British Broadcasted 2 – RAMFEL and The Hidden World of Britain’s Immigrants

It was the Go Home Vans which first prodded RAMFEL (Refugee Migrants forum of Essex and London) into media engagement,

“RAMFEL didn’t really do media work. Media outlets very rarely knocked on its door; it seemed that they would rather ask suited intermediaries than engage with the complexity of the lives and opinions of migrants themselves.  But on this occasion RAMFEL carried on doing media interviews. We gave voice to our anger, and productively. We kept being quoted in newspapers, blogging on what was happening and why Go Home was so bad…and then it happened.

“A man came to the door and said he was from the BBC. RAMFEL thought they were there to talk about Go Home vans. RAMFEL was tired and was about to tell the man to go away, (especially as he didn’t have an appointment) and then the man said ‘No, I’m here about something different. I’m here because we are making a documentary about the other side of immigration, not the politicians the human story. Can we talk to you about it?’”

So RAMFEL’s Rita Chadha featured strongly in last night’s touching BBC1 documentary The Hidden World of Britain’s Imigrants. In the light of that, RAMFEL now feels the need to step out from behind the documentary production and editing and tell their story in their own way.

On immigration, hit the nasty party where it hurts

The migration fairy story:

“Once upon a time, a poor woodcutter, of no great skill, decided go in search of work. He left behind his family and his home in the forest, with promises that he would one day return with wealth and comfort. ‘Here, food is scarce and life is hard’, he told his wife, ‘but I have heard tell of other places where there are chances for a man like me to make my fortune’. After much hardship and long days of travel, he reached the edge of the forest where he found the borders of a wealthy kingdom. There he found his way barred by guards. ‘Who are you and why do you seek to enter?’ they asked. ‘Please let me in’, he replied, ‘I am a poor man, but I work hard. I promise through my labour I will make your kingdom even greater and richer than it already is’. The guards agreed to let him in saying that they would give him five years and a day to prove his worth. So the poor man entered and worked hard, digging, scrubbing, and labouring for the Kings’ subjects. And the longer he stayed the more his affection for the kingdom and its people grew. After five years and one day, the guards acknowledged he had proved his worth and welcomed him as a true subject of the kingdom. ‘But may I ask for one thing more?’ said the man. ‘I have a wife and children at home. They are poor and have nothing. If you value all I have done, would you permit them to come to your kingdom and make their life with me?’ And the guards, being wise and fair, and recognizing his endeavours agreed. His family, overjoyed when he sent for them, came at once, and they all lived happily ever after.”

Anti-Raids Network 'know your rights' poster

Anti-Raids Network ‘know your rights’ poster

Further to my previous post on the anti-immigrant Go Home campaign, news of civil-liberty-defying spot checks on immigration status (these aren’t new and I’m not sure if they’re intensifying – but they are now newsworthy in the light of the government’s Go Home campaign against migrants). Dark-skinned people in particular have been subjected to stop-and-checks by Border Agency officials on the transport system. Southall Black Sisters (a domestic abuse support network) have reported that police summoned to crime scenes have taken the opportunity to conduct inappropriate checks of immigration. British Transport Police are inviting the Border Agency along. And then there are the vans with the pictures of handcuffs on them and the phrase, Go Home. There is no convincing defence of that. Always worth reading, Rafael Behr gets better and better:

“This is an old problem. Not everyone who wants less immigration is a racist but every racist wants less immigration. So it is hard to craft a message for the concerned non-racist without earning unwanted nods of approval from the racist. Hard. Not impossible. Clarity of intent is vital. The vans fail this test because they are unlikely to have a discernible impact on numbers, while certain to reinforce the impression that the nation is overrun with illicit foreigners. The government accepts the view of many voters that Britain is full to the brim with people who don’t deserve to be here. That assertion doesn’t always recognise a difference between legal and illegal status, nor between economic migration and political asylum. For the Home Office to drive around brandishing a pair of handcuffs is to abet the suspicion that there is something generically illegitimate about being foreign-born in the UK.”

David Cameron has given the campaign his continued approval. His election strategist Lynton Crosby once viewed it as a promising political wedge – but now reportedly believes it gave UKIP a leg up. Some commentators have observed that the alarmed publicity about the Go Home campaign will confound analysis of whether it is ‘working’. I’m not sure which indicators of success the government is using – that seems to be the fundamental question. In their absence, I’m assuming the proof of the pudding with votes – a swing from UKIP to the Conservatives in elections, set against a reduction in voters of migrant background who vote Conservative. Is that reasonable, if crude?

But what about the government’s short-term decision about whether to carry on along this tack? Will it be numbers of voluntary repatriations, or will pollsters will tell them? A YouGov poll for The Sun (pdf) found that 31% of respondents thought the campaign racist, with 39% considering it in poor taste but necessary. As far as I can see, that’s without the pollsters showing them the handcuff imagery, telling them about the National Front resonance, or pointing out that the boroughs targeted have a certain ethnic profile.

Constrast that with the reaction of local politicians of all political stripes. Here in the pilot boroughs we know that this initiative will kill support for the Conservatives in the local elections. That’s why it is a good idea for prominent Conservatives working at a local level to join the general condemnation as they have (though I’m sure they’re genuinely incensed too).

Another thing the YouGov pollsters omitted to mention was that the Home Office Twitter feed is trying to pass off arrests of suspected undocumented migrants as success of their war on illegal immigration. David Allen Green pointed out that  “For the @ukhomeoffice to say those arrested are already #immigrationoffenders is to prejudge their cases and possibly contempt”. Several commentators have noted that the Home Office neglects to mention how many they subsequently released. I think the approach the Home Office is taking is simply dreadful – the Twitter feed is exclusively anti-immigration, as if the Home Office had no other function. And I feel worried because they do actually think we’re prejudiced enough to maintain our own ignorance about what is going on here, and not ask too many questions.

What about the junior coalition partner in government? The Liberal Democrats don’t seem to have been consulted either and I don’t know of any defending the campaign – Vince Cable’s verdict: “stupid and offensive”, I’ve heard that Clegg disapproves. He apparently called it ‘not clever’ or something mild like that. Lib Dem activist Caron Lindsay is stronger:

“They’re not just trolling us, they are trying to toxify us. If they can get our voters thinking that we have abandoned our belief in civil liberties, then that’s a job well done for them … Nick’s done quite well in the past few days saying what sorts of things need to happen on immigration, like exit checks and spoken out against these god awful vans. However, the language he’s using is still a little too “crackdown” rather than “fairness” for me. When things like the vans or the tube station checks happen, every liberal collectively retches. However, you’ll get a part of the electorate, and some of them might vote for us, feeling in some way reassured that something is being done. We talk of the importance of policing by consent. What happens if a good proportion of people consent to policing of others by intimidation? For me, it’s back to first principles every time. We’re liberals, and we don’t agree with that sort of thing.”

She points to advice from politics.co.uk editor Ian Dunt (who seems to have been reading Anti-Raids Network advice) on what to do if you are stopped. Of course, it would be a lucky undocumented migrant who got to read a blog, but perhaps some potential witnesses and advocates… He quotes the UK Border Agency’s own guidance for its officials and points out that it stipulates a high standard.

“Before seeking to question someone, an IO [immigration officer] will need to have information in his possession which suggests that the person may be of immigration interest (that is there are doubts about that person’s leave status). The information in the IO’s possession should be sufficient to constitute a reasonable suspicion that that particular person may be an immigration offender. Any IO stopping and questioning an individual will need to be in a position to justify the reasons why they considered that threshold to be satisfied in that particular case. Any questioning must be consensual. The paragraph 2 power to examine does not include a power to compel someone to stop or to require someone to comply with that examination. Should a person seek to exercise their right not to answer questions and leave, there is no power to arrest that person purely on suspicion of committing an immigration offence.”

That is pretty conclusive: speculative checks of the kind we have seen on the transport system this week are illegal. It looks as if the Home Office has broken British law – which justifies UKIP calling the activity un-British. If you’re not worried by the hostile environment for legal and illegal immigrants alike, hopefully you find the attacks on civil liberties more of a problem. Today, immigrants. Tomorrow, any other group the government calculates could earn them votes. The next day, goodbye democracy.

So in short we have a campaign which targets darker skinned people with accents, fomenting mistrust between them and more established communities, which the government reckons speaks for itself – “Tough on immigration!” – without their having to communicate how they identify success – arrests of “suspected #immigrationoffenders” are supposed to suffice. So, objecting to this campaign is not about whether or not it’s racist to impose limits on immigration – it’s about resisting government attempts to flout civil liberties and conduct an aggressive campaign within these borders, exclusively for political reasons rather than because it works.

What can be done?

  • Prospective Conservative voters, don’t vote Conservative – and mention the Go Home campaign when you tell them why you didn’t. Or failing that, criticise them in public – they’ll probably take it more seriously from their own (good for you, Derek Laud).
  • Be prepared to be an advocate if you witness a spot check – see the Anti-Raids Network.
  • Unite is making legal objections.
  • Labour Peer Lord Lipsey referred the posters to the Advertising Standards Authority.
  • According to The Independent, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is examining the campaign for “unlawful discrimination”.
  • There are some petitions to sign, including this one from RAMFEL.
  • The campaign needs close scrutiny, and to be discussed with friends and family.
  • We need to sufficiently educate ourselves about migration to recognise when politicians and sections of the media try to divert us with tough talk and publicity stunts. Us and Them, a new book by Bridget Anderson quoted at the top, looks helpful here. Her colleague from COMPAS Ben Gidley has a good piece in The Conversation on assessing the real impact of migration. We need evidence, impact assessments and – for pity’s sake – a little efficiency once in a while.
  • Have a laugh – follow the #immigrationoffenders hashtag on Twitter. David Scheider calls the Home Office campaign a “preliminary rounds of the UK Hunger Games”.
  • We need to demand fairness, for example targeting employers – there’s at least one group of likely Conservative voters which probably has its head down right now.
  • And incidentally, an important kind of fairness is global prosperity where nobody is driven from their place of origin by lack of livelihood. In desperate circumstances, people’s choices narrow to nothing. How about that side of things?
A revised Go Home van

A revised Go Home van

Ways to make Jews disappear / the campaign to boycott Israel

Alas, Stephen Hawking, if you think boycotting Israel helps Palestinians, think again.

Let’s hear from other academic voices. Raphael Cohen-Almagor explains the fallacy of a boycott campaign which no longer pretends to target only institutions, and now openly and predictably excludes Israeli individuals. Most Jews consider the boycott of Israel a threat to Jews, if not an active attack on Jews. Consequently boycotts exert strong introverting pressure on Jews. As an anti-Jewish strategy (which boycotting Israel often is) antisemites should understand why they fail to annihilate the object of their hatred. Norman Geras points out that antisemitism is interrelated with Jewish survival – it strengthens identity and mutual bonds between those who are designated and threatened as part of an ethnic group. Norm isn’t the first to note this paradox – unread as yet on my bookshelf is Dan Cohn-Sherbok’s book The Paradox of Anti-Semitism which contains many examples of Jewish leaders recognising this dilemma, from Rabbi Shneur Zalman and the spiritual dangers of integration to Theodore Herzl (“It is only pressure that forces us back to the parent stem”). In contrast, Moses Mendelssohn, Jewish Enlightenment  leader, set out to secure both the Jewishness and the participation. Robert Fine looks at the beginning of Jewish emancipation when the establishment extended a hand, if mistrustfully and conditionally, to German Jews. Ruth Wisse observes that throughout history where Jews suffered a deficit it tended to strengthen their collective resource and tenacity. Since emancipation, freed of the deficit and with a state of their own, but retaining a strong shared memory of persecution and a disinclination to take their continued success for granted, Jews are seen to strive and excel when taken as a group. Consequently in today’s prevailing (and I think ill-conceived) meritocracies, Jews have successful positions in greater proportions than their overall numbers indicate. Consequently it is easy for people affected by antisemitism to forget the obvious: Jews are individuals, not a coordinated group.

So are Jews out of the woods? It depends on the resilience of this society. At the heart of the boycott, political historian Jonathan Lowenstein explains, is envy, and this envy is sharpened by a shrunken economy. And after the Enlightenment came a global competition for resources and a related decision by a great power to do away with all Jews and appropriate their prosperity. So while I think speciesist, tribalist views of Jews about Jews belongs to desperate times, on the other hand to quote Hannah Arendt when attacked as a Jew it’s opportune to respond as a Jew.  Perhaps the desperate times have arrived.

Eve Garrard sets out the pleasures of antisemitism, (if you read nothing else, read that) which brought to mind Iain Banks’ lost tussle with antisemitism as his life reaches its premature end. In my trade union anti-Jewish activity I expected to be against the law has been found to be inside the law. David Hirsh and Sarah Annes Brown respond to the judgment from the legal action taken by Ronnie Fraser against the University and College Union on grounds of antisemitism related to anti-Israel campaigning. More on this from me in due course.

Stephen Hawking talked of pressure to boycott in ways which remind me of my MP’s appeal to populism in explaining that he is against gay marriage or protecting abortion rights because most of his correspondents have urged him to be. Perhaps Hawking represents a second phase, a mainstreaming of boycott. On the other hand, he has embraced the British Committee on Universities of Palestine, an organisation staffed by UK Israel eliminationists who, far from supporting a Palestinian call, instigated boycott themselves before any Palestinians had made call (takes your breath away, doesn’t it). There are so many reasons not to boycott.

Now, go and see if you can form some links with Israeli academics or cultural institutions, which despite all this acrimony are incredibly fertile, humane, questioning places.

Women bishops versus church and state

Next time somebody tries to tell you that this country has separated church from state you could cite this response to the e-petition – still open and in need of signatures – No women bishops, no automatic seats in the House of Lords. My emphases:

Dear [Flesh],

The e-petition ‘No women Bishops, no automatic seats in the House of Lords’ signed by you recently reached 10,519 signatures and a response has been made to it.

As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department have provided the following response: The Government is committed to the Church of England as the Established Church in England, with the Sovereign as its Supreme Governor. We consider that the relationship between Church and State in England is an important part of the constitutional framework that has evolved over centuries. The Government believes that the second chamber should be more representative of the British people, which is why we introduced the House of Lords Reform Bill; however, the Bill was subsequently withdrawn when it became clear that it could not make progress without consuming an unacceptable amount of parliamentary time. While there continues to be an appointed element to the membership of the House of Lords, the Government believes there should continue to be a role for the Established Church. It is for the Church itself to decide whether it will appoint women Bishops and, if so, what arrangements are necessary to support those who cannot accept this change, but it is obviously disappointing that the Synod was unable to agree how to take this forward. The Government believes that the time is right for women Bishops – indeed it is long overdue. This e-petition will remain open to signatures until the published closing date and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.

View the response to the e-petition

Thanks,

HM Government e-petitions http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/

This is unsatisfactory. The Church of England can’t be such “an important part of the constitutional framework” that its primitive exclusions of women from high office should be overlooked. There may be “better uses of parliamentary time” but there are also many worse uses – this is a highly symbolic case of a faith group with a toehold in officialdom taking a position outside good progressive law by excluding women. See One Law For All for arguments against this kind of secession. Moreover this is not just some private members group we’re talking about – it’s the House of Lords, one of the highest governance forums in the land.

I’m for disestablishment but unlike the New Humanists I don’t think this reform-minded petition is tactical blunder. I think campaigning for the exclusion of 26 Lords Spiritual as a matter of principle rather than urgent redress is harder to warm to than arguing for the inclusion of women.

So how about that 100,000 signatures? Sign the petition.

US and UK murder – rate and weapon (updated)

This piece contains updated statistics for my most-read post. The comments under that post have been coming steadily since 2007.

In the US – population 311.5 million (1) – there were an estimated 13,756 murders in 2009 (2), a rate of about 5.0 per 100,000 (3). Of these 9,203 were carried out with a firearm.

In the UK – population 56.1 million (4) – there were an estimated 550 murders in 2011-12 (5), a rate of about 1.4 per 100,000. Of these 39 were carried out with a firearm (6).

References

(1) United States Census Bureau (undated). State and Country Quick Facts. Available from: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html

(2) United States Census Bureau (2012) 2012 Statistical Abstract – Table 310. Murder Victims – Circumstances and Weapons Used or Cause of Death: 2000-2009. Available from http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0310.pdf

(3) United States Census Bureau (2012) 2012 Statistical Abstract – Table 306. Crimes and Crime Rates by Type of Offence: 1980-2009. Available from:  http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0306.pdf

(4) Office for National Statistics (2011). 2011 Census Home. Available from: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/census/2011/index.html

(5) Home Office (2012). Historical Crime Data. Available from: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/science-research-statistics/research-statistics/crime-research/historical-crime-data/

(6) Home Office (2010). Home Office Statistical Bulletin. Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2008/09. Available from: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110218135832/http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs10/hosb0110.pdf

Pro-sharia campaigners march through Walthamstow

You can tell Muslims Against Crusades are a tiny groupuscule because all their placards are done by a single person, there’s no report from yesterday’s mini march on their site, and their Media page doesn’t load. They’re expensive clowns and tossers, though – a lot of police, a lot of verbal (though the EDL mostly remained in the pubs), two arrests. Things are getting a bit bigoted round here.

Against religious bigotry stand – among others – the National Secular Society, One Law for All, Quilliam, the British Humanist Association, and British Muslims for Secular Democracy:

Against the far right of various stripes, Searchlight and Hope Not Hate but I should remark that I was recently told in infuriatingly sanguine tones that Hope Not Hate cannot treat the Islamists as they treat the BNP types because they will be called ‘Zionist’ and their credibility will suffer. The point was that HnH are better off sticking to fighting the white far right. If true, this is a disappointing kind of anti-fascism which will tie its own hands (though HnH is excellent at analysis and the absolutely crucial job of getting the anti-racist vote out – both indispensable), and why I will always appreciate Harry’s Place, which researches and fights all the authoritarian, racist, fascist or proto-fascist fuckers regardless of hue, don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world to be taken for a Zionist, and make surprisingly few mistakes while they’re about their business – LibbyT excepted (tosser). There’s also the Guardian’s Matthew Taylor who has been undercover with the EDL and recognises that they can’t be dismissed as thugs:

“At each demonstration I attended, I was confronted by casual racism, a widespread hatred of Muslims and often the threat of violence. But I also met non-white people, gay rights activists, disaffected working class men and women, and middle-class intellectuals. I came to the conclusion that the EDL is not a simple rerun of previous far-right street groups.”

Basically, fighting an anti-Muslim alignment like the EDL entails disrupting anti-Muslim views, and there is plenty of material via the links above. Depending on whether policing is sensitive to the communities targeted by the EDL, it can require some bodily obstruction to prevent EDL types intimidating Muslim communities. It also entails arguing and lobbying against sharia – not because Muslims Against Crusades are any good at what they do – they’re an embarrassment to Muslims – but because the authoritarian and chauvinistic religious right – Christian, Muslim and the rest – feed on each other and the work to keep them from taking power is never done. Harder, it requires circumstances in which a moderate majority exists and turns out to vote to keep the far right out of the seats of power.

World War

There’s a bloodless world war going on over Wikileaks (background from Modernity – search for Wikileaks). US government sympathisers are trying to run Wikileaks off the web. A hackers group called Anonymous is responding by attacking the various companies complicit in this. As of now, Amazon is coming down (and sometimes back up) across Europe.

Comment on the conflict from these academics (by the way, in the proposed English funding regime for higher education, these thinkers would not get state funding for teaching about this social side of the Web):

Nothing sensible from me at this time, except I am glad Wikileaks exists, and that I find it provoking that Wikileaks vigilantes have done more damage to capitalist enterprise in a week than anti-capitalists have achieved in the last year.

Update: I hear on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today Programme that Amazon say their downtime was due to a hardware fault.