Friday, February 19, 2010 

Please make it stop.



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Wednesday, January 13, 2010 

Rambling about the Naked Rambler.

At the very best of times it's difficult to get a bearing on the workings of the criminal justice system. Without coming over all Daily Mail, there certainly are cases at times which result in cautions or very minor penalties that clearly deserved harsher punishment; to balance that out though there are often also trivialities dealt with in the courts which should have never got anywhere near coming up in front of a beak. One such case is that of Roger Day, prosecuted under the Army Act of 1955 for pretending to be an army veteran after he took part in a Remembrance Day parade in Bedworth wearing medals which he clearly could not have earned himself.

Day thankfully only received a relatively light community service order for his crime of fantasy. At the opposite end of the scale is the continuing stand off between
Stephen Gough, better known as the Naked Rambler, and the Scottish authorities. Having walked from Land's End to John O'Groats on two occasions completely naked, both times being arrested repeatedly, and most often north of the border, Gough has only experienced freedom for a matter of minutes since 2006 after he was arrested for exposing himself on a flight between Southampton and Edinburgh. Since then Gough and the police have been involved in what is probably best described as the Pete Doherty shuffle, so named because of the police's constant pursuit of ex-Libertines drug addict: each time Gough finishes serving his last sentence, for either breaching the peace, contempt of court (for appearing naked in the dock) or public indecency, they immediately arrest him for once again stepping out into the open air wearing usually only socks, boots, a wristwatch and a backpack. Gough's latest arrest came after being released from Perth prison on the 17th of December. He was warned yesterday that he faced life in prison if he continued to refuse to put on clothes, with the same process continuing over and over.

Quite why the Scottish magistrates are allowing this charade to continue is unclear: it's obvious that this long stopped being about Gough and his belief that he has a right to be naked, and has instead become a battle between Gough and the authorities over their consistent re-arresting of him within seconds of him leaving custody. It's all about who's going to blink first, and for the moment it doesn't seem like either side is going to back down. Gough for his part continually argues that nudity in itself is not harmful or indecent, which it isn't. It's arguable whether nudity can be alarming, as suddenly come across a naked person certainly can be, but never has it been argued in Gough's case that his motives for remaining naked have been sexual in nature, nor has anyone made any complaint in that regard. Having undergone psychiatric examination, it's also fairly certain that Gough is not mentally ill, nor does he suffer from a personality disorder. His persistence in remaining naked seems to be based on completely rational justifications,
as his letters to supporters suggest.

The cost of all this is difficult to estimate, but some have suggested that including his legal aid, his room and board at Her Majesty's pleasure and the successive prosecutions, he's run up a taxpayer-paid bill of around or over £200,000. All because the Scottish authorities seem determined to ensure that one man can't possibly be allowed to wander around naked, even for 30 seconds, lest someone be alarmed at a very shrivelled and tiny male member. The obvious solution would be to let him get on with it, but that seems beyond the comprehension of a system which can't seem to let someone who is determined to keep making a fool of it get away with it, even for as long as a minute.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009 

Jack Straw, also synonymous with heartless bastard.

It seems that we have Ronnie Biggs to thank for two things: firstly, for demonstrating just what condition you have to be released from prison on "compassionate" grounds, and secondly for highlighting what a charmless, inhumane bastard Jack Straw is.

On the 1st day of last month Straw ruled that Biggs couldn't be released because he was "wholly unrepentant". This was despite the fact that Biggs can't talk, walk, eat or drink. A few days before Straw's ruling he had fell and broken his hip; the parole board without apparently being sardonic, said the risk he posed "was manageable under the proposed risk management plan". The risk from a man who has to be fed through a tube and who can barely walk must rank up there with the risk posed by eating Pop Rocks and then drinking Coke, or the risk of being mauled to death by a band of marauding gerbils. Straw didn't bother to explain how keeping such a man in prison at a cost doubtless far in excess of that if he was in a nursing home was justifiable except in terms of pure vindictiveness. If the aim was to please the authoritarian populists in the tabloids, he failed: even they blanched at a man close to death being kept inside for no real reason except the establishment getting its own back for being played a fool for years.

37 days later and Biggs' condition has now deteriorated so significantly that Straw has granted parole on "compassionate" grounds. This in effect means that Biggs is about to die, with his son hoping that he survives long enough to see out his birthday on Saturday. If Straw had granted Biggs parole back on the 1st of July, he might just have been able to enjoy a few days of something approaching freedom; now he's likely to just slip away, having gone down with pneumonia. Politicians such as Straw justify the likes of Iraq war on the basis that even if hundreds of thousands of people died, the ends justified the means; in any event, rarely do they see the consequences of their actions close up, and even then they can take the abstract view, that they weren't personally responsible even if in the chain of command. Yet Straw can hardly deny in this instance that he may well have directly contributed to Biggs' suffering further than he needed to. Straw's shamelessness though seems unlikely to even slightly twinge his conscience, even when others would have been deeply troubled by just that thought.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009 

Basic inhumanity.

What possible purpose is served by the refusal to grant parole to Ronnie Biggs? The only conclusion that can be reached is that this is pure political grandstanding by Jack Straw, designed to win favour with the more punitive tabloids. It's also an insight into the similarly ridiculous way in which the prison system works. While Biggs was clearly guilty of his part in the Great Train Robbery, those convicted of murder who reject their guilt cannot be considered for parole and so are destined to spend their entire life behind bars until they do so, as Sean Hodgson almost did, until finally proved innocent by newly discovered forensic evidence.

As Biggs has apparently refused to show repentance for his crime and has not taken part in the courses which those looking to be released usually have to pass before their parole is granted, he looks set to languish in a cell until he dies, which might not be that far in the future. According to his family, Biggs can no longer speak, cannot walk and at the weekend broke his hip after a fall. Keeping a man in prison in such circumstances is the heighth of stupidity, as not only can he not receive the help that he obviously needs, but he also doubtless takes up extra resources which could be better used elsewhere. The prison system is overcrowded enough as it is, without also having invalids who now only seem to be inside because of the perniciousness of a government minister. It would be different if Biggs' crime was similar in proportion to that of say, Ian Brady's, still refusing after all these years to reveal where his final victim was buried, but despite the huge amount seized in the robbery, no one suffered to anywhere near the extent to which it would be appropriate to inflict a similar amount of suffering on those guilty. Jack Straw seems to be just playing to the gallery yet again.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009 

A handy cut out and keep guide for hacks: Islamic dress.

For all those out there who are still terribly confused about what and what isn't a burqa (also spelled burkha, burka, etc), as Daily Express and Star journalists clearly are, let septicisle solve your problems:

This is a burqa. It's clearly identifiable by how there is not even an opening for the eyes; rather, it has a mesh through which the wearer can see (badly). These are mainly worn in Afghanistan and by the most conservative adherents of Islam, mostly apart from Afghanistan in parts of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The numbers wearing them in this country probably number in the very low hundreds (could even be dozens or lower), if that, with a similar number in France, where the current controversy is brewing.

These are niqabs. They're clearly identifiable by how there is only an opening for the eyes. These are more widely worn than the burqa, across the Sunni Islamic world (the Shia mainly settle for the normal hijab, if any head covering is worn) although again almost only by the more conservative adherents. The numbers wearing them in this country probably number in the low thousands, if that, with a similar number in France, where the current controversy is brewing.

Next time in the handy cut out and keep guide for hacks: what is and what isn't a disease.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009 

Cowardice over Wilders.

The decision to bar entry to Geert Wilders ought to be completely baffling, but is instead indicative of the general cowardice which we have come to expect from the Home Office. Wilders is, above all, a crashing bore: someone who thought there was a need to physically connect passages from the Koran with terrorists and fundamentalists, as if the correlation were not already so obvious. Fitna was the sort of film which the average YouTuber can better and which still gets voted down, such was both its amateur production and message. You don't like Islam, and especially not the extremists; we get it.

Wilders is in fact typical of the majority of the European far-right: despite their own contempt for free speech, or freedom of thought, they pose as martyrs being persecuted for saying the unsayable. In Wilders case he actually is being persecuted, or rather prosecuted for just that: he's set to be tried for his anti-Islam sloganising and general bullheadedness. The irony is that Wilders himself believes that the Koran should be banned for being a "fascist" book, the man from the "Freedom" party who wants to deny religious freedom purely because of his own bigoted views.

The obvious response to those who want to hang themselves on their own personal cross is to deny them the opportunity to do so. All Wilders wanted to do was to visit the House of Lords, which was to show his film, and then take part in discussion about it. The Home Office claims that Wilders' mere presence would be enough to "threaten community harmony and therefore public security", when such a claim is clearly abject nonsense. It's quite apparent that it's not Wilders whom the Home Office is scared of, but rather of the protests his presence might well attract. Whether it fears a repeat of the Dutch embassy protests or not, this is clearly an excuse rather than anything even approaching an actual reason. Wilders himself meanwhile can add a further notch of self-satisfaction to his belt.

Rather than showing any sign of "Dhimmitude", as the jihadist watchers love to throw about, it instead shows New Labour's own authoritarian stance on where the boundary between freedom of speech and the freedom to offend and abuse lies. The government talks of challenging extremism in all its forms, but by taking such a provocative stance and banning Wilders from visiting it has only inflamed the situation far beyond what it would otherwise have been. Despite Lord Ahmed's claims that temporarily stopping the showing of Fitna in the House of Lords was a victory for the Muslim community, it seems highly doubtful that few if any would have turned up to protest against his visit: he just simply isn't worth bothering with. Wilders can now instead further boast of how he's banned from another European country which in his eyes is abandoning its values in order to appease its unruly minorities. The sad reality is that New Labour never had any values to abandon in the first place.

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Monday, February 09, 2009 

The British Cissy Party.

Thanks to my signing up some time back on the British National Party's website to argue with some knuckle-dragger that was linking here, I now get sent their irregular newsletter. Its usual content is banal in the extreme: the latest tales of where the Fuhrer himself and his "Truth Truck", or as it's otherwise known, the liar lorry, have visited this week in the multicultural hell-hole that is our fine country. Last week they were ecstatic about the Lindsey strikes, lying about how they had been given a warm welcome which in reality equated to them being told to go forth and multiply. This week they're outraged by a headteacher phoning up one of their local election candidates:

When BNP candidate for the Swanley by-election, Paul Golding, received a call from the Head Teacher of Swanley Technology College, he expected an adult conversation regards the election but instead found himself subjected to a tirade of anti-BNP hatred.

The Head Teacher in question, Julie Bramley, subjected Mr. Golding to a five minute ear-bashing during which she derided the BNP as "racist", "ignorant" "narrow-minded" and accused us of feeding on people's "insecurities" and "anxieties". She stated that Britain wasn't "full-up" with immigrants and that our people are not treated like second-class citizens.

Taken aback by this astonishing display of political intolerance from a so-called liberal, Mr. Golding ended the call. Nevertheless, we recommend that BNP E-News readers email Mrs Bramley and politely point out the terrible problems of immigration and multiculturalism and demand that she desist from attacking candidates in elections and concentrate on her job as a Head Teacher.

For a bunch of rough tough political realists the BNP really are a rather precious bunch, aren't they? This tirade of anti-BNP hatred, this astonishing display of political intolerance, known to the rest of us as statements of the bleeding obvious. While Julia Bramley's email inbox is probably already full to bursting with well-written, literate and polite criticisms of her vicious assault on a shocked, shy and retiring political animal, you might just want to email her as well with something approaching support:

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008 

A real horror show.

Who with any sense whatsoever would be a social worker? Lambasted for taking children away unnecessarily, demonised when inevitable if horrifying mistakes are made, it must surely rank up there with opting to become a traffic warden and refereeing in the least appealing professions available.

It doesn't help of course when politicians, as well as the media and now message board ranters are in effect baying for blood. David Cameron and Gordon Brown may not have been actively calling or in effect justifying violence against those convicted of the shocking abuse of Baby P as some have today, but their use of a dead child not as a political football, but as a political corpse, as others have already justifiably defined it, was not just unedifying, it was a shaming spectacle.

Cameron opened up reasonably enough at PMQ's with asking the prime minister why the head of Haringey social services had been the one that had conducted the internal inquiry into what had gone wrong. This was perfectly fine, and more than valid a question to bring up. He should have known however that Brown was hardly likely to give a straight answer; he never does. Apart from that though decisions were obviously going to be made today on what further measures were to be taken: the inquiry in full had only just landed on the minister's desk this morning, after the trial itself had finished, as Brown explained. Ed Balls, schools and families minister, has since announced that an inquiry to be conducted by Ofsted, the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection and chief inspector of the constabulary will be undertaken into the safeguarding of children in Haringey. This decision presumably had not been finalised at 12pm this afternoon, otherwise Brown would have mentioned it. In the circumstances, although Brown can be accused of not showing the empathy that perhaps his predecessor might have done, it was hardly a snub.

It was then that all hell broke lose and that both sides failed to realise just what the petty back and forth would look like to the wider country. Cameron's anger, first with the lack of an answer after the second question, coupled with barracking from the Labour MPs, led him to repeatedly slamming his finger down, getting the age of the mother involved wrong (she is 27, not 17 as he said) and finally swiping his notes completely off the dispatch box. For someone trying to claim that he's similar to Barack Obama, who throughout his campaign never appeared to lose his cool, it was a poor performance. His anger might well have been righteous, but it was never going to achieve anything.

Brown for his part was not angry, just detached and by comparison apparently uncaring. This actually probably isn't fair; undoubtedly he does care, he just was never going to win in a battle with a far more accomplished empathetic speaker. His cheap jibe though that Cameron was making a party political point was equally unfair; Cameron may be many things, but he was not at that moment doing that. It was only afterwards, with the two men facing off in an interminable battle of who would back down first, with Cameron asking for an apology and failing to get one, that the whole affair became wholly shabby and distasteful.

Parliament at prime minister's questions is of course always a bear-pit, and it always will be. For all Cameron's original claims that he wanted to end Punch and Judy politics, he's never really attempted anything of the kind. Realising that he was not going to get an answer, or at least not one then, Cameron ought to have moved on. Brown for his part should not, despite being prodded by Cameron over his tactics, have suggested that it was party political. Cameron likewise, although perfectly entitled to ask for an apology, should have again let it go. All while this was going on the barracking by MPs on both sides continued; only the speaker, almost pleading, having to intervene 3 times to silence the cat-calling, emerged with any dignity whatsoever. As Simon Hoggart writes, no one intended for it to turn out the way. Once it had however, both sides should have recognised the damage that was done not just to their respective parties and personal images, but to the further image of Westminster itself and apologised for how it had got out of hand. Instead, as Justin notes, MPs scored points and bloggers likewise did, further deciding who had came out the better. The reality was that no one did. We can and must improve upon this.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008 

Won't someone please think of the Catholics? (and the women...)

I think I can leave you to come up with your own clichéd analogy - rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, fiddling while Rome burns, etc - all of which would more than apply to the ludicrous proposed constitutional reforms of removing the barrier to a Catholic becoming monarch, while also allowing the first successive heir, regardless of gender, to ascend to the throne.

You would have thought it was patently obvious, but you cannot improve an institution based on the hereditary principle and the accident of birth by making the rules ever so slightly less discriminatory. In fact, doing so brings it even further into disrepute: modifying the monarchy at this stage to make it slightly more equitable and less openly bigoted gives the government's seal of approval to the head of state being anything other than elected. It gives the impression of both fawning and respect to a bunch of inbred half-wits whose only modern function is to be propaganda props for the army, having failed to find anything else to do with their lives, whilst giving the nation's tabloid journalists something to write about when they spend the other part of it falling out of London's more exclusive clubs and bars.

It's not even as if there is any great need to modify the religious rule, as the royals themselves have already figured out a way to get round it: Peter Phillips, 11th in line to the throne, was still so desperate to retain the chance of becoming King should a bomb drop on Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle or Harry or someone else go postal ala the Nepalese Crown Prince, that his fiancée, baptised a Catholic, swiftly converted to Anglicianism. If these unimpeachable scroungers are so desperate to remain royalty, let them convert, however cynically, to the Church of England.

Unfair perhaps though may it be to pick on just one person for their response, but you really would expect the Liberal Democrats to be a little more circumspect in giving it the OK:

Lynne Featherstone, the Lib Dems' spokeswoman on equalities issues, said: "This is an overdue but welcome move. Whilst the hereditary principle itself is obviously still a bit dodgy, at least this modernisation ends the outrageous discrimination against Catholics and women."

Quite so. I mean, there's nothing outrageous whatsoever about a dysfunctional family receiving at the very least £40m a year from the taxpayer just because of who they were born to, it's the fact that this wonderful institution discriminates against Catholics and women that we should really be concerned about.

If we aren't going to rid ourselves of the entire shower, then surely we can at least make the whole charade slightly more accountable. Let's take a leaf out of the management cost cutting guide and get each member to reapply for their "job" every so many years. There won't be any chance of them actually losing it of course, but at least reading their self-justifications might be good for a laugh. Alternatively, we could call the bluff of those who so seem to love the royals over politicians and get them to job-swap and see how they fare in their respective tasks. Who knows, we might even be so impressed with the results that our first president could be Princess Eugenie. Well, she couldn't be worse that the next generation of Milibands....

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Friday, September 12, 2008 

Mutilating the corpse.

First things first - despite all the hype and spin, not necessarily down to Gordon Brown himself, but over enthusiastic briefers desperate to try and turn the corner and resorting to hyperbole, the "relaunch package", if it was ever meant to be one, has been an utter disaster. First the feeble attempts to get the housing market moving again when the only thing the government should be doing is to ensure that the fall in prices does not turn into a rout were rightly derided, then yesterday's utterly pitiful package of methods meant to deal with the rise in electric and gas bills fell apart with 24 hours, and as usual, was typically summed up by Steve Bell. With the energy companies warning they will indeed pass the cost onto the consumer and thumb their noses ever harder at everyone other than their shareholders, Downing Street is probably bitterly regreting not enforcing a windfall tax, which could have at least gone towards real across the board help which might have made something approaching a difference.

Brown then still has his reverse midas touch in full effect, with everything turning to shit the moment he looks at it; touching isn't even required. This hasn't though resulted, until today, in anything approaching an uprising against him. Some of those who previously looked as though they might have overthrown him during the summer holiday have instead fallen back and at the least decided to give him the benefit of the doubt until the end of the conference season. Charles Clarke's intervention last week, where he offered absolutely nothing other than a irrelevant reappraisal of Blairism, was dismissed and forgotten by the beginning of this week, such was the lack of gravitas which the former home secretary now suffers from.

In fact, Clarke's failure to articulate what Labour should be doing which it is not now seems to be a symptom that all those that want Brown to stand down now or to face a leadership challenge appear to share. No one could have probably predicted that it would be a whip that would be the next to speak out against Brown, but it could have been what views the individual that did has previously had and still has now. No surprises then that Siobhain McDonagh, formerly PPS to the ultra-Blairite thug John Reid has herself not once voted against the government (perhaps not quite true - it appears she voted moderately against the smoking ban, or at least wasn't there for a couple of votes). Some might see such blind sycophancy as an asset - others, considering the very worst excesses of New Labour, will see it as both tragic and nauseating.

Like with those that have given their names to an article in tomorrow's Progress magazine, which is of course the official Blairite journal, McDonagh doesn't offer anything even approaching an alternative way forward for Labour. They all want Brown to establish a "narrative" that will get us through the credit crunch, but they themselves don't want to articulate what it is. Their only suggestion is that Brown himself is not up to task, and must stand down and be replaced by someone equally ill-prepared to do anything other than sink further into the sand.

When considering what is such an alarming lack of lucidity and rigour, I can't help but be reminded of something that Alastair Campbell mentions in his diaries when it came to the media attacking Stephen Byers. They weren't just satisfied that they'd succeeded in killing him - i.e. by forcing his resignation - they had to desecrate and mutilate the corpse as well. So it is with the Labour party at the moment. They aren't just satisfied that they've completely destroyed it, probably as an electoral force for a generation if not for good through the disaster of Blairism, they want to gouge out its eyes and jump up and down on its brain as well. How else can you possibly account for such a pointless exercise as changing the leader yet again? Getting rid of Brown will not save the Labour party, especially when no one in it apart from the likes of Cruddas and the smarter brains of Compass when they're not devising windfall taxes has any idea as to what needs to be done to at least begin rebuilding general support, but it will further show the public that all the party cares about is infighting. Cutting one head off the corpse and replacing it with another, whether it's Miliband's or anyone else's, will not reconnect the blood flow. The one thing that might staunch the blood loss is a change in policies - but not a single one of those calling for Brown to go has suggested a single one that needs to be changed. They've brought Labour this low and they still don't get it. They are the problem - not the solution.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008 

Wolves in sheep's clothing.

If you put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig. Strangely though, if you put lipstick on George W. Bush, and squint hard enough, you might just see Sarah Palin. After all, victory is coming to Eye-raq!

(In fairness to Bush, I'm not sure even he supports the teaching of creationism in schools or opposition to abortion in cases of rape or incest.)

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Thursday, September 04, 2008 

The SNP: even more socially illiberal than New Labour.

If you thought that New Labour was socially illiberal, spare a thought for those above Berwick:

Scotland is considering a ban on alcohol sales to under-21s in a bid to make "the streets safer and communities better", Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, said today.

The SNP is considering the ban on alcohol sales outside pubs and clubs as part of its legislative programme for the year ahead.

This idea is the absolute worst of all worlds. It not only discriminates against those who are above the legal drinking age but don't especially want to go out of an evening, it also instantly means that those who are even over 21 have their legal right to buy alcohol potentially curtailed if they don't bother to carry ID around with them the entire time.

In any event, most stores already operate a scheme where those who look under 21 are required to take ID with them. This on its own prevents those who are borderline-18 from being able to drink, and it's much the same in pubs and clubs. The problem with underage drinking has not been with them buying it - but with their older friends and family, including their parents buying it for them. Additionally, now these schemes are being extended even further as the moral panic about binge drinking and general youth crime continues apace - some stores are now requiring all alcohol transactions, including by those who are clearly above the age limit, to be confirmed by ID. Others have raised the age limit to those who look younger than 25 requiring ID, and not because a distinct minority of those who drink are causing trouble, but due to the cravenness of politicians to the idea that something has to be done.

Which is exactly what this is. It's ludicrous because it still means that those under 21 can go and get smashed in a pub or a club and cause potentially just as much trouble either in the venue or outside of it on the way home, but that's somehow regarded as being less bothersome than a group of teenagers daring to drink either in suburban areas or somewhere where they might be seen other than in a town centre. The obvious unfairness in this is palpable, and it's because the young are partially regarded as an easy target that this can even be considered. As someone has already said, this means that a 20-year-old who wants to buy a bottle of wine to have with his girlfriend at home while they watch a film isn't able to, but that those who go out with the intention of getting paralytic are in no way hindered. It regards all those under 21 who buy from off-licences as morons who are potentially a danger to both themselves and others, while putting no imposition on happy hour promotions or other special drinks offers which encourage people to drink more.

Similarly daft is another potential policy also still in the bill - minimum price setting by unit of alcohol. You don't need to be a polymath to realise that this means drastically increasing the price of bottles of spirits, often drank in moderation and over time, if of course you're not now too young to be able to buy one from a supermarket or off-licence. The high-strength lagers and ciders are affected, but only slightly, and as a news article pointed out, it also doesn't affect the price of Buckfast, the tonic wine which like the so-called "alcopops" has been singled out for special attention by politicians that ought to know better.

To complete the trifecta of idiotic, ineffective and illiberal social policy, the SNP also want cigarettes to be taken off general display, lest anyone see the highly seductive sight of packets of fags with "YOU WILL DIE IF YOU SMOKE THIS" in huge bold lettering on them and think it'd be a pretty wizard idea to take up the habit. This really is almost beyond parody - it does nothing whatsoever to help those who already have the habit, except to make life more difficult for both the shop-keeper/assistant in getting the brand which you want and making it take longer while they dive under the counter as if they were selling you the latest animal porn shot in Bavaria featuring blonde German maidens swallowing horse cock. What it does do however is further stigmatise the smoker, as if they weren't already demonised and isolated enough due to their filthy habit. Rather than suggest to them that they really ought to give up, all this does is promote victim status, and quite rightly too, with the person even less likely to kick the habit.

While things have not got as bad for the drinker as the smoker and are unlikely ever to, it is the senseless drip-drip of measures, always attempting to out-do the last cure-all which deeply rankles with the average person who just wants to be left alone and treated like an adult when they dare to want to imbibe intoxicating liquor. If the SNP were serious and wanted to be something approaching fair, they would raise the age limit across the board on alcohol to 21. This though is already shown to be a complete joke in America, where it is completely unenforceable, just as it would be here, ostracising the under-21s from clubs and pubs where the majority tend to drink more sensibly, and instead pushing them towards house parties where the opposite is usually the case, where the alcohol has been purchased by those old enough or those who can get away with it.

There are two measures that will help with the attitude towards alcohol which the young increasingly are characterised as having: stop perpetuating the idea that all youngsters should abstain entirely until they are 18 and instead encourage families to introduce them to alcohol as they are growing up, and that includes not going over the top when the latest figures lead the tabloids into a frenzy over the increasing numbers of the young drinking however many units a week; or, alternatively, increase the tax on alcohol as a whole across the board proportionally according to market fluctuations, i.e. increase it when it's falling and reduce it when it's rising so that the price is stable but high, while discouraging the discounting and offers in both supermarkets and pubs/clubs. If it isn't obvious, my preferred option is the former. Fundamentally though, what also needs to be examined is exactly why so many in this country drink to get drunk or similar every weekend, which can't just be put down to our attitude towards alcohol and how it differs to on the continent. That might however involve the unpleasantness of examining the daily grind for the average person and how little there is that is otherwise offered in the way of pleasure, something which no politician can ever pretend to solve with the waving of a magical, populist, but completely draconian policy.

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Monday, September 01, 2008 

Millie's cookies.

As well all know, the Sun deeply loves "Our Boys". This love, which is in no way two-faced, simply used in a desperate attempt to sell newspapers, or unrequited, is on such a level that the Sun has quite selflessly offered to support the Ministry of Defence in setting up a yearly award ceremony to celebrate the diligence and sacrifice of our armed forces. The name chosen for this venture? The "Millies".

The announcement of these awards and the Sun's sponsorship has gone down spectacularly well with two important groups: the Sun's readers and the armed forces. Here are just a few samples of their gratitude for the Sun's truly remarkable gesture:

looks tacky.. it's like some sort of MTV award

Our Forces are wonderful and I'm proud of them. This award thing is far too tacky for them, and reeks of self-promotion.I award it a golden raspberry.

A trashy tacky idea that lacks any taste what so ever!

Terrible idea. And highly cheesy. Thanks but no thanks, a pay rise would be a better award

Words fail me.............Is this another project so that the Sun get more readers, a really tacky idea and one which Senior Officers in the MOD should never have agreed to. God help us.


A load of old cobblers by a sad rag

If it wasn't being done by the Scum, I might be in favour of it. However, the Scum is so two faced, I see it as a way for them simply to gain dirt more easily.

Shocking positively shocking.

Newton-Dunn, what a total prick.

Why the fcuk have they let that t1t rag sponsor the awards? It just trivialises the whole thing.

I personally think its a massively tastless idea. The only thing that could have made it worse is if they were proposing a phone vote.
Really really cant see any benefit to this other than the Sun's ego.

I think it is Insulting to the troops.

Hidious idea and the sun should be made aware that it is(have e-mailed but no reply!)
Cheap nasty self-promoting scheme!
A national petition to get it banned before it starts would be a way to fire a shot at the tacky paper!

No, no, titter ye not (thanks, Frankie). Millys all round, please. Then we can all compare our lovely new gongs at Remembrance Day, oh how proud it will make the old boys.

How about an award for cam & concealment, they could call it the "Maddie"

There should be an annual "Lets keep our noses out of what the armed forces do day" instead where the press/senior officers/government/Royality can just leave the lads to either go to work and do what needs doing or have a lie in.

The Millies'. God help us. This is truly, truly horrible. We've been reduced to the tacky ranks of luvvies and 'celebrities'. Any person or unit who has the misfortune to get one of these tasteless and pointless awards can look forward to having all their dignity stripped from them at some bloody awful 'awards ceremony'.

It's our own fault. While the Sun has for years made play of supporting 'our boys' when it suits them and then turning on us with any whiff of a scandal or punch up within 15 miles of a barracks - still the most common rag to find lying round the NAAFI or brew room is the good old Currant Bun.

At the risk of being banned from Liverpool like Boris Johnson and others I must say that the unequivocal response of the Scouse nation to the Scum's reporting of the Hillsborough disaster - reducing the circulation in that city from over 200,000 to less than 10,000 overnight and maintaining the boycott today - is one of the few things that endear me to the current Capital of Culture.

If you buy it, let your mates buy it, read it/look at the tits in it then you only have yourself to blame. Only a complete military boycott of the Scum would send the message and make them fuck off and stop bothering us.

As for the categories themselves:

1. Best Recruit
2. Support to the Armed Forces
3. Lifesaver Awards
4. True Grit: Individual
5. True Grit: Group
6. Best Armed Forces Animal
7. Most Outstanding Sailor or Marine
7. Most Outstanding Soldier
8. Most Outstanding Airman
8. Overcoming Adversity
9. Best Unit
10. Judges Award for Special Recognition.

Yes, they really are giving an award to an animal.

On ARRSE it's already been suggested that these could be added to, with biggest ginge, worst bit of kit and biggest bluff as additional awards, but I'm sure we could add to those as well. There could be the "best joystick skills" for the spotty urchin in America directing the Predator drone to its target and accidentally inflicting some collateral damage on the civilian population. Likewise, there could be an award for the soldier responsible for killing the most civilians after the calling in of a air strike results in a 1,000lb bomb being dropped on a mud-hut which contains no Taliban or jihadists but which does unfortunately hold 90 civilians. mostly women and children. Or the best friendly fire incident, which each year is automatically awarded to the Americans for their seasoned skill in killing those on their own side then ensuring that those responsible never so much as give evidence to the resulting inquest. There could be "finest civvy street incident", where the undisputed brilliance of soldiers on home leave or at weekends at starting fights or leaving the middle of small towns in ruins is celebrated, and "most outstanding reticence in face of provocation" for the soldier which doesn't kick the crap out of those throwing abuse at them following the edict from the prime minister and the Sun newspaper that they should be wearing their uniform at all times whatever they're doing.

Finally, there could be the "most shameless coward" award, which automatically each year would be awarded to the Sun newspaper and the prime minister of the day; firstly for the Sun's own role in ensuring the senseless waste of life in Iraq took place on both sides through its own support for that elusive $20 barrel of oil, and secondly to the prime minister whom against all reason keeps the troops in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have no military solution, whose presence in the former has ceased to have any justification whatsoever long ago and which in the latter is against all rhyme and history. Seeing as all three political parties support the war in Afghanistan, this should be an award that'll be given out for years to come.

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Monday, June 16, 2008 

Man the barricades.

Has there ever been a more ridiculous, ill-thought through, completely unworkable policy based entirely upon gesture politics than Scotland's apparent banning of the sale of alcohol in supermarkets and off-licences to those under-21?

Oh wait, there's 42 days.

Stumbling and Mumbling - Managerialism and the law
Rowenna Davis - There is no cure for underage drinking

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Monday, March 31, 2008 

Unacceptably poor governing experience.

I continue to not give the slightest fuck about the problems at Heathrow, but the government's intervention is truly something to behold:

The government berated British Airways over the Terminal 5 fiasco today, slamming the airline for subjecting passengers to an "unacceptably poor travel experience".

Aviation minister Jim Fitzpatrick said Heathrow airport's flagship building had "fallen well short of expectations" and the airline needed to place a "much greater emphasis" on the needs of passengers. Fitzpatrick added that Department for Transport officials had been in contact with BA and Heathrow owner BAA "at a senior level" throughout the debacle.

In a statement to MPs, the minister said BA was clearing a backlog of 28,000 bags - nearly double initial estimates. Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said customers had been let down badly, adding: "Yet again the state of Heathrow is a national embarrassment."

Ah yes, because we all know politicians or the government could most certainly have done a better job. The moment the government contracts anything out, be it the Criminal Records Bureau, the numerous IT projects that have gone tits up, even going all the way back to the Tories' privatising in-house NHS cleaning, almost every single one has had a monumental cock-up at some point, or been such a disaster that the resultant backlog has taken months to clear. Then there's been the problems with the Home Office, the losing of the data discs within the Treasury, or the collapse of the payment system involving EU subsidies to farmers by Defra, to list but a few. You could include Railtrack, or the entire privatisation of British Rail, both of which have been embarrassments that rank high above anything that's happened at Heathrow. The private sector and the public sector can be equally incompetent and greedy, but what's going on at Terminal 5 isn't going to cost us anything in the long run, while all the others have and will.

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Friday, March 28, 2008 

Is it it just me....

Can someone kindly explain exactly why a: a new building not quite getting off to a brilliant start is considered the top news story for two days running; b: how on earth this is apparently, according to both the press and the BBC, a disaster, despite no one dying and with just a few holidaymakers and business people being delayed for a few hours; and c: how this is meant to affect the country's reputation as a whole when BAA is in fact owned by, err,
the Ferrovial Group, a Spanish multinational?

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Saturday, March 01, 2008 

The grim calculus of death.

13 - the number of Israelis killed by the pitiful hand-constructed rockets launched from the Gaza strip by the various militant groups there since 2001, a number which prompted Israel's deputy defence minister to warn of a "bigger shoah", the Hebrew word normally only used to refer to the Holocaust.

16 - the number of Palestinian civilians killed just today in air and artillery strikes in the Gaza strip. 70 Palestinians have been killed since Wednesday, of whom at least 32 were civilians.

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Monday, February 11, 2008 

The last word (hopefully) on Williams.

If you want a prime example of how the hyperbole over Rowan Williams' speech has not just infected the tabloids, but also those we're meant to rely on to accurately and astutely comment and report the day's events, here's Matthew d'Ancona, editor of the Spectator in his Sunday Torygraph column providing a glaringly obvious comparison:

Forty years after Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech, the Archbishop of Canterbury has delivered its liberal mirror image: let us call it "rivers of blather". The lecture that Dr Rowan Williams gave in London on Thursday night, and specifically his remarks on sharia law, showed that even the mildest-mannered intellectual can become a bulldog in the social china shop, spraying daft ideas around with a recklessness that disgraced his office.

The analogy is ludicrous because no one needed to distort or misinterpret Powell's speech - it was a disgrace then and it's just of much as a disgrace now. Powell talked of "piccaninnies", language which Boris Johnson thought was amusing to use not so long back, of the black man holding the whip over the white man, of a woman who wanted a rates reduction because she was the only remaining white person in a street of "blacks" and wouldn't put up immigrants which had previously boosted her earnings, of the " horror on the other side of the Atlantic", i.e., African-Americans being given the same rights as the white population. There was more, much more.

Rowan Williams, unlike Powell, who gave his speech to an audience of the Conservative Political Centre, which was never likely to disagree with him, gave his instead to a room full of lawyers, who one could imagine could and probably were picking numerous holes in it as he went along, if they weren't falling asleep under the torrent of his convoluted ramblings. Perhaps both shared a slight amount of naivete; Powell asked journalists the following morning whether he'd really caused such a furore, while Williams seems to have been depressed and aghast that his speech caused such a storm. Around the most inflammatory thing that Williams voiced was that he viewed some sort of conflict between state loyalty and religious loyalty as unavoidable unless elements of Sharia, were recognised. As it so happens, Williams doesn't really need to worry: as Alexander Goldberg explains on CiF, the Beth Din courts operate under the arbitration act, which allows for "foreign law" to take precedence over English law (there is no such thing as British law, as both politicians and newspapers have stated, as Scottish law is entirely separate) where two people can sign agreements subjecting themselves to the eventual binding ruling. This is what the Sharia courts also operate under.

The Sun's coverage of Williams' performance in front of the Synod is a prime example of how the press creates a situation and then only uses the information which is useful towards its already preordained stance. The unacceptable reality - that Williams was given a standing ovation as he entered the chamber and had to ask them to sit and stop applauding, with only one or two exceptions, something repeated once he had finished speaking - isn't so much as mentioned. Instead, the Sun describes his defence of his speech, where he said that he took responsibility for the "unclarity" of his remarks and acknowledged that they might have been expressed "clumsily", mentioning the reporting of his speech but not directly criticising the way it was distorted, as "desperate", and then despite the show of support given today, goes on to claim that "his flock" had turned against him yesterday. The main complaint of those interview by the Sun outside Kent cathedral seems to have been that he was considering Islam at all, especially seeing as this is a "Christian" country, and ought to be outside of his remit, rather than directly angry about his comments on Sharia.

Along with Justin and Anton Vowl, one of the most bizarre things about this whole tedious charade has been that atheists, in which I include myself, seem to have been among those who have most defended the Archbishop. It certainly hasn't been out of any sympathy towards religions or the religious, let alone their personally perverse systems of law which they adhere to over others that are fairer and more enlightened that I've defended him, but rather because of that other enlightenment value that some who've been attacking Williams have seem to have forgotten: that freedom of speech is and must be an absolute. To take it back to d'Ancona's spurious Powell equivocation, if a shadow secretary of state as he was, was now to make a similar, updated version of the Rivers of Blood speech, I'd be among the first to vigorously attack him for his message, but I wouldn't be calling for his resignation, just as I think I wouldn't if I'd be around in Powell's own day. Not only is it not for me to decide whether he should remain in his job because of his views, your personal views, unless they are in direct contradiction with that job itself, should never be a basis for someone losing it.

What is increasingly clear, especially from Williams' clarification in front of the Synod, is that he thinks of himself not just as the representative of the Church of England, but as someone who can also comment on issues affecting other religious issues. It's this, perhaps more than his actual views on them that is likely to trouble his own constituency in the long run, not to mention those in the other communities that would rather he'd keep his mouth shut. This is directly because the Church of England especially is in something approaching a crisis: its lack of relevance isn't only continuing to reverberate, it's fast accelerating. Williams might not admit to it, but he probably sees the rise in attendance in Catholic churches, mainly off the back of migration from eastern Europe, which continues to buck the general Western trend off godlessness, and also the increasing hubbub, if not power surrounding Islam, and wishes that he could have a bit of that. Why then shouldn't he attempt to articulate an issue which concerns some Muslims, but which doesn't have a leader powerful enough or visible enough to make the sort of impact that he could?

Apart from the general uncertainty and questioning about Muslims and Islam which has underlined the response to his lecture, the other thing has certainly been that which he most fears; that Britain, far from being the Christian country which those opposed to him espouse, is in fact a secular nation and increasingly becoming more so. We're not just objecting to Islamic religious law, we're objecting to the tyranny of any religious law. The biggest problem affecting Williams is that he's between a rock and a hard place; he's not liberal enough or agnostic enough for those who are opposed to religion generally, and he's not godly enough or hard enough on the queers for those of the evangelical or "traditional" bent who seem to increasingly make up the remaining brunt of those who practice rather than just think there might be a God. One suspects that the very least of his worries are the obscurantists on the Scum who would be laughed at for suggesting he was giving a victory to terrorism if it wasn't so serious.

Leaving aside the internal religious politics, the comment over the weekend which was most pertinent on Williams' argument was on the way Sharia views women inherently as inferior, giving their evidence only half of the weight to which it gives to men's. While I don't claim to know whether this is the same under all the different varying interpretations of Sharia, this is reason enough why it should never be given the same recognition under law as our common law is, as if the European Court of Human Rights ruling was not enough on its own, as Daniel Davies pointed out, for why it would never be allowed onto the statute books. The other side though is eloquently expressed by Ayesha Khan, who reported on Divorce: Sharia Style, who writes of the Muslim women who despite the inequity of the system are still determined to use it. Who are we to condemn them for doing so, which has largely been the undercurrent of the coverage since Thursday?

Williams was always going to survive this controversy, regardless of the best efforts of the most egregious in the Street of Shame to force otherwise. The question is whether he's been irrevocably damaged because of it, and again the answer seems to be negative. Regardless of his real intentions behind the speech, he was fully entitled to put across his message: he just happened, like many of us often are, to be wrong. River of blather or not, the very last thing he is is a modern-day Powell.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008 

Bashing the bishop while the police laugh.

Hamza/Williams: what's the difference?

The first sentence of the Daily Mail's leader is dripping with contempt at the Archbishop of Canterbury's justified complaint that what he said has been misconstrued:

The beleaguered Archbishop of Canterbury resorted yesterday to the oldest stand-by in the book - "I have been misinterpreted".

Just to illustrate how the Daily Mail has most certainly not misinterpreted or distorted Williams' speech, here's its poll where it asks who is more dangerous, Abu Hamza or Rowan Williams:

The Archbishop of Canterbury caused consternation yesterday by calling for Islamic law to be recognised in Britain. He declared that Sharia and Parliamentary law should be given equal legal status so the people could choose which governs their lives.

Clearly, the Archbishop is clutching at straws and and richly deserves the opprobrium he's received. The vote, incidentally, currently has Williams as the most dangerous by 63%. That's the head of one of the more liberal churches of the world, considered more insidious than a man who spent years preaching hatred of women, Jews and "kafirs" in general, and who provided moral and spiritual, if not monetary or physical support to the Taliban, al-Qaida and the most extreme elements of the Salafist school of Islam. Little wonder that the Bishop of Hulme described some of the treatment he's received since his speech as a "shame on our nation" and "quite disgraceful".

Compared to the Sun's coverage, the Mail's has been a totem of respectability. There's a whole column on how he's a living in the lap of luxury (presumably he should be housed in a hovel and have to wear sackcloth and ashes in penitence for his crime), which also mentions he repeatedly opposed the Iraq war, along with err, pretty much every other major religious leader, and that he's "enraged" Christians with liberal views on gays, which translated means the last rump of evangelicals and most of the primates from Africa. If anything, he hasn't been harsh enough on both groups. The main article claims that senior MPs have called for his resignation, which is news to me, while so far around only two bishops have called for his resignation, while others have notably rallied to his defence, none of whom are mentioned in the article.

Brian Fuller, 46, of Luton, said: “This is the guy who leads our country’s religion and it sounds like he’s given up.

“He’ll soon be asking us all to face Mecca when we say our prayers.”

I'm not so sure Mr Fuller - anyway, how will you be able to tell which way Mecca is when your head is so clearly stuck up your rear passage?

The Sun bus visited the Archbishop’s Lambeth Palace residence in South London with Page 3 girls Mel and Peta — and blasted out Rule Britannia.

What a wheeze! That'll show the hairy leftie!

Just as pathetic has been the Sun's sharply set up campaign to get Williams sacked. Their print-out simplification has the reasons why he should be disciplined is that "he has destroyed his authority and credibility as leader of the Church of England", which is completely untrue, and secondly that he has "given heart to Muslim terrorists". As said yesterday, it's a good thing that the Sun knows just what makes jihadists tick and gives them heart, as most of the rest of us, including those tasked with tackling radicalisation are still struggling with it. Linking what the Archbishop said with terrorism is not just insulting and absurd, it's designed to shut down the debate and make it impossible to support him, as no one wants the terrorists to win, do they?

The Scum's leader is just as cavalier with the truth:

The whole nation is appalled, outraged and incredulous that Rowan Williams should come out with such dangerous claptrap.

Some are also appalled, outraged and incredulous that the media have blown this up into a matter where making a sensitive scholarly speech is considered grounds for someone to be sacked.

It is hard to see how Williams can cling on to his job.

It is hard, too, to see why he wants it since he feels such sympathy for Islam.

Just as a comparison, the same Sun newspaper declined to join in the chorus for Sir Ian Blair to resign after he presided over a force which killed an innocent Brazilian after a systemic failure at all levels. Blair himself didn't know what happened until the following day, despite even his secretary being aware an innocent man was dead, because no one bothered to inform him. The same Sun newspaper provided constant support for the previous prime minister, who told lie after lie while his office distorted the intelligence that took us to war in Iraq. The result has been at the very least the deaths of 150,000 Iraqis, not to mention our own troops. Williams however, whose only offence is to make a misjudged speech, must go.

The heart of this issue is not religion. It is law.

To say that the Archbishop is wrong is not to attack Islam. It is to say that allowing Sharia law encourages Muslim fundamentalists who don’t want to integrate with us.

Oh, so in other words, every Muslim who is sympathetic towards Sharia law is therefore a fundamentalist. Better tell that to the banks offering accounts with no interest designed for Muslims, or those who buy halal meat. Buying from a halal butchers must be encouraging fundamentalists who don't want to integrate with us because they don't agree with meat not slaughtered according to their religious doctrines. That he never said that he was in support of allowing it but rather suggested that it might unavoidable, nor that he only suggested it might help cohesion if on civil matters Sharia was recognised under the law, as the Beth Din courts are, doesn't enter into it. It isn't enough to disagree with him because it isn't necessary or even wanted, but because it encourages the evil people in our midst who want to destroy us.

The Archbishop of Canterbury declares Muslims should be allowed to follow a law of their own.

That is totally unacceptable.

And that is why he has to go.

Perhaps then the writer of this leader ought to go for completely misleading the readers with statements that he never made. That's unacceptable, but when the newspaper does the same or similar every day of the year it becomes ingrained, routine and predictable, as the reaction of the Sun has most definitely been.

Apart from the hysterical attacks on Williams himself, the other obvious reaction of the press was always going to be to go out and find these Sharia courts, and regardless of what they were doing, make out that it's a threat to us all. The Evening Standard was first out of the traps, with the Mail and Express reprinting the story, and they're shocked, shocked, to find that some Somali clans have settled a couple of violent disputes internally rather than turning to the police, with little emphasis again on how both sides were agreed on doing so. That this is the way that such tribal or clan-based disputes have always been sorted, and that it has very little to do with either Sharia or Islam isn't mentioned or is toned suitably down. Just as we won't turn to the police to sort out every little disturbance that occurs in neighbourhoods and instead settle it informally, or even for some larger offences where we choose not to turn to the police, they're doing more or less the same. Once a moral panic is brewing however, it's any port in a storm.

The Mail's leader is more than happy to use this spurious evidence as proof that Williams is loony:

And far from Dr Williams's fluffy idea that they merely arbitrate on civil, marital and business disputes, some are trying to replace criminal courts, passing judgment on offences from criminal damage to grievous bodily harm.

They're not replacing or trying to replace anything; as one of the members describes, they're doing the same as they did in the 10th century when it would have happened under a tree, whereas now it happens in a restaurant or a cafe. Then it has the audacity to say this:

While the Beth Din operates openly and within the law, this is alternative justice outside the law, and the Archbishop's endorsement will only serve to enhance its legitimacy and power.

But that was Williams' very point: that recognising some aspects of Sharia where both agree to it could help with cohesion and regulate it. I disagree with it, but he was more than welcome to suggest it, and instead he has calls for his resignation and a vilification campaign.

This though was what was always going to happen. Regardless of the merit of his argument, Williams has been attacked, those who have most to lose from his argument are likely to be further stigmatised and abused, and the notion that Islam and democracy are incompatible is once again the foremost in people's minds. He was naive, but I know who I blame more. That this has happened on a weekend where the far more serious revelation that the police are routinely bugging conversations between defendants and their lawyers has emerged, which is a genuine threat to the rule of law and shows how far the surveillance state is going, not to mention how it could threaten convictions, means that a far more deserving story has been knocked down the agenda, which might well help the government to avoid an inquiry. That's not to mention the latest knee-jerking over violent video games and calls to filter the internet into a two-tier system to protect the kiddies, currently being considered by the government. A press committed to holding a government to account would be going fiercely over both matters; instead we're likely have the bash the bishop campaign continuing for a while. The press is again failing in its basic duties, first to tell the truth and then to protect the public and their readers' interests.

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Friday, February 08, 2008 

Bearded extremist must die! (or resign, whichever comes first)

(Slight warning: this post clocks in at just less than 2,000 words, excluding the large amounts of quoted text.)

I'll admit: I was hasty and went slightly over the top in the post I made yesterday on Rowan Williams' speech on the possibility of Sharia law being legally recognised by the state. I actually rather like Beardie; he's probably the closest that any religion will get to having an acceptable, kind and intellectual face. I'm also more than happy to make clear that I already favour the disestablishment of the Church of England. It's surely ridiculous in this day and age that the prime minister chooses the head of the "state religion"; even the Catholic Church's college of cardinals vote for the supposed messenger of God on earth.

Let's make no bones about it though: he is first and foremost not just a speaker for the CoE, but also for religion as a whole, or he at least thinks he is. Like when the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks a few years ago dared to suggest that there was a a degree of truth in all three of the main Abrahamic religions and found himself being lambasted by conservative Jews for not making clear that Judaism is the only true faith, despite them all worshipping what is to all intents and purposes the same God, Williams likes to reach out across faith backgrounds. This was obvious in his other recent speech, also widely criticised, where he considered the possible abolition of the blasphemy laws and proposed, according to some reports, laws against thoughtless or cruel words. Unity tackled it here, and found much to disagree with.

The main question then has to be this: did Williams really know what he was about to unleash? Sure, Sharia and virtually all the questions surrounding whether Muslims can be both British while retaining their religious identity are incredibly contentious and controversial, but this was the Archbishop, making an incredibly academic, lengthy and considered speech, which ordinarily would have been completely and utterly ignored, except by perhaps the religious affairs correspondents on the broadsheets. If he hadn't approached the World at One, and made a somewhat less articulate summary of his speech (The Wardman Wire has an excellent commentary and transcript of the interview), that would have been most likely what would have happened. That was where the emphasis on how some part of Sharia law being adopted was "unavoidable" came from. If though anyone had listened further than the opening exchanges, they would have realised that the very last thing that Williams was advocating was for Sharia to be used to resolve and pass judgement on individuals where the law itself had been broken.

Even if Williams is genuinely surprised and dismayed by the reaction to his speech, it has to be based on a rather less than intellectual naviety. You mention Sharia and the instant, instinctive image it conjures up is limb chopping, flogging and beheadings. This was always what was going to occupy the tabloids' mindset, and they have had an absolute field day. I haven't even bothered to look at either the Express and Mail, but the Sun's coverage is, to say the least, little sort of sickening in its distortion and use of images that are almost designed to encourage Islamophobia. The Scum naturally decided that the most appropriate image for its front page was the woman in the niqab flashing a v-sign, without any attempt to provide the context in which it was originally taken: when the police raided those who have now pleaded guilty to the beheading plot. They were entitled to feel aggrieved by how the media had descended upon their home and were at the time recklessly scaremongering as usual.

Almost unbelievably, the Sun's headline for its current online, updated piece is "Williams: victory for terrorism". To consider his speech to be any sort of victory for terrorism would require a rhetorical leap that even Melanie Phillips would blanch at, but the Sun is more than happy to link Sharia law with terrorism. This is the second paragraph:

In an explosive outburst Dr Rowan Williams, the country’s top Anglican, said there should be one set of rules for Muslims — and another for everyone else.

No he didn't - what he was clearly articulating was that Muslims could be given the choice, in certain matters of civil law, to use Sharia courts to resolve disputes. Nothing more and nothing less. I completely disagree with him, but he was perfectly entitled to make the argument, and the last thing he was suggesting was completely different systems of laws for those of different religions.

He maintained it was WRONG for followers of Islam to be forced to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”.

Here's the full sentence that quote is taken from:

It is uncomfortably true that this introduces into our thinking about law what some would see as a 'market' element, a competition for loyalty as Shachar admits. But if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it seems unavoidable.

Williams is clearly going out of his way to try and be as inclusive as possible, all in the aid of what he considers the common good. He knows full well that the vast majority of Muslims are perfectly happy with what the British state offers them, but that some do prefer through their own interpretation of their faith to conduct such matters in accordance with Sharia. This already happens, and will continue to happen. He's suggesting that the state recognise this, which is one argument, and it happens to be wrong. But if both parties are perfectly happy to go along with it, and aren't being forced into it, who are we to say that isn't acceptable?

This is another of the problems that Williams has rather unfortunately highlighted: when the loyalty of any citizen to the country at large is brought into question, the right-wing press launches the equivalent of a verbal scud missile at them. Last week it was outraged that a review of the possibility of teaching patriotism was rejected because it would require the balance of also teaching that not everything Britain has ever done has been a roaring success. The main problem I had was that you simply can't preach patriotism; it's either something you instinctively feel or you don't. That Muslims might decide that our system of civil law isn't good enough for them is obviously a similar insult to everything that this country has ever stood for; that the right-wing press would never question the loyalty of some of the orthodox Jews who use the Beth Din courts for their civil affairs shows the abject hypocrisy on the matter. It would be different if what Williams or even those of the tiny minority in favour of Sharia were proposing that it be used for all criminal offences, but they're not. Consideration must be taken of the prejudices within Sharia, but are there not similar prejudices within Beth Din? I don't know, and the tabloids sure as fuck don't know either. They do however know that Sharia will mean the end of British life as we know it.

Dr Williams’ extraordinary claim is a huge propaganda coup for extremists plotting to end centuries of the British way of life.

How? The extremists want full Sharia law to be the only law, and to apply to everyone, not just Muslims, along with Britain to be part of the caliphate, even though the caliphate only ever spread as far as Spain. Williams hasn't given even the slightest succour to such an idea; the tabloids and their response however has sent a huge message to those who are separatist, where they'll be able to point at the response and hatred directed against Muslims as a whole when such a moderate idea has been suggested, making clear that Islam will never be accepted in any way, shape, or form. Now that's dangerous and guaranteed to breed resentment.

To prove the Sun's specious point, it contacted some of those who survived the 7/7 attacks for their views:

Paul Dadge, famously pictured helping masked 7/7 victim Davina Turrell, 24, was left stunned.

The 31-year-old former fireman, of Cannock, Staffs, said: “The Archbishop’s remarks are unhelpful. I am proud to be British and find the idea that Sharia law would ever become part of British law incredible.”

Mary Burke, 50 — who survived the King’s Cross bomb on July 7 2005 — said: “Britain is a Christian country and should stay a Christian country. I don’t want Islamic law here and I believe most of the British public agree with me.”

The very last thing the ABC would be suggesting is that Britain move from being a Christian country. If he had, the synod really would be calling for his resignation. Neither of those asked to comment likely heard the ABC on either the World at One or had read his speech; they were either told what was said by the Scum's reporters or heard the generally woeful reporting of it. As a result, to ask them to comment was downright misleading and superfluous.

Muslim Labour MP Khalid Mahmood was outraged.

He said: “This is the sort of woolly thinking that gets people into trouble. This sort of talk makes people think Muslims want to separate themselves from the rest of the community and be treated differently. The truth is most Muslims do not want Sharia law.”

Which will of course be ably helped by the tabloid reaction. It's only now right down at the bottom of the article that there's even the slightest clarification of what Williams actually said:

Dr Williams spoke out in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

He did stress he opposed the extreme elements of Islamic law — including stoning and whipping — but went on: “There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law.”

Which is handily vague enough to make the average reader imagine that other elements of Sharia would be acceptable, not just where two individuals agree to a Sharia court arbitration.

The Scum's leader is inevitably even worse. Its headline could also be hardly less descriptive of Williams' speech. How it could possibly be a rant or dangerous is a mystery only the leader writer could answer.

IT’S easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat.

In fact he’s a dangerous threat to our nation. He says the adoption in Britain of parts of Islamic Sharia law is “unavoidable”. If he believes that, he is unfit for his job.

How does offering an opinion make him unsuitable for his job? How could he possibly be a threat to the nation when the Scum is always scaremongering about the few who are a genuine threat, who are nothing like Williams?

Williams says the idea of “one law for all” is “a bit of a danger”.

With that one sentence he destroys his authority and credibility as leader of the Church of England.

Except of course that wasn't even a large proportion of his entire sentence. This is where the Scum has taken that quote from:

I think at the moment there’s a great deal of confusion about this; a lot of what’s been written whether it was about the Catholic church adoptions agencies last year, sometimes what’s written about Jewish or Muslim communities; a lot of what’s written suggests that the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody; now that principle that there’s one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western liberal democracy, but I think it’s a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and the law needs to take some account of that, so an approach to law which simply said, ‘There is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or your allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts’. I think that’s a bit of a danger.

I completely disagree with him, but it isn't dangerous, nor does it destroy his authority or credibility. He's approaching a problem and thinking out loud about it; criticise him all you want, but don't say that he should be sacked or resign for it. That's quite clearly an attempt at suffocating freedom of speech.

He also gives heart to Muslim terrorists plotting our destruction.

They will see his foolish ramblings as a sign that our resolve against extremism is weakening.

The Sun seems to know a lot about how "Muslim terrorists" think. Perhaps they ought to be instructing the government on how to tackle radicalisation, seeing as they know their exact mindset. Jihadists don't care what politicians, let alone what other religious figures think; they only know that they're absolutely right.

Our legal system revolves around the principle of one law for all.

Williams, our religious leader, has a duty to uphold that principle.

And he has, as he's suggesting that our law recognise Sharia courts in civil matters. That would be still mean that there would be one law for all. The Sun is being wilfully blind.

Yet he wants Muslims to have a choice over which law they follow.

Williams says Muslims should be able to ignore British divorce laws.

Another nail in the coffin of Muslim women's rights.

No he isn't. They'd only be able to "ignore" British divorce laws if they hadn't married under the civil system in the first place. This is also to accept that Sharia instantly means that women are at a disadvantage, which is patently untrue, as Sharia is interpreted in a myriad of different ways. If that was the case, any woman, Islamic or not, wouldn't agree to have the arbitration done under a Sharia court, which is the base requirement for both parties to agree in the first place.

Why doesn’t he condemn “honour” killings and forced marriages?

What does that have to do with Sharia? Honour killings and forced marriages are almost always due to tradition and tribal circumstances, not religious differences, although there are a minority of cases where it has been a factor.

Why is our Archbishop promoting a law under which women are stoned to death and shoplifters barbarically dismembered?

Except he directly criticised the "inhumanity" of such punishments. The very last thing he was doing was promoting them. This, incidentally, is the same Sun which last week published Helen Newlove's suggestion that the birch be brought back, and today prints Jamelia's call for the reintroduction of capital punishment. Stoning is especially barbaric, but so are all the current methods of execution, regardless of the law broken by the individual sentenced to death.

As Williams was cosying up to Islam yesterday, one of his bishops — Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester — was being protected by police.

He has received death threats from Muslims for warning of Islamic no-go areas in Britain.

What has Williams said in support of the Bishop? Nothing.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is in the wrong church.

Ah yes, they were certainly Muslims. Never mind that those who jumped on the Bishop's comments, of which there was no evidence to back up, to prove that Islam was inherently dangerous and separatist have plenty to gain from such threats. Besides, he was questioned directly on the World at One about Nazir-Ali's comments and this was his lengthy response:

CL This comes in the context of very fraught debates about community cohesion. How is it achieved that Britain might move forward in that respect? How concerned are you about the state of that debate at the moment and how much do you agree with the statements by Bishop Nazir Ali about ‘no go areas’?

ABC We have got a fragmented society at the moment, internally fragmented, socially fragmented in our cities and fragmented between communities of different allegiance. Now I think that there would be a way of talking about the law being more positive about supporting religious communities that might be seen as deepening or worsening that fragmentation. I don’t want to see that. I do want to see a proper way of talking about shared citizenship and that is a major theme of what I am saying in this lecture. Shared citizenship, whatever we say about religious allegiance we have to have that common ground and know what belongs there and I think when people have talked about mutual isolation of communities, about the ’silo’ model of people as it were living together, sadly there are some communities where it looks as it is true. I think it is not at all the case that we have absolute mutual exclusion. I don’t think it’s the case that we have areas where the law of the land doesn’t run, that would be completely a misleading way of looking at it. I’ve noted in the lecture that we are dealing usually with very law-abiding communities, but we have a lot of social suspicion, a lot of distance, a lot of cultural – not just religious – distance between communities and we just need to go on looking at how that shared citizenship comes through. Now, I think there are ways of doing that. For example in relation to our education system, ways of doing that in connection with local federations and networks of different communities working together for common objectives; like better bus services - as simple as that sometimes. Better infrastructure, addressing issues of common concern about security, about families and so on. Many ways in which that active citizenship can be promoted. So I don’t think that recognising the integrity or independence - the depth of the reality of religious communities - is to ghettoize our future.

CL Was the talk of ‘no go areas’ unhelpful you think in the context of this debate?

ABC I think the phrase, because it echoed of the Northern Irish situation – places where the police couldn’t go – that was what it triggered in many peoples’ minds. I don’t think that was at all what was intended. I don’t think it was meant to point to what I call the ’silo’ problem. The sense of communities not communicating with each other and that is a two way issue as well. As I said a couple of weeks ago many Muslims say that they feel bits of British society are ‘no go’ areas for them places that they can’t go.

Clearly, the Sun is rightly placed to decide who and who isn't in the "wrong church".

As usually happens in this cases, it's not the original speech or comment which starts off the trouble, although as in Jack Straw's comments on the veil both should have known what they were about to unleash, but instead the response and backlash which they cause, usually from those twisting it for their own ends. Williams is wrong, but it was an opinion which he was perfectly entitled to broadcast, and he should be able to do so without newspapers demanding he resign. It's the contempt that the Sun and others have for freedom of speech and most of all, for the truth, which seems to me to be the real danger to our democracy in the long term.

Slight update, with the Guardian getting it right as usual:

Refracted through the twin lenses of media and politics, his words have only served to stir up the sort of fears that could make Muslims more vulnerable to abuse than ever.


Related posts:
Big Sticks and Small Carrots - We're all for tolerance but...
Blairwatch - Death Comes for the Archbishop and Bashing the Bishop update
LC - Contra Canterbury
Enemies of Reason - Get Beardie

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