Why I won’t be declaring my pronouns

I’m publishing this for anyone who doesn’t want to share pronouns at work – which is to say, I decided fairly early not to declare a gender identity and have needed to be prepared to defend this decision ever since. To cut a long story short, I consider gender as a set of stereotypes and a social imposition I’ve spent a long time trying to get away from, and consequently I don’t have a gender identity. But even as I ungender myself, I still have a biological sex – female. Human animals tend to use the term ‘woman’ for female bloggers (girls are more likely to be found on the gram). However, unlike hens, does, cows, and mares, some human animals are also trans, which means that the meaning of ‘woman’ has expanded to allow some males.

The reason I won’t declare a gender identity is not that I don’t welcome trans people or want them to feel comfortable. It’s that adopting one myself might identify me with political positions I don’t hold, namely that gender identity should have primacy over biological sex, and that recognising biological sex as a major social determinant is essentialising and akin to or as bad as racism.

I realise that may seem a bit of a leap. You might observe that it is equally essentialising to use pronouns to denote biological sex – and in any case what place does biological sex have at work, where we’re supposed to have equal rights and professionalism dictates that we don’t hook up with each other – at least not in core hours. And I’d respond in turn that even if it were desirable to be biological-sex-blind it would be futile. But I can’t see how it is desirable, because distinguishing between equality and equity depends on recognising differences that matter, and biological sex is a major determinant in our lives – for women, menstruation, maternity and menopause are hugely influential, and those are only the most obvious. It’s also not desirable because we are being urged to do the opposite for gender, not to mention other legal equality characteristics – why should sex be excluded? And futile because biological sex is never going to stop being fundamentally important in our society. It’s no coincidence that two of the three gender identity pronouns in general use map directly onto dimorphic sex, and no coincidence that the pride flag does gender as the (I’d say stereotypical) binary pink and blue alongside the non-binary white. Biological sex is very present in trans rights movements. I’d say it’s not a problem to solve – it’s simply at the heart of our species. But we also know that high profile campaigns believe that biological sex undermines gender identity and cannot exist along side it. In many spheres they have attempted to eliminate biological sex as a relevant category, even to the extent of interfering people’s sexuality. And if you publicly objected to that, as many – mostly women – did, it would be open season on you and you’d be fortunate to keep your job.

I’d actually go further. I see the attempt to sever the links between ‘he’ and ‘she’ and biological sex as creating injustice in a number of settings. A failure of monitoring participation by sex coupled with a sharp rise in younger trans people means we have to guess representation in different study, leisure and career pursuits where women are under-represented. If you’re into sport, you’re being asked to accept male-bodied people competing against women in sports where they are likely to win. We cannot accurately monitor sex offences and where there are signs of a sharp rise in women committing them, we cannot know whether the women are biologically male (there is no centrally mandated policy on data collection) which means that we cannot feed the data into valid policy. Accommodating male sex offenders who identify as women in women’s prisons has been recognised as a risk by a judge who nodded it through anyway. I never again want to read the headline “woman accused of exposing penis”. That’s not because I’m in a state of moral panic, it’s because it only takes a few cases like that to ruin the data on female sex offenders and frame women as more likely to commit sex crimes than they are.

I recognise that rounds of gender identity declarations are also intended as a gesture of welcome for trans and non-binary people. Our places of work are supposed to be spaces for people of different beliefs and none to come together and get things done, and one way we do that is not to impose one group’s set of beliefs on groups who object to them – unless it’s a battle for rights where the group being imposed upon is responsible for the injustice. It’s not like that in this case, and moreover here we need to avoid a zero sum game battle of rights between gender identity rights and biological sex rights. There are many kinds of marginalisation that I would like to acknowledge and bring in at work, so If I’m running the introductions I’ll invite people to share anything they want the group to know about them. Then, if anyone wanted to express their personal gender identity, I would observe the pronouns they requested. I might forget sometimes, and I hope that everyone would treat that with the same tolerance I extend to people who, say, refer to me as ‘he’ on social media or forget how to pronounce my name.

Extending the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism

I recently read an anti-Zionist inveighing against Zionist Jews who accuse non-Zionist Jews of “ethnoreligious treason”. He asked why the people who react badly when critics of Israel invoke Jewish identity to tell other Jews what to do, don’t react similarly badly when supporters of Israel use the same strategy. Although he should understand that equal treatment would protect those he hates – progressive Zionists or non-Zionists who are not antisemitic – as much as it would protect him, I think this is a good question.

One example – back around 2010 the EDL’s former (miniscule) Jewish Arm leader Roberta Moore was calling the Jewish Community Security Trust, not to mention Binyamin Netanyahu, the Chief Rabbi of the time, and many other Jews ‘kapos’. Here’s an example:

“I am talking to YOU, you pathetic anti-Zionist Jewish twats out there!! You shall deserve the end that you get, because I will not fight for you if you will not fight for yourself. I would defend you if you are fighting with me, but if you are leaving this dirty work for us, I will NOT even forgive you. Cowards deserve my contempt.

If you think that appeasing Islamo-fascists will keep the beast at bay, you have learnt NOTHING from Nazi Germany, you bloody KAPOS!!!!

I am very very angry with the Jewish community for being so weak and so pathetically afraid of such vermin which we ourselves, even in small numbers can bring down!!”

Kapos were Jewish concentration camp inmates who gained preferment by taking roles as camp enforcers for the Nazis. Roberta Moore calls latterday Jews ‘kapos’ for being insufficiently militant in defending Israel. I realise that not everybody would agree with me that calling a Jew a kapo is antisemitic – indeed it seems to be something that some Jewish people of earlier generations do occasionally to make a point about Jewish self-interest. But times change – or should. In Roberta Moore we got a far right demagogue who, in her use of the word ‘kapo’, verbally attacked Jews as Jews, accused them of siding with Nazis to save themselves, called them inferior as Jews – in fact as bad or worse than Nazis – questioned their loyalty as Jews, and blamed them for violence against Jews. This is what ‘kapo’ means – it is a Holocaust-minimising term, a dog whistle, and almost always a smear against progressive Jews. Surely that is antisemitic.

At the time I invoked the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism to call this antisemitic, and tried to shoehorn what Roberta Moore had said into the example “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”. However I arranged it though, it was as awkward as a kitten in a bonnet. Though I support everything in the EUMC WD, the Roberta Moore example reveals gaps which leave far right Israel supporters (on the rise) much freer to make tribal demands on Jewish people with as-a-Jew stereotypes.

I’d say that the WD comprehends most kinds of antisemitism adequately (and with restraint), but insufficiently comprehends antisemitism in the name of Israel. I think antisemitism in the name of Israel might push idealised notions of Jewishness with respect to Israel,  seek to impose Jewish loyalty tests in support of Israel, or call Jews who are critical of Israel inferior Jews. At a population level I doubt this kind of antisemitism is ever going to be a massive problem. Being antisemitism from the ‘inside’ it will be perceived differently, perhaps more complacently, than that from the outside. But it does exist, it will acutely harm those it targets, and it will also harm those who take risks to build bridges for peace. Since I expect hate-fuelled simpletons to prevail in their polarisation of left and right, and views on Israel to be taken, like it or not, as a prominent marker of which pole you lean towards, I think it’s worth giving this some attention.

Here is the original EUMC WD, and below are my small changes. I’ve marked them with italics or strike-throughs but Diffchecker lets you compare if you care to.

~~~

Working definition: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

In addition, such manifestations could also centre on or target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing, or harming, or limiting of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

  • Accusing Stating that Jewish citizens of being are more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations, or that they are inferior as Jews for being insufficiently loyal.

Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel, or accusing Jews of being insufficiently active for the welfare of the state of Israel.

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.

~~~

I can’t see these small changes criminalising anything that isn’t already criminal. It doesn’t remove anything from the original WD, either. And it doesn’t make anti-Zionism any less hare-brained. What it does achieve is recognition of antisemitism from the authoritarian pro-Israeli right, whether religious or statist. It allows us to refer to the EUMC when calling statements like Roberta Moore’s antisemitic.

Does that work?

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.

Racism of low expectations

Still pondering the implications of the near miss with gender segregation on university campuses.

In his 1950 book Psychoanalysis and Religion, Erich Fromm made the following distinction between authoritarian and humanistic religions which, though I can’t see where religion ends and politics starts, seems right to me:

“Man’s [sic] aim in humanistic religion is to achieve the greatest strength, not the greatest powerlessness; virtue is self-realization, not obedience. Faith is certainty of conviction based on one’s own thought and feeling, not assent to propositions on credit of the proposer. The prevailing mood is that of joy, while the prevailing mood in authoritarian religion is that of sorrow or guilt.

“Inasmuch as humanistic religions are theistic, God is a symbol of man’s own powers which he tries to realize in his life, and is not a symbol of force or domination, having power over man.

“Illustrations of humanistic religions are early Buddhism, Taoism, the teachings of Isaiah, Jesus, Socrates, Spinoza, certain trends in the Jewish and Christian religions (particularly mysticism), the religion of Reason in the French Revolution. It is evident from these that the distinction between authoritarian and humanistic religion cuts across the distinction between theistic and non-theistic, and between religions in the narrow sense of the word and philosophical systems of religious character.”

I read that David Edwards (incidentally co-founder of Media Lens – a site I distrust because it views establishment media as corrupt propaganda by definition, irrespective of quality, principles and governance) developed this further in his book ‘Free to be Human. Intellectual Self-Defence in an Age of Illusions‘ as the idea of ‘power religions’ and their mind chains,

“Power religion, unlike true religious endeavour, has nothing at all do with the search for fundamental, adequate answers to human life, but is purely a means of justifying, enforcing and facilitating the exercise of power. Power religion does not consist in a particular set of beliefs, but in a set of functions supporting power. Because these functions remain essentially constant, we discover close similarities between versions of power religion widely separated by historical time, geography and superficial appearance. The differences between these beliefs represent a sort of superficial clothing over an essentially identical framework of underlying function.”

Religious authoritarianism enforces practices in the name of religion. Examples are the strict subjugation and exclusion of women (Saudi Arabia), outlawing abortion (Republic of Ireland, USA, ongoing attempts in the UK), state-enforced child bearing (Ceausescu’s Hungary), restricting the education of women (most conservative religions).

There are plenty of practices associated with power religions that mainstream UK commentators are prepared to publicly condemn, criticise or satirise. The most striking thing about these practices is that they tend to be from the dominant culture. Richard Herring’s Christ on a Bike show, which contains extensive material on the Pope and the Catholic Church met with some offended and wounded reactions to which he responded without compromise and in similar vein as before,

“A lot of things that Christians say annoy me (for example the Pope saying people should not use condoms in AIDS infested areas) but I believe they have the right to say them. The point of the routine is that it is a bit much for the Pope to tell us what to do with [our] sperm when some of his priests are having sex with kids – maybe it’s a priority to sort that out first.”

and although he has some material on Islam he points out,

“It’s harder as a non-Muslim to “mock” Islam and obviously it’s a different thing to concentrate on a minority religion, who are already the subject of prejudice and opprobrium (whatever that is)”.

This makes good sense and I am continually reassured by evidence that I live in a country where scruples about minority sensitivities have considerable influence. But, for the same reasons, it’s also tricky to criticise anything done in the name of a minority religion. This has led to the current situation, where many (most?) of the people who don’t pull their punches on authoritarian practices associated with minority religions are either open or crypto racists, the most organised of whom support the English Defence League, the British National Party, or their respective fragments.

The opinion that political left has ducked its responsibility is strengthening. A couple of months ago when campaigner against female genital mutilation Leyla Hussein took a sounding of cultural eggshells in Northampton by asking shoppers to sign a petition in favour the practice, she was appalled by her success. Signatories were prepared to support misogynistic violence against adolescent girls in order to express their ‘cultural sensitivity’. Another example, incompletely documented in some of my earlier posts, is the recent Universities UK recommendation that higher education institutions consent to segregation by gender if demanded by a presenter. The ensuing debate drew out the view – shared by a number of intellectuals including politicians and feminists as well as activists for an Islamic state – that to be worried about segregation is to be Islamophobic. For others – who themselves often face opprobrious charges of racism – this reaction confirmed their existing belief that there’s a thin spot where non-racist campaigns against religious authoritarianism should be, and in their place is the racism of low expectations.

Which finally brings me to legal scholar Karima Bennoune’s recent book ‘Your fatwa does not apply here. Untold stories from the fight against Muslim fundamentalism’. The first review I read, by Julia Droeber, sociologist at An Najah University, Palestine, approached the book cautiously in the knowledge that its subject could make it attractive to political inclinations that are unfavourable to Muslims. However, her fears were quickly allayed:

“Bennoune admits that she is walking a tight-rope. She is painfully aware that right-wing elements in the West may use this book as a pretext for further discrimination against Muslims at home and abroad. However, she says that she  felt compelled to document these accounts for two reasons: her fight for global human rights and her disappointment with the too-complacent view of allegedly “moderate” Islamists by the political Left in the West. To a large extent it is the tolerant and secular interpretations of Islam the protagonists of this book are trying to promote as they contest attempts by fundamentalists to place restrictions on their day-to-day lives, and Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here was prompted by the lack of attention paid in the West to those struggles.”

Droeber continues,

“… she takes issue with the view that Muslims and Muslim fundamentalists are victims (of the “War on Terror”, for example) and criticises governments for their reactions (or lack of reaction) to fundamentalist violence and its consequences for people’s everyday lives, for instance in Palestine.

“The final chapter’s title summarises the book’s message “Raise your voice while singing is still possible.”

Good advice – plenty more here.

Update

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

Have you seen this van in Redbridge?

You work when there’s work to be had. You can’t afford a new outfit for your brother’s wedding – let alone a present. Let alone a stag do. You’re angry and two things make you even angrier. One is people on benefits who look like they shouldn’t be. Another is people who don’t come from this country who live 5 to a room, work for their uncles, price your employer out of the market and you out of a job.

The Conservative-led coalition government is pretty sure you’ll fall into line behind their latest initiative.

Exacerbating community relations, by van

Exacerbating community relations, by van

The initiative is led by Mark Harper, Minister of State for Immigration and Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean – he’s @mark_j_harper on Twitter. The Government says:

“Over the next week, two vans will be driven around Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge and will show residents how many illegal migrants have recently been arrested in their area. They will also show a text number that migrants can message to arrange their return.”

Sometimes I’m afraid of the Conservatives and this is one of those times. Why would migrants abandon everything that is familiar, make a long, arduous and often treacherous journey to the UK only to then live in frankly dreadful conditions and work without rights or proper pay? Because they have nothing to lose where they were before. Perhaps their lives were under threat back home. Perhaps there was no work and no social security. Perhaps there was a war, or a mafia.

Make no mistake, you would do the same. That’s not to say that you have to put up with the situation. Like everybody else I want a working NHS and working public services – and those things depend on maintaining the proportion of taxpayers to service users. But nevertheless, you would do the same – and you would deserve compassion and assistance. Not for your neighbours to start associating you with images of handcuffs.

The trouble for me is that these poor, desperate people, who have moved here to become poor, lonely, exploited, desperate people, are the last people who should be targeted by the government. They are being treated as culprits when in fact they are victims. In some ways they are being treated as vermin to be cleared away.

The first question is, who is profiting from these people? Who is selling – and buying – goods and services at a price so low that the people working to deliver them cannot be paid a decent wage? Who is transporting the migrants, who is employing them, who are their slum landlords? These are the ones who need to be brought into line with the law. And if they keep within the law and there is still a problem, then the next question to ask is, why do migrants feel it would be better to nearly destitute themselves in Britain rather than remain where they were born? And then you will discover stories which make your heart heavy, which bring out the generosity of spirit that this government has given up on. And you will realise why the International Development budget exists.

It may well be that these vans form only part of wider government initiatives to make it hard for undocumented migrants to set up home here. As it is, though, these vans are on the streets of Redbridge and other London boroughs and they are the only part of the action that most people will ever see or hear about. And the message these vans are sending out is potentially a very damaging one. They make it seem as if the people who are here without permission are culprits and criminals who need to be taken away in handcuffs. The mixed message of the handcuffs and the “Let us help you” will bring out the worst fears of most migrants, I’d imagine – because my hunch is that the picture will speak louder than the words. And for the rest of us, whose right to be here isn’t under question, what are we supposed to think? To me, this is somewhere further along the line to official incitement against migrants than this country has seen for a long time.

This government thinks it is appropriate to try to gain support by turning us against some of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us. I think the Conservatives are trying to make fools of us.

Preliminary thoughts about what to do next:

  • Ramfel (Refugee and Migrant Forum for East London – their Facebook page seems to be most recently updated) is concerned with community relations. If you spot the van, contact them so that they can take action to monitor the repercussions, and counter any misinformation about illegal immigrants. If you don’t use Facebook, then try info@ramfel.org.uk – there you can also offer help leafleting.
  • Write you your MP
  • Write to Mark Harper.
  • As usual keep your criticism sharp and grounded, don’t rant, don’t exaggerate, don’t insult our public servants, and don’t forget that there is a massive fight for the scraps at the bottom of this society which is ripe for exploitation. Just make the best arguments possible.

Updates

  • The Twitter hashtag (shared with a bunch of random stuff) is #GoHome
  • The leader of Brent Council has made short statement of protest.
  • More from him on the BBC.
  • And here’s a video of Minister Mark Harper misrepresenting undocumented migration as a kind of anti-social petty crime, cut with shots of that nasty van.
  • @The_UK_Migrant points or that this new policy is likely to amount to stop and search.
  • Why shouldn’t London be less like Operation Wetback and more like New York?
  • Even the Daily Mail – bastion of anti-immigration sentiment – thinks the Go Home vans are ridiculous.
  • PICUM – the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants – is a good resource.
  • Nigel Farage is crowing about the Go Home Vans, rightly assuming that this is the Conservative response to the UKIP threat. When he then proceeds to call the campaign ‘nasty’ he fails to grasp the irony of this recognition.
  • It’s Saturday night and via Barkingside21 on Twitter I know of two reported sightings. Just two, in Kilburn and Willesden Green. Not a very busy or comprehensive tour, then. Perhaps the Go Home Van is feeling a little outlandish? Good.
  • The campaign has united leaders from all parties on Redbridge Council. They have sent Teresa May a unanimous message. It goes: 1) not about us without us and 2) fuck off with your rabble rousing.

Habeas corpus and legal representation for Mohammed Saba’aneh

Aside

Elsewhere has more on the detention of this cartoonist. I think little of his talent, less of his message, he may or may not be a danger to the citizens of the country next door.

None of this is relevant to the matter at hand – as always this is about the state whose agents have detained this young man, and their commitment to human rights. That is the point about human rights – they extend to all humans not matter how horrible they might be as people. So if somebody is arrested, they should be entitled to legal representation and a trial.

Operation sharpened pencil

Operation sharpened pencil

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.

Olympic games as they are and could be

Tommie Jones and John Carlos, Mexico City Olympics, 1968I love watching the Olympics. But this week kickings (Li-Cheng wasn’t walking so well after losing the Tae Kwon Do final) and beatings (Katie Taylor), equine indignitysexualised, sometimes bandaged, contortionists, heptathlete and swimmer ambassadors for British Petroleum (the ‘Olympic family’ branding reminds me of the ones in ‘The Descendants’ who wanted to sell the wilderness and build a golf course), and an overweening sprinter who thinks he has a special relationship with God nauseated me off the couch to Farringdon’s Free Word Centre. Free Word is currently hosting a collection of captioned photographs on Politics & the Olympics including the body, national identity, extremism, the environment, security and protest.

Some things I now know. The reason there’s no branding in the stadium is not because London’s organising committee drew a courageous line (an impression you may have taken from the statements they put out when challenged about sponsorship) but because it’s in the Olympic rules.

Sexual inequality in the Olympics (see for example gymnastics) was built in from the beginning. On the admission of women to some sports in 1912, Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, showed himself to be a fine internationalist but a tedious sexist:

“[women’s sport] is not in keeping with my concept of the Olympic Games, in which I believe that we have tried, and must continue to try, to put the following expression into practice: the solemn and periodic exaltation of male athleticism, based on internationalism, by means of fairness, in an artistic setting, with the applause of women as reward.”

In 1932 and ’36 when medallists’ hands were raised in fascist salutes, nobody got  disciplined. In 1968 Tommie Smith of the U.S. won the 200m in Mexico City and John Carlos took bronze, also for the U.S. They were suspended and banned from the Olympic Village by the International Organising Committee for the black-socked feet and black-gloved fists, symbols of black poverty and pride, which they wore to their award ceremony. The film Salute was made about this.

Hopefully after the recent publicity campaign most people are already aware of the Israeli athletes murdered in the name of Palestine at the 1972 Munich Olympics, assisted by German neo-Nazis to the dismay of the German establishment. There were no commemorative minutes of silence, prompting Philo to delve into some of the International Organising Committee’s more unsavoury influences. For the London 2012 Olympics, Britain spent more on security than it did on the athletes (which isn’t to say it would have been better to let the clear and present security threat – consider Atlanta 96 – sink the Olympics).

The Cold War was sporty. In Melbourne 1956 with the Hungarian Revolution ongoing, a Soviet water polo player punched a Hungarian water polo player in what became called the Blood in the Water match. Poland’s Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz was delighted to stick it up the Soviet-supporting crowd in the 1980 Moscow games. Opening ceremonies got especially silly in those times, notably the aforementioned Moscow games with its patriotic human mosaics, and the Los Angeles games which followed in ’84 where Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was played by 84 men.

For anybody bothered by flag flying and talk of nations, in 1936 the People’s Olympiad, scheduled for Barcelona, was cancelled by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Its planning is well documented at the University of Warwick. There was one flag for all (if it was this one then no wonder that didn’t take off) and chess was included, though not the barbaric and back then uninvented sport of chess boxing.

And if you haven’t yet found last month’s spoof Olympics edition newspaper London Late, it’s here – a superior protest rag (gsoh) collaboratively produced by groups who are trying to bring various of the Olympic sponsors to justice, namely the London Mining Network, War on Want (not a fan but this is probably their finest hour), the Bhopal Medical Appeal for the victims of the 1984 Union Carbide gas explosion, the oil campaign group Platform and the Tar Sands Network. From the selection on its middle pages, something good by Mau Mau.

So now I plan to return to gape at the sporn in the knowledge that I’ve heard, even amplified, some of what wanted to be heard and amplified. Yes, it is a shame I didn’t get my act together in advance.

My favourite Olympic performance so far is Russia’s synchronised swimming duet on the theme of puppets, along with the Italian duet’s swum biography of Frieda Kahlo. Mo “Look mate, this is my country” Farah is a legend, of course. We have tickets to Paralympic athletics finals in September.

But I think I may well, with the skepticism you should always reserve for people referred to as French intellectuals, have a read of Marc Perelman’s diatribe against organised sport as a “project of a society without projects”.

Only human

I often think about the slugs I have been cutting in half to save my vegetables.

Analogous to racism and sexism, speciesism is the belief that, or behaviour as if, humans were inherently more important than non-human animals.

Richard Ryder, Oxford University psychologist who first coined the phrase ‘speciesism’ in the 1970s later developed the ethic of ‘painism‘, where suffering pain or distress becomes the basis for rights. Richard Ryder’s thinking is behind the NC3Rs, the UK’s National Council for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research. His work for the RSPCA took the organisation in a European Union direction which led to an impressive if gradual number of pro-animal statutes. He’s also a former Lib Dem activist, which must have been formative of his interest in suffering.

Painism is an attempt to find a way between Utilitarianism and dominant approaches to Rights Theory. Utilitarianism prescribes the suffering of a minority for the sake of a majority. It takes a tallying-up approach as if ‘the greatest good’ of ‘the greatest number’ were a good that is felt more intensely by each person the more people feet it. Rights Theory places emphasis upon the importance of the individual but does so with “mysterious references to telos [purpose] or intrinsic values” and becomes hamstrung with “the trade-off issue – which is really one of the central problems of ethics – by invoking ad hoc conflicting rights such as the “right to self-defence” to get themselves out of difficulties.”

Painism holds that 5 units of pain for the Prime Minister is the same as 5 units of pain for a mouse, and a 100 units of pain for the Prime Minister is far worse than 1 unit of pain for each of 100 mice. Rather than attempting to aggregate suffering, “the badness of an action can be judged by the level of pain felt by the individual who suffers the most by it – the ‘maximum sufferer'”. So when an animal is forced to grow so fast that its muscles tear, a long and painful preamble to a terror ordeal culminating in an agonising death – so that some of the 1500 customers in London’s newest and heaviest MacDonalds can fatten themselves on a burger, it’s not so hard to work out what painism would do differently. Painism also incorporates emotional pain documented by Jeffrey Moussaief Masson in his embarrassingly-titled 2004 study of animal consciousness The Pig Who Sang to the Moon. I haven’t read any of the books so I’ll stop there.

Approaching release is Speciesism, a documentary by Washington D.C. law post-graduate Mark Devries. It’s lucky you’re reading this because you’re unlikely to learn about it any other way. 67 donors on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter raised $15k to promote it and it will be previewed at the 2012 Animal Rights Conference – whose web site is a tattered cobweb of longterm failure – and after that, definitely not your local Odeon. Speciesism features several philosophers, some industrial investigative journalism, a neo-Nazi and at least one Holocaust survivor who identifies with the creatures in the clutches of the humans. On the Dr Don Show you can hear a l-o-o-o-o-n-g but never tedious radio interview with Mark Devries which probes the main philosophical and social arguments. Dr Don is a man whose web site sports a non-hilarious self-caricature dressed in scrubs perched on a dribbling cider keg, literally wringing eggs out of a hen. This isn’t touched on in the interview.

Well, you’ve read Safran Foer’s Eating Animal, now see Speciesism, get yer Jewish subtext here Snoopy, and may providence send more lawyers to save us from our rottenmost selves.

I hope the slugs died instantly. They seemed like they did.