Public Libraries in a fascistic country

The first Library at UWA. I also sat exams in the Undercroft - bottom floor.

The first Library at UWA. I also sat exams in the Undercroft – bottom floor.

One of the things that distinguishes an educated, well read and intelligent country is its reverence for and preservation of learning in science, literature, research and creativity. The repository of collections of the recordings, writings and other media relating to these lies in Public Libraries, University Libraries, Archives and Museums.

On a national level, all countries have central collections of archives; publications are held and stored; thanks to people like Dewey we have systematic ordering of all our publications held in central libraries; universities have many libraries devoted to the writings and other recordings of different disciplines within their purview. This is good and a comprehensive record of human achievement. It sounds grand, maybe grandiose on this level.
When we come to the humble local public library, many of which serve communities within our countries, there is a lesser sense of grandeur and more a sense of how much do these small repositories of literature and research materials cost to maintain.

Well … to my mind, it matters not how much the monetary cost of maintaining public libraries. It matters that these public libraries are maintained and developed for the benefit of the populace. It is one of those educational and social repositories that all communities need.

So it is with dreadful distress that I have had to read this:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/mar/29/libraries-facing-greatest-crisis-in-their-history

One of the best places to spend constructive time.

One of the best places to spend constructive time.

Quote: ‘ Nearly 350 libraries have closed in Britain over the past six years, causing the loss of almost 8,000 jobs, according to new analysis.’
In a country that prides itself on its supremacy in education, erudition, science and research, it is dreadful, to me, that the UK can elect to spend £167 billion on renewing a nuclear weapons facility and warheads in an age of ‘austerity’ while allowing our cache of public libraries to be halved. And, of course, that is not all to be decimated, halved, privatised or otherwise fucked.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/cost-of-replacing-trident-is-167bn-double-previous-estimates-calculations-suggest-a6708126.html

Now we all know that we will never be consulted on whether or not Trident should be renewed and that is because the Westminster Government is beholden to the US and the US dictate what we will do in Defence spending in the UK.
But it is of absolute concern to me and many others that the education system (or should I say systems) is in utter disarray. We have so-called ‘faith schools’ burgeoning out of every city, ‘academies’ – otherwise known as the privatisation of schools – being snapped up by private groups and companies eager to get their grubby fingers on the largesse of funds being offered by our cash strapped government.
Besides, the control on the standard of education is slipping away like a greasy rope in the hands of those who no longer seem to care. Not that you would know it if you were to listen to the bleatings of the ultra right wing press that operates in the UK.

No – everything is fine so long as we agree to Westminster’s selective austerity programmes and tighten our already anorexic  belts and suck it all up.
Back to public libraries: my wee library is in Glenwood.

The Kid's Corner of a great wee Library

The Kid’s Corner of a great wee Library

A friendly place with good staff and a warm (I mean under floor heating) environment for us to access, use computers, wifi, borrow books, order books for borrowing and/or just sit and read the daily papers. It is what is called a community hub for the local catchment and the old folk who enjoy a blether, a good read and some comfort. There is a cat – a fixture and the whole atmosphere is one of welcome. The kids use the computers, the oldies read the papers, the not-so-oldies borrow books, DVDs and audios. In short it is a good place. I use it a lot. I often sit in the comfy armchairs and just read my current book.
This library is scheduled for closure and demolition. Apparently it is one of 16 public library closures in the next three years in the Kingdom of Fife. Fife Council is charged with making some £813,000 savings – partly because there is a reduction in the funds our non-independent Scotland receives from the Westminster Government.

So public libraries – to be fair, savings are being made across the local government board (even employees are being ‘retired’ – some 2,000 of them in Fife. It does make me wonder how often local government recruiting is used as a sliding indicator for national employment figures. God I am so cynical!) – and there are other areas in which ‘savings’ are being made. And, this is not the first time Fife has closed public libraries but I wasn’t living here then and didn’t know.

To target libraries is one of the most counter-productive actions I can think of. It is not just dear Glenwood suffering – new Council housing is in the offing in the Glenwood area  and that means more young families. Fife Council has closed two public schools – thus over loading the poor school charged with taking the educationally orphaned students – it is across the Kingdom that these 16 library closures are happening.

Scotland has been a country of villages since its habitation by humans. It is so linguistically insular that you can tell the difference in speech within a few miles and a different village. The libraries that operate in these villages are far more than an operational budget item. They are the hub of small villages. They are the meeting place for the local people.

In the early 2000s, there was a directive in international standards that required a triple bottom line in accounting.  Called the 3BL, it is an accounting framework that incorporates social, environmental (or ecological) and financial bottom line figures.  It behooves companies to adopt this framework but it would appear that many haven’t bothered. I surrendered a directorship in an agricultural co-operative because the rest of the Board wouldn’t address these criteria.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triple_bottom_line

What is happening now seems to me to be a refusal to understand the social, environmental impact of financial decision making. If it is recognised at all, it is ignored. We have a burgeoning global population and a seemingly fascistic central government called Westminster. At the very  least, Westminster under Tory rule is aping US republican libertarianism. I have said before that the Tories eat Ayn Rand for breakfast every day.

Mind you, my friend in Australia is very sympathetic and also very pissed off – he sees the same thing happening in Australia and so I think – what on earth happened to the socialist left wing politics that put people before profit? That developed welfare safety nets, state funded secular education and a health system for all? We all seemed to gravitate to that in the 1970s and (sort of 1980s) when we were aware of our fellow man. What happened to all that? I do know the answer, of course. Globalisation happened and we knew it was on the door step in the 1970s. But it doesn’t stop me asking the question – what happened to our humanity? It seems to be dying as so many species are dying weekly, slowly etching out our own demise. What has it all been for? Our smarts have been our downfall and ultimate extinction. What a fucking waste!

 

Why Tony Abbott isn’t even a bootlace

This is reposted from a very clear comment made by an Australian mate – Laurie Fraser. I am not the only one to approve of the way Laurie has nailed this. I listened to the National Press Club Luncheon address that Abbott made on Tuesday. Cringe-worthy is far too mild a term to express what I felt. And this is how Laurie reports it.

From Laurie’s Facebook page:

A highly anticipated speech, such as yesterday’s by Tony Abbott, is an opportunity for the speaker to advance his vision for his society; to bind the people in common purpose; to allow the audience a glimpse of the nature of the speaker; and to move the discussion of nationhood and commonwealth forward.

Great speeches exhibit all of these qualities – one has to only think back to Noel Pearson’s brilliant eulogy of Gough Whitlam to see that this is true. Pearson captured the nation, partly by his eloquence, but more importantly by tying Gough’s legacy to a vision of what a future Australia might look like.

For a little while, at least, we came together as Australians to realise and recognise that the most important issues we face are not about debt and deficit, fiscal bottom-lines and taxation margins, but the broader and deeper concerns of equality, opportunity and social building. Pearson made it plain that the reality of a society lies in its attitude towards the greater ‘goods’ – the arts, community, lifestyle and health, education and enterprise – to which economics is merely the foot-servant.

Yesterday Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia, failed us miserably. Not once was any vision employed; his address (which he alone wrote, by the way) was a pedestrian, carping, and pitiful apologia for his superficially-believed failings. Blame was everywhere poured on his predecessors; the speech quickly became a mantra of mendacity – yes, his first lie came nine seconds in, and tediously, repetitively, each lie tumbled upon the next.

Abbott wasted his opportunity, that is for sure. But what could we have expected?

The problem for Abbott is manifold. To begin with, he is unintelligent. And a low intelligence disallows grander sentiments; it constrains someone in that position to be, at best, a technocrat – a pusher of buttons and mover of levers – in other words, a tinkerer. Where, oh where, were Abbott’s grand designs for his society? They were missing from his speech because they are missing from his mind. ‘Vision’ appears not from nowhere – it is the result of deep thought and reflection; it comes from a complete understanding of our shared history and culture. Abbott simply doesn’t have the intellectual grasp of these things to develop a coherent idea of what the future could and should be.

And Abbott is a careerist politician whose ideology is conditioned by the milieu of hard-right Catholic political theology – which is the reason he surrounds himself with like-minded old boys from that peculiar strain of reactionary world-view that began with the Split, the DLP and A.B. Santamaria. It is a recipe for political torpor.

Thirdly, there is no sense of Liberalism – the only saving grace of the Liberal Party of Australia – left in Abbott’s re-imagining of our country. Pluralism is gone; in Abbott’s febrile ‘vision’, it’s his way or no way at all. It is possible, indeed probable, that he has never understood Liberalism at all – and for a leader of the Conservative side of politics in Australia, that is one black hole down which any notions of egalitarianism, equity, multi-culture and freedom will fast disappear.

What Abbott revealed yesterday was the unmistakeable stench of neo-fascism. If any vision of our society was forthcoming, it was a vision of meanness and constriction, of the morals of hard times and know-your-place. Bleak House, anyone?

The Saudi King is Dead – Long live Female subjugation

June 2nd, 2014
Sahar and her three sisters Jawaher, Maha, and Hala have been held under effective house arrest by their father, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, for nearly 13 years. For years, their mother, Alanoud Al Fayez, has been advocating for their release from her home in London. In an unedited interview conducted via email,IaskedSahar, the eldest of the four sisters, about the reasons for her confinement and her thoughts on women’s rights in the Kingdom.

Firstly, can you describe the situation you are facing?

It’s a battle for survival…we’re literally facing a vicious army: the Saudi National Guard, headed by our half-brother Mitab. He along with our half-brother AbdulAziz, Deputy Foreign Minister, have been issuing orders to abuse us along the years. Both men are in the government and should not be allowed to evade justice simply because they occupy such positions. Civilised countries should not allow them to continue their crimes without holding them to account. The silence of the world is deafening, as they issued orders to starve us. We were prevented from going out to buy food and water on March 17th, our heavily guarded bimonthly outing. They prohibited home delivery as well; the person trying to deliver food and water was threatened to be jailed should he attempt to return. Food will soon run out. We are on one meal a day, surviving on some expired food and distilled seawater.

My sister Jawaher suffers from asthma and is denied her medication. I cannot watch her health deteriorating. She needs medical help, in fact we all do. We suffer excruciating headaches and backaches. We have been calling on the Red Cross and they are trying to communicate with the Red Crescent, but seems that they are under Saudi control, so we haven’t received a reply yet. We have the right to choose where to seek medical help. We will never seek the help of the Royal Clinic since they have played a big role in our abuse, nor will we ever ask our captors for food and water since they have been drugging it. We also need to save our pets, our two dogs Gala and Gracia as well as Jade the cat. The situation is getting worse, while Saudis continue their crimes with impunity.

Why do you think you have been placed under effective house arrest?

We, along with our mother, have always been vocal all our lives about poverty, women’s rights and other causes that are dear to our hearts. We often discussed them with our father. It did not sit well with him and his sons Mitab and AbdelAziz and their entourage. We have been the targets ever since. We have been treated abysmally all our lives, but it got worse during the past 15 years. When Hala began to work as an intern at a hospital in Riyadh, she discovered political prisoners thrown in psychiatric wards, drugged and shamed to discredit them. She complained to her superiors and got reprimanded. She began to receive threatening messages if she didn’t back off. The situation deteriorated, and we discovered that she was also being drugged. She was kidnapped from the house, left in the desert, then thrown in Olaysha’s Women’s Jail, Riyadh. She soon became yet another victim of the system, as were the so-called patients (political prisoners) she was trying to help. Maha, Jawaher and I have all been drugged at some point. Jawaher and I have resisted and we were able to protect ourselves.

We have been told to lose all hope of ever having a normal life. A chance to study, work, and raise a family have been denied us. They wanted us to be hopeless and helpless, to give up like many have in this country. After years of hopelessness, forced sedation, physical and psychological abuse, we managed Jawaher and I to fight back, thanks to our mum who has raised us to be independent, to fight for what we believe and stand for our rights. She left to London in 2003. She did not flee as some media has been saying, fabricating lies for sensationalism. In fact, they had tried to push her away to separate us, and to prevent her from supervising my sisters’ treatment. She decided to leave so that she could fight for our freedom. We have been saved from a worst fate thanks to her leaving. Alas, many human rights organisations, journalists, and lawyers have not helped. Some have even hindered her efforts, while others ignored our plight altogether. Her attempts throughout the past 10 years have failed despite her constant fight to free us from captivity and seek medical help for my sisters Maha and Hala. Our mother means everything to us. She is the light that shines through all this darkness.

Have you and your sisters ever been physically abused or threatened?

Yes, my sisters Maha and Hala were physically restrained by members of the Saudi National guard – note that psychiatric nurses were not allowed near them. This would happen after nurses from the Royal Clinic injected them with substances, which would agitate them. We discovered the abuse while trying to call the Royal Clinic doctors for help, but they would either ignore our call or refuse to treat them. A certain doctor before resigning told me that he was given orders by AbdelAziz not to treat my sisters and that his conscience could not allow him to continue, as this would mean breaking his oath as a doctor trained to serve people and treat them. He stated, ‘God help you, you are living with monsters.’ Jawaher and I have been threatened and there were attempted attacks. However, we have been taking mixed martial arts lessons at home training for self-defense, and this had deterred their attempts when they confronted us. Jawaher and I have managed to resist. Yet, systematic drugging and abuse are ongoing and we fear for Maha and Hala’s life. Mum would receive messages, cries for help, but they wouldn’t pick up the phone later. We have no current news about them.

DSC_4207 (800x565).jpg

Why do you think your access to the Internet has not been cut off, even after going public about your situation?

This is to clearly sow seeds of doubt and to discredit us somehow. They seem to spread lies about their so-called ‘freedom of speech’. Meanwhile people cannot verify that we are indeed being starved since March 17th with little food left, eating expired food on occasion and distilling sea water to survive. We are calling on the Red Cross to provide immediate assistance especially that my sister Jawaher suffers from asthma and ran out of her inhaler. She finds it hard to breathe and we don’t know for how long we can endure such barbaric treatment. We have pets to feed as well, two dogs, Gala the Labrador and Gracia the German Shepherd and Jade the cat. We cannot allow them to starve to death, so we try to provide food, cutting down our own meals to once a day. Lack of nutrition and medical care is taking a toll on us. Yet we are hanging on, resisting such horrendous treatment while the world is silent. We are calling on the UN to investigate immediately. Saudi should not be able to get away with it, especially after having ratified numerous conventions against torture, not to mention CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women).

What is the current state of women’s rights in Saudi society?

Women suffer under a brutal ‘guardianship’ system, akin to slavery. Women cannot move an inch without the approval of male guardians, a clear violation of human rights. Women are treated as minors and second class citizens, with no hope of ever growing up or reaching a better position in society as long as such an un-Islamic law is imposed. Male guardianship should be abolished like slavery. It is an abomination, which no civilised country should accept. The international community should not tolerate Saudi’s flagrant dismissal of human rights, indeed women’s rights.

What do you mean by the term ‘gender apartheid’, which you have used in interviews?

Women are segregated. There are signs that clearly state ‘Women are not allowed in.’ This is also true of men; signs prohibiting ‘single’ men from entering stores and restaurants. It seems that such segregation is also selective: the King himself, his sons, our half-brothers and half-sisters meet the opposite sex on several occasions, whether in private or public. Why should such restrictions be imposed on the populace, while the elite enjoy normal interactions with people regardless of gender. Such hypocritical behaviour and double standards are typical of the Saudi regime, which imposes its own version of Islam to subjugate women as well as the people. Confining them and restricting their thoughts and actions according to whim in the name of religion.

What do you think about the Right To Drive campaign and the work of Saudi women’s rights activists like Manal Al-Sharif, Waheja Al-Huwaider and Fawzi Al-Oyouni? (Manal was arrested for defying the ban on women driving in 2011, while Wajeha and Fawzia were jailed for 10 months in 2013 for the crime of ‘inciting a woman to defy her husband’s authority’)

I have a lot of respect for all these women and their fight for rights. I am however not selective in choosing a topic, such as driving, which only serves to limit our rights as women, indeed as a people. We deserve – women deserve – full rights. The right to drive becomes a given.

How do you think full rights can be achieved?

I call out to all women, especially activists in Arabia to unite and call for their human rights, enshrined in the Universal declaration of Human Rights. As the late, great, Madiba (Nelson Mandela) said, ‘There is no such thing as part freedom.’ There is definitely no such thing as part human rights.

We need collective work, unity, and a clear understanding of our own rights and freedoms. People around the world are coming together to fight injustice. We as a people deserve the same rights. Women throughout the world can join hands and support women in this country so they may finally be able to achieve their rights. Global support is needed; public opinion matters and people around the world could help by pressuring their own governments to stop tolerating Saudi flagrant violations of human rights, holding them to account.

What do you say to Western governments like Britain and the United States which support the Kingdom?

No Western country tolerates a family holding their daughters captive. News is rife with such stories and the consequences of these criminal acts are harsh jail sentences. Holding grown women captive and starving them is a flagrant crime that should not be tolerated by any civilised nation claiming to champion human rights. The Saudis have responded with their usual absurdities: “this is a private matter”. Can the West call this crime a private matter? If they can, then they have no right demanding certain countries to implement human rights while excluding Saudi, their own included. Laws in the West do not tolerate such crimes. We are as human as others, and as such deserve the same rights. We are resisting them, and we hope more people come out to express their opposition to the grave and flagrant Saudi human rights violations. Saudi is mocking the whole world, and it should not be allowed to do so.

Western governments cannot keep dismissing the rights of our women and our people. Safeguarding their own narrow interests at the expense of our people will backfire. This is a policy doomed to fail as history teaches us that people inevitably revolt when injustice becomes rampant. They need to reassess their stance. Standing against human rights will not serve their interests. On the contrary, it will harm them eventually. Everyone can win, if everyone decides to respect the rights of others. Nations that respect the wishes of their own people and those of the people in other nations can build mutual respect and understanding, serving the interests of all. We demand respect. It’s simple.

We have to stand with Charlie Hebdo – there is no other choice

FRANCE-ATTACKS-MEDIAMuch as a very large part of me wants to curl up and become a xenophobe and a religiphobe, I do not want to cloud my vision to what is actually going on.
The senseless and violent assassinations of 12 people, including the two policemen charged with security, at Charlie Hebdo in Paris today leaves all of us numb, with developing anger, sadness and a sense of impotence that no amount of throwing something at the wall will satisfy.
We all remember the Danish cartoons, the people who were killed, the movie made by Hirsi Ali and Van Gogh, the fatwa that sent Rushdie to America for safety, and other atrocious killings. We have witnessed beheadings by terrorists of harmless journalists and aid workers posted on the internet for all to see.

We are all aware of what is definitely an upsurge in Islam-related bombings, suicide bombings, stabbings and the appalling murder in full daylight of a soldier with the perpetrators sending their dreadful message on video tape while waving blood stained hands and machetes on air.

You can go onto YouTube and find video after video after video of Islamic would-bes if they could-bes ranting and raving about the immediate world domination by Islam and the beheadings of all those who refuse to submit to the religious edicts.

All these acts are aimed at creating a miasma of fear with the aim of subjection.

There are those who insist that European countries start to repel intended immigrants if they come from war-torn Arabic or African states. There have been incidents in The Netherlands, Denmark, France, the UK and so many other countries. Here is an image; an analysis of Islamic terrorism gleaned from 12 years data collection. I can’t attest to any accuracy, obviously. It is disturbing, none-the-less.

Distribution of Islamic terrorism using collected from 2001 to 2012

Distribution of Islamic terrorism using collected from 2001 to 2012

I have to say, to any reader not familiar with me, that I have a decided antipathy to any and all religion as it is practised, proselytised and imposed. Historically religion has dominated societies and we are still trying to shake ourselves and our societies free of religious shackles. Not an easy task. As secularism grows and has a greater voice in the media (and there are many media these days), the more insular, dogmatic and hard line religions fight back. They cross the line when they resort to murder, terrorism, mutilation, mass killings etc.
It is very easy to satirise Pat Robertson with his loopy Christianity, or any of the way over the top religious charlatans who fleece gullible people. Not so easy to relegate Islamic extremism to the asylum ward.
There is an enormous movement of Muslims into Europe – Europe that has seen bloody religious wars and has no stomach for them. But Europe is worried by the growing ant-Islamic sentiments venting there.

Any reading of the histories of any/all religions shows the intolerance and internecine flavour that attends them.
I have a friend who has, for years, eschewed criticism of religion partly because it goes nowhere. Just words. However today, he has posted an essay that Christopher Hitchens wrote for Slate in 2006 and I reproduce it in full here with the introduction by Slate on today’s atrocity:
The case for mocking religion

By Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

On Wednesday, gunmen attacked the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12. The magazine was known for printing images of the prophet Mohammed, including the 2005 cartoons that originally ran in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, leading to widespread violence. In February 2006, Christopher Hitchens addressed that controversy in his inimitable way. His article is reprinted below:

As well as being a small masterpiece of inarticulacy and self-abnegation, the statement from the State Department about this week’s international Muslim pogrom against the free press was also accidentally accurate.

“Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief.”

Thus the hapless Sean McCormack, reading painfully slowly from what was reported as a prepared government statement. How appalling for the country of the First Amendment to be represented by such an administration. What does he mean “unacceptable”? That it should be forbidden? And how abysmal that a “spokesman” cannot distinguish between criticism of a belief system and slander against a people. However, the illiterate McCormack is right in unintentionally comparing racist libels to religious faith. Many people have pointed out that the Arab and Muslim press is replete with anti-Jewish caricature, often of the most lurid and hateful kind. In one way the comparison is hopelessly inexact. These foul items mostly appear in countries where the state decides what is published or broadcast. However, when Muslims republish the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or perpetuate the story of Jewish blood-sacrifice at Passover, they are recycling the fantasies of the Russian Orthodox Christian secret police (in the first instance) and of centuries of Roman Catholic and Lutheran propaganda (in the second). And, when an Israeli politician refers to Palestinians as snakes or pigs or monkeys, it is near to a certainty that he will be a rabbi (most usually Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the leader of the disgraceful Shas party) and will cite Talmudic authority for his racism. For most of human history, religion and bigotry have been two sides of the same coin, and it still shows.

Therefore there is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general. And the Bush administration has no business at all expressing an opinion on that. If it is to say anything, it is constitutionally obliged to uphold the right and no more. You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and messianic Israeli settlers, and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken.

Which is what taboos are for. Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find “offensive.” (By the way, hasn’t the word “offensive” become really offensive lately?) The innate human revulsion against desecration is much older than any monotheism: Its most powerful expression is in the Antigone of Sophocles. It belongs to civilization. I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a “holy” book. But I will not be told I can’t eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.

As it happens, the cartoons themselves are not very brilliant, or very mordant, either. But if Muslims do not want their alleged prophet identified with barbaric acts or adolescent fantasies, they should say publicly that random murder for virgins is not in their religion. And here one runs up against a curious reluctance. … In fact, Sunni Muslim leaders can’t even seem to condemn the blowing-up of Shiite mosques and funeral processions, which even I would describe as sacrilege. Of course there are many millions of Muslims who do worry about this, and another reason for condemning the idiots at Foggy Bottom is their assumption, dangerous in many ways, that the first lynch mob on the scene is actually the genuine voice of the people. There’s an insult to Islam, if you like.

The question of “offensiveness” is easy to decide. First: Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it “pixilated” the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be “offended” will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.

Second (and important enough to be insisted upon): Can the discussion be carried on without the threat of violence, or the automatic resort to it? When Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, he did so in the hope of forwarding a discussion that was already opening in the Muslim world, between extreme Quranic literalists and those who hoped that the text could be interpreted. We know what his own reward was, and we sometimes forget that the fatwa was directed not just against him but against “all those involved in its publication,” which led to the murder of the book’s Japanese translator and the near-deaths of another translator and one publisher. I went on Crossfire at one point, to debate some spokesman for outraged faith, and said that we on our side would happily debate the propriety of using holy writ for literary and artistic purposes. But that we would not exchange a word until the person on the other side of the podium had put away his gun. (The menacing Muslim bigmouth on the other side refused to forswear state-sponsored suborning of assassination, and was of course backed up by the Catholic bigot Pat Buchanan.) The same point holds for international relations: There can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail and assassination. And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient. It is depressing to have to restate these obvious precepts, and it is positively outrageous that the administration should have discarded them at the very first sign of a fight.

In the Wall Street Journal today there is this:

salman rushdieSalman Rushdie, whose book “The Satanic Verses” prompted Iran’s Ayatollah to issue a fatwa on him in 1989, responded to Wednesday’s shooting attack at the Paris offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. His statement:

“Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”  –Salman

What to do about this stuff?? I don’t know. It is no use crying to ‘get rid of them’ from ‘our’ country(ies). The problems with terrorist Islam is not going to go away soon. Each incident has to be dealt with as it happens. The US has immigrants sign a paper stating they will not bring harm to the US or they face being deported. That still only works on an individual incident and perpetrator basis.

There is a lot of money brought into different countries from oil-rich Arabic and Islamic states. Populations have become dependent on the products that oil provides. There appears to be no political will to cut off potential political funding by taking any sort of strong stance on immigrants, even if there is a suspicion that said immigrant may be problematic.

Has anyone arrived at a logistical and reasonable solution to this seemingly growing problem of religio/political terrorism? Not a polemic but a solution that can be realistically implemented? In any case, I am with Rushdie and Hitchens – mock all religious stupidity, and tyranny. The pen has to be mightier than the sword. Well – more people can write and make cartoons than can wield the sword.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/07/paris-charles-hebdo-writing-journalism-intolerance

When Islam Breaks Down

 

This image from Church&State

This image from Church&State

This is a remarkably insightful article from City Post by Theodore Dalrymple. I have to share it here – I have not read such a comprehensive piece on Islam before. I hope that everyone reading this blog gets as much from this as I do. I read the following article on the Church and State site but it was first published in City Post – a quarterly review published by The Manhattan Institute.

Editor’s note: “When Islam Breaks Down” was named the best journal article of 2004 by David Brooks in the New York Times.

There are so many appropriate quotes to be taken from this article – I have chosen this one:

‘Is there an essential element that condemns the Dar al-Islam to permanent backwardness with regard to the Dar al-Harb, a backwardness that is felt as a deep humiliation, and is exemplified, though not proved, by the fact that the whole of the Arab world, minus its oil, matters less to the rest of the world economically than the Nokia telephone company of Finland?
I think the answer is yes, and that the problem begins with Islam’s failure to make a distinction between church and state. Unlike Christianity, which had to spend its first centuries developing institutions clandestinely and so from the outset clearly had to separate church from state, Islam was from its inception both church and state, one and indivisible, with no possible distinction between temporal and religious authority. Muhammad’s power was seamlessly spiritual and secular (although the latter grew ultimately out of the former), and he bequeathed this model to his followers. Since he was, by Islamic definition, the last prophet of God upon earth, his was a political model whose perfection could not be challenged or questioned without the total abandonment of the pretensions of the entire religion.’

If I were to continue from this quote, I would mention the intractable problems that Islam faces but Dalrymple has written so lucidly that his words are the ones to read.

http://churchandstate.org.uk/2013/07/when-islam-breaks-down/

English reflections on a Scottish referendum – a reblog

Looking through a distorted window: English reflections on a Scottish referendum

Seeing the Scottish referendum from outside Scotland, it was too easy to entirely misunderstand it.

Image: Maxim Edwards

Reading coverage and opinion from England on the Scottish independence referendum has been a strange experience. It has been like looking at someone you know and love through a distorted window: the image is contorted to the extent that you can barely recognise the person you’re looking at anymore. There is a sense in which people who have never lived in Scotland or been involved in the political debate in Scotland just don’t get it. This is what has become so abundantly clear reading and talking to people in England about the referendum. It’s not just that they disagree with those in Scotland campaigning for independence it’s that they don’t really understand the situation at all.

English observers have received most of their information through sources that are based in England and on the whole are against independence (only one newspaper the Sunday Herald backed independence, no UK newspaper did so). At best the information comes from people who don’t understand at worst it comes from people who have deliberately distorted the picture. Research from John Robertson suggests that in the coverage prior to this year pro independence views made up only 2/5 of the views covered on British TV. Furthermore, prominent BBC journalist Nick Robinson has been criticised for cutting footage so as to suggest that Alex Salmond did not respond to his questions. This does not make it easy for the English to grasp what has gone on in Scotland.

Many people in England just don’t get why many Scots would back independence. Some originally believed that it must be some sort of xenophobic anti-English sentiment or simplistic patriotism. According to this view the enthusiasm for Scottish independence is part of a dangerous sort of nationalism moving across Europe that comes with a hatred of outsiders: a form of dangerous fascism. Many with good political sentiments are wary of any form of nationalism and find the idea of pride in a particular nation deeply problematic. I was once one of those people. I didn’t recognise the fundamental difference between nationalism in a dominant country that wishes to celebrate and extend that domination and be seen as better than the rest of the world and the nationalism of a country that is currently ruled by a larger unit or outsiders and wishes for self-determination: a country that wishes to have power over its own affairs rather than to dominate others. It is also vital to recognise that nationalism does not have to be based on an idea that there is a particular race or culture that is special or should dominate a region. However, the first important truth to realise about the majority of those who support independence in Scotland is that it’s not really about nationalism at all. To explain what I think it is about and why it is so hard for those in England to understand I’m going to have to tell a bit of a story.

Photo: Maxim Edwards

I was born and brought up in England (where I now live) but spent 5 very formative years living in Glasgow. It was my first real home as an adult and by the time I had to leave for work I felt fully a part of that world. So much so that I find it almost impossible to support the England football team and after a few drinks I often find myself trying to claim a Scottish identity (much to the humour and confusion of the people I’m with). Whilst living in Scotland I got into politics: activism, campaigning and following events at Holyrood and Westminster. At that time independence was not really on the agenda. It was something I talked to people about and learnt to understand but it was not a major topic of debate like the Iraq war, student fees or privatisation. In those days even when people voted for the SNP at Holyrood elections this was not primarily because they supported independence. In fact at the time many SNP voters did not want full independence for Scotland. There was a majority against independence (calculated by the Sun at 58% compared with 22% in favour) even when the SNP got 44% of the popular vote and a majority in the largely proportional parliament. Whilst living in Scotland I learned to appreciate the fact that Scotland is another political world. The playing field is just fundamentally different compared to the rest of the UK. This is what explains why so many Scottish people voted for independence this year and why so many English people just don’t get it.

As a left leaning open minded person there was a wealth of real political choices in Scotland. There were plenty of leftist groups to choose from and there were radical parties that had even held seats in the parliament. The Greens had at one point held seven seats and a party called the Scottish Socialists had also had 6 representatives in Holyrood from 2003-2007. Meanwhile in the centre the SNP and the Scottish Labour party were battling to out social-democrat each other (and the SNP were winning). The SNP picked up policies from the Scottish Socialists including scrapping prescription charges, introducing free school meals and replacing council tax with a more equitable system in order to gain votes. Making a stand against privatisation and private public partnerships was a vote winner. Votes in parliament declared a majority against nuclear weapons of 71:16 with 39 abstentions.

While I was in Scotland the parliament introduced free care for the elderly. It became clear to me that things that south of the border we had been told were impossible were actually happening right here in Scotland. Whilst in Glasgow I witnessed the SNP take a majority in a proportional parliament (a very rare thing) on the basis of scrapping council tax and replacing it with a system based on earnings. I realised that Scotland was a world in which the post-Thatcherite consensus was not being followed. Political reality in Scotland is something that many left leaning England dwellers can only dream about (free old age care, free higher education, proportional representation in parliament, the protection of the NHS from privatization). While temping at the Scottish Government I witnessed some business present the case for a private sector measure to try to reduce absenteeism in the Scottish NHS through a system where ill employees must phone up a call centre who would give them medical advice and seek to identify whether they are really sick. The businessmen had been successful in selling the service to parts of the NHS in England.

However, I was delighted to hear from civil service superiors that although they liked the plan, outsourcing of this kind was politically impossible because the SNP government would never support paying a company to give medical advice to absent NHS staff. This shows how different things are in Scotland. However, the fact that much of the civil service in Scotland hires temps through agencies that take a large cut of the money and offer no benefits or guaranteed hours shows that Scotland is not yet an anti-neoliberal paradise. In this political world joining the Labour party was to support conservativism it was just not a viable option for someone with progressive politics. And all this was before the fall of the banks and the financial crisis.

Another difference about Scottish politics concerns participation and attitudes of working class people in Scotland. In Glasgow talking politics at the bus stop is not as taboo as it is in some parts of England. People express their views. Political discussion is not just for the intellectual middle class intelligentsia and the political elite. Even more importantly working class people have political options when it comes to the ballot box. If they are sick of the Labour party and the Tory party because they seem only to speak for the interests of big businesses and forget working people they have many options. Meanwhile in the North of England those who quite rightly see through the major parties have only UKIP to turn to. And many are willing to turn there to stick two fingers up at the political elite regardless of the fact UKIP contains plenty of that elite and does not support any of the things they are interested in.

Image: Maxim Edwards

What my time in Glasgow taught me was that the political situation in Scotland is different. What is not fully grasped down south is that what is possible politically is fundamentally different north of the border. It is this fact that has led so many left-leaning Scottish residents to back independence. Independence gives them a chance to have a society that is different to the neoliberal one that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are aggressively rolling out for the UK. The stepping up of neoliberal policy and the strict austerity that the coalition has imposed and the Labour party has only criticised in a limited manner is very different to what the majority of Scots support. It is a threat even to the devolved services because it can reduce their budget and force them to make cuts to public services. The fact that the Labour party has pledged to largely stick with conservative spending plans and not reverse cuts to services means that many left-leaning Scots see no hope whilst remaining in the UK. Meanwhile independence offers the chance to pursue an anti-austerity agenda through a proportional parliament and to promote these policies to an electorate committed to a strong public sector. Once this is understood it is no longer a mystery why so many left leaning Scotland residents are pro-independence. This is not about the SNP being a social democrat party. They are committed to neo-liberal economic policies like cutting corporation tax to attract foreign investment although they also support more Keynesian public investment in industry. Rather it is about having an electorate and a parliament open to ideas outside a neo-liberal consensus. It is this situation that makes protecting the NHS, getting rid of council tax, providing care for the elderly and not charging for university vote winners. The situation isn’t perfect. Scots are more in favour of abortion rights, less anti-EU, more against privatisation, but share similar views to the rest of the UK on questions like gay marriage. However, it remains true that debates and policies that are impossible in England can happen in Scotland.

Given the differences discussed above it is no wonder that there is a disconnect between Scotland and England that makes it difficult for those south of the border to understand what is going on. The political world is just different in Scotland. This means that when the Westminster political elite, London journalists and people living in England turn their attention to something going on in Scotland they are likely to misunderstand it. They have an understanding of politics in England: they know the constraints, they know the limits of reasonable opinion, they know what makes you ‘loony lefty’, unelectable or seem economically incompetent. However these limits and the spectrum are different in Scotland. Furthermore the parties they are observing have different platforms in Scotland, there are additional parties and the balance of power between those parties is different too. This can leave people at sea if they look at Scottish politics through an English frame.

All the experiences and understandings from my time living Scotland come from before the political earthquake that has been the build up to the referendum. I have not been a part of the society as the massive changes have taken place. I have only been able to look on from abroad (I was in Germany last year) and try to get snippets of what has happened. This means that there are now no doubt ways in which I don’t really ‘get’ what is going on. Furthermore, my experiences were predominantly Glasgow based and say nothing of society in Scotland in general. In fact the referendum results from rural areas show that Glasgow is not representative.

The referendum campaign has brought many young and working class people in to the debate and on to the voting registers than ever before. This is a huge development. While I was active in Scotland I saw the beginning of return of young people to politics. When I first started attending rallies it was the baby boomers who dominated. Young people of my generation weren’t particularly interested. But five years later this was changing and fast. The referendum campaign has seen an explosion in political participation by this generation as they rally round the chance to actually make a difference.

I arrived in Glasgow the weekend before the referendum to crowds of motivated, articulate and informed people talking about the referendum. There were songs and chants but there was also debate. The city was abuzz with referendum talk and campaigning. There was a movement. I arrived wishing to see what was going on and hoping to see a good campaign and a reasonable debate. I left with the shocking realization that Glasgow was going to vote yes and that a radical change to politics was actually possible. I have never before been able to see first-hand or been part of a campaign for radical change that has had a real chance of winning. Those on the left who have been part of the official yes campaign, Radical Independence Campaign, Green Yes, National Collective, Labour for Independence, Women for Independence, English Scots for Yes, Yes LGBT, Scots Asians for Yes and any other pro-independence networks should be immensely proud of what they have achieved. I am really in awe of them for creating such a strong and diverse movement. On the left we are used to being in the minority and facing an uphill battle. The yes campaign started with such a battle and made huge gains despite not having the backing of the media or the majority of elites. This is a huge positive development. It inspires me to think that there may be hope for radical political change in the UK yet. It suggests that it is not impossible to build a movement for positive change that is capable of winning.

In most elections people are asked to back one party or another: to select one group of elites to rule over them. However, the referendum was a directly democratic event: it asked people to make a choice themselves. This is part of why it had so much power to get those who dismiss politics as a farce to participate. The fact that people were voting not for some elites to rule was not fully grasped by the BBC who showed pictures of ‘campaign head quarters’ as the results came in and talked about votes for the yes campaign or for the better together campaign. These votes were not for a campaign. They were votes in favour of a particular decision. Talking of those video streams of campaign headquarters there was a stark difference between the young careerist political types shown at ‘Better Together’ headquarters with their smart dress and rosettes showing party allegiances and the rag tag collection of people at the media office for a part of the yes campaign that the BBC showed. Although these people looked predominantly middle class they did not look like wannabe prospective politicians from good universities and moneyed backgrounds (the type you usually see at campaign headquarters). Furthermore, they did not declare themselves as ‘the campaign’ but a part of a wider movement doing some media stuff. This showed how the yes campaign brought about a different kind of politics. It was not just the debating society types hoping for a career in politics that were involved in the campaigning.

The weekend before the referendum, where Sauchiehall Street meets Buchannan Street at the Donald Dewar statue, masses of friendly smiling people who turned up to support independence. Being in the crowd it felt to me like Scotland was becoming a democracy of the kind civil society champions like the Scottish Enlightenment thinker Adam Ferguson and communitarians like Michael Sandel endorse. It felt like a demos had emerged where people actively and loudly engaged with politics. Whilst outside the BBC protesting at the poor journalism mentioned earlier in this article a woman started to explain to me how single mothers were being imprisoned for not paying their license fee. Her enthusiasm and passion for political issues was clear as was her fearless discussion of them with anyone she came across. If Scotland can keep this up then there is a chance for a better future. I just hope that the energy, interest and commitment that the vote inspired can be maintained and used to make gains and improve life in Scotland and the wider UK. Already, there has been an ongoing debate as to how to move forwards and remain engaged. I hope that something beautiful can come out of this debate.

Dear Mr Speaker, concerning that Gordon Brown ‘Debate’

Gordon Brown has lied by slime to the voters is Scotland’s IndyRef – how unusual

Gordon Brown

petewishart

Dear Mr Speaker,

I am writing to you, the Leader of the House, the Shadow Leader of the House and the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, concerning the debate secured by the Right Honourable Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath on the 16th of October on the subject of the UK Government’s relationship with Scotland.

The Right Honourable Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath revealed to the press that he secured this debate with your kind permission and he has since described this debate as a substantial debate on the ‘vow’ made concerning the timetable on ‘more powers’ for Scotland. As you are aware, this debate is nothing other than an end of day adjournment debate, meaning that it will only last only half hour, is un-amendable and can not be voted on. These debates usually involve only the member who has secured the debate and the relevant Minister responding. In…

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