Wednesday, August 27, 2014 

Victims today, undesirables tomorrow.

For the past few weeks I've been working my way steadily through a box set of The Wire, it having sat on my floor for at least four years, ever since I bought it shortly after the BBC had shown all 5 series back to back (I expect to get round to seeing what all the fuss is about Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones some time around 2018).  I'm up to the final season, where McNulty, back on the booze and women and pissed off at the decision to shut down the operation against Marlo, "creates" a serial killer with the intention of getting the money taps turned back on by City Hall.  Only until advised by Lester he can't even do that right, with neither the chiefs nor the media interested in his fictional slayer of homeless men.

Something highly similar went on with the reporting of the Asian sex gangs prosecuted over the last few years.  Let's cut all the nonsense now and say the real reason why it was so many young, not even always teenage girls, predominately in care or vulnerable, were able to be exploited and abused for so long with so little done about it.  It happened because almost no one, with the exception of a few of those in the system and the abusers themselves gave a damn about them.  Whether they really were regarded as "white trash" by those abusers, when the closest the independent report by Alexis Jay (PDF) comes to describing any such direct insult from the men is one calling a 13-year-old a "white bitch" (pg. 140), is irrelevant when regardless of skin colour, these girls were treated as trash by everyone.  They weren't important, and only are now as a grindstone for whichever political axe it is you want to sharpen.

Andrew Norfolk only got his story onto the front page of the Times in the first place by playing up (or rather,  by his editors focussing on) the whole "political correctness" angle.  Asian girls, black girls, white girls being abused by white men, black men, Asian men, who cares unless there's a celebrity or political figure among the latter or a good middle class kid gone off the rails among the former.  Start saying nothing is being done though because everyone's too scared to admit it's predominantly Asian men abusing white girls, a problem within the Asian, if you want to be even more discriminatory the Muslim, community, and you've suddenly got a story the right-wing press is going to love.

And boy, do they.  It doesn't matter either the report is for the most part just restating what we already knew.  Both the Sun and the Mail scream this morning of the betrayals by the PC cowards/brigade.  All but needless to say, the report itself doesn't so much as mention political correctness.  What Alexis Jay does conclude comes in the six-page "Issues of Ethnicity" section of the report (pg. 91).  She finds, predictably, that actual decision making was not affected by any fears of racism, with the "inquiry team confident ethnic issues did not influence professional decision-making in individual cases".  There were however concerns expressed by some frontline staff as to whether their work could be interpreted as racist, and also awareness of, or a feeling of pressure from on high to play down the fact it was predominantly Asian men abusing white girls.

As Anna Raccoon writes, Rotherham isn't worse than any other instance of organised child sexual exploitation because the colour of the penises in this instance were brown rather than white.  Jay goes on to comment on the research done by the UK Muslim Women's Network, which examined 35 cases and details almost exactly the same pattern of grooming and abuse as carried out in Rotherham, only in all these instances the victims were also Asian.  The Home Affairs Select Committee heard evidence suggesting Asian victims were even less likely to come forward as they risked being ostracised by their own families and the whole community.  As well as going against cultural norms, those in the community also feared the same retribution as visited or threatened against the victims if they went public with their concerns.  With hindsight, Jay concludes, "it is clear that women and girls in the Pakistani community in Rotherham should have been encouraged and empowered by the authorities to speak out about perpetrators and their own experiences as victims of sexual exploitation, so often hidden from sight."  Child abusers don't tend to select on the basis of skin colour; they do on the basis of how likely it is they are to get caught.

The problem wasn't with the council and culture at the most senior level being politically correct, rather that it was "bullying and macho" (pg. 101).  As far back as 1998 the chief executive of the council said women officers weren't "readily accepted" by officers or members.  One former senior officer described it as a "very grubby environment in which to work", while another said she was asked if she "wore a mask while having sex" (pg. 114).  As late as October 2009 a senior officer not working in safeguarding is quoted as saying the town had "too many looked after children" and this accounted for a "significant part of the overspend".  When the issue was raised by councillors, it was through mosques, while one senior office suggested some influential Pakistanti-heritage councillors had acted "as barriers" (pg. 93).  "Traditional" channels of communication were used, and some councillors even demanded that social workers reveal where Pakistani-heritage women fleeing domestic violence were staying.  The police meanwhile, whom the report describes as now having a "clear focus on prevention, protection, investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators" are described as in the early 2000s regarding the victims rather than the abusers as "undesirables" (pg. 69).

If there is a section of the report on shakier foundations, it's in the estimate of a potential 1,400 victims, the figure staring out from today's front pages.  This isn't an estimate, rather an outright guess.  Figures on caseloads were not collected, so the inquiry instead looked at case files, and lists of those known to children's social care (pg. 29).  The inquiry read only 66 case files in total; it's unclear why it didn't read all those available to it, instead going for a random sample and drawing conclusions from that.  As the section on victims also makes clear, not all of these are necessarily victims of grooming gangs; at least three of the cases are suggestive of abuse by individuals or within the family rather than groups of men working in concert (pgs. 41 and 42).

Undesirables.  There in a single word is the case summed up and why for all the talk of "never again" it will happen again, as no doubt it's happening tonight.  Demanding the sacking of the now police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire isn't going to achieve anything, except leaving the taxpayer with the bill for a by-election where only around 10% will turn out.  The right will play the political correctness angle for all it's worth, point fingers at Labour and its rotten boroughs in the north, make subtler noises about the failings of multiculturalism, while the left and those like me will say it's about social breakdown and an underclass ignored by everyone until something terrible on a grand scale happens or there's another outbreak of rioting.  They're fit only for gawping at on Jeremy Kyle and Benefits Street, for being a reason to pare back the welfare state, and the occasional short-lived passing frenzy.  Social workers will go on struggling with a risk assessment culture that can't be applied to such hard cases, underfunded and overworked.  Undesirables will become victims, then undesirables once more.

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Monday, May 12, 2014 

The impossibility of freedom of speech.

Perhaps it's just the years spent examining my own navel, but for the most part I go out of my way not to be an appalling hypocrite, choose the easy target (yeah, right) or make the obvious riposte/joke about things.  When faced however with the fact that someone was starved enough for excitement in the first place to be listening to David Lowe's Singers and Swingers show on BBC Radio Devon, then was apparently so exercised by how the version of The Sun Has Got His Hat On he played included the original, n-word using second verse that they felt the need to complain, I find it difficult not to wonder about how desperately empty their life must be.  Those minutes spent contacting the BBC could have been used in any other way imaginable; life might not always be all we would like it to be, yet surely, surely, even the most miserable, wretched and pitiless individual could have come up with something more entertaining and intellectually nourishing to do than whinge about the content of an 82-year-old song?

No?  We are back in context land, you see folks.  I can perfectly understand the BBC cutting the Major scene from The Germans episode of Fawlty Towers, especially pre-watershed, not least when John Cleese has himself said it's not something he would write now.  When it comes to material pre-1960 though say, to cut racist dialogue or stereotyping out of either music or films is to deny history.  You're not protecting people, you're censoring something approaching the norm and which should be recognised as such precisely because we've moved on from then.  David Lowe didn't even realise the song featured the n-word, and either wouldn't have played it at all, or as would have been best, prefaced it by saying it contained some language we would view as offensive now but wasn't then.

The only reason the Mail on Sunday decided this was a front page story is obviously due to the discrepancy of treatment between Clarkson and Lowe.  Clarkson, like Lowe, offered an apology and got a final warning; Lowe offered an apology or resignation, and the BBC accepted the latter.  Who knows whether there were extenuating factors or a manager was already looking to get rid of the DJ,  off he went.  The BBC has since done a reverse ferret and offered him the show back; Lowe has declined on grounds of stress.  It looks bad, and it is bad.  Often the BBC ignores complaints on the reasonable grounds that most are from the usual suspects, either with an axe to grind, nothing better to do, or the consistently and never knowingly under-outraged.  Why they took the single complaint this seriously is anyone's guess, unless post-Sachsgate and the Savile/McAlpine disaster they've become far more proactive than previously.

Then again, they could just be entering into what seems to be the new spirit of the age.  Nearly 40 years ago newspaper editors worked themselves into a frenzy over the use of a word they no doubt heard and used multiple times every day.  In our brave new social media world, we have people who can only be described as half-wits making complaints to the police about tweets they don't like.  Rather than the police telling said half-wit to stop wasting their time with spurious politically motivated whining, they instead visit the individual targeted and ask him, despite no laws having been broken, to take the tweet down.  Everyone then duly wonders whether things can be really that slow in Cambridgeshire for two officers to find the time to make such a visit, and if perhaps we've reached a new low in the great giving and taking offence stakes.

On the surface at least, the problem is the law.  We have free speech, except we don't.  Article 10 of the ECHR allows free expression but makes reasonable exceptions, including for the prevention of disorder or crime.  Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 duly makes it an offence to send a message that is grossly offensive (or menacing), which even by the standards of legislation that leaves it up to judges and juries to decide what can deprave or corrupt is by definition subjective.  As a result we've seen the likes of Matthew Woods jailed for three months for making unfunny, off-colour jokes, grossly offensive to some certainly, but par for the course for others.  Last week saw another victim, with Robert Riley jailed for eight weeks after tweeting in the aftermath of the murder of teacher Ann Maguire that he would have killed all of her colleagues at the school as well.  Riley was, predictably, another of those lonely people who enlivened his existence (spent as a full-time carer) by trolling, tweeting purposefully "outrageous" things in the hope of getting a response.  He had in fact as the judge noted sent other messages, including some that were racist in nature, but it was the couple about the dead teacher that resulted in Inspector Knacker getting involved.

Precisely what benefit anyone gains from sending pathetic misfits such as Woods or Riley to jail isn't clear.  It might make someone feel slightly better for a few hours, and could feasibly shock those convicted out of immaturity; it could also cause further bitterness, dare I say perhaps somewhat justifiably.  It certainly isn't a good use of resources, and yet despite the attention giving to trolling last August, the debate Keir Starmer urged nearly two years ago concerning the boundaries of free speech online hasn't really happened.  Abuse on the scale of that received by Caroline Criado-Perez is one thing; surely the despaired upon works of Woods and Riley ought to be something else.  We can't however seem to get perspective, as lazy journalists and also bloggers seek out the next comment or slight to get angry about.  We should hardly be surprised when the police and BBC management can't either.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014 

Clarkson and missing the real issue.

At times, I get the feeling I'm the only person ostensibly on the left who doesn't get instantly outraged when someone is accused of or indeed has used a racist epithet.  Now obviously, as a white 25 to 34 male who has enough free time to have spent the last coming up on nine years writing a politics blog almost every night, the first thing I should do is check my privilege.  

OK, privilege duly checked, and I still think that in most circumstances the context, rather than just the actual word used, is just as integral.

This is why Ron Atkinson had to be sacked when he described Marcel Desailly as a "fucking lazy nigger" in an aside to his co-commentator that was inadvertently broadcast in some countries due to the microphone being left open, and why Jeremy Clarkson and the BBC have just about got away with the former using the same word in unused rushes from Top Gear.  Some will vehemently disagree with me, but I simply don't accept the line that some words are so reprehensible or have such a history they should never be used unless reclaimed or for reference.  It's in how they're used, and Atkinson's ought to be the textbook example of insult married with latent racism. You could also include the case of the LA Clippers' owner, secretly recorded telling his girlfriend not to bring "black people" to games, as blatant, shocking prejudice.


With Clarkson the case is far more nuanced. Counting against him is that at first he seemed to deny he had used the word at all, then in his apology that he hadn't done enough to disguise the word or not say it at all. As is fairly apparent from the video the Mirror soon provided, he does say nigger, albeit quietly. In his favour is he's using the word in the context of the well-known child's rhyme, eeny meeny meiny mo, in order to choose the car to drive. While there are variations on it, Clarkson was more than likely brought up on the version he used, before the word rightly become truly beyond the pale. Old sayings often become engrained in the mind; there was also controversy a few years ago when a judge talked of "the nigger in the woodpile", with a Tory peer also using the phrase.  Offence wasn't intended, but both should have known not to use such an archaic metaphor. For further context, the rhymes we used playing tag when I was a sprog were similarly vulgar: we usually alternated between "each peach pear plum, choose your best bum chum" or "ip dip dog shit fucking bastard silly git you are not it".  Then again, I can't say if I was a TV presenter on a popular motoring programme I would use either to faux choose which automobile to hammer round a race course.

The problem is Clarkson's apology video thickens the plot somewhat.  If as he says there was a take where he said teacher, it seems odd that he would have written a note at all to the production staff telling them to use that rather than the others unless he wanted to be certain.  It would make more sense if they had overdubbed the scene later, especially as Clarkson does lower his voice when say the specific part, and changed it to teacher then.  More likely is that someone said, err, Jeremy, we can't use that for obvious reasons and they then did the teacher take, with Clarkson having seen the rushes later sending a note to confirm the change.

As the epithet wasn't specifically directed at anyone, it was never intended to be broadcast, it's possible Clarkson was mumbling precisely because the intention was to overdub the sound later and an apology was reasonably swift in forthcoming, I don't really have a massive problem with the BBC issuing a final warning.  Indeed, I'd say the use of "slope" during the Burma show was by those standards far more serious and worthy of further action, as it was directed at someone and with Clarkson apparently safe in the knowledge that not many people (myself included) would even realise he was talking about the man on the bridge.  Top Gear often walks the incredibly fine line between stereotyping for (dubious) comedy effect and outright prejudice, arguably staying just about on the right side of it.  You can say this is further evidence of how Clarkson has form, and he probably does.  Is he racist though, rather than just an arse, tweaking the nose of the politically correct, as Paul Dacre described it?  Probably not.

The danger here as so often is that with focusing on the ephemera we miss the significance of other statements that have gone almost entirely unchallenged.  Last year saw Nigel Farage repeatedly claim that London was going through a Romanian crimewave, without a single opposition politician challenging him on picking out a specific community, or indeed making clear that the figures are disputed and have been repeatedly misunderstood.  More recently, as Atul Hatwal writes in one of the first posts on Labour Uncut I've ever agreed with, Farage has moved on to saying people would be right to be concerned if a Romanian family moved in on their street, with the party's spin doctor repeating that message, again with only the heavily criticised campaign against the UKIPs saying anything about racism, and without directly calling them out on their sub-Powellite message.  Directed against almost any other community, creed, or race, there would deservedly be a Clarkson-type outcry.

As potentially self-defeating as it is call out the party's underlings, to not do so when it comes to Farage and others at the top of the party is sheer cowardice, especially when Farage has now resorted to highlighting the party's "black and ethnic minority candidates", having decided not to do so on their previous conference literature.  Regardless of what you think about Clarkson, the failure to properly take on UKIP bodes extremely ill for the general election campaign to come.

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Thursday, October 31, 2013 

The immigration monster and the "go home" vans.

If anything, it's a bit of a surprise that as many as 11 people decided to "go home" rather than face the rather distant possibility of arrest after learning of the Home Office van campaign. This raises the obvious question of just how desperate a situation they must have been in to want to take their chances back in their home country, but such concerns are clearly irrelevant. These people shouldn't be here and they should go.

Only, as the reporting of Mark Harper's written answer makes clear, it costs more to enforce a deportation (£15,000) than the average illegal immigrant costs the taxpayer a year (just shy of £5,000). The latter figure seems difficult to believe, in any case: most illegal migrants won't/can't access public services, and so will use hardly any resources at all.  The motivation behind the campaign is then somewhat financially sound: paying for a flight for someone is hell of a lot cheaper than doling out money to our friends at G4S or Serco to "Mubenga" someone.

The problem was in the execution, but then that was clearly the point. This was a stunt straight out of the Lynton Crosby playbook. Wait until news was slow, then launch a campaign using a borderline racist slogan designed to attract both condemnation and attention in equal measure. If some people did take up the kind offer, all the better. The Tories could portray themselves as tough as well as practical, and Labour would be caught in the trap of either condemning sending illegal immigrants home, or condoning a 70s style National Front demand.  They didn't however factor in that this being the social networking age, a thousand people would prank the phone and text line, or indeed that even Nigel Farage would denounce the campaign as being too nasty, designed purely to win back some of those who had defected to his party.

Without figures for voluntary deportations for a similar period prior to "Operation Vaken", we clearly can't make a comparison as to how successful the whole charade really was.  It might well be that a similar number to the 125 total claimed to have been motivated by the operation would have submitted themselves anyway without prompting.  This is the thing: there is absolutely nothing wrong with ensuring those here illegally know they can return to their country of origin if they so wish, with the government picking up the tab.  It's how you go about doing so, and telling people to go home or face arrest is manifestly not the right way, not least when it's clearly a political campaign designed to look tough and win votes.  It probably does save money, although the idea the Vaken might have saved the taxpayer £830,000 is ridiculous.

Something that wouldn't just save money but actually benefit both the taxpayer and the economy would be an amnesty, bringing those working cash in hand out of the shadows and onto the path towards citizenship.  That however would go completely against the rhetoric and policies of the past few years, where politicians have followed public opinion rather than attempt to lead it.  Too bad that as Sunny wrote previously, it's now probably too late: the monster is loose.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013 

How discrimination still works.

Is there anything the media loves more than a good scare story, particularly when it involves the other?  When it also plays on the desperation of those who have lost a child, the cynicism takes the breath away. The story from Greece of little blonde girl found with a Roma family she has no biological link to doesn't have any significance outside of eastern Europe whatsoever, and yet thanks to global coverage of this truly shocking discovery the authorities and charities have received thousands of inquiries from those who hope the child may be theirs.

Quite apart from how the case seems likely to lead to Fritzl style demands for every Roma child in that benighted country to be investigated, something of great help to the Golden Dawn movement, the last thing it ought to have inspired is raids elsewhere. Just as we had idiots a few years ago who thought every blonde child in a foreign clime with parents of the wrong skin colour could be Madeleine McCann, so it seems the garda acted after a numbskull thought a gypsy couple couldn't possibly have produced a blonde girl. 48 hours later, and after the Mirror had splashed on the "panic", it unsurprisingly turns out the child is theirs.  The parents now seem certain to take legal action.  Rather than offer an apology, the garda has instead restated they "take extremely serious all reports received from members of the public concerning child welfare issues", which seems to suggest anyone acting upon prejudice and age-old racist assumptions still has a friend in the Irish police.

The Roma really are the last racial group it's socially acceptable to discriminate against.  Nor is it just in Europe, as a headline in last weekend's New York Times made clear, asking whether the Roma are primitive or just poor.  The body of the article is in fact, as you would expect from the NYT, a perfectly sensitive account of the attitudes towards the Roma on the continent, but the idea the paper would run a headline asking whether any other racial group is primitive or just poor, or cultured or just rich is laughable.

As Joseph Harker writes, whereas we now have endless discussions about whether or not a celebrity of one kind or another has said something racist, with what seems like an incident every month or so, the latest being the ridiculous mini-furore last week over Roy Hodgson's use of an old joke as an illustration, we don't seem to want to talk about genuine discrimination.  There was almost no wider coverage of BBC London's investigation into letting agents that suggested some were more than prepared to abide by stipulations from landlords that they couldn't let to those of an Afro-Carribbean background.  It's even more surprising when allegations of misogyny are thrown around in regards to the silliness surrounding a fucking baking reality show, and so much was made of the way women who come into the public eye were being treated on Twitter.  Like with so much else, we focus on the ephemera and neglect that which lurks just out of our line of sight.

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Monday, October 21, 2013 

Coming over here, bombing our mosques...

Back in the febrile environment of the days after the failed 21/7 attacks of 2005, the Daily Express ran a headline which has stayed lodged in my memory.  "BOMBERS ARE ALL SPONGEING (sic) ASYLUM SEEKERS" it screamed, while underneath the legend ran: "Britain gave them refuge and now all they want to do is repay us with death".  Quite apart from how the Express decided to prejudge the trial of the men, it was just about as inflammatory a statement on a 21st century front page as can be imagined.  Not long after, with the rest of the tabloids also in full panic mode, Tony Blair declared that the "rules of the game are changing", and the tone was set for the next five years of foiled plots, parliamentary battles and repeated fearmongering.

Tomorrow, I can't help but suspect the Express won't be splashing on the conviction of Pavlo Lapshyn, who pleaded guilty today to the murder of Mohammed Saleem, as well as conspiracy to cause explosions, having planted bombs outside 3 mosques.  Lapshyn had been here in the UK for just 5 days before he stabbed Saleem to death, out of what he told police was a purely racist motivation.  He was caught only thanks to old fashioned detective work, albeit using modern technology, as officers identified him using CCTV footage, then took his picture round local businesses, until he was finally identified as the work experience student recently arrived from Ukraine, living in a flat at the back of the software firm he had won a placement with.  Inside they found further unfinished devices, making clear that had he not been apprehended, Lapshyn's one man campaign against Muslims would have continued, and possibly resulted in further fatalities.

That no one was injured or killed by his bombs was by luck rather than judgement.  Each device had been more powerful than the one before, and it was only due to prayers starting later at the Tipton mosque during Ramadan that the congregation hadn't been caught in the blast.  Packed with nails and other shrapnel, it made clear the bomber's intentions were deadly serious.  Coming in the aftermath of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, the police have found no evidence Lapshyn was acting out of a sense of vengeance, or that he had any interest in far-right politics in this country.  It seems, simply, that his hatred for non-whites had reached such a peak that he wanted, like others before him, to foment racial conflict.  His move to England gave him the opportunity to act on his beliefs.

There was comment at the time, including from the police themselves, about the apparent lack of interest from the wider media in the series of attacks.  West Midlands' deputy chief constable David Thompson pondered whether there would have been more coverage of their appeals for information if it had been another faith being targeted during their main festival season.  One suspects that rather than it being purely down to attitudes towards Muslims, the biggest contributing factor was the attacks had all taken place outside London, such is the bias towards the capital when it comes down to it, both in terms of interest (amongst journalists themselves) and resources.  It should also be noted however that both the Daily Mail and Telegraph felt the need to question the claims of Tell Mama, a charity that measures attacks on Muslims, after it reported a large increase in such incidents after the murder of Lee Rigby, including on mosques.  Lovely as it would be to think that we've reached a point where every potential terrorist incident isn't reacted to by the entirety of the media descending on an area for a week, on this occasion it was more down to a combination of indifference, the scale of what had happened, and where it had took place.

Thankfully, the lack of wide coverage was probably beneficial.  Almost no one knew who Lapshyn was, and the very few who did failed to recognise him due to the poor quality of the initial CCTV footage released.  Had he been aware there was a massive search on for him, he may well have attempted to leave the country; instead, he felt safe enough to carry on as he had done since he arrived.  What we didn't know previously was despite politicians keeping an extremely low profile during the search, the home secretary had been suitably exercised to contact the West Midlands force, while MI5 was also involved.

As much as the case gives pause for thought over the the way all involved approached it, as well as how it has since been reacted to, it also reinforces a few things we already knew.  First, and regardless of where the perpetrator is from, far-right terrorism remains a threat, and it's one which the media has repeatedly ignored or minimised, whereas it has willfully exaggerated that from jihadists, impugning the Muslim community in the process.  Secondly, just as those who become Islamic extremists tend to sup from the same sources, so too do those on the far-right: the Turner Diaries is the far less intellectually stimulating version of a lecture from Anwar al-Awlaki, let alone Sayid Qutb's Milestones.  Lastly, it further suggests that the threat from "self-starters", regardless of their ideology, is increasing, while that from major, large cell, easier to foil plotters continues to decrease.  The security services and police can't stop those who don't share their plans or aren't loose with their tongues.  Tempora and Prism aren't useless, but the privacy trade-offs when they might be fighting yesterday's battles are far too great.  Some recognition that Muslims are just as much targets as everyone else wouldn't go amiss either.

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013 

Don't you just love nostalgia for the 80s?

The Department for International Development today insisted that it was allocating aid according to need following allegations from a UKIP MEP that taxpayer's money was being sent to fictional countries.

Speaking at the Embassy comedy club, George Stereotype was recorded as saying: "An if it weren't bad enough that they're still all coming over ere, did you know that we're sending £1 billion a month to Bongo Bongo Land? The place doesn't even exist, and yet they're all swanning around in their Ray-Ban sunglasses, with their F18 fighter jets and nuclear powered toasters!  What about our people, having to live in cardboard boxes and get by on 15p a week and a kick up the arse if they're lucky?  It's treason, I tell ya, treason.  If you ask me, I'd string 'em all up.  An I mean all of 'em.  It's the only language they understand.  I'd do it myself an all, only I've got a bad back at the moment.  An I'm married to a Pole, so don't start with none of that racist bollocks.  An I pay two Kashmiris to be my friends.  I'm speaking for the common man, not these politically correct namby pamby shandy drinking southern softies down in that there London.  I met that Rod Liddle once.  Very clever man."

A spokesman for DfID, after a prolonged conversation with a man with an Australian accent, gave the following statement: "We would like to thank George Stereotype for bringing this issue to our attention.  As far we can ascertain, Bongo Bongo Land has not received any government aid since our records began in 1841.  We do however understand people's concerns about taxpayer's money being misspent, and so in future we will not be allocating any spending to countries where it is known that tribal drums are used.  We hope this reassures the general public.  I've also been asked to say that if you see anyone carrying around a set of bongos, don't be afraid to inform the Home Office so that their immigration status can be checked."

Having originally refused to apologise for publishing the original article, the Guardian has since shifted its position.  "We sincerely regret any genuine offence that was caused by presenting George Stereotype as a comedian.  He is clearly a highly accomplished politician, likely to be welcomed with open arms by the Conservative party in time for the next election.  All he needs to do is moderate his language slightly, and his fantastical tale of aid being spent on Ferraris and solid gold AK47s will be accepted by all right-thinking people as a perfectly accurate picture of our development programme."

The Labour leader Ed Miliband is still missing.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013 

Political dog-whistling: still not working in 2013.

It took a while, but by the end of last week the government's billboard campaign telling illegal immigrants to "go home or face arrest" had attracted the wider press attention it deserved from the outset.  One of the old chestnuts we often hear when it comes to debating immigration is that politicians of old shut down debate by calling people racist.  Accurate or not, we now have the opposite problem: politicians are afraid to say that some of those opposed to immigration are racist, as one thing racists don't like being told is that they are racist.  Hence despite criticism of the campaign coming from the Lib Dems, a few Labour MPs (although not the leadership, again presumably because they fear it being used as "evidence" of their weakness) and even Nigel Farage for goodness sake, who in the next breath scaremongers about a Romanian crime wave, none have called a spade a spade.

It's therefore only lunatics on the left and the "pro-immigration industry" that believe such a straightforward message is racist, says Mark Harper, the immigration minister described by Nick Clegg as "a very good guy", given space in the Mail. He doesn't expand on just which organisations make up the pro-immigration industry, but perhaps he means the Office for Budget Responsibility, set-up by the coalition, which only last week published research on the continuing benefits. Harper for his part doesn't even bother to engage with the argument as to why the billboards are racist, which is that they reprise the old NF slogan and play on the most obvious of racist sentiments, he instead uses attack as defence, saying that those critical are encouraging the breaking of the law. To call this a non sequitur doesn't quite cover it; a billboard threatening illegal immigrants with arrest if they don't leave voluntarily is hardly the most striking example of the law being enforced. Rather, it only underlines the reality: it's completely unfeasible to deport every person here illegally.  Continuing to claim it is only raises unrealistic expectations which then feed further discontent.

For such a short piece, Harper makes up for it by packing in as many distortions as he can. He conflates perfectly legal migration with the illegal by going into the standard riff on Labour's supposed "open borders" policy, says there is evidence that migration has pushed down wages when there's plenty (PDF) that contradicts the claim, that some areas have faced "intolerable" pressure due to migration, despite services continuing to function, then tops it off by saying the government is controlling immigration, if failing to meet their target of bringing net migration down to 100,000 by 53,000 can possibly be considered controlling.

He ends by saying that if the poster campaign helps tackle illegal immigration, who could oppose it? Considering a poll for the Sun suggests that there's almost an even split between those in favour of and those opposed, a remarkable result when there's such a prevailing sentiment against immigration, it suggests plenty don't like such "stupid and offensive" campaigns, even if they don't regard them as racist.  Seeing as Harper doesn't even repeat the actual wording used on the billboards, perhaps he secretly feels the same.  Either way, someone ought to explain to Lynton Crosby that if dog-whistling didn't work in 2005, it isn't going to now.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013 

Silly racism season.

The silly season is descending, although frankly it's getting more and more difficult to tell the difference between the dog days of late July and August, and well, almost any other time of year.  Apparently, "bitchy resting face ... makes Gangnam Style look like a slow burner", at least according to Hadley Freeman, and yet somehow I had avoided encountering this cultural phenomenon until she elected to write about it. Beards have also reached their fashionable peak, doncha know, and in what seems to be an extraordinarily late April 1st joke, Kerry Katona is to be Marilyn Monroe.  Presumably alongside Peter Andre as JFK.  Oh, and Guido Fawkes, he of repeatedly declaring he can't be sued fame, threatens to sue Claire Perry.  Perry we've already established is a dangerous nincompoop, while Paul Staines is just a hypocritical tool.

Is there anything even vaguely serious going on then?  Well, sort of.  Coming from the same great minds behind the idea of putting up "adverts" pointing out how shit Britain is in Bulgaria and Romania (while at the same time declaring how great we are everywhere else), one of those billboard vans is being sent round six London boroughs telling illegal immigrants to "go home or face arrest".  Why, we'll even be kind enough to help you with your travel documents, and we'll tell the immigration officers not to "Mubenga" you, as long as you come along quietly, of course.  Who wouldn't have their head turned by such a tempting offer?

Understandably, quite a few people are suggesting this is just a teensy bit racist.  On its own, it isn't.  There aren't that many pithy formulations you could put together that are simple to understand and carry the same message.  I mean, they could have gone with "In the UK illegally and want to leave?", but that doesn't carry the same element of menace all rhetoric on immigration must now have.  "Go home" though carries decades of baggage with it; it wasn't just a National Front slogan as Sunny says, go home (or words to the same effect)  is still one of the first resorts for racists, regardless of who it's used against.  "Go back to where you came from", even if you were born here and so were your parents; your skin colour doesn't fit.

When a government is reduced to such, err, dog-whistling, it ought to be apparent that it's in trouble.  One thing the Tories remain terrified by is the likely failure to keep their promise to get immigration down to the "tens of thousands" by the time of the next election.  Almost all the decline we've seen under the coalition has come as a result of the crackdown on overseas students, those grasping, scrounging bastards who come here, take almost nothing out and put hell of a lot in (is this right? Ed.).  Hence this year, as well as being partially in response to the rise of UKIP, we've seen further punitive policy proposals, including the ridiculous prospect of landlords being asked to do the job of the UK Border Force, as though making illegal immigrants homeless is something approaching a solution.  Sarah Teather made clear just how far the Tories would like to go when she revealed the "Inter Ministerial Group on Migrants' Access to Benefits and Public Services" was first known as the "Hostile Environment Working Group".

As pointed out before, this is a great example of how the new politics works.  Politicians say they're listening to concerns, they talk tough and tighten the rules ever further, and then act surprised and chastened when the mood against immigrants hardens as the numbers stubbornly refuse to fall precisely because freedom of movement is clearly here to stay.  Rather than confront voters with a few facts and ask them if they like being able to move freely around Europe even if they don't want to at this precise moment, we just get ever more discriminatory rhetoric.  Once, that the government was paying for adverts which contained allusions to the racist slogans of years gone by would have caused a storm.  That it hasn't shows both how the Tories have succeeded and why they will also end up being hoist by that petard.

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Wednesday, April 03, 2013 

My swastika tattoo doesn't mean I'm a fascist. Honest.

Paolo Di Canio is not a fascist.  Nor is he a racist.  Just because he said he was a fascist in an interview in 2005 doesn't mean that he's still one in 2013.  Nor does that the fact he has a tattoo that says "dux" on his right arm, meaning leader or Il Duce signify anything.  I mean, we all have body art we regret nowadays, don't we?  As for all those instances where he gave the Roman salute to Lazio fans, including when they were playing local rivals with a left-wing political history, all he was doing was saluting his people "with what for me is a sign of belonging to a group that holds true values, values of civility against the standardisation that this society imposes upon us".  Who could possibly disagree with that?

Sunderland's owners seemingly thought no one would.  Quite apart from the stupidity of changing managers this late in the season (Harry Redknapp looks like being unable to save QPR from themselves, and he was appointed their manager back in November), they apparently lined up Di Canio as Martin O'Neill's replacement without so much as considering whether his past affiliation and gestures might cause controversy.  They certainly did at Swindon, when the GMB union cancelled its sponsorship deal after Di Canio was appointed manager there, even if that hardly received the same national attention his taking the job at Sunderland has.

As the students and historians of fascism have been so swift to tell us, it's certainly the case that we shouldn't confuse Italian fascism prior to Mussolini's alliance with Hitler with the ideology that emerged in Germany after the first world war, heavily influenced by the often eccentric nationalists of the day.  Nazism from the outset was virulently racist, whereas Mussolini's brand of nationalism only became overtly racist with the anti-semitic Manifesto of Race in 1938, by which point it was Hitler who was influencing the leader who, while not his mentor, had certainly been the one figure from outside Germany to most inspire him.

The emphasis on race is perhaps to miss the point a little.  While you certainly can be a fascist without being a racist, there are only so many ways you can hold an admiration for someone like Mussolini without either downplaying or completely ignoring certain parts of their legacy.  I personally find Stalin infinitely more intriguing a historical figure than any of the other totalitarian dictators of the 20th century as his path to power with the Bolsheviks is so extraordinary.  Pick up any recent biography of him and there is almost a consensus that despite being one of the greatest monsters in terms of the numbers who died as a result of his policies and paranoia, his role in the defeat of Nazi Germany is so significant that he can't be dismissed as Hitler or Mao often are.

In that sense, you can still be shocked, disgusted and overawed at how tens of millions died as they came under Stalin's yoke, while also being thankful that his leadership of the Soviet Union after the initial shock of the Nazi invasion helped to ensure that democracy and freedom in (most) of western Europe survived (and yes, obviously most of the respect should go to the sacrifices made by the Russian people and then to the strategies pursued by the Red Army's generals, but you can hardly ignore that Stalin, unlike Hitler, allowed his generals the freedom to plan and execute their manoeuvres, and towards the end of the war only really intervened to increase the competition between them).

With Mussolini, the case against him surely outweighs any positives.  His alliance with Hitler brought nothing but absolute disaster to Italy.  Certainly there are those that will cite the period prior to then as being more favourable, yet while there will always be some who are content with living under a one party system, very few are likely to say they would prefer to today.  
If Di Canio's politics are of the far-right without being totalitarian, which is rare, then that's one thing.  The point is though that fascism so much as it exists in 21st century Europe is almost entirely racist in nature.  While you can't really describe the British National Party as neo-Nazi when their most extreme racial policy (in public at least) is voluntary repatriation, Golden Dawn in Greece or Jobbik in Hungary have made no such gestures towards respectability as the far-right here have.  You can argue about whether groups such as the EDL hide their real intentions behind their campaigning against Islamic extremism (and I'd say they most certainly do, and they don't really even bother to hide it), yet the closest thing we now have to a party with mass appeal on the hard right is UKIP, which treads an extremely fine line between being anti-immigration and openly xenophobic.

Even if Di Canio is a fascist, albeit not a racist one, despite his denial today after he prevaricated yesterday, his political views shouldn't be held against him as long as he doesn't discriminate because of them.  Just as it's always been absurdly illiberal and discriminatory for BNP members to be barred from teaching when the idea they could indoctrinate children is laughable, no one should be refused a job based on their political beliefs.  The real reason this has become such an issue isn't so much down to Di Canio himself, although both he and Sunderland should have seen this coming and addressed it properly at the outset, or as soon as David Miliband resigned, but due to how racism remains such an issue in the English game, as demonstrated by the behaviour of some England fans at the San Marino game last week.  All this has also taken attention away from the real issue for Sunderland as a football club; whether Di Canio is the right man for the manager's job, and to judge from his time at Swindon, he almost certainly isn't.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013 

Do we have to go through this again?

There really isn't much to add to the entire furore over Gerald Scarfe's cartoon in the last issue of the Sunday Times.  No, it clearly isn't antisemitic, unless you think as the Israeli ambassador and the Board of Deputies of British Jews apparently do that you can't portray an Israeli politician and blood in the same image for fear of invoking the blood libel.  It doesn't matter that there is nothing in the cartoon that even begins to highlight the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu is Jewish, or any suggestion that those encased in the wall are anything other than Palestinian, the majority of whom are Muslim rather Christian, it simply seems to have been down to how the cartoon was published on Holocaust Memorial Day that it's been so taken against.

At least when Steve Bell's cartoon of Netanyahu was accused of being antisemitic the only action taken was that the reader's editor suggested cartoonists shouldn't "use the of language of antisemitic stereotypes".  Considering the breadth of antisemitic literature and the hundreds of years of pogroms and prejudices, you can fairly easily find yourself completely unintentionally echoing old stereotypes, as Bell did by showing Netanyahu using Tony Blair and William Hague as puppets, or as Scarfe has now done through daring to suggest that Netanyahu might have some blood on his hands.  For the Sunday Times to essentially accept that it should never have ran the cartoon, purely because of the use of blood and because it was insensitively published on HMD, although Scarfe apparently hadn't realised that was the case, is utterly pathetic.

It's obvious though that this is both Murdoch's doing and the paper's new editor Martin Ivens having to follow where his master leads.  The paper at first rightly defended the cartoon as legitimate comment and as being typical of Scarfe's body of work, but this seems to increasingly mean nothing when it comes to the way some want to shut down debate.  On Newsnight last night Hugo Rifkind took issue with Steve Bell's bringing up of how Scarfe had also recently depicted Bashar Assad as drinking from a cup marked as containing children's blood, as though Assad and Netanyahu were comparable.  Clearly they aren't in the sense of democratic legitimacy. or the brutal methods they've employed, yet the point surely is, as always, that we expect more from those who receive massive amounts of Western aid and make great play of their being the only democracy in the Middle East, however out of date that claim now is.

To suggest there's been an awful lot of cant involved in this latest outbreak of accusations all but goes without saying.  Yes, it is indeed the case that there is a very fine line between antisemitism, anti-Zionism and vehement criticism of Israel, and it's also true that the apparent rise in recorded incidents of antisemitism is very worrying and has to be tackled.  The left does have a case to answer here, as that line has been breached in the past, and antisemitism when it comes to criticism of Israel has at times been tolerated when it would never be otherwise.  This said, it's also apparent there's an stark element of racism within Israeli society which goes under reported: in the past few months there's been reports of Ethiopian women being forcibly given birth control injections before being allowed in to the country, of fans of a football club campaigning against the signing of Muslim players, and most pertinently, Israeli politicians using disgusting language about African migrants.

This makes it all the more difficult to take when Daniel Taub effectively tries to halt an unpleasant but not unwarranted critique of his prime minister by crying racism.  People will always take offence and are perfectly entitled to, but when it's actual state actors that are attempting to close down legitimate debate it really is about time we sorted out this nonsense once and for all. 

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Monday, November 26, 2012 

Sensitivity, anti-Semitism and Steve Bell.



Back in 2002, the New Statesman was quite rightly criticised after it ran the above front cover.  Picturing a Star of David pinning down the very centre of the union flag, while asking whether there was a "kosher conspiracy" involving lobbying from advocates of Israel, it invoked the most classic of anti-Semitic tropes whether that was the intention or not.  Editor at the time Peter Wilby apologised, and ran an editorial admitting that he personally had gotten it badly wrong.


10 years on, the readers' editor at the Graun has been moved to comment on the above Steve Bell cartoon, ran the day after the assassination of Ahmed al-Jabari.  Mainly responding to a couple of letters to the paper from Mark Gardner of the Community Support Trust as well as online criticism, Chris Elliot concludes his piece by saying that in his view, journalists should "not use the language – including the visual language – of antisemitic stereotypes".  It is undoubtedly the case that Jews have in the past been caricatured as powerful puppet masters, although more usually as pulling strings rather than wielding politicians as glove puppets.

If the cartoon does then echo an anti-Semitic stereotype, however unconsciously, does that by definition make it anti-Semitic?  In this instance I would suggest it does not.  Bell states, and Elliot recognises that he has often depicted politicians as either puppets or subservient to others (Tony Blair was at times a poodle to George Bush's chimp), and Bell argues that on this occasion his intention was no different.  Bell says the whole point of the cartoon is Benjamin Netanyahu's cynicism and his manipulation of the situation leading up to the launching of Operation Pillar of Defence, with Blair and William Hague unwilling to criticise his actions despite this being a repeat of the tactics of past Israeli leaders as elections approach.

It's an argument I myself have made, and while I can see why the depiction of Blair and Hague as glove puppets will be seen by some as either lazy or offensive, taken as a whole the cartoon is clearly not anti-Semitic.  As Bell says, the entire cartoon is a take on a photograph of Netanyahu giving a statement to the media, where the backdrop was Israeli flags and there was a menorah on the lectern.  As often as there is a fine line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and it's one where the left at times accepts prejudice it would never tolerate elsewhere, the cartoon isn't even the former; it's an attack on a politician and how he presents himself, not a country or a racial group.  It does not, even obliquely, imply that Jews as a whole are "omnipotent conspirators" as the Jewish Chronicle quoted Jeremy Brier as saying, even if it can be argued it does fall into the stereotype of depicting a Jew as a puppeteer.

The irony will not be lost on some that the Graun is the paper most associated, rightly or wrongly, with political correctness, and has on occasion ran some utterly loopy pieces on perceived bigotry.  In this case it seems to have to a certain degree reaped what it has sown, while also falling victim to those groups that do treat any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.  While there is nothing wrong with going to great lengths in a bid to be sensitive, what should not be silenced is legitimate criticism of politicians of any race, colour or creed for fear that a stereotype might be touched upon, regardless of the medium through which it is made.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012 

"Give them the respect they deserve."

There really doesn't seem to be any great need to make lengthy comment on the trial of Anders Breivik. One of the great myths that crime writers and films have promoted is that serial killers are interesting, when the reality is that the vast majority of them are not. They tend to lead boring lives and have banal thoughts precisely because if they didn't they'd be caught much sooner: look at Dennis Nilsen, one of the most dull of his breed, who may well have escaped justice if he hadn't run out of places to store the bodies of his victims. There is the odd exception, like a Ted Bundy (and he's more intriguing than interesting), but they are very few and far between.

In these stakes Breivik could well be the dismal of them all. Anyone who writes a 1,800 page "manifesto" (if you can call an unreadable document largely made up of newspaper articles and blog posts quoted verbatim, as researched on Wikipedia a manifesto) as a justification for mass murder is instantly trying far too hard. At least the Unabomber had something vaguely original to say, even if it was nonsensical; with Breivik it's just the views of dozens of other like-minded individuals reproduced parrot fashion. Yes, we quickly realised that you're not much of a fan of multiculturalism, and that you blame cultural Marxists for its spread. What we're really interested in is why you decided you had to act, when all those other blowhards just continue to fulminate online at the how the West is committing cultural suicide.

An answer to which we simply aren't going to get. What we will get, as the week has so far shown, are those other traits associated with serial killers: sick-inducing narcissism, as when he claimed his actions were "the most sophisticated and spectacular political attack committed in Europe since the second world war"; the most pathetic self-pity, as when he cried upon viewing his own propaganda; and impenetrable delusions, like his insistence that his ridiculous Knights Templar organisation exists, and that it tried to "distance oneself sufficiently from national socialism because it was quite blood-stained". Just ever so slightly rich when his manifesto imagined a Europe-wide civil war where those he considered to be truly traitorous would be executed.

As much as the trial was supposedly meant to provide some sort of explanation to the Norwegian people, all Breivik has done so far is repeat his deeply unimpressive thoughts as released on the day. Writing last year, Simon Baron-Cohen stated that even if Breivik was a psychopath, that didn't begin to provide a reason for how his lack of affective empathy had led him to launch his lone act of terrorism. If the true point of the hearing is to establish whether Breivik is mentally ill or not, then there seems little reason for allowing him to turn the trial into a platform for spreading his own personal ideology when that can be achieved just as well behind closed doors. Indeed, the only reason for allowing him to attempt to justify his actions when other defendants would swiftly be silenced for being in contempt of court is that only the most maladjusted could possibly find anything admirable in his meanderings. Unfortunately, those are often the quiet, boring individuals that we still know so relatively little about.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012 

"It is unrealistic, in my opinion..."

Not in doubt is that some Arab newspapers, both state and privately owned, print articles and cartoons which are vehemently anti-Semitic and racist. Not as well known is that Israeli newspapers, in this case the biggest selling tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth publish material which is just as vile (via Angry Arab):


For all whose goal is to bring stability to this region, it is important to understand the rhetoric of those who oppose Israel as part of their religion. Understand that we are dealing with people who celebrate being detached from reality as part of their worship of Allah.

...
It is unrealistic, in my opinion, to believe that we can turn the Arabs into a society that truly embraces western concepts and values - like facts and sticking to truth. It makes much more sense to understand that fantasy and stretching the truth are very deeply embedded in the mindset of the Muslim and Arab culture. I do not mean to say this as an insult, but to suggest that we accept it as a fact, take it as it is and move on.

You won't be surprised to learn that the author, David Ha'ivri, opposed the Gaza pullout and advocates the annexing of the West Bank.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012 

Not racially aggravated then.

The racially aggravated public order offence charge has then duly been dropped against Azhar Ahmed, who a couple of weeks back expressed in his own unique way that the sanctimony and mawkishness surrounding the deaths of the six soldiers in Afghanistan was just a little stifling. Well, OK, that doesn't quite cover it: he actually said all soldiers should die and that we should think just as much of those who've died as a result of our actions in the country. Was it offensive to some? Yes. Is it something he should be imprisoned for or really receive anything other than a warning, not even a caution? No.

Nonetheless, it was obvious that his status update on Facebook wasn't as expressed racially motivated in any way. Whether the initial charge when looked at in the cold light of day couldn't be upheld and the CPS realised this was the case, or whether some of the criticism online had an influence we will most likely never know. He does still face a charge under the 2003 Communications Act, which he has plead not guilty to, so hopefully he might yet be acquitted.

You do still have to wonder exactly why it is that Ahmed has been subject to the full force of the law for his outrageous statement, while those who responded to him have apparently faced no such inquiry for having used clearly racist language, just as it seems odd that Facebook have apparently no problem with continuing to host a page which originally called for Ahmed to be killed. Still, if nothing else it has provided a wonderful insight into the mindset of the English Defence League, who were outside the court protesting with signs calling for jail for those who insult troops: for those apparently professing to defend the honour of England, they seem to have forgotten that one of the values we genuinely do share is the belief in freedom of speech. The idea that soldiers can't defend themselves or alternatively are incredibly offended and saddened by the odd person with extreme views is also nothing short of hilarious.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012 

Aldous Huxley was right. Sort of.

The quote from Aldous Huxley at the top of this page is, unsurprisingly, not one I fully subscribe to. He did though have a point, and while we can hardly blame inventors and designers for how their creations are subsequently used by our far from good selves, it's not so long back that we wouldn't have so many inconsequential things shoved down our throats due to the technology involved not existing. Think back to that terrible day when it was discovered that a woman had put a cat in a bin, a story literally followed around the world. Even if I'd owned the cat, I wouldn't have posted the video of this hideous crime being committed on Facebook: what's the point?

Much the same goes for the "my tram experience" video posted at the end of last year, featuring a clearly drunk woman being gratuitously ignorant and bigoted. Why record someone who is clearly not in full control of themselves unless, and this is a big unless, you're going to hand it over to the authorities as evidence that this person is potentially endangering their child by being sloshed in public? Don't put it up on the internet as evidence of how racist Britain still is when it shows nothing of the sort, especially when you ought to know full well that the person behind the obnoxious views is then going to be subjected to what might be called the full force of hate from keyboard warriors. It's very doubtful that Emma West will be raped or killed as a result of her inebriated ravings, as so many suggested she should be on forums and social networks afterwards, but the whole incident was simply unnecessary and avoidable.

Azhar Ahmed should then have known when he wrote his status update on the reaction to the deaths of six British servicemen last week that his shall we say forthright views were likely to offend. What he couldn't possibly have known was that he would be arrested, charged with a racially aggravated public order offence and then bailed to an address outside of West Yorkshire as a direct result. While I'm one of those who believes free speech should mean just that up to the point of inciting hatred or murder, I should imagine that had Ahmed given similar vent out in the street he could well have been arrested for breaching the peace. Where though is there anything that could be considered racial in his statement, at least as far we've seen through screengrabs? He doesn't make any reference to soldiers being British, being white or any other colour; he simply says "all soldiers should die".

The charge simply doesn't seem to make any sense. This has inevitably been explained in some quarters as obviously being down to the fact that Ahmed is Asian, and so therefore a Muslim, and so his comments must be either racially or religiously motivated, leading to the charge. More likely is that his remarks, even if not racist in tone, do resemble somewhat the line taken by groups such as Islam 4 UK, especially the line about women being raped, a point they often dwell upon regardless of their failure to come up with any examples of Iraqi or Afghani women being raped by foreign soldiers. It's not completely beyond credence that Ahmed has some links to such groups, or alternatively that the police decided that his remarks were so similar to their spouting that it justified the racial element.

Alternatively, there might be more to it than what we've so far seen. Harry Paterson relates some of the responses Ahmed's status received, some of them moving from the personally abusive into the realm of racism. Did Ahmed then respond in kind to some of these, with the police deciding that since he had started the discussion they would overlook the racism from the others and just deal with him? It certainly seems possible. Or have the police simply overreacted, seen something that isn't actually there, and will as a result have to drop the racially aggravated part on March the 20th?

Regardless of such concerns, Ahmed has nonetheless been subjected to much the same treatment as Emma West was. Deserving of being called an idiot as he is, the comments and responses go far beyond that. The best example is the Azhar Ahmed Scumbag!!! page over on Facebook, which until a few hours ago had as its description

"Azhar Ahmed need to be killed for what he wrote on facebook the scum! people like this should not be in our county if their not going to support it! out with the scum!!!"

Apart from being severely lacking in grammar, this goes further than Ahmed did. He merely said all soldiers should die; he didn't say they should be killed, or "need to be killed". With numerous people apparently reporting the page not just to Facebook but to the police, the description has now been subtly changed to

Azhar Ahmed need to be put away and never let out for what he wrote on facebook the scum! people like this should not be in our county if their not going to support it! out with the scum!!!

Still as lacking in grammar, and still over the top, but at least it no longer incites murder.

Hopefully we'll receive more details next Tuesday as to exactly why the charge against Ahmed is racially motivated and not a simple public order one. Until then it would be lovely if we could get things in perspective, and realise that regardless of whether we're saying it out loud or typing it, saying without irony that someone should die or be killed simply for something they themselves have said never adds much to a debate.

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Thursday, January 05, 2012 

Another depressing passing frenzy.

Sigh. Honestly, are we going to carry on in this way until the end of time? People in other countries use social networking sites to help launch and organise revolutions; we apparently use them to flay alive those who say or do things we don't like. No one's safe, whether it's 13-year-olds with dreams of stardom, clearly drunk women mouthing off on trams, an ageing, jeans-wearing man who likes cars cracking a joke about impartiality, BBC news editors who light-heartedly included a panda in their list of women of the year, not expecting that over Christmas there would still be thousands of humourless people on Twitter, or as today's shown, an MP being careless in their choice of words.

I didn't really even want to write about this, but thought I had to after yesterday's post. And let's make this clear, as plenty of people have wrongly drawn equivalence between Diane Abbott's comments and Luiz Suarez's argument with Patrice Evra. There is simply no comparison between a footballer, who when asked by his opponent why he kicked him said it was because he was a negro, repeats the word a further six times, and then denies he's done anything wrong until he issues a feeble general apology months later rather than address it personally to the man he said it to, and a politician who was quite clearly not seriously implying that *all* white people love playing divide and rule when replying to a critique of the idea of there being both a "black community" and "black community leaders".

This said, Abbott's subsequent attempts at explaining her tweet have not been fully convincing. Yes, as the hash-tag in her original makes clear, she was defending the idea of there being a black community when in the past both the establishment (overwhelmingly white) and colonial powers have tried to prevent any such leadership from taking shape in order to keep black people in "their place". Politics is though inherently all about dividing and ruling, as this government is more than ably demonstrating, and Abbott should have known that generalising it to "white people" was a simplification way too far, even for 140 characters. She then compounded this by not fully explaining just what she meant, rather going for the age-old excuse of it being taken out of context. If she had done that to begin with and apologised immediately for any offence she may have caused, she probably wouldn't have received the public dressing-down from Ed Miliband, or prompted an onslaught from those who jump at any chance to launch an assault against the "politically correct" lobby on the comment sections of websites.

Sad to say, there is also more than an element of truth to their accusation that if a politician had made a similar blanket statement about black people (although you can't exactly turn it directly around in this instance) then it's more than likely they would be out of a job now, even if an apology was made or there were similar nuances involved. It's worth remembering that Patrick Mercer was ridiculously made to resign from his shadow cabinet position by David Cameron, supposedly over how he repeated the stereotyping used by drill sergeants (although it always seemed more likely it was to do with how he dismissed out of hand any suggestion that there might be racial discrimination in the army), a decision also likely made as an attempt to ensure that his "detoxifying of the Tory brand" was in no way undermined. It would be lovely to imagine that all instances of racism could be treated the same regardless of the colour of the skin of the person involved, but this itself is difficult when some on the left continue to believe that it is only those with white skin, or those in a position of power who can be racist. This needs to be seriously challenged and to change.

It would also help wonderfully if the media, rather than looking for constant controversy and jumping straight on the back of a Twatterstorm could instead continue to reflect on how the last couple of days have demonstrated that British society has been changed for the better by the courage, tenacity and dignity of two people who simply wanted justice for their son. They were helped along by both natural and unnatural allies, including those who made their own individual breakthroughs, like Diane Abbott. Moving on to the next passing frenzy was especially crass in these circumstances.

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