about Ali, because that was also his name. I used it deliberately, because I figured that if I could get this intake interview, then my father or the man he married me off to could come and say that they were looking for Ayaan Hirsi Magan, born November 13, 1969, and they would find me very easily. I wanted to prevent that, so I called myself Ayaan Hirsi Ali and changed my birth year to 1967. I was trying to cover my trail just enough that I wouldn’t have the fear of being immediately found. I had never before lived in a system where there were any protections put in place for me.”

– Blumenthal wasn’t done with simply misrepresenting that part of the story either. He goes on:

“Hirsi Ali’s claim of honor killing threats also appears to be empty; she remained in touch with her father and aunt after she left her husband. In fact, her husband even came to visit her in the Dutch refugee center where she lived after leaving him. Even though he had paid her way to Europe on the grounds that she would join him in Canada, Hirsi Ali’s husband consented to the divorce she sought.”

– None of this is new information. Only the hideous way Blumenthal frames it, is different. Hirsi Ali herself has already spoken on her visit from her husband, in the same interview with Harris:

“I was terrified that either my father or some of our clansmen—or the man whom I had been married off to—would come looking for me and find me. And they did come! My ex-husband was accompanied by three other men when he showed up at the asylum center where I was. But by then I had been in the country for something like four to six months, and even in that very, very short period, I came to understand that I had rights.

On the day that they showed up, I went to the reception center and confessed everything to one of the people working there. Her name was Sylvia, and she said, “You don’t have to go with him if you don’t want to. You’re over the age of 18. In fact, here in the Netherlands, your marriage isn’t even recognized, because he is Canadian and the marriage took place somewhere else. So we will just protect you. I’ll simply call the police.” It was in this period that I found my independence. I had been able to live on my own for months, so I thought I could live on my own for longer.”

– The shameful manipulative nonsense of Blumenthal’s piece aside, I find there’s a bigger, and far more fundamental issue. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, A woman from an African country that consistently scores the very lowest score possible for political freedoms, and civil liberties, is abused by a very patriarchal system underpinned by religious supremacy, is mutilated as a child by a system underpinned by religious supremacy, watches as her female family members are not allowed to leave an airport without being accompanied by a man, is forced into a marriage by a system underpinned by religious supremacy, then – someone who has more right than any to call out the oppressive elements of a religious system of power – blames religious dogma for much of the trauma she and others face on a daily basis, and dedicates herself to fighting for the rights of victims of illiberal religious dogma across the World. She does this, whilst threatened with death notes pinned to the murdered body of a filmmaker she collaborated with because someone somewhere is “offended” by the content of the film. The implication is that she should just shut up about her experiences. Then come the white, upper middle class American men, not focusing at all on the supremacist dogma that informs the horrific abuse she’s suffered, or the violence she faces for speaking out, but instead they choose to focus on their own methods of silencing her with manipulations and misdirection, thus protecting the very oppressive ideas she’s fighting.

The privilege it takes for those who have never lived through her experiences, to dismiss her rather than challenge her ideas with debate, and to manipulate her calls for a reformation within the faith, in order to protect one specific religion, represents a massive confused betrayal of liberal principles, but one that we are all becoming very familiar with when illiberal ‘liberals’ put pen to paper.


Charlie Hebdo & the importance of free expression.

January 15, 2015

For the most part, the response to the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week, has been one of staunch solidarity with the values that separate the civilised from the barbaric. The freedom to express ones thoughts and ideas, the right to criticise and satirise ideas, the rule of law; values that were attacked that day in the centre of Paris. This includes the freedom for religious folk to believe and express ideas that I myself find incredibly offensive. But every so often, we hear voices referring to themselves as liberal, or as progressives, making excuses for the violence whilst trying desperately to insist that they’re not making excuses for the violence. As the new edition of Charlie Hebdo went on sale this week, with a picture of Muhammad on the front, Sky News apologised for showing it live on air, and several commentators referred to it as needlessly ‘provoking‘ Muslims. The excuses tend to start with a line like “There can be no excuse for murder, but….” followed by a tirade of victim blaming. For example, Mehdi Hasan’s obscene article for the Huff Post here in which he begins by suggesting it is those who pronounce “Je suis Charlie” who are playing an “us vs them” game, and then himself goes on to play that very game far better than anyone else, by manipulatively implying that Charlie Hebdo focused entirely on Islam, when in reality it mocks the Pope often, Judaism, and Christianity, along with political figures across the World… Here:

“And why have you been so silent on the glaring double standards? Did you not know that Charlie Hebdo sacked the veteran French cartoonist Maurice Sinet in 2008 for making an allegedly anti-Semitic remark? Were you not aware that Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published caricatures of the Prophet in 2005, reportedly rejected cartoons mocking Christ because they would “provoke an outcry” and proudly declared it would “in no circumstances… publish Holocaust cartoons”?
Muslims, I guess, are expected to have thicker skins than their Christian and Jewish brethren.”

– He must have been asleep (or, as he puts it “so silent”) when Charlie Hebdo printed this:

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– He must also not be aware that Catholic organisations have attempted to sue Charlie Hebdo on countless occasions for ‘offending’ them. So you see, contrary to Mehdi’s false game of us VS them, Islam is one in a list of ideas that Charlie Hebdo satirised. After this manipulation, Mehdi then proceeds to inform us that he isn’t sure why we’d feel the need to mock religions, but not the Holocaust. One being a 7th Century idea, the other being 6 million people murdered less than a century ago.

There are then several issues I take with the response outlined above. Firstly, I think it is vastly counter-productive. It implies that Islam is in some way different, and must be treated differently to other ideas, and that a protected space must be carved out specifically for one ideological framework of power (in this case, Islam), that no other system of belief is granted. That sort of subtle demand, is then backed by false narratives, like Mehdi’s. There was no anger or claims of racism when Charlie Hebdo mocked Catholicism. If Have I Got News For You mock conservatism, it isn’t usually followed by the suggestion that the show has ‘taken free speech too far’, nor Mehdi Hasan suggesting that Have I Got News For You should consider satirising 9/11 just for some balance. These ideas – Catholicism, conservatism, liberalism, Hinduism, capitalism – are all rightly granted no implied protection. Thus, they are considered on a level playing field, open as they should be, to criticism, mocking, and satire (despite the Pope’s bizarre insistence today that we shouldn’t ‘offend’ religious beliefs). There is no legitimate reason to protect religion – or a single religion – from the forms of criticism that all others are open to. It is in fact vital, that all religions – and in fact, ideas in general, be open to that criticism and mocking. Contrary to what detractors may assume – anti-Muslim hate (that is, the abuse of Muslims, the denial of rights, the demand for denial of equal rights, dehumanising) is not in any way to be compared with mocking the religion. One is violence aimed at human beings, the other is dis-empowering an ideological narrative, & system of morality. To conflate the two, is deeply problematic for a whole host of reasons, and the complete antithesis of secular, liberal inquiry and free expression.

In other words, it is not those of us who openly criticise, or mock Islam that create a taboo around that particular faith. On the contrary, we treat it like any other ideological framework of power. We do not seek to deny Muslims equal rights, we believe those who commit anti-Muslim hate, those who attack Mosques, are grotesque human beings lacking any sense of decency, and we will always defend equal rights & dignity for all, including Muslims. People deserve that, not ideas. Ideas must be open to critique and satire. It is those who seek to protect Islam from mockery (whilst themselves defending the freedom for the religious to continue to believe and express a belief in offensive ideas to the rest of us), that not only create a taboo out of the faith – hence, counter-productive – but also give credit to the extreme idea that one must be a little less forthcoming with our expression on one particular idea, if it might ‘offend’ believers in that one particular idea.

I would also suggest that it is a betrayal of those Muslim voices fighting for secular, liberal values, & free expression against a poisonous narrative within their faith, for liberals who should be on their side of the fight, instead choosing to give credit to the narrative on the extremes.

Secondly, it is a reflection of the authoritarian nature of a religion, when its followers suggest we should either unquestioningly respect the faith, or else keep quiet. Which, in turn, means it is vital that it be open to criticism and satire. If satirising that religion is even a matter of debate, it already has far too much power.

Indeed, your freedom to believe that non-believers are destined an eternity of violent torture in the pits of hell – alongside our apostate and LGBT friends – is my freedom to openly mock that ridiculous (and frankly, offensive) belief. The freedom for Mehdi Hasan to refer to believers as keeping the moral high ground, whilst non-believers as those who “live their lives as animals“, is my freedom to express a distinct lack of respect for that particular moral anchor. Any less, implies that your belief that I am morally lacking, to be eternally tortured, is deserving of a level of unquestioning respect, that my objection (however I express that objection) simply isn’t. Further, if your religion – or political ideal – in any way, extends beyond the individual, to the lives of others (be it non-believers, apostates, the LGBT community) – not only in belief, and writing, but also in practice in many countries on this planet – then it is absolutely vital that that religion be open to the same criticism and satire as every other system of oppression. Indeed, the greatest indicator that a religion so desperately requires being opened up to free expression in all its forms, is if it can result in your murder for doing so.

Islam – like Christianity – is a system of power, regardless of how it is framed by those seeking to protect it. When it has any sort of political power, it is oppressive. This is why it is vital to stand up for the necessity of free expression. But on a purely individual basis; if your religion insists that I am to be burned for eternity in hell for non-belief, then I’m afraid you’re not going to get away with telling me that it is I who is the one being ‘offensive’ for mocking that belief. The freedom to express one, is the freedom to express the other.


France’s March for Unity: A who’s who of global oppression.

January 12, 2015

jesuischarlie, world leaders at french unity rally

It has always bewildered me the level of hypocrisy necessary to demand curbs on expression deemed ‘offensive’ to an Islamist ideological World-view that itself daily offends apostates, non-believers, women, Muslims that aren’t considered Muslim enough, and the entire LGBT community. Nevertheless, Paris was at the centre of the World last week when three gunman brutally murdered 17 human beings for publishing cartoons. France – including all sections of society – reacted in a show of unity, strength and respect for the fundamental right to free expression. But among the marchers were those who seem so entirely out of place. Indeed, Islamists were not the only ones to display hypocrisy this week in France.

The unity march – including 1.4 million people – through the streets of Paris included over 40 World leaders, some of whom, are not too keen on the fundamental human right to free expression:

Queen Rania of Jordan.
Linking arms with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Queen of Jordan presides over a country that is far from an advocate of free expression. In Jordan, if you happen to dislike the King, and you express that particular dislike, you can face up to three years in prison. Similarly, if you ‘insult’ Islam, you may face up to three years in prison (predictably, you may use the Qur’an to insult non-believers with threats of eternal torture). In 2006, two Jordanian journalists were imprisoned and fined for reprinting the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons. In 2003, the newspaper Al Hilal was closed for two months and three of its journalists arrested for publishing an article discussing Muhammad’s sex life. In February 2009, student Imad al-Ash was arrested for sharing “controversial religious opinions” online, and sentenced to two years in prison.

Prime Minister Davutoglu of Turkey.
Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code makes it an offence to insult ‘Turkishness’. In 2008, this was changed from “Turkishness” to “The Turkish Nation”. It brings with it a two year jail sentence. Internet regulation from 2014 allows the Telecommunication and Transmission Authority to ban websites it deems inappropriate. This includes websites that ‘insult’ the state. In 2007, Turkey banned YouTube, for a video that insulted Ataturk. They demanded YouTube remove the video. Rightfully, YouTube refused. In 2008, richarddawkins.net was blocked in Turkey. In 2014 Tayyip Erdogan insisted he’d “wipe out Twitter”, and subsequently, Twitter was blocked.

Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban.
In 2013, the Hungarian Parliament passed a Bill that includes three years in prison for ‘harming another person’s dignity‘ in a video or voice recording. This includes political satire. The law further makes it an offence to harm “the dignity of the Hungarian nation or of any national, ethnic, racial or religious community.

Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra.
Algeria – that enshrines Islam as its state religion, and bans anyone from spreading any other religious idea, punishable with three years in prison – is run by its longest serving President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Under his rule, the newspaper ‘Le Matin’ was censored and closed down, and its journalist imprisoned for exposing corruption. Journalists can be fined for insulting foreign diplomats or politicians, under reforms the media law of 2012.
Article 144 ratified June, 2001:

“It is punishable by imprisonment from 3 to 5 years, and by a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Algerian Dinars — or, one of these two punishments only — whoever insults the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), any of the other Prophets, or denigrates the practices or rituals of Islam, regardless of whether it is through writing, drawing, declaration, or any other means.”

In 2006, 26-year-old Samia Smets was arrested and imprisoned (later overturned) for blasphemy for accidentally dropping a Qur’an into some water. At the 2008 Algiers Book Fair, the Ministry of Religious Affairs banned over 1000 books that they deemed to contain blasphemy. Al Jazeera was banned in 2004. Web services providers can be fined for granting access to sites that are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” It is bizarre to me that the Algerian government believes it has a monopoly on morality, and that ‘public opinion’ is a static concept free from challenge.

UAE Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
In 2008 three Filipino workers were imprisoned for ripping out a page of the Qur’an. Their right to work in UAE was revoked. Further, The Censorship Department of the Ministry of Information and Culture bans any books, leaflets, or in fact, any form of written literature, if it is deemed offensive to Islam. Access to websites supportive of democracy & secularism is prohibited.
Article 312:

“Shall be punishable by confinement and by fine or by one of these two penalties any individual who commitsany of the following offences:
1. Offence against any of the Islamic sacred things or rites.
2. To insult and revile any of the recognized divine religions.
3. To portray disobedience in a positive light, to incite thereto, to promote it or to procure any meanssusceptible of tempting people to disobey.
4. To knowingly eat porkmeat while being a Muslim.
Where any of the above offences is committed in public, the punishment shall be either confinement for aminimum period of one year or a fine.”

– Whilst UAE’s foreign minister marched in unity in France this weekend, back home it is illegal to dare to speak your mind, if your mind does not conform to the religious dogma of those who have taken it upon themselves to declare their beliefs supreme.

Prime Minister Jomaa of Tunisia.
The interim Prime Minister joined the march, and also signed the book of condolence at the French embassy in Tunisia on Saturday. This, despite the fact that Tunisian blogger Yassine Ayari was tried for insulting state officials and sentenced to three years by the military, for criticising the military on Facebook. Article 91 of the Code of Military Justice makes it an offence to criticise the “dignity, reputation and morale” of the army. In 2012 Jabeur Mejri was jailed for posting ‘insulting’ pictures of Muhammad on Facebook… or, as the the courts in Tunisia call it; “transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order“. He was released in 2014 after two years in prison.

Whilst it was pleasing to see so many people stand together in defence of free expression during the Paris march for unity, it is equally worrying that so many World leaders linking arms that day operate incredibly oppressive restrictions including violence for criticism they can’t handle, perpetuating the notion that ‘blasphemy’ should be restricted & punishable, enshrining one religion into the framework of state, whilst so shamefully out in a show of unity for that same free expression they can’t themselves handle.


Rep. John Dingell: Member of Congress for more than a quarter of its history.

September 9, 2014

Rep. John Dingell with President Kennedy, and seated next to President Obama for the signing of the ACA.

Rep. John Dingell with President Kennedy, and seated next to President Obama for the signing of the ACA.

It is Congressional primary day for five states in the US, and the final dash for votes in the mid-terms is hotting up against a backdrop of government shutdowns, threats to sue the President, refusals to work together, and a battle for the heart of the Republican Party. It is indeed an intriguing period of US Congressional history. There is however one story that threatens to go unnoticed this election season; the retirement of 58 year veteran of the House, Rep.John Dingell (D-Dearborn, MI).

Dingell is the longest uninterrupted serving member of the US Congress in its 225 year history, with a tenure spanning more than a quarter of its entire history. It is an incredible achievement and one in which the Congressman from Michigan has witnessed the shaping of the United States in ways in which no other Congressman can claim.

As a teenager in 1941, and a member of the United States House of Representatives Page programme, Dingell was on the floor of the House as President Roosevelt delivered his day of infamy speech following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was later elected to Congress in 1956 – the year the World first heard the name ‘Elvis Presley’, and the Federal Highway Act had not yet been signed into being – and has consistently attained over 60% of the vote – with the exception of just two occasions. He was a member of Congress on that day in November when two bullets struck down the promise of President Kennedy. He was sworn into Congress 12 days after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, challenging the poisonous white supremacist attitudes of the 20th Century United States, and announced his retirement from Congress during the second term of the nation’s first African American President. He supported, witnessed and presided over the House that saw LBJ signing Medicare into law. His tenure saw the rise and fall of the Cold War era, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Watergate, the Reagan years, and both Iraq wars. In recent years, Dingell sat next to President Obama as the ‘Affordable Healthcare Act’ was signed into law in 2010, an achievement Dingell was proud to have been a part of, despite not meeting his desire to see universal healthcare in the United States; a cause he had championed by introducing a universal healthcare bill in each of his terms in Congress.

Son of a ‘New Deal’ Democratic Congressman, Dingell is known to be forceful and intimidating in the corridors of Congress. But he gets the job done. Perhaps Dingell’s greatest legislative achievements have been in promoting environmental protections and regulations, cleaning the air and the water and protecting species in the United States, whilst paradoxically commanding the scorn of environmentalists for his staunch support of the Detroit auto industry (including steerage of the 2009 bailouts). In 1972, Dingell authored the ‘Clean Water Act’ expanding greatly the regulatory framework of the 1948 ‘Federal Water Pollution Control Act’, keeping the waters of the United States clean for decades to come. He played important roles in the ‘National Energy Conservation Policy Act’ in 1978, the ‘Marine Mammal Protection Act’ and the ‘Pollution Prevention Act’ of 1990. He penned the ‘Endangered Species Act’, and he advocated and lobbied for the creation of the ‘Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge’; North America’s only international wildlife refuge. He also spent 14 years as Chair of the immensely powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, between 1981-1994, and again in 2007-2008. Without Dingell, the foundation of environmental protections in the United States might not exist. Indeed, for his work on environmental issues in the 109th Congress, The League of Conservation Voters gave Dingell a rating of 100%.

However, there remains a paradox. Dingell’s place as top-ranking Democrat on the Energy Committee took an odd turn in recent years, when Henry Waxman (D-Calif) challenged and beat Dingell for the chairmanship of the committee, through concerns that Dingell’s financial support from big auto industry – along with previous attempts to defend big auto industry in Detroit from certain sections of environmental legislation – may prove detrimental to Waxman’s desire to cap CO2 emissions. In 2007, Dingell managed to win several – albeit small – concessions for the auto-industry as Democrats worked to raise the fuel economy standard.

Alongside his defence and protection of the auto-industry, Dingell receives criticism from fellow progressive Democrats for his A+ rating from the NRA. It was Dingell who managed to gain an exemption for firearms from the 1972 ‘Consumer Product Safety Act’. A hugely damaging legacy for gun safety in the United States. Following the Columbine massacre the Senate voted to close a loophole that exempted unlicensed gun dealers from conducting any background checks at gun shows before selling a firearm. Dingell disapproved and offered an alternative that included changing the language for what is to be considered a ‘gun show’ to a very limited scope, and reducing the time taken to perform a background check from 72 hours, to 24 hours.

To some, he was a protector of big auto-industry whose ideas ran out long ago, a roadblock to meaningful emissions standards, a staunch advocate of gun ownership, and an advertisement for term limits, but to others he was the Congressional architect of landmark environmental protections that would last decades, a legacy that no other member of Congress comes close to matching. Whatever one may think of Rep. John Dingell, it is hard not to admire a man who has worked at the heart of, and contributed to the shaping of the United States, swimming the murky waters of Congress, and witnessing the transformation of America on so many levels, for close to seven decades. His is a story to be remembered during this election season.


Israel & Gaza; It isn’t “being selective” that is the issue…. it’s the motive for the selection.

August 11, 2014

I’ve been writing on this blog for several years now, and every now and again I’ll be asked “why do you focus so much on….” The question is usually followed by “Islam?“, “Christianity?“, “God, even though you don’t believe in Him?“, “The GOP?“, “Tories?“. And for the most part, those people are right. It’s not a big selection of issues that I tend to focus on. I am selective. I focus on religion, because I’m a secular atheist interested and critical of all things religion. I focus on the US Republicans, because I find their shift to the far right to have created an intriguing atmosphere in US domestic politics. I focus on the Tory Party, because, well, I don’t like them. It’s that simple. I am selective. But I’m clear in my motives and my prejudices and on such issues that don’t have a clear right or wrong, I expect a lot of disagreement from others.

In Owen Jones’s latest article for The Guardian on the rise anti-semitism, I tended to agree with much of what he wrote, but some of it I found to be more excuses for his own recent motives. He was correct when he points out that during the protests, a section of the Western right-wing attempted to paint all of those attending, as anti-Semites, which completely dilutes the term ‘anti-semitic’. It was a hideous misrepresentation of many well meaning people with genuine concerns and a wish to see the end of immense human suffering in Gaza. Where Owen slips up, is in his characterisation of the criticisms that I and others have regarding the selective outrage of sections of the Western left. Owen writes:

“The response of many supporters of Israel’s attack has been instructive. In a world where there is so much injustice and bloodshed, they say, why not march against the sectarian murderers of Islamic State (Isis) or Boko Haram? This is known as “whataboutery”: an attempt to deflect from one injustice by referring to the suffering of others. Some defenders of Israel’s governments believe the supposed special attention received by the conflict is itself evidence of antisemitism. But Israel’s atrocities attract this attention because the state is armed to the teeth and backed by western governments, rendering them directly complicit; IS and Boko Haram, on the other hand, are (quite rightly) opposed by our rulers. Demonstrations and protests are generally a means of exercising influence over supposedly democratically accountable governments.”

– This paragraph highlights my point throughout this debate entirely. It’s probably worth noting that taking issue with Owen’s selective outrage does not make one a “supporter of Israel’s attack” nor a “defender of Israel’s government“. To subtly hint at such, is as ridiculous as suggesting that criticism of Israeli policy, comes from “supporters of Hamas“. It is not worth dignifying with a full retort.

Next, the entire paragraph is irrelevant in an article on the rise of anti-Semitism, there is no reason to include it, and so I suspect the entire article was written as a response to the criticisms Jones has faced in recent weeks. (Mehdi Hasan attempted a similar excuse, which I wrote on here.) It also fails, because whilst he’s correct that demonstrations and protests are a means of exercising influence over a government, there’s no reason – nor precedent – for protests being solely connected to whom the UK/US/West funds and/or arms. The conclusion to his paragraph therefore, does not follow from his overall argument. Protests against the Sri Lankan Civil War urged World leader’s to push Sri Lanka to declare ceasefire. Their motivation wasn’t that the UK had grotesquely sold almost £14mn in arms to Sri Lanka in the recent years of the conflict (that knowledge came later), it was a concern for human rights and a possible genocide. The Global Day of Action for Burma did not include in its demands any reference to funding being the sole justification for their protest, and instead focused on raising awareness and working to pressure governments of the World into taking action. The ‘Stop Kony’ fad of 2012 – whilst it didn’t achieve its key goal, and was doubtless a fashionable fad for many rather than a protest – did achieve significant goals. It raised awareness, leading to Human Rights Watch saying:

“We’ve spent years investigating the horrors perpetrated by the LRA in central Africa – Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. We gathered evidence at massacre sites – wooden clubs covered in dried blood, rubber strips from bicycle tires used to tie up the victims, and freshly dug graves – and spoke to hundreds of boys and girls forced to fight for his army or held captive as sex slaves. And we’re elated that #stopKony is a trending topic on Twitter – if anyone deserves global notoriety it’s Kony.”

– It also led to Senators Jim Inhofe and Chris Coons raising the issue in the US Senate and pledging the US’s support for governments in Africa trying to track down leaders of the LRA. It led to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees noting an unprecedented reaction to the atrocities and new commitments to stop the LRA. To a large extent, it worked. Mobilising, protesting, using the power of social media, and all forms of pressure do not require first analysing the financial transactions of the UK. Which leads me to point two:

I am not keen on this new excuse that amounts to a sort “we don’t fund them, so we’re not that fussed” reaction. This is not how the international left traditionally went about its business, and as seen with prior protests, has not been a major theme. It didn’t strike off the list all of those human rights abusing nations or groups that weren’t receiving Western aid. It wasn’t a primary concern, and I’m not sure why it is now. It is also a badly crafted excuse and I don’t buy it as the real motive. Pakistan is one of the biggest recipients of bilateral aid, with a large chunk from the UK, despite Pakistan’s violent grip on Balochistan, to no protests whatsoever from the Western Left. The US funded the gangland regime in Honduras for years, which in turn created a brewing humanitarian crisis on the US/Mexico border with very little registering on the US Left. Afghanistan with its awful Shia Family Law, corruption within the PA, Congo, Jordan, the list goes on, and the murderous, oppressive regimes receive little protest from the left. It is a self-evidently weak excuse, and still fails to do its job, because the selective outrage is still applied inconsistently. Those conflicts may involve the US to a degree (when isolated from all other context), but they don’t directly involve Israel, so the outrage may be limited to a few words of condemnation, in perhaps a Tweet or two about how it’s all the US’s fault. I would also argue that this inconsistency and a tendency to single out Israel under a daily microscope, whilst making excuses for that, has fuelled the rise of the very anti-semitism Jones now rightly argues against.

Thirdly, my criticism is not that Owen and others like him are selective in their outrage. We all do that. I do that. Whether on foreign issues like Gaza, or domestic issues like the Bedroom Tax, we’re all selective and we all have our motives for being selective. Being selective is not a negative in itself. It would be ridiculous of anyone to demand we register equal protest and outrage at every conflict in every part of the World on every single day. That appears to be what Owen believes we’re doing, but it simply isn’t the criticism I have. I am clear with my criticism, and it is based on motive. Motive drives us all in how we select, and that is no different for that particular section of the Left. My criticism is that there is a significant section of the Left that increasingly selects its moral outrage and how it chooses to protest, on the basis of whether or not the crisis and the victims can be used as a vehicle to progress a rabid anti-US/UK/Blair/Israel sentiment. Through this, I am frustrated by their rewriting of history to filter out surrounding context, by underplaying the contribution to the crisis from figures other than the US/UK/Israel, by sharing images that do not show what they purport to show, and articles that are far less than accurate and cannot be dismissed as simple oversight. The motive is not primarily concern for victims (though I don’t doubt that concern for victims plays its part, I’m not suggesting Owen’s section of the Left lacks empathy), nor is it the traditional Left’s motive of fighting oppression where ever it is found. It is the cynical use of conflicts, to progress the underlying narrative of anti-US/Israel/West, that forms the bases of my criticisms.

When such a dogmatic motive for a very narrow narrative lies just beneath the surface, it may not be formed through conscious bigotry, but it manifests itself in simplistic analysis, and manipulative rhetoric that perpetuates bigotry (see Galloway’s recent comments). As previously mentioned, Mo Ansar played to that crowd when working to underplay the devastation caused by Hamas rocket fire. This is also evident in Owen’s past articles. For example, in his article entitled “Why the left must speak up about the persecution of Christians” – a noble fight – it doesn’t take Owen long to simplistically blame the US and UK, betraying the original point of the article:

“It is, unsurprisingly, the Middle East where the situation for Christians has dramatically deteriorated in recent years. One of the legacies of the invasion of Iraq has been the purging of a Christian community that has lived there for up to two millennia.”

– Yup. It’s the West’s fault. For the rest of us, it is the ‘legacy’ of a plethora of causes, that to an extent includes the incompetent conducting of and the aftermath of the invasion, the sectarian and disuniting policies of Maliki’s government, but those are given their strength by religious turmoil for centuries including the massacre of Assyrian Christians in the 1930s, private funding for groups like ISIS from donors elsewhere, Saddam’s relocation of Christians away from strategic resources and an emphasis on the notion that Christians are to be ‘tolerated’ in those areas, rather than considered equal. It is not simply ‘legacy of invasion, blame the US’. The problems are rooted far deeper. The context far wider.

When it came to the crisis with the self-titled ‘Islamic State’ – ISIS – in Iraq, the focus for Jones was another overly simplistic analysis, in which surrounding context can just be dismissed, in a quest to blame the US/UK. This time, the self-serving motive was less subtle: “We anti-war protestors were right; the Iraq invasion has led to bloody chaos”. It’s almost as if there wasn’t bloody chaos – a couple of genocides, nothing to see here – prior to the Iraq invasion. In his incredibly reductive analysis, Jones chooses to ignore the Iraq that Saddam left behind devoid of any semblance of democratic institutions, a massive Syrian civil war, ignore the Arab Spring, ignore a power play between Saudi Arabia – seeking to weaken Maliki whilst also opposing Jihadists at home – and Iran in Iraq & Syria, ignore what seems to be support for anti-Shia groups in Syria from private donors in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, ignore a largely heavy handed Shi’ite security force in Iraq, ignore the fight for a resurrected Caliphate from extreme elements within Islam for decades (it’s difficult to blame Blair for the popularity of al-Nabhani’s ideas and the strength of Hizb in the 1980s/90s across the globe), ignore centuries of sectarianism (including Saddam’s hideous massacre of around 100,000 Shi’ite Muslims in and around Karbala and al-Najaf a year before Blair took over as leader of Labour), ignores al-Maliki’s sectarian governance, ignores a weak Iraqi constitution, ignores the tensions between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. All surrounding context is filtered out, because it doesn’t indicate a line directly from Blair to ISIS.

So, we can discount the ‘we fund them’ excuse, because it doesn’t seem to extend far beyond Israel, and still leaves us with the same criticism of the motives for selection. We can discount the ‘we protest to pressure the government’ because that is the case with most protest movements regardless of whether or not we fund the culprits. We can discount the ‘whataboutery’ complaint, because it isn’t the criticism we actually have in the first place. My conclusion remains the same; there is a purpose in working to oversimplify conflicts in the manner that the Galloway-left often does. Being selective is not the issue. The motive is the issue. In this case, ‘being selective’ is focused entirely on how a crisis can be used to progress an anti-US/Israel narrative. Manipulated and reductive history, dismissal of all surrounding context, blatantly false or emotive images and information, and awful excuses, are all utilised to that end. And I’m fine with that bigoted motive, if only they’d admit it, because at the moment it gives the rest of us on the Left a bad name.


Ten Tory MPs with less than 50% of the vote.

July 10, 2014

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It is true that if you were to include the number of potential voters in each constituency, no current Cabinet Minister would have received over 50% of the vote. But with the freedom to vote, comes the freedom to not vote, and with that in mind we should look more closely at the the percentage that current Tory MPs – seeking to impose voter threshold on strike action – managed to win at the 2010 general election, among actual voter turnout.

So here’s a quick list of ten:

  • Sajid Javid – MP for Bromsgrove and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Equalities – 43.7%.
    – A man who is in control of the state’s involvement in culture, media, sport, and has the key responsibility for equality in the UK, was elected with less than 50% of the vote in Bromsgrove.

  • David Jones – MP for Clyde West and Secretary of State for Wales – 41.5%.
    – A Secretary of State for an entire country, elected with a little over 40% of the vote.

  • Oliver Letwin – Minister of State at the Cabinet Office and Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Policy Review – 47.6%
    – Letwin – after winning less than 50% of the vote – insisted that public sector workers require “discipline and fear”. On a completely unrelated note, Letwin used £2,145 in Parliamentary expenses to fix a leaking pipe on his tennis court.

  • Mark Garnier – MP for Wyre Forest -36.9%
    On his website, speaking of strikes in November 2011, Garnier writes:

    “These strikes, which will cost the economy up to half a billion pounds, were not voted for by a majority and will hit ordinary working people hardest.”

    – Replace the words “strikes” with “Tories” in this massively ironic statement, and you have a far more honest sentence.

  • Jessica Lee – MP for Erewash & Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney General Dominic Grieve – 39.5%.
  • Stephen Mosley – MP for the City of Chester – 40.6%
    – On his website, Mosley says:

    “The strike action undertaken by PCS union members in June highlighted the unconsidered approach that appears to be the default setting for many unions.
    Less than 20% of their members voted for the industrial action and less than half walked out on their responsibilities that day.”

    – Interesting admiration for majority votes, when almost 60% of Mosley’s own constituency doesn’t want him representing them.

  • Nicky Morgan – MP for Loughborough – 41.6%
    – Elected with a minority of the vote, and yet voted in an attempt to ensure same-sex couples couldn’t get married. She believes with less than 50%, she gets to regulate the love lives of others.

  • Edward Garnier – MP for Harborough, Knight Bachelor and former Solicitor General – 49%.
  • James Morris – MP for Halesowen & Rowley Regis – 41.2%
  • Paul Uppal – MP for Wolverhampton South West – 40.7%
    – Uppal voted in favour of a change to striking laws that would prohibit strikes in the transport sector unless a majority of the workforce voted in favour and not merely a majority of those voting. This same principle, if applied to Parliament, would mean every Cabinet Minister would not have been elected. The closest would have been Theresa May, though she’d still have fell short by 7%.

    – If a Conservative Party wishes to impose a 50% voter threshold on strike action, then I see no reason why there should not also be a 50% voter threshold on the ability to propose legislation and vote in Parliament. Indeed, if MPs with less than 50% of the vote in their own constituency can vote to restrict pay and pensions for public sector workers, I see no reason why those same public sector workers can’t then strike with less than 50% of the vote.


  • The Imperial President? Not so much…

    June 30, 2014

    President Obama and Speaker Boehner shake hands at the State of the Union. Photo Credit: By Pete Souza (Executive Office of the President of the United States)

    President Obama and Speaker Boehner shake hands at the State of the Union.
    Photo Credit: By Pete Souza (Executive Office of the President of the United States)

    If you were to add together the average executive orders of President Obama, President Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Monroe, Quincy Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison and Tyler (and the first few months of Polk’s Presidency); they’d still add up to less than President Reagan’s average. And so for a Republican Party with a Presidential hero sporting an executive order average of over 11 Presidents (including the current) combined, alongside its recent history of losing the Senate, losing the Presidency twice, losing the popular vote for the House, wildly abusing the filibuster, and generally considered responsible for the shutdown of the government, you might think the Speaker would be a little humble. You’d be wrong. Instead, he’s choosing to sue the President for use of executive powers.

    In lieu of addressing wage disparity, or a jobs bill, or working to solve climate change issues, the Republican obsession with the President has become a pantomime. In his memorandum, Boehner’s case lacks substance, whilst also betraying the true purpose of the lawsuit. One of his points reads:

    “There is no legislative remedy”

    – What this means is, there is no legislative remedy – from a positive PR perspective – to force the President to give in to the demands of the minority Party, and so they’ll pass the buck to the judiciary, whilst throwing around terms like “Executive Monarchy” in the hope that the public will jump on board. There is of course already a legislative remedy to the overreaching of executive power, and that includes de-funding the executive branch and beginning impeachment proceedings against executive branch officials if they feel they have a strong case. They’re also aware that the judiciary has the power the strike down executive orders if they deem it to be unsupported by the Constitution. The Speaker therefore does not have a strong case, and so neither of the previously mentioned legislative remedies serves the GOP well from a PR standpoint, especially after the constant failure of House Republicans to defund the ACA, the obscene abuses of the filibuster, and the disaster of shutting down the government. They’re therefore ignoring the legislative remedies, as if they don’t exist. It is one big publicity stunt, and as with the shutdown, it will be scrutinised thoroughly and reflect terribly on the GOP.

    Further, the ill-fated lawsuit that Boehner seeks to bring against the President, will be filed by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group – a standing body of the House of Representatives – funded by every taxpayer in the US. If the lawsuit fails – which it will, because the President has not issued an unconstitutional executive order, nor overreached executive power – it will be the second time Boehner has used ‘BLAG’ and failed, costing the taxpayer in the process. It must strike most as incredible that a Speaker has been able to get away with wasting taxpayer’s money on constant symbolic attempts to defund the ACA (knowing they’d fail every time), defending anti-liberty discrimination based on sexuality (for which Boehner used BLAG), on shutting down the government, on a publicity stunt to sue the President, all whilst successfully achieving the title of the least productive Congress in history with disastrously low approval ratings.

    The Speaker summarised the President’s use of executive orders as the work of “aggressive unilateralism”, and that the President is in fact an “Executive Monarchy”. Echoing Boehner’s summary, the beacon of wisdom Karl Rove – conveniently forgetting the time President Bush aggressively used signing statements to bypass laws and extend Presidential power – said:

    ““This is imperial power, this is George III.”

    – I’m almost certain King George III did not face such a hostile Parliament, to the point where getting basic aides confirmed by the Senate becomes a long drawn out battle. The implication from Rove and the Speaker, is that the President is abusing the use of executive orders beyond anything that came before. The biggest threat to liberty since George III. So, how does that check out. How does the President’s yearly average of executive orders compare with past Republican Presidents? According to research by The American Presidency Project:

    President Obama – Democrat – yearly average: 33.58
    President Bush – Republican – yearly average: 36.38
    President Bush Sr – Republican – yearly average: 41.50
    President Reagan – Republican hero – yearly average: 47.63
    President Ford – Republican – 68.92
    President Nixon – Republican – 62.30
    President Eisenhower – Republican – 60.50

    – President Obama has a lower yearly average of issuing executive orders, than any previous Republican President since the 1950s. Compared to those Republican Presidents, he’s a beacon of restraint. Indeed, Obama is issuing executive orders at a rate of 0.09 a day, far below the Republican Presidential average of 0.22 a day (which is higher than the Democrat Presidential daily rate).

    To find a lower yearly average on issuing executive orders than President Obama, we have to go back to Grover Cleveland’s first term as President, between 1885 and 1889. The highest in my life time, has been small government, Republican hero, President Reagan. In his first term, President Obama issued 147 executive orders. By contrast, President Reagan in his first term, issued 213 executive orders, and Reagan wasn’t faced with the one of the most hostile and obstructionist Congresses in decades.

    If 33.58 magically turns President Obama into King George III, I can imagine 47.63 turns President Reagan into King Henry VIII.

    Remember those figures as the Speaker wastes taxpayers money on a frivolous party political publicity stunt over the coming weeks.


    The right-winged media & the release of al-Baghdadi.

    June 22, 2014

    The BBC reported today that ISIS have moved to within 90 miles of the Iraq-Jordan border, having taken over the town of al-Rutba. The town sits on the main road between Jordan and Baghdad, and is around 110 miles from the border with Saudi Arabia. It marks an unnerving couple of weeks of very violent extremists spilling over from the Syrian civil war into the new and fledgling democracy to the south.

    The past couple of weeks have also produced a plethora of commentators trying to untangle the web of blame, hoping to land at a particular constant (their favoured figure of hate), rather than admit a whole host of variables, like a complex jigsaw, led to the rise of ISIS and the damage it is inflicting upon Iraq. America’s conservatives have spent the past couple of weeks attempting in any way possible to lay the blame for the crisis in Iraq at the door of the President.

    Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro told the nation last week, that ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was in US custody, and released in 2009 during President Obama’s Presidency:

    “The head of this band of savages is a man named Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the new Osama Bin Laden. A man released by Obama in 2009, who started ISIS a year later.”

    – This came a few days after Pirro called for the President to be impeached for the prisoner swap that led to the release of Bowe Bergdahl.

    Fox’s Megyn Kelly went a little further, and described the circumstances under which al-Baghdadi was released:

    “We are also learning more about the leader of the terror group, a man described as the new Bin Laden, the heir to Bin Laden. It turns out he had been in U.S. custody until 2009, over in Iraq, when he was then turned over to the Iraqi government as part of our troop drawdown. And then he was released.”

    – The implication being that the President has a history of releasing dangerous prisoners, including one who went on to form the group currently slaughtering its way across Iraq. Indeed, Michael Daly writing for The Daily Beast took up the story and went further:

    “When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi walked away from a U.S. detention camp in 2009, the future leader of ISIS issued some chilling final words to reservists from Long Island.”

    – The chilling words were reported by Army Col. Kenneth King, the commanding officer of Camp Bucca in 2009 and said to be al-Baghdadi telling the camp as he left, that he would:

    “See you in New York.”

    – The source of the story, Colonel King goes on to express his anger at the release of al-Baghdadi in 2009:

    “We spent how many missions and how many soldiers were put at risk when we caught this guy and we just released him.”

    – The story went international, with The Daily Mail over here in the UK taking it up and capitalising the words “set free” for extra effect:

    “Revealed: How Obama SET FREE the merciless terrorist warlord now leading the ISIS horde blazing a trail of destruction through Iraq.”

    – The UK’s Daily Telegraph proposed their own explanation as to why al-Baghdadi was released in 2009:

    “One possible explanation is that he was one of thousands of suspected insurgents granted amnesty as the US began its draw down in Iraq.”

    – So to summarise, according to the right winged press and TV networks, Al-Baghdadi – the leader of ISIS in 2014 – was released from US custody in 2009, handed to the Iraqis, probably due to an amnesty granted to insurgents at the behest of the Obama administration. That’s the narrative. And yet, the problem with the entire story here, is it isn’t actually true. Any of it.

    Politifact researched the claim and found it to be entirely false, and worse for US conservatives; al Baghdadi was actually released in 2004, when a Republican was President. A year later, a US intelligent report tells us that the Pentagon considered al-Baghdadi to be incredibly dangerous:

    “He would kidnap individuals or entire families, accuse them, pronounce sentence and then publicly execute them.”

    – Less than one year after al-Baghdadi was released from custody on President Bush’s watch, the US was again searching for him, for the most hideous crimes.

    Back to the story. It seems that Michael Daly, the Telegraph, the Mail and Fox all framed their narrative around the story told by Col.King. Interviewed days later on ABC, King told the network that he “could have been mistaken” and that whilst he didn’t know the name of the guy he’d seen at Camp Bucca in 2009, it looked a bit like al-Baghdadi. From what he could remember. Five years ago. And from that, Fox construct an entire anti-Obama rant, with a story of how al-Baghdadi was handed over to authorities in Iraq and then released. Politifact checked with the Department of Defence, who issued the following statement:

    “Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Al Badry, also known as ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’ was held as a ‘civilian internee’ by U.S. Forces-Iraq from early February 2004 until early December 2004, when he was released.”

    “He was held at Camp Bucca. A Combined Review and Release Board recommended ‘unconditional release’ of this detainee and he was released from U.S. custody shortly thereafter. We have no record of him being held at any other time.”

    – And so it turns out al-Baghdadi wasn’t even released to the government in Iraq, as Fox claimed, let alone in 2009. Nor did Obama release him as part of a “amnesty” as suggested by the Telegraph. Though, had al-Baghdadi been released in 2009 as part of an amnesty, that too would not have been President Obama’s doing. As Politifact notes, it was late in 2008 – toward the end of President Bush’s term in office – that the President signed the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq, an agreement that binds the US to the following terms:

    “The United States Forces shall act in full and effective coordination with the Government of Iraq to turn over custody of such wanted detainees to Iraqi authorities pursuant to a valid Iraqi arrest warrant and shall release all the remaining detainees in a safe and orderly manner, unless otherwise requested by the Government of Iraq.”

    – Not only was al-Baghdadi released in 2004, but had he been released in 2009 – as suggested by the right winged media – his release would have been due to a framework signed by President Bush in 2008.

    The entire story was false and ridiculously manipulative. It relies solely on an army Colonel remembering a face from five years ago, that looked “very familiar”. There was no fact checking from Fox, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, or The Daily Beast. There was no mention of the US-Iraq agreement. This is how little it takes for Fox to turn a non-story into a familiar national anti-Obama scandal that bears little – if any – resemblance to reality.


    Sarah Vine & Daily Mail land.

    June 11, 2014

    In the green pastures of Daily Mail land, where the year is perpetually 1950, Dvorak’s Symphony 9 plays on a loop, and everyone attends Church on a Sunday. Where someone with slightly darker skin in the village is a frightening novelty, morality and normality are defined by Christianity, gay folk are trying to destroy humanity, and someone with tattoos can only mean one thing; the decadent youth and their alien ways are throwing their lives away, destroying this once great country, and they don’t even know it. If only they’d suspend their critical faculties, and pick up the Daily Mail from time to time, the country could be great again!… Or something like that.

    I woke up shocked this morning. Shocked that my life has been a lie. Thanks to Sarah Vine over at the ever illuminating and rational Daily Mail, I learnt this morning that my tattoos are simply a “hideous” form of self harm. This came as a shock, because up until now, I thought I had my tattoos as a form of self expression, that I chose them because I felt they represented me in a way that I wanted to represent myself, and that they had a certain meaning to me and me alone. I thought I was pretty happy when I had my tattoos. Of course, we all have our problems in life, but on the whole, I really fucking love me. At least, that’s what I thought. I thought I knew what my tattoos meant to me, because, well, I’m me. That all changed this morning when I read Sarah Vine’s column for The Mail (and Tory’s and the Mail are notoriously excellent at understanding young people) and discovered I have serious mental health issues that I address by harming myself with tattoos. I discovered my friends must be covering their intense inner sorrow, with outward displays of faux-happiness and joy. I discovered that the word “self-harm” can now be thrown around whenever we see someone doing something we personally wouldn’t do.

    But then I thought, maybe it’s an ironic piece? I mean, there appears to be a noticeable irony in someone writing for the Daily Mail, and being married to Michael Gove having the nerve to refer to anything other than writing for the Daily Mail and being married to Michael Gove as “ghastly” and “self harm”. Perhaps it is Sarah Vine’s cry for help. I mean, she has her ears pierced; a needle pushed through the body, and a piece of metal shoved into the hole. Does this not also count as self harm? There can’t be much pleasure in writing for a newspaper famed for its tacit support for Fascism in the 1930s, and that recently hounded a transgender person – Lucy Meadows – to suicide, whilst married to a man universally hated by the profession he’s the Minister for. Perhaps at this point you’re thinking that I’m being incredibly judgmental in presuming that I get to tell someone else that their private life, their private loves, and the way they express themselves is “ghastly” or “self harm”. Yes… you’d be right. It’s pretty shitty and irrational of me, isn’t it?

    There is a degree of irony in the article itself:

    “Think of poor, frail Amy Winehouse, her emaciated limbs decorated like a navvy’s; think of the ethereal, fragile Peaches Geldof.”

    – Yes. Think of the ‘poor, frail Amy Winehouse’, like The Mail did when they plastered unflattering pictures of Amy Winehouse all over a completely irrelevant article, whilst needlessly poking fun at her, despite this being in the middle of her health issues:

    “At first glance it may seem she had forgotten to get dressed.
    But bra, shorts and ballet slippers almost count as overdressed for Amy Winehouse these days.”

    – Think of the ‘poor, frail Amy Winehouse’ like The Mail did with this article dedicated entirely to how ill she looked coming out of a restaurant:

    “The Rehab singer looked worse for wear after dining at Balans restaurant in London and exposed a small pot belly after the meal.”

    – Nothing says compassion and sensitivity for those suffering quite like having a gutter photographer selling you photos of every troubled moment, for a paper that gets a bizarre kick out of dehumanising those struggling. So yes, think of the ‘poor, frail Amy Winehouse’ and the grotesque rag of shit with a business model that relies on perpetuating the suffering and misery of others.

    The article goes on:

    “When I was Barkley’s age, tattoos were the preserve of sailors, Hell’s Angels and ex-cons.”

    – When my grandfather was my age, in the 1940s, writing for (or owning) The Daily Mail was the preserve of Nazi supporters and the British far right. Some things change, some things remain remarkably similar.

    The article goes on, still:

    “Twenty-year-old Ross Barkley, by contrast, has used his to illustrate his more contemplative side. On the outside of his arm, in Chinese script, the word ‘fengxian’, meaning ‘to devote’. And at the base of his hand, a quotation from none other than the Greek philosopher Aristotle: ‘No notice is taken of little evil. But when it increases it strikes the eye.’
    Wow. Who knew that beneath that rugged exterior lurked the sensitive soul of a classicist?”

    – This came as a shock to me too, because I have a rose tattooed on my arm, and I haven’t even studied botany. There is absolutely no reason why Barkley would need to know the first thing about the classical period, to take away something meaningful from a pretty universal quote. Indeed, that is part of the timeless genius of Aristotle. You don’t have to be a connoisseur of classical Greek philosophy, to take something meaningful from a fifteen word quote. Similarly, Sarah Vine doesn’t have to be an expert in the art of jewelry making, to have a piece of metal shoved in her ear.

    There is no single reason someone gets a tattoo. Do some people get tattoos as a form of self-harm? It’s a possibility, though I don’t know of anyone who has. For some, their bodies are a canvas for the art form. For others, a tattoo might commemorate a moment in time. For others, a tattoo might be a middle finger to a neat and tidy, soulless, and robotic business-defined culture they find to be so devoid of individuality. For me – as for all others – it is simply a form of self expression. I don’t care what someone else thinks of my tattoos. There is no hidden anguish in my choosing to be tattooed. Like the clothes I wear, the haircut (to an extent; though nature took away most of my hair) I have, the photographs I take, the words I write, the tattoos I have; all are forms of expressing myself, and myself alone. They mean something to me. We express ourselves in a variety of ways and what is important is that I decide what it is that represents expression to me. No one else. Certainly not a Tory journalist flippantly using the subject of mental health to explain away her personal dislike of tattoos, from the unbearably stagnant pastures of Daily Mail land.


    Trolling UKIP: #WhyImVotingUKIP

    May 21, 2014

    It’s a day before the European election, and the #WhyImVotingUkip Twitter trend has spectacularly backfired on the Party this morning. Once you make your way through the three pro-UKIP tweets, you find yourself in a forest of wonderful satire. And so, here are a few of my favourite #WhyImVotingUKIP tweets so far:

    btfd

    fff

    ddddde

    fffffg

    nhgnr

    rfrr

    trey

    untitled1

    Untitled-2

    Untitled-2d

    Untitled-2e

    Untitled-2r

    Untitled-3

    Untitled-r2

    At least, I think these are satire. Given the frequency by which Tea Party-esque comments are publicly made by UKIP members, all of the above tweets could just as easily be actual UKIP comments.
    Tomorrow is election day. Get out and vote!


    European Elections – East Midlands – UKIP’s Roger Helmer.

    May 4, 2014

    East Midlands Member of the European Parliament; Roger Helmer. Source: Berchemboy at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons.

    East Midlands Member of the European Parliament; Roger Helmer.

    Source: Berchemboy at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons.

    It seems the case that with the European elections on the horizon, those voting will be voting for the party rather than the candidate. Indeed, no European politician in this country – with the exception of Farage – seems to be a household name. We tend not to know whom our representative in Brussels is, instead choosing to vote for the party we most identify with at that moment in time. For that reason, I thought I’d offer a brief overview of the MEP for my area – the East Midlands – UKIPs Roger Helmer. And what an overview it is; vicious homophobia, rape victim blaming, admired by Koch funded corporate pressure group, climate denier.

    It is fair to say, I am not a UKIP fan. Having spoken recently to a young Polish girl who had been disgustingly mistreated by nurses at a hospital that she had given birth at, purely for her nationality, and how she’d cried herself to sleep that night – a night that should have been a happy time, now forever ruined in her memory – I fully blame the divisive and grotesque rhetoric of UKIP among others for that. Human beings are a pawn in their game and I find them very much the heirs to Thatcher, with a hint of fear-driven nationalism thrown in for good measure. In short, the Tea Party of the UK.

    We all remember the UKIP Councillor who blamed the floods on gay marriage, and we laughed. But rabid homophobia and anti-secularism seems unnervingly to be a key component to the thinking of a lot of UKIP politicians. Helmer, on kids struggling to come to terms with their sexuality (a struggle perpetuated by the idea that one particular sexuality is ‘right’ and the other ‘wrong’; a religiously motivated absurdity), said:

    “If we give adolescent youngsters the wrong signal at a key period of their lives, if we glamorise homosexuals in the media, if we fail to discriminate, we risk the likelihood they will fixate on the wrong gender. We risk denying them the chance of a normal life.”

    – He also wrote that the real victims are not the LGBT community still fighting for equal rights, and to be free from religiously motivated discrimination, bullying, and stigma; but the homophobes themselves:

    “Many people find the idea of homosexual behavious distasteful if not viscerally repugnant. It is this perfectly biologically-determined repugnance that the homosexual lobby seeks to stigmatise with the word ‘homophobia’.”

    – It’s like claiming George Wallace was the victim of the civil rights lobby.

    Helmer also tweeted:

    “Why is it OK for a surgeon to perform a sex change operation, but not OK for a psychiatrist to try to ‘turn’ a consenting homosexual?”

    – The implication – along with his early statement, that children might become gay if the media “glamorises” homosexuality – being that homosexuality is a mental illness that can be cured, further dehumanising the LGBT community. As if dehumanising immigrants wasn’t enough. It is about as rational as claiming a psychiatrist can try to ‘turn’ a blue eyed person into a brown eyed person. It is anti-scientific, anti-human, and a very religious position to take. Incidentally, The UK Royal College of Psychiatrists agree:

    “…homsexuality is not a psychiatric disorder. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Furthermore, so-called treatments of homosexuality create a setting in which prejudice and discrimination flourish.”

    On gay marriage, Helmer – like most absurd right wingers – argues a slippery slope fallacy, whilst defending Church opposition to same-sex marriage, as justification for restricting the rights of others, and upholding Christian supremacist ‘values’:

    “…once you start to tamper with the institution of marriage, you get into some very murky water indeed. If two men can be married, why not three men? Or a two men and a woman?”

    – Firstly, this implies that Christianity has some sort of inherent right to the institution of marriage in the first place, and secondly, if Helmer is correct and homosexual marriage leads inevitably to “murky waters” such as polygamy (ironically, Biblically acceptable) then we must accept that heterosexual marriage lead to homosexual marriage, and so in fact the very institution of marriage itself, starts the ball rolling down the slippery slope. The only way out of that slippery slope, is to claim “traditional” marriage should continue to be defined along religious lines. And that’s fine if you’re a Christian; simply don’t have a same sex marriage. You however have no right to enshrine your self-claimed ownership of marriage into law, restricting the rights of anyone else. Helmer’s argument by its very nature, is one that seeks to impose religious “values” on everyone. Roger Helmer is anti-secular.

    Whilst seeking to restrict the rights of the gay community, and subtly hinting that they’re all mentally ill, Helmer said that the word ‘homophobia’:

    “…it is just a propagandist word created by the militant gay rights lobby.”

    – Yes! Those ‘militants’ fighting for the same rights that Helmer himself enjoys, whilst referring to those who simply wish the same rights as “…distasteful if not viscerally repugnant“.

    Echoing a number of US Tea Party members, Helmer also isn’t a big fan of women. In 2011, on his blog, Roger Helmer said that in the case of rape’:

    “…the victim surely shares a part of the responsibility, if only for establishing reasonable expectations in her boyfriend’s mind.”

    – Yes. He said that. In fact, here’s the blog in question.

    He goes on to say:

    “It is naive for a woman to undress and get into a man’s bed and not expect him to draw the obvious conclusion.”

    – A creative way to say “you brought this on yourself“. Roger Helmer believes that the victim shares blame for being raped. Those poor rapists. I’d suggest that if Roger Helmer believes this, he poses a danger to women, not just for how he votes, but for the fact that he’s clearly unable to control his sexual urges, and considers “establishing reasonable expectation” as a justifiable excuse for violating the autonomy of the body of another human being.

    As UKIP seem to be positioning themselves as a party of the ordinary working people, it’s probably worth noting that Farage himself is an ex-city trader, and that Helmer was appointed ‘Adam Smith Scholar’ by American corporate funded right winged pressure group ‘American Legislative Exchange Council’. ALEC is funded by corporate donors, including in 2009, over $200,000 from the Tea Party funding Koch brothers. The same family that funded right winged extremists during Kennedy’s Presidency, and orchestrated the 2013 government shutdown, seeking to denying the ordinary working people affordable healthcare. Helmer – being a climate skeptic – was also a key speaker at The Heartland Institute’s Seventh International Conference. The Heartland Institute also received funding from the Koch brothers, as well as – predictably, given the subject – big oil companies and big tobacco companies. UKIP are the Tea Party of the UK, in every way possible.

    So for all his climate denying, and speaking on the topic to institutes funded by big corporate interests, imagine my surprise when at the previous European election, we had a leaflet through our door for Helmer’s campaign – he was a Tory at the time – that read:

    “Conservatives played a key role in making new laws to cut carbon emissions and promote renewable energy“.

    – This part of the leaflet, was a major factor for the Helmer campaign, given that it had an entire section dedicated to:

    “…tackling climate change”

    – And yet, the leaflet didn’t explain to voters that Helmer is a key member of ‘The Freedom Association’ of which he became the chairman of in 2007. In 2012 – after Helmer had became Chairman – at a time his campaign was running on its green credentials – ‘The Freedom Association’ said:

    “Evidence is quite clearly emerging that man is not having the impact on the climate that the EU climate alarmists claim.”

    – The leaflet was a blatant lie, given that according to ‘Friends of the Earth’, Roger Helmer has one of the worst voting records when it comes to the environment, in Europe. The campaign literature gave the impression that Helmer had ‘played a key role’ in cutting carbon emissions, when in fact the opposite is true. And he’s proud of it.

    I often write on the absurd and often offensive and hideous remarks and actions by US Tea Party members toward every minority that possibly exists. They seem entirely divorced from reality, a threat to human liberty and dignity, funded by corporate interests, and yet, my own area in leafy middle England appears to have elected one of them – a homophobic, religious supremacist, corporate, rape apologist, victim blaming, misogynistic, climate denier – and looks set to re-elect him. And so, if you’re in the East Midlands, get out and vote on May 22nd. I am embarrassed to know that in Europe, the area that I live is represented by Roger Helmer. We are not like him. The East Midlands deserves far better.


    Why secularism is good for the religious.

    April 12, 2014

    Thomas_Paine_rev1

    “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their “legislature” should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”
    – Thomas Jefferson.

    A wall of Separation between Church and State” was a phrase first coined by Thomas Jefferson in his famous letter penned to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. The significance of Jefferson’s letter was that the phrase was not coined as an attack on religion in the United States, but protection for the freedom to be religious according to one’s own conscience. The Danbury Baptists in Connecticut were concerned that the powerful Congregationalist Church in the state may acquire a position of privilege and power and that their right to practice their faith freely, would be under threat. The same worry almost two centuries earlier had prompted the pilgrims to flee England, for a land in which they could worship according to their own conscience and without fear of state oppression. Jefferson wrote to the Baptists to reassure them that the constitution of the United States protected their right to believe and to worship, and would not empower another sect with state privilege above any other. Secularism protects and enhances the rights of the believers, to believer without fear.

    Jefferson’s point in his letter to the Baptists was that secularism protects the right of individual interpretation of faith for the individual believer. Secularism concludes that belief is between the individual and their God, and has nothing to do with any Earthly power. If the individual wishes to dedicate their entire existence to their belief – including their choice of clothing, France banning the veil is the opposite of secularism – the secular state protects that right. Conversely, the Earthly power must not empower or permit privilege to a particular choice of belief, to the detriment of all others. A line of equality is maintained by state neutrality. We are equal regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, belief, and gender. From that position, we are free to test and elevate the boundaries of our own abilities and to seek happiness, without harming the same liberty for others.

    If we imagine a small group of twenty believers of a particular faith, it is quite likely that each will have differences pertaining to interpretation of articles of faith, given that religious literature is so vast in scope even for one religion. They may be small differences or large important differences. In that situation, it would be absurd to say “Number 12 in the group has the inherent authority to punish those of us who don’t abandon our interpretation, and follow his interpretation“. It is obvious that no single individual in the group has that privilege of authority, simply because a faith is not an absolute science. We must start from the premise that all 20 have the equal right to belief. It is also obvious that if number 12 did institute a policy by which those who disagreed with him were punished, the differences do not suddenly go away. The individual beliefs will still differ, opinions don’t change, it is fear of punishment that will prevent those differences from being expressed, and so not only is the individual oppressed, but the right of all of us to hear dissenting views and not be told what we – as grown adults – should be allowed to hear, is similarly oppressed. Humanity is blessed with curiosity, and uniformity of thought is impossible, and attempts to argue otherwise are inevitably bloody and oppressive. Shia and Sunni, Catholic and Protestant; history teaches us that granting privilege to one interpretation, does not end well. If your faith relies on fear to survive, it not only has no right to privilege, it absolutely doesn’t deserve privilege.

    An individual’s interpretation is anchored to their own experiences throughout life. As Jefferson noted; it is a matter that lies solely between an individual and his or her God. Only secularism protects the right of each individual within the group to disagree, to question, and to value each individual’s right to interpret their faith according to their conscience and without fear of oppression by any other member. If the personal belief of each member is strong, it will withstand the freedom of others to differ. Indeed, whilst secularism may diminish the privilege and supremacy of a single interpretation, it is the only mechanism by which religious liberty for the whole group is preserved and protected.

    The great Thomas Paine expressed beautifully a concept in one sentence, that religious texts have failed to express through thousands of pages:

    “Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.”

    – Secularism guarantees equal rights as citizens under the law. If a Christian wishes the right to build a private temple of worship, the same right must be extended to Hindu’s, to Muslims, to Sikhs and so on. If, as an atheist, I wish the right to “offend” the beliefs of others, I must accept the right for others to hold views that “offend” my beliefs. You are free to believe that homosexuality is a sin, you are not free to restrict the liberty and equal civil rights of gay people according to your belief. Your belief plays no part in the liberty of others. You are free to believe that those who abandon their faith are evil. You are not free to restrict the liberty of those who abandon their faith based on your belief. Because again, your belief plays no part in the liberty of others. Similarly, if someone believes those who subscribe to your religion are a great evil and should be restricted and punished, they’re free to believe that, they’re just not free to enforce it through the state. We are all to be considered equal regardless of belief, or ethnicity, or sexuality, and of gender. This further enhances our security when questioning, criticising, and inquiring. The mark of a civilised society.

    It isn’t just a single religion controlling the apparatus of state that leads almost inevitably to human rights violations. It is the tyranny of a single sect, of a single religion that tends to cause problems for smaller sects of the same faith. When Catholics held state power, Protestants were brutally slaughtered. When Protestants held state power, predictably, Catholics were brutally slaughtered. To end this ceaseless war between sects vying for power, required secularism and declarations of inalienable rights that no religion had a right to violate.

    Indeed, the fight isn’t between secularism and religion – religion is protected and freed by secularism and anyone wishing to oppress rights based on someone’s belief, is by definition not secular – the fight is between secularism and a particular individual’s interpretation of their religion to the often violent exclusion of all others. If, in the group of 20, 19 of the members all believe one interpretation to be correct, but you don’t, those 19 still have no inherent right to force you to live by their beliefs. You have the right to criticise the beliefs of the 19, to believe differently to all of them, and to worship freely according to your conscience only without fear. You have a criticism of the Bible or Qur’an? Then say it, or keep it to yourself, or write it, or express it in anyway you wish. No one has a right to prevent you from that. Your expression of your faith – as long as it doesn’t interfere with the liberty of anyone else – is yours only. Secularism is therefore the only mechanism by which the smaller sects, and the individual believers are protected. A real world example, would see the natural rights of the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia currently facing oppression, completely protected. The barriers to freedom and equal rights for Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia are the necessary result of one sect opposed to Shia beliefs presuming a place of privilege that they do not deserve. Shia Muslims in Saudi are prevented from obtaining high office. Shia parents are banned from using certain names for their children. Saudi schools teach children that Shiites are a Jewish conspiracy, and need to be destroyed. I struggle to describe this hideous manipulation of the young minds of children, as anything other than abuse. The Shia minority in Saudi Arabia face oppression, for no other reason than the Salafi leadership doesn’t believe what they believe. The presumption on the part of the leadership, is that their belief is inherently privileged. It is a position maintained by force, and if a privilege must be maintained by force, it is wholly illegitimate.

    If a religious authority in a non-secular country suddenly decries an aspect of your daily life, or something you consider sacred to you, as a violation of the state’s religious principles, you are in danger of the state punishing you. Your human rights are in the hands of the religious authority. In a secular state, if the same religious authority were to decry an aspect of your daily life as a violation of their religious belief, they’d be free to say so, they wouldn’t be free to punish you for it. Your liberty and right to believe differently is preserved and protected. No single religious person or group has a right to punish you for not accepting and living according to their beliefs. Secularism recognises this and trusts you as an individual to come to your own conclusions and beliefs freely and without fear.

    It is clear to me that a faith loses its integrity the moment an individual is forced to accept it at gun point. When I hear the claim that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the World, I choose to discount not only those children considered ‘Muslim’ by way of being born to Muslim parents, but also those who live in countries in which it is illegal to leave the faith, or to openly question or criticise the faith. At it stands, apostasy is illegal in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, UAE, Somalia, Afghanistan, Saudi, Sudan, Qatar, Yemen, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Jordan, and Oman. Apostasy in Jehovah’s Witness families is enough for a child to be disowned. It is supremacy by way of threat. If we were to hold a gun to someone’s head, and instructed them to say that they are in fact a giraffe or I’ll fire the gun, we wouldn’t then suggest the giraffe population was clearly growing. The integrity of an individual’s faith is diminished entirely when it is actively forced upon others. Similarly, a child isn’t to be considered of a particular faith. They have not reached an age by which they can rationalise, critique, and accept or reject religious precepts. Their minds are a sponge, and if a particular religion is indeed correct, teaching a child to be critical and curious will lead that child to the religious truth of that faith anyway. It should be obvious to all that a faith enhances its integrity if those who find it, find it through their own free inquiry and will, rather than indoctrination and threat. Secularism is an idea based on free inquiry, expression and will. The opposite, is indoctrination and threat.

    Secularism begins and ends with the idea that the beliefs of an individual are sacred to that individual, and have no inherent right to trespass upon the liberty of others. A Sunni majority has no inherent right to force Shia to live by the dictates of their interpretation of Islam, Congregationalists have no inherent right to force Baptists by threat of state punishment, to live according to the dictates of their interpretation of Christianity. As a non-believer, no religious faith or sect has the right to threaten me with state punishment, if I do not adhere to, or if I criticise or satirise their religious guidelines. Similarly, I have no right to prevent or restrict your liberty in believing anything you choose to belief and worshiping where ever you choose to worship, as long as it isn’t forced through the mechanism of state. We are equal citizens deserving of equal protections. Progress – both individual and societal – is the product of free inquiry, debate, expression and compromise, and not forced adherence. If you believe a slightly different interpretation of your faith, than what is demanded of you by the authorities, then feel free! Express it! Secularism encourages that discussion. Indeed, as secularists, we believe only you have the right to decide what it is you believe, and how you express that belief. The chains between you and those wishing to regulate your thoughts, are completely smashed. To paraphrase Jefferson, the state should not be in the business of regulating your opinion and your expression; to do so is by its nature oppression. For that reason alone, secularism is good for those who are religious.


    The Oppression of Brunei.

    April 9, 2014

    Secretary Kerry meets Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei.  Secretary Kerry insists the US has a "robust relationship" with one of the most oppressive states on the planet. Source: By U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    Secretary Kerry meets Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei.
    Secretary Kerry insists the US has a “robust relationship” with one of the most oppressive states on the planet.
    Source: By U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

    Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei is an autocratic ruler with honours from across the Globe. One of the richest men in the World – not least due to Brunei’s oil wealth, which accounts for almost two thirds of its export revenue, and is set to run out within 30 years – Bolkiah has been awarded the British Honorary Companion of The Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George, Honorary Knight Grand Cross of The Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George, and Honorary Knight Grand Cross of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath. In Sweden he was the recipient of the Knight of the Royal Order of the Seraphim award. In France, the Grand Croix of the National Order of the Legion of Honour. In Germany, the Grand Cross Special Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. And US Secretary of State John Kerry referred to the “excellent cooperation” and “robust relationship” between the US and Brunei recently. So, on the World stage, a pretty respected leader it seems (I’m sure it has absolutely nothing to do with the oil and gas reserves). And yet, by the end of April this year, Brunei is set to become one of the most oppressive nations on Earth.

    This isn’t the start of the oppressive nature of the state in Brunei. The country tries to maintain the image of respect for the freedom of other faiths, and other Islamic sects, by signing agreements like the ASEAN Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Human Rights. Similarly, economic strength and popular welfare provisions mask its vicious prevention of the most basic rights. Since the 1990s Brunei has been in the process of de-secularisation and enforcing an ideology that mixes Shafi’i Islamist thought and a Monarchical system of oppression to form a new political ideology they call ‘Melayu Islam Beraja‘. Basically, a weak attempt at a faith-based justification for the Sultan’s right to control and oppress whomever he pleases.

    Through institutionalising ‘Melayu Islam Beraja‘, the Islamic Al-Arqam sect was banned by authorities in the mid-90s with the adherents made to undergo a sort of Orwellian reprogramming class. Their leader – Ustaz Ashaari Muhammad – spent 10 years in prison. The pretense for the ban was “theological deviation” from what is considered an acceptable interpretation of Islam (that which the Sultanate decides is acceptable) though the state only took notice of the movement as the sect grew in size, suggesting the true reason for the crackdown was political paranoia. Senior Christian Church leaders believe they’re under surveillance and are careful what they say at Church for fear of repression. The Bahá’í Faith is banned. Bibles are not permitted to be imported, all schools are banned from teaching Christianity, and temples dedicated to others faiths are no longer permitted to be built. Proselytizing for other faiths is already banned. It is illegal for a Muslim to convert to another faith; if someone does convert, they are immediately required to undergo Islamic schooling again until they revert. Public celebration of Christmas is banned. Additionally, all post-secondary school students must take lessons on the incredibly anti-secular, anti-democratic ideology of Melayu Islam Beraja. And as of this month, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s hideously oppressive new Syariah penal code based on the most cruel aspects of Shari’a is set to come into force. April 2014 marks the final stage of the de-secularisation process, transforming Brunei into a fully fledged Theocratic dictatorship.

    Despite the International Commission of Jurists ruling that the new Syariah penal code violated practically every possible human right, in its quest to anchor concepts of justice to the 7th Century, Brunei decided to push ahead regardless. The ICJ said:

    “If implemented, the code would lead to serious human rights violations by reintroducing the death penalty and imposing other cruel and inhuman punishment including stoning, even for conduct that should not even be considered criminal.”

    – According to the new penal code, the death penalty for both Muslims and non-Muslims will now be utilised for those convicted of robbery, adultery, and ‘sodomy’. Amputation is the punishment for theft. For sexual ‘crimes’ the method of death will be stoning. Homosexuality carries the penalty of flogging. Despite Brunei’s apparent commitment to women’s rights, the ICJ notes that the new death penalty law will disproportionately apply to women. This is because it is difficult proving rape, and if the woman fell pregnant due to being raped, she will be prosecuted and stoned for ‘adultery’ whilst the rapist is statistically likely to walk free.

    Ex-Muslims face death for apostasy. Public gatherings of those adhering to other faiths will now be restricted and those wishing to gather will need to register. Anyone caught selling anything during Friday prayers will lose their licence to conduct business. Also under the new code, if a non-Muslim adopts a Muslim child, the biological Muslim parent will now face 5 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

    The new penal code will also crack down on the fundamental right to free expression. For Muslims who publicly insult the Prophet, or to mock and deny certain teachings of the Qur’an and Hadith carries a penalty of up to 30 years in prison, and 40 lashes. But it isn’t just mocking faith that will carry punishment. Opposition to the implementation of harsh Shari’a codes has been popping up on social media sites from all different sects of Brunei life; including from Muslims. The grotesquely oppressive regime that runs the country responded by threatening anyone caught mocking or insulting the new penal code itself:

    “They can no longer be given the liberty to continue with their mockery and if there is a basis for them to be brought to court, then therefore, the first phase of the Syariah law this coming April will be relevant to them.”

    – Criticising and mocking the law itself – the very fundamental of a free and progressive society – is now to be considered a crime. It is a curious threat that highlights the narcissism of the Sultan. Human beings are not “given the liberty” by anyone else to speak freely. Free expression is a natural condition, restricted by those who assume positions of privilege for themselves to erect barriers to that freedom. Usually when it threatens the prevailing power structure.

    Quite ridiculously, non-Muslims will be banned from using certain words. 19 words in all. The state will now punish non-Muslims for uttering baitullah; Al Quran; Allah; fatwa; Firman Allah; hadith; Haji; hukum syara’; ilahi; Ka’bah; kalimah al syahadah; kiblat; masjid; imam; mufti; mu’min; solat; and wali. This is impossible to define as anything other than oppression. A clear attempt to prevent non-Muslims freely critiquing, inquiring, and investigating a religion and its history, because that religion and that history is intrinsically ties to the perceived legitimacy of the Sultans authority. Having read the Qur’an several times, and familiarised myself with a collection of Hadith, I am struggling to figure out where a ban on Islamic words is found.

    Brunei’s Minister for Religious Affairs, Muhammad Abdulrahman met with the chairman of the Saudi Consultative Council, Abdullah ibn Muhammad Al ash-Sheikh in February this year to take advice on how to implement Shari’a. One has to question the mentality of a leadership that sees the Saudi system – a system that has just designated all atheists as terrorists and is hated even by the majority of Muslims – as one to be emulated. Again, it is one of narcissism. This is echoed in the Sultan’s own words on the new penal code, which he claims:

    “…should be regarded as a form of special guidance from God and would be part of the great history of Borneo island.”

    – The Sultan seems to be under the bizarre impression that his personal beliefs have the inherent and legitimate authority to inform others how they should view a code based on his personal beliefs and values. One suspects faith is the excuse for the creeping paranoia at the knowledge that political instability in the country is inevitable, as crude oil and natural gas reserves deplete without a viable economic alternative – that ensures the high standard of public services many in Brunei now expect – short of political and economic liberalisation; a threat to the autocratic Sultanate itself. And so increasingly one paranoid sect of one faith burns its dictates into the fabric of society and refuses to allow any form of criticism. It is an ideology invented by the state, and which coincidentally, permits the state the privilege of being the sole authority on the whole of Islam. The Sultan is essentially casting himself as a Medieval Pope. It is no surprise that under those conditions, oppression is aimed at potential political – as well as religious – dissent and free expression. Indeed, if the Sultan genuinely believed his position to be self evidently legitimate, the people would come to the same conclusion freely, rather than at the point of a gun. I would suggest he probably knows he has no more right to rule and to use his beliefs to infringe upon the liberty of others, than has any other citizen of Brunei.

    The new penal code is one long grotesque licence to abuse others, that quite obviously exists for no other reason than to further cement the power of the ruling family. It is an extension of the crackdown on Al-Arqam. It is political. It is the product of an oppressive and sociopathic regime with a delusional sense of its own importance and supremacy, controlled by a paranoid and narcissistic man that the British, French, Germans, Swedes and Americans among others have pathetically bestowed honours upon for decades.