Response to City University Islamic Society

Britain is moving towards a secular state, complains former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, in response to the ruling by Lord Justice Laws that a Relate marriage counsellor who had refused gay clients had no grounds for appeal. “Brilliant”, I thought.

Outside City University on a Friday afternoon not so long ago I was confronted with a large group of men praying in long rows between where I was standing in front of the Tate Building and where I needed to get to in the College Building. When I studied there, this didn’t happen and I was disappointed to see this overspill of religion into a shared secular space. Organised worship belongs in a prayer room. The total absence of women in this large congregation made me even more uncomfortable – would it cause a scene for a woman to walk round them when they had only a narrow passage between the wall and their formation? But I decided I would walk round them and a small group of friends trailed uncomfortably after me. But I noticed other people were trudging the long way round the square.

I do not like organised mass prayer outside a university, or in any other public space. City University has a multi-faith prayer room which these men have decided not to use.

Student Rights reports:

“Unfortunately, students have declared this room unfit for purpose due to both its size and for the fact that a number of Muslim scholars believe that it is impermissable for Muslims to share a prayer room where Allah is not the only god worshipped.

Students are campaigning for their previous room to be reopened, however the university has stated that it is acting in line with Equality and Diversity guidelines and in the interest of the safety of students. The new space has already been used by various Muslim students and the Great Hall at City is open to Muslim students for Friday prayer sessions, to accommodate large numbers.

The University has stated:

“As a public institution, the University is committed to creating as many opportunities for people of different faiths (and indeed of no faith) to meet and engage in honest and respectful dialogue. The move to shared space and the establishment of a Forum for Faith and Values will help to foster that need for dialogue.”

No doubt this is a highly sensitive issue, with clear religious and security related matters to grasp. The re-opening of the previous prayer room would certainly go towards mending relations between the University and the ISOC, however if security cannot be offered, surely the institution has a duty to its students to act in their interest, even if this may at first seem controversial.”

Paul Anderson reads the prayer room dispute as more widely significant:

“I’m not provoked, but I do care a great deal about preserving certain norms of liberal university life and of the liberal public sphere more generally. The most important is that of free debate, which to me means that all speaker meetings held on university premises should allow participation by all members of the university unconstrained except by the laws and university rules that prohibit hate-speech and incitement to violence.

Just as a Conservative Club – if we had one at City – would be required to allow members of a Labour Club – ditto – to make vigorously critical contributions from the floor, so the Islamic Society should be required at its speaker meetings to allow any member of the university – male, female, gay, straight, atheist, Jewish, Shia Muslim, Christian, Hindu, whatever – directly to contradict its speakers, to argue that its vision of Islam is narrow and small-minded, to question its apparent enthusiasm for some of the most extreme jihadists on the circuit.

This requires gender desegregation of ISoc meetings, so that male and female participants are treated equally, and an end to meetings set up as propagandist rallies at which no one critical of the demagogue on stage (or on video link) is allowed to speak.

As for facilities for worship, it is entirely reasonable for the university to provide rooms that are shared by different faith groups and timetabled so that all can use them whenever different religious observance rules apply. No faith group should be given privileged treatment, and the university should do nothing to encourage religious separatism.”

For these opinions he is accused by City’s passive-aggressive Islamic Society of hating the Islamic way of life. But what with his response and the blog tagline “democratic socialism with a libertarian punch”, he comes across like an impeccable universalist to me.

Lord Justice Laws ruling in the case of the Christian marriage counsellor is also impeccably universalist:

“We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion – any belief system – cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic.

“The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the state, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.”

The judge also said: “In a free constitution such as ours there is an important distinction to be drawn between the law’s protection of the right to hold and express a belief and the law’s protection of that belief’s substance or content.” While the Judaeo-Christian tradition had exerted a “profound influence” on the judgment of lawmakers, “the conferment of any legal protection of preference upon a particular substantive moral position on the ground only that it is espoused by the adherents of a particular faith, however long its tradition, however long its culture, is deeply unprincipled.”

I’d stand up for people’s freedom of belief whatever the creed. I’d support any request for a multi-faith prayer room where I work, if there wasn’t one already. I’d even stand up, no matter how reluctantly, for people’s right to segregate themselves, if that right were threatened, along with the right not to have segregation imposed upon them. And if there were an attempt to prevent those men from demo-praying on the street outside City University, I would oppose it – they have the right to gather there. But like Paul Anderson and Harry’s Place I have no time for political variants of religion. I want religion back in its place.

Update: Sarah Annes Brown is lucid about this as usual early in the comments at Harry’s Place. She points out that there used to be a Muslim-only prayer space, and its closure must have been keenly felt. I dare say she is right. There is also the suggestion from the editor of City’s student newspaper that City students are broadly supportive of ISoc’s grievance, but this isn’t particularly apparent from other quarters. Also keenly felt are the invitations City University Islamic Society has extended to preachers of hate like Abu Usamah and Murtaza Kahn. So where does this leave us? If I were incoming VC at City I would do pretty much what has now been done to date, namely offer a multi-faith room, offer a bigger space like the main hall subject to availability, make the equality and diversity arguments against enforced segregation but avoid enforcing desegregation, acknowledge and oppose attacks on Muslims which are religiously or racially motivated, taken measures to protect Muslims from such attacks on and around campus, and take responsibility for refusing to host hate preachers.

Update 2: in the comments below Matt P points to Butterflies and Wheels where Ophelia Benson asks a lot of good questions about a man’s convicted of racially-aggravated harassment for leafleting a municipal airport prayer room with literature mocking god: “But there again – why are rooms being provided to allow people to feel comfortable practising their faith in a busy public building? Why is this seen as desirable or necessary? Why can’t people just “practice their faith” internally until they get home or to a mosque or church?”. I’m sympathetic to this point of view. I suppose I assumed that somewhere along the line a study found that a lack of place to pray is a factor in educational exclusion. At any rate, it has to be balanced with concerns like how long people spend in a given place, the pressures on them there, how much space there is for a room etc. I feel there’s a balance to be struck between my secularism on the one hand and avoiding exclusion on the other.

Update 3: Islamist tactics – somebody told me that City University Islamic Society bussed in many or perhaps most of the c. 200 men who are making a weekly scene in Northampton Square and they don’t even go to City.

Election: Redbridge Council, we need affordable homes

Redbridge is a well decent place to live. But it hasn’t prioritised housing. I’m not really sure why.

Shelter has integrated local housing datasets borough by borough. From the results for Redbridge in 2009:

  • You would have to earn £53,502 per year to afford to buy an average-priced house in the area; the average gross annual income is £28,257
  • 362 households are acknowledged to be homeless in the area, and there are 13,969 households on the waiting list for affordable housing – at current letting rates this will take 32.41 years to clear.
  • There were only 431 lettings made to new social tenants. 2,310 households are in temporary accommodation.
  • Independent experts say the area needs to build 999 homes per year. Redbridge council planned for 171 new affordable homes to be provided in the area last year, less than the number of new affordable homes needed.
  • An average of 403 new affordable homes were provided in the area in each of the last three years, meeting Redbridge council’s plans, but failing to match the annual level of affordable homes needed.
  • The number of homes in Redbridge is increasing at an annual rate of 5.1 for every thousand already existing.
  • Redbridge’s population density is 4,567 (this incidentally is in the same ONS band as Barking and Dagenham next door, and lower than either Waltham Forest to the West and Newham to the South).

Shelter’s proposals for creative ways to deliver new housing stock in an economic downturn:

  • Governments and Councils should sell public sector land at below market prices if it will be used to build affordable housing
  • Encourage landowners to take a longer-term view of land value, e.g. by leasing land to developers but delaying payment until the housing stock is sold
  • Splitting up larger sites to avoid cash flow problems
  • Encourage the building of affordable housing on smaller sites, and certainly on developments of 15 units or more
  • Being creative about other sources of local funding, including removing the council tax discount for second home owners

To come: a cruise through Council minutes; the role of local residents in influencing whether or not planning permission is granted; the activities of the Homes and Communities Agency; what the Party manifestos say; rental; what else does a council have to plan for when new homes are built?

Council candidates can be checked out at Redbridge-i – click on Election 2010 or go straight to the wards page.

Anti-immigration campaigners, Gordon Brown and Gillian Duffy

Gordon Brown is alright. I think that Gillian Duffy is probably complaining to the Daily Mail about the way they’ve illustrated their latest toxic immigration piece with a picture of her and misrepresented her views.

She spent 4 minutes reproaching Gordon Brown about nearly everything including tax on her pension and her grandchildren’s prospects for university. In amongst this was:

“All these Eastern Europeans that are coming here. Where are they flocking from?”

That question had no place in her grievances, Gordon Brown responded diplomatically and to her credit Gillian Duffy didn’t pursue it then or later.

Update: Kellie points to this link in the comments below – Gordon Brown attributing his own diagnosis of bigotry to Gillian Duffy’s comment about immigration. That rather undermines my case against the Daily Mail below. This time.

So it’s entirely vexatious and reprehensible of Gordon Brown’s right wing political opponents to suggest that he called Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman” because of her question about immigration. The Mail has no grounds to claim:

“When grandmother Gillian Duffy suggested immigration was a problem in Rochdale, she was swiftly dismissed as a ‘bigot’ by Gordon Brown.

But the Prime Minister was betraying not only his real feelings about the worries of millions of Britons, but also his ignorance of what has been going on in the northern town – which provides an acute case study of issues afflicting the whole nation.”

“Bigot” is not the same as “racist”. defines it as “a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion”. The Free Dictionary defines a bigot as “One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ”. Gillian Duffy was in no mood to change her views that afternoon – she was very angry – but Brown had to talk to her anyway, of course. In the end, his “dismissal” of Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman” was not swift – it was minutes afterwards and can’t safely be associated with the tiny proportion of what she said which was about immigration. This is a perfect example of why nobody should expect truthful reporting from the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail is a chronicle of bigotry.

Gordon Brown’s going to be the last person to defend himself – his job now is to be abjectly sorry. So I’ll do it. He let off steam in the car when he thought his mic was off – and the steam was just a puff. Insulting, but not an explosion by any stretch. He didn’t reveal anything toxic – on the contrary, think about what he could have said about Sue (whoever she is) given he held her responsible for his exposure to public lambast. In fact he was very restrained. He just made an unprofessional mistake – the kind which catches out many senior people fairly often.

But if I was having a conversation with somebody into which a strange out-of-place question about immigrants crept, I’d have the  suspicion that they were a bit racist, despite also knowing that they had hopes, fears and stories to tell. I’d keep that to myself and try to come at things another way – like Gordon Brown did when he knew the mic was on. But privately I’d wonder about their views.

Worldwide it’s normal to think in racist ways about the rack and ruin (actual or perceived) of any given country. You can see attempts to make immigration the cause and poverty the effect throughout the right-wing media in this country – The Sun, The Mail, The Telegraph. The reason this is wrong is that it’s well known that immigrants do the jobs that other citizens won’t get out of bed for, as well as other jobs they won through their own merit. For richer and for poorer, we invited most of these people through our borders to staff our boom years of the last decade, but nowhere was it written that they had to wrench up their lives and leave when the boom turned to bust. That wasn’t part of the deal, and nor should it have been. In this country we don’t tell people how many children to have, and we certainly don’t use reproduction law to discriminate on grounds of where you are from. The reason I might be homeless is that my council sold off its stock and didn’t build sufficient to replace it. There’s plenty of wealth to go round here but it’s badly distributed. It’s wrong to have a go at immigrants while neglecting to scrutinise the way we distribute our country’s resources.

Bad mouthing immigration, or asking questions about immigrants as part of a long diatribe about what’s wrong with the country is very normal in British life these days. I don’t like it on principle and I don’t like it on a personal level – only today some colleagues commented (without hostility) on my outlandish name and un-Anglo-Saxon appearance. I’m under no illusions that the politicians who think that fewer immigrants than we currently have would solve their economic problems would be trying to get rid of me sooner or later.

We are all immigrants now, as they say.

So I’d like people to feel more inhibited about bad mouthing immigration or immigrants, exert a bit of self-censorship. I don’t know whether this is reconcilable with my other hope, which is that people will also feel that racism is one of those normal but unhealthy things in our society we need to work on ourselves about, like tending towards overweight.

But if the Mail, Sun and Telegraph are going to make Gordon’s gaff into an immigration thing then I think Gordon deserves some moral support.

He might not feel he could perform it with the cameras on while being harangued by an angry voter, but I’d share his private frustrations about people who lay into immigrants.

However, I’m still not convinced that Gillian Duffy’s brief reference to immigration was the reason Gordon Brown referred to her as a bigot. Sadly, Labour probably wouldn’t thank me for this post. They aren’t mounting much of a defence of immigrants or immigration either.


Or only in private, as I thought.

  • John Prescott on the derelict ethics of the Murdoch empire – but wtf is he talking about – “an Australian with an American passport cannot buy our General Election“.
  • Elmyra from Eastern Europe is sickened by politicians grovelling to bigots; richandme points out a few things.
  • Don’t do it, Mrs Duffy. (My hope is that she comes out tomorrow with her own apology.)
  • On Newsnight Danny Finkelstein said that talking about immigration was a problem because you get called racist if you try to bring it up. That’s when Peter Hyman, Olly Grender or Jeremy Paxman should have pointed out that there is a lot of racism in the debate about immigration. None of them did. In fact Peter Hyman pointed out that Labour is tough on immigration in their manifesto, and could talk about it with confidence. What that has to do with incomers from EU member states I’m not sure. Chasing votes has come to this.
  • That’s it from me on this now. There’s an enormous funding shortfall to consider – that and attitudes to immigration are not unconnected.
  • Update 2 – except for this postscript – this morning Alan Johnson called Gillian Duffy a very fine woman and said that her question about immigration was totally reasonable. Appeasement..
  • Update 3 – the final televised leaders’ debate in Birmingham this evening, the nearest any of the leaders got to being respectful to immigrants was Nick Clegg’s pragmatism about delivering the incognito ones “into the hands of the tax-man”. Cameron and Brown were trying to outdo each other in severity – but as Clegg first pointed out 80% of immigrants are from the EU. I was pretty appalled at how low this country has sunk, that three politicians could judge it unwise to have a genuinely “honest debate” about immigration.. An “honest debate” about immigration involves talking about how if you were born in Angola your life expectancy at birth would be 38, and about how badly our councils have done on housing and schools. I felt like throwing a bucket of water over the television.
  • Update 4 – above I commented that the question about Eastern Europeans had no place in Gillian Duffy’s lambast, and I still don’t think it did. Imagine hearing it as an Eastern European. It’s not a question of Eastern Europeans, but of how the government came to underestimate and consequently under-resource the incomers  at the expense of  the established population. Writing in Dissent, Alan Johnson is more interested in persuading us to indulge the kind of belligerent and pointed curiosity (as he would have us think of it) of people like Gillian Duffy (who do indeed have valid grievances but are mistaken in their causes and wrong-headedly defiant about the charge of racism) rather than taking the opportunity to explain this. Disappointing to see somebody of Alan Johnson’s stature elevating the idea of debate over the substance of that debate. Intelligentsia right there along with the political classes running scared of a British public at our most ignorant and ornery.
  • Update 5 – good for Gillian Duffy – she can’t be bought by Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper. Seems she’s more angry about being dissed by her prime minister than being thought a bigot. Why did the media get so worked up?
  • Update 6 – it’s a new world. The Web is rounding on Murdoch as anti-democratic. See Avaaz’ petition UK Voters v Rupert Murdoch, and 38 Degrees’ The People v Murdoch. This seems very important, but I can’t quite figure out how. First taken at face value you have to ask what about The Daily Mail, which is Associated Newspapers Ltd? What about the big blogs? What about Labour supporters’ use of fear to consolidate Duverger’s Law? Secondly, what role is new media assuming in relation to old media?
  • Update 7 – wish I’d seen Rosie’s allegorical post ‘At the court of Queen Demos’ earlier: “So all her courtiers – The Sun, The Daily Telegraph – many who view Master Brown’s advancement with unease, denounce him for his insolence and his forgetting his place. She might want to shrug it off, but they roar his treachery at every opportunity at the top of their voices. The courtiers don’t want her to balance Master Brown’s usefulness in the treasury against a hasty remark, because, after all they have their own men to place.”
So all her courtiers – The Sun, The Daily Telegraph – many who view Master Brown’s advancement with unease, denounce him for his insolence and his forgetting his place.  She might want to shrug it off, but they roar his treachery at every opportunity at the top of their voices.  The courtiers don’t want her to balance Master Brown’s usefulness in the treasury against a hasty remark, because, after all they have their own men to place.

Election: against identity politics

Anwar Akhtar has a good post at The Samosa on British Muslims and the Ballot Box.

“I have an issue with decrees on how Muslims should vote coming from organisations such as MPAC, an outfit that frequently labels those not sharing its myopic worldview as ‘Zionist scum’ or ‘coconut sell-outs’.”

Meanwhile Roshan Muhammed Salih, the London head of news for Iran’s state-funded Press TV, issued instructions that all Muslims should vote solely on foreign policy grounds – specifically Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to Salih, “every single election issue, including the economy, education and health, pales in comparison” to the Iraq war.”

He goes on to model what a more far-sighted, broad-minded and informed decision-making with British Pakistani sensitivities might look like, concluding:

“So my advice, as an individual with no pretensions towards being a community leader or representative, is to think about everything, local as well as global, and then decide for yourself who to vote for.”

It’s not all that different for Anglo Saxon residents of Ilford North and what the BNP says is good for them. What Anwar Akhtar writes is good advice for any member of a social group whose leaders or opinion formers are attempting to mould them to a common cause based on identity politics and its narrow and exclusive interpretation of self-interest.

Or whose prospective parliamentary candidates are trying to court them as if they were already moulded.

This is good advice stands for any member of a social groups whose leaders or opinion formers are trying to unite them in a common cause based on identity politics and its narrow interpretation of self-interest.

Exemplary Green Party foreign policy

Rollo Miles is displaying international relations acumen characteristic of the rest of his party.

“People refer to Hamas as a terrorist organization, but let’s remember they were duly elected by the people of Gaza and therefore one could argue that they are a legitimate government.”

But the Nazi party was elected legitimately – it doesn’t mean they should have been left alone to do their revolting business.

“Israel was allowed to be created because the world felt a collective shame and guilt for what had happened to the Jews during the Second World War.”

If the world had felt a collective shame and guilt, surely it would have thrown open its borders to 250,000 or so refugees in DP camps for the years between the end of the war and the establishment of Israel. Most Jews would have preferred the US to Israel any day. My granny, for example, left Palestine for England when the opportunity arose and lived out her life here. Existing in Israel was extremely hard at the beginning, and still is hard. But the rest of the world didn’t open its borders to those stateless Jews, did it? And, if you can possibly believe it, many Jews who had survived forced labour camps, extermination camps, concentration camps, and death marches, and watched their friends and families die along the way, did not want to go home. If Rollo believes that Jews should take a lesson from this, I wonder what that lesson might be.

Warsaw Ghetto:

“Does this account remind you of what is happening in Gaza today, Israel you must remember your past and stop history from repeating itself?”

Hamas’ has genocidal tendencies. What about that bit of Jewish history?

The Greens cannot find enough good candidates to run, can they. I contributed to the deposits of people like him and I am frankly ashamed.

Palestinians need better advocates than this facile loser who believes that Auschwitz and the Warsaw Ghetto were instructive experiences in humanitarianism, or that you could learn there how to deal gently with genocidal movements.

Update: my recommendation would be to make him ‘former’, like the Lib Dems did to Jenny Tonge. Sadly, Jenny Tonge has not been expelled from the Liberal Democrats, and if she were she might well find a welcome in the Green Party, if she made an overture. Grim.

Election: the BNP, their supporters and their opposition

Some scattered circumstances, events and situations which seem to have something to do with each other.

I read an academic paper on the BNP (Bowyer, 2008) which addressed the question of support. I hope to read more – good academic papers offer a questioning and dispassionate analysis which I massively value.

Just one of many attacks on Muslim property – Eccles Mosque, April 16th.

My trade union, the University and College Union or UCU, opts to commemorate the Holocaust with a “wall chart” which limits its ambition to a blow-by-blow account of the Holocaust, providing no tools or prompts through which readers are encouraged and enabled to investigate our current circumstances today. The wall chart is a kind of badge, a reaffirmation of credentials, a posturing. It explains nothing.

I live in a short road of English, Africans, Jews, Indians. Not far away is the Hainault estate, where the BNP is particularly active. The paper I read notes that BNP support tends to come from white neighbourhoods within ethnically diverse cities; that kind of thing adds nothing to an election campaign. But it is also well-understood that support for the BNP is associated with socio-economic deprivation and low educational achievement – traditional Labour concerns. Some studies indicate that local housing market conditions and the state of housing stock may be more important than labour market conditions. And yet my Labour candidate, Sonia Klein, does not attend to such matters in her election literature. Sonia Klein mentions Trident, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan on her letterbox literature, and yet omits housing, health, jobs or education. I think darkly about the Stop the War Coalition when she literally cuddles her invited speaker Tony Benn and out of the blue flourishes a middle name, Nabila. Seems she’s looking to mop up the gone-astray left and candidateless Greens. Seems she thinks these voters will be impressed by this kind of talk, and unmoved by plans to address disadvantage. My constituency (Ilford North) is marginal, requiring 1,500 swing to Labour. Since I want to remove our current Conservative MP, my hands are somewhat tied this election – I need to vote for the closest challenger to the left of him and that’s Sonia Klein.

The Staffordshire constituency of Stoke Central is a very possible-looking parliamentary gain for the BNP’s Simon Darby. Labour’s NEC shortlisted celebrity historian and aristocrat Tristram Hunt as a parliamentary candidate without consultation, splitting the local party (and I don’t want to comment on that here, though I sympathise with the sense of disempowerment). Tristram Hunt has local links – his doctoral thesis was on the area. When, in advance of the local party’s vote on the shortlist, Newsnight’s Michael Crick button-holed him and asked (something like) “What can a privately educated boy like you do to stop the BNP?”, Hunt answered (something like) “What you have to say to people who are thinking about voting BNP is this. What teacher will want to come and teach here, what lawyer will want to come and work, what company will want to come and invest?”. What I found revealing about this fragment was that Hunt was thinking about his constituents’ needs rather than badging himself.

The other striking thing is his indirectness about the BNP – from what I can gather, he is not damning their racism, nor seeking to lace his campaign with multi-cultural role models. I don’t know why this is, but it is distinctively indirect.

Indirectness is a very current idea at the moment. I caught a member of my work-place’s senior management reading Thaler’s and Sunstein’s important book Nudge on the train platform. Sometimes called ‘libertarian paternalism’, this ‘nudging’ is an alternative to ordering or forcing people to do this or do that. Nudging entails organising systems in such a way as it makes it easier for people who exist within that system to do the right thing by default – i.e. if they don’t give it any thought – while maintaining the possibility to opt for the wrong thing, which is also the more inconvenient option. Examples include systems around paying your TV licence. Opting out, rather than into, a savings scheme or organ donation. Designing new housing complexes to promote neighbourliness. Creepy problems arise with this when the nature ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are left unexplained and the populace is subject to manipulation. Designing privacy out of Soviet public spaces, for example. I often use the principles of nudge. Nudge is not a huge threat when it comes to painting a little fly onto the bowl of a urinal in the knowledge that men will aim at it – but for more principled decisions you might convincingly argue that true liberty and a truly ethical society entails consciousness. Another book on indirectness (by another economist – this is a mushrooming discipline) is John Kay’s Obliquity. Its thesis is that our goals are best achieved indirectly, rather than narrowing down to stated objectives and approaching them in a straight line with a literal mindset. I’d say: sometimes. I haven’t finished that one yet. Again though it challenges reflectiveness, which in my professional circles is always assumed to be social good, and I’ve enjoyed reading that.

There’s certainly consensus that creating a stable and prosperous society will undermine most support for the extreme right. But could it be that Tristram Hunt thinks positive imagery of the kinds of social groups the BNP want to see the back of is futile? Explaining why racism is wrong – futile? What earns a parliamentary their opportunity to talk to their BNP-leaning electorate about racism – or does the significant presence of a BNP-leaning electorate forestall this conversation? This is a critical question to which I don’t have the answer. But my hunch is that the racism of BNP supporters is indirect – a consequence of certain needs in the presence of certain beliefs about a national pie.

It’s not good for BNP supporters to feel goaded, because – based on what I know of many of them, and in the absence of prospects for easing their competition for scarce material resources – any shame will backfire into contempt and defiance. I get the impression that the authors of a lot of the pieces I have read on the BNP don’t have any friends or associates who would vote BNP, and have never had to fight for the soul of anybody they care about. High-minded ridicule of candidates can cement support if the ridiculed qualities are part of the identity of the supporter – observers of Sarah Palin’s detractors noted this when Newsnight Review took a look at her autobiography. Seeking to marginalise or exclude the BNP, as Unite Against Fascism are currently doing, is liable to simply be understood by many BNP supporters as a continuation of the marginalisation and exclusion that they already perceive as their experience. Similarly, the “just turn out and vote for anybody except the BNP” approach talks past the BNP voters, rather than to them. I don’t think it is wrong to talk past the BNP supporters – to improve turn-out for example – as long as you also talk to them. Given that the extreme right is more successful than it has ever been before, surpassing Mosley’s and Powell’s times, I think we had better have plans ready to dampen the resonance of its messages.

Plans about what used to be Labour’s concern: equitability.

Bowyer, B, 2008. Local context and extreme right support in England: The British National Party in the 2002 and 2003 local elections. Electoral Studies (27) 611-620.

Amnesty International is compromised

I haven’t been able to give this due attention, but I want to give it some. Here is the resignation statement of Gita Sahgal, from Amnesty International.

Why has Amnesty gone on record stating that jihad is not antithetical to human rights? From Human Rights For All who, with others, have been interrogating Amnesty over its treatment of Gita Saghal and close association with Moazzam Begg:

“The rationale and call for ‘defensive jihad’ runs through many muslim fundamentalist texts. It is precisely ‘defensive jihad’ that the Taleban use to legitimise its anti human rights actions such as the beheading of dissidents, attacks on minorities, attacks on schools and religious shrines and the public lashing of women. A similar logic based on ‘defence of religion’ is used by the Christian right to justify the killing of doctors providing abortion services as well as by Hindutva fundamentalists to justify their violent attacks against Muslims and Christians in India.”

Amnesty is prepared to compromise its commitment to women and innocent civilians to uphold – what? the right to wage religious war along lines which discriminate on some authoritarian cleric’s whim? That is how jihad is widely understood by those who execute it. Somewhere along the line Amnesty’s ambitions changed – or else it has proud fools at the helm who can’t acknowledge their detrimental behaviour if it is pointed out to them by the wrong people (those who espouse ‘Western liberal values’, perhaps). I can’t claim to get it, or understand where Amnesty’s headed now, but I think it has gone astray for the reasons I’ve set out. It’s really hard and really unnerving to see this unfold.

If Begg, this supporter of violent and oppressive jihadis (most notably the cleric and terrorists’ inspiration Anwar Al-Awlaki), is the best Amnesty can find to send on the road to represent victims of human rights abuses, then there’s something wrong with Amnesty. To me it’s pretty unambiguous.

Amnesty – and Reprieve which is similarly implicated and underscrutinised – must resist falling for  jihadi victims of human rights abuses and becoming seduced into participating in grander ideological wars. This will undercut their support. They need to draw lines round their human rights work, for the sake of maximising support for those whose human rights have been trampled – support from people like me. This includes maintaining a professional distance from jihadi sympathisers like Moazzam Begg, who deserve their defence, but from whom a platform and funding should be withheld.

The initial recruitment of Begg was bad enough – as usual I’m putting more stock in Amnesty’s subsequent reactions to its critics – the most dedicated of which have been women who oppose fundamentalism – which has been that of a big, self-satisfied organisation which considers itself unimpeachable. Dangerous.

Update: Bob has more Amnesty and the Jihadis links, including these from Kellie and Raincoat Optimist. Via Kellie, Meredith Tax.