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.

Proud to be British Broadcasted

BBC Radio 4 was magnificent this evening. I switched on to The World Tonight and was substantially informed about the response to rape by the Indian authorities, British attitudes to immigration, and corruption in Turkey, among other things. Of personal interest was some lucid analysis of the Jew-baiting French comic Dieudonne which I may try and transcribe.

That was followed by Book at Bedtime, The Lonely Londoners by Trinidadian London sojourner Sam Selvon. It’s about the experience of Caribbean immigrants in the 1950s – the pallid sunshine, smog, gas fires, job-seeking, cold, reserved racism.

Then the piece de resistance. Tonight’s Andrew Maxwell’s Public Enemies was nationalism, starting with the delicate subject of Scotland, taking in Cornwall, and wondering whether we should consider New Zealand or Turkey more European.

All this at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment among the UK general public is apparently running at 8 out of 10 (and based on local knowledge a good proportion of those will be first, second, third generation immigrants themselves. Misunderstandings and disinformation are ripe for exploitation.

This is why we treasure the BBC – not least its controller Gwynneth Williams. Continue reading

Thanks for the women, BBC

I have no idea what’s going on – it’s nearly a month since International Women’s Day – but this week the BBC has not under-represented women in the programmes I’ve watched and heard. If the BBC persists with giving us these illustrious female role models, there may yet come the day when men and women shake off the mind chains, and women become able to assume our rightful status in society without requiring massive amount of coaching and mentoring to even countenance this heady ambition.

Just watched Kirsty Young presenting the documentary Britain at Work – it’s truly astonishing how few documentaries are presented by women.

The other day – can’t easily find out which – I was struck by how many women were on Newsnight. Sue Lloyd-Roberts went to talk to Saudi Arabians about the total and legally enforced dependency of women there. Aayan Hirsi Ali’s case for secularism and one rule of law for all was magnificent (used to thinking of her sadly as somebody damaged to the point of open and implacable anti-Muslim sentiment, somebody I couldn’t link to, but either I had that wrong, the Newsnight interview was atypical, or she has softened). She knows better than most the inhumane  implications of sharia law where it is permitted to become the law of the land.

Newsnight tonight is presented by Stephanie Flanders, and the Science Editor Susan Watts is talking about Fukushima. Having to listen to Christina Odone misrepresent Harriet Harman and sympathise with David Willetts attributing a decline in working class malehood to feminism was less disturbing because there were other women there to make  appropriate counter arguments. Maureen Lipman, Germaine Greer and Martha Kearney next on the Review Show. Jennifer Egan has won a prestigious literary award.

You know, I was thinking that there were approaching sufficient numbers of women on our screens and radios for me to indulge my dislike of Mariella Frostrup a bit, when I read an extremely good essay of hers on feminism’s global challenge for International Women’s Day and decided to stow it.

I’m not sure if it’s the novelty or something to do with the discourse itself, but I find it easier to concentrate when the people broadcast talking politics are women. 

I’ve heard an Any Questions this evening on BBC Radio 4 with an all-woman panel comprising Lynne Featherstone, Anne McElvoy, Laurie Penny (please, why?) and Margaret Beckett (who unsettled my pro-AV position).

Keep it up with the women, BBC. We love it.

PS worth mentioning that some of the best feminists I know are men, and sad to say the kitschest I know are women who think that belittling their and their friends’ menfolk somehow advances the female condition. Hope it’s alright for me to continue to think of that as balls.

Reasons to love the BBC

Amanda Goodall is one of a growing number of academics who are actively putting the brakes on the corporatisation of higher education by making arguments in the interest of their disciplinary and intellectual allegiances, and with reference to the ethos of the academy. On BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week, hear her explain how important it is that academic leaders aren’t merely professional managers but leading scholars in their own right. Evgeny Morozov, about whom I’ve talked before and to whom I was introduced last week (he was prepossessing, I wasn’t) was there too.

And here are Suitably Despairing’s schedules – mostly BBC – of Green in the media for Copenhagen weeks minus 1, 1 and 2.

And probably the best thing I’ve heard all the long year was the My Lai tapes on Archive on Four:

“Robert Hodierne reveals the truth about the infamous My Lai massacre of 16 March 1968, based on the transcript of a Pentagon enquiry conducted by Lt General William Peers. The findings of the investigation were so uncomfortable for the US Military that they were suppressed. Some 400 hours of tape show that US soldiers raped and murdered hundreds of civilians in not just one but three villages in an orgy of killing that proved to be a turning point in the Vietnam War.”

In the course of the programme you will hear original material excerpted from the thousands of hours recorded in the course of Lieutenant General William Peers’ inquiry into the massacre. Most interestingly for me, this is a story of the effects of demonisation on the proclivities of soldiers in their dealings with civilians. It is also a story of the mendacity of leaders in hierarchical organisations when under pressure, what it means for subordinates to speak out in such circumstances, and the vulnerability of women in wartime.

And you absolutely have to – must – watch Jonathan Dimbleby’s roadtrip round Russia. Matt said it was “alright” and that he “didn’t learn anything”, and indeed this is above all a social and contemporary history of Russia. You look with your eyes and see that many roads in Russia are unpaved, there is no focal point for Russian commemoration of the gulags, the Volga is enormous, most of Russia is like the horrible fens, Muslims and Christians get along very well in a city in a semi-autonomous region whose name I forget, hundreds of young conscripts die or are badly injured at the hands of fellow soldiers, the inside of a working steel mill is majestic, the admirers of Stalin are banal and the Urals, piddling – why bother dividing continents with them when they couldn’t even divide a country?

The BBC is one of the best things about this country. It produces programmes for thinking, responsible beings. Without it we’d be treated as mere consumers.

Which brings me neatly back to where I started.

How is this national news?

Tell of this on a BBC Radio 4 10 a.m. news bulletin was weird. I couldn’t for the life of me work out why reporting it was felt to be of national importance.

The nastiness of the case in question aside (and indeed, the BBC didn’t really go into that) how did it happen that this community gnat fight made national news?


  • The news (for racist thickos) is the earth-shattering fact that some Jews wish to challenge the financial sector, while other Jews have a significant vested interest in the financial sector.
  • The news is that Jewish capitalism has so corrupted the Jewish faith that they’ll even get the knives out for their own if they stand in their way
  • The news is simply that Jews fight. The BBC is titillated by internecine squabble in the organised Jewish community. But then again they didn’t really report it. So, alternatively, the BBC simply considers it news that Jews do not share a common purpose.

So, the BBC is reporting something unworthy of report. And in doing this strange thing in such a stilted way, it opens the story up to interpretations which are racist or are based on racist views (if you can tell the difference). You can’t afford to do that these days.

“The belly which has no ears”: Saturday Kitchen, sex, and institutionalised violence

As Matt and I lumpenly watched Saturday Kitchen on the BBC this morning, I felt the familiar feeling of living in ill times.

The Hairy Bakers served up confectionery-studded portions of rich chocolate cake as big as your head to tiny eager children and amused themselves by breaking eggs into a wheelbarrow of wedding cake-mix. Rick Stein boiled up some corpse on the bone and garnished it with bird’s egg. Some wild food man competed at the Women’s Institute with an under-collagened jelly. James Martin, the host, served up an egg and butter pie with two sorts of cow cream. And eight male finalists cooked for the homecoming British troops at the Imperial War Museum with contorted animal parts or derived substances in every course of every menu. Basically, the programme was a piece of institutionalised violence against animals (and in the background, between the troops and their adversaries) in the almost total absence of women.

The mixture of sexist slight and revolting display of death and dismemberment had me mentally reeling and a memory came of a vegan academic friend of mine talking about the ecofeminist Carol Adams – here she is through the eyes of a Harvard student who attended one of her lectures. Carol Adams authored The Sexual Politics of Meat. I went to look at it on Google Books to see if I could get a little insight. In common with my friend, I am wary of the views of Carol Adams because I don’t think her vegetarianism hangs together with her feminism to my satisfaction. Also I don’t want to “negate the dominant world” as such, and I don’t think her premises are borne out in actuality. For example, “eat rice, have faith in women” is not going to cut it, and the current woman-free vogue for baking on Saturday kitchen spoils the virility=meat argument (p16), notwithstanding our collective male-hunter / female-gatherer past. And I’m not convinced that it is inherently patriarchal to believe that the end justifies the means (p23). Yes, people with power have always eaten meat – and the first thing poor people do when their circumstances improve is improve their diets, usually with meat, and to ascribe this to status-seeking is missing out a hell of a lot. And I don’t think you can tell all that much about contemporary society from cherry-picked Greek myths, and have never understood why so many critical theorists attempt this. And though I have a very womanly lack of self-belief which I think resides in poor gender role-models who themselves had poor role-models, in combination with neglect by the men who have professional and political power over me whose decisions circumscribe a lot of mine, I have law on my side and am not inclined to consider myself as oppressed by men.

And while I’d shun the comparison which does most of the work in the following from Isaac Bashevis Singer, maybe I shouldn’t if I accept the implications of his point, and I think I do.

“As often as Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he had always had the same thought: in their behaviour towards creatures, all men were Nazis. The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased exemplified the most extreme of racist theories, the principle that might is right.”

Which leaves me where? Humans are a menace? Is that what I think? I don’t think I think that. So is the comparison wrong? It feels right… It’s not the same as comparing George Bush to Hitler. Perhaps I think of humans as sophisticated animals with tendencies we recognise as needing to be restrained – by each self, preferably, with the law as a protection against that failing. Would somebody care to respond? Besides my friend, who is in the throes of her thesis and can’t talk much, Norm and Eve Garrard (I should read that book) are the only people I’m aware of with my kind of politics who care much about this.

However, the following points are worth thinking on:

“Justice should not be so fragile a commodity that it cannot be extended beyond the species barrier of Homo sapiens” (p22).

“When one lacks power in the dominant culture, such disempowerment may make one more alert to other forms of disempowerment” (p22).

Apparently 80% of the animal advocacy movement is women (p21).

True, I lack power – but it’s because I don’t find it right to seek it in a hierarchical system, knowing that I’d only be climbing it to flatten it takes a lot of character, brain and energy. Still, maybe this sheds some light about why I often wonder about how it happened that Al Gore could make a seminal film about climate change which passed over the huge climactic problem of farmed cows, his family’s business. And why I also often wonder about the time a single-issue campaigner, who thought so hard and argued so eloquently for the rights of one social group, smacked his lips over my Guardian supplement on the ill treatment of pigs, the cover splash of which was a large close-up image of fried bacon. And, not to let him off the hook, after my cold wordless anger had subsided I acknowledged that I consider more social ills to be connected than most people do, and that this makes me vulnerable to totalitarianism which I so far recognise and avoid, but maybe over-aggressively and to the detriment of making arguments for change. And maybe it’s part of the reason why I spend so much time troubled by how it came to be that so many of the most prominent totalitarian socialists are unrelatedly a) men and b) eat animal parts and substances.

And that’s as far as I’ve got.

“It is a difficult matter to argue with the belly since it has no ears” is attributed to the Roman statesman Marcus Porcius Cato.

Jews, blood matters, Officer Krupke and a new civil rights horizon

Who is a Jew?

Who cares – why shouldn’t people identify however they like?

Ah, well, quite a few people have an answer to that.

The Israeli religious, expansionist right, for one – they want to make a historical case for owning the land of Israel on grounds of prior Hebrew occupation. They have a marginal view in Israel, and they are utterly wrong to base a claim on religious right or spurious ancestral right disregarding the rights of the people who live there currently, but like our BNP they’re on the rise. They do things like undermine foundations of Palestinian villages in desperate, politically-motivated archeological investigations for evidence.

A proportion of the Israel negationists – the ones who want Israel cancelled – also care about this. They make the case that the Jews are a pseudo-ethnicity posing as an authentic one. Arthur Koestler’s Thirteenth Tribe is a kind of debunk of Jews as fake Hebrews. Lenin, Abram Leon, Karl Kautsky, and even Marx himself thought of Jews as a kind of people-class, cleaving together only because antisemitism had narrowed their prospects and aspirations.

And some people take a political interest disguised as an academic interest. Most recently I got talking to the man next to me at a gig (trying to think how the hell this would have come up – I think he told me he was a Syrian-Lebanese rapper and asked me if I was English English – now to the question “Are you English?” I reply that yes I am English, but “English English” is getting at something else and so if I’m feeling cooperative I briefly say where my family is from and why I came to be here – I did that on this occasion and he immediately asked me if I knew much about Jewish history and volunteered the following information). He said that Jews were not actually descended from Israelites or Hebrews. He told me about a Levantine kingdom in the in the early years of Islam. It was mostly inhabited by business people. The authorities stipulated a tax on the business people – Christians authorities had the right to levy a tax on Christian businesses and Muslim authorities had the right to levy a tax on Muslim businesses. The only group which wasn’t levying taxes was the Jewish authorities. The business people of this kingdom wished to avoid paying taxes and so they converted to Judaism. I can’t find this account in the usual places – moreover embodied in this harmless account from a very charming man we have the seeds of charges made frequently and historically against Jews – acquisitiveness, unscrupulousness, illegitimacy and deceit.

Others actually have a stake. See for example this week’s BBC Radio 4 Start the Week (Monday 7th July, 09:03), where there was a discussion about how genetic testing is revolutionising our sense of identity. Masha Gessen shared a mutated gene for particularly aggressive forms of cancer with her mother. She found herself in new territory where people make decisions based on genetic knowledge. Her particular mutation in that particular gene is particularly prevalent in Ashkenazi Jews. Over half the Ashkenazi (central European) Jews alive today are descendents of four women who lived 1,500 years ago. Her book, Blood Matters: A Journey Along the Genetic Frontier , is a significant departure from the way we have thought about ethnicity. This woman is a journalist and I can’t vouch for her, but I quote her below because she speaks with humility and caution. She notes, as a result of genetic research, the revival of an almost medieval way of thinking about blood:

“You start thinking about blood in completely different ways. It does matter an awful lot, as it turns out, and of course it completely destroys any attempt to think about people as being Jewish as a religion, or choice, because you’ve started thinking about it as an ethnicity, which is a way in which the Western world hasn’t thought about being Jewish in quite a while.”

Andrew Marr then asks:

“You talk about ‘biobabble’, as opposed to ‘psychobabble’. I suppose we’ve been in a world where for the last forty or fify or sixty years, a lot of people have said “Well it’s not my fault” – because of Freudianism – what Freud taught, i.e. “It’s because of the way I was potty trained” or “I didn’t like my mother”, or “I didn’t like my dad and I had a terrible time” therefore “This is not my fault”. Are we moving into a world where people’s behaviour – in all sorts of ways – criminality … is going to be blamed on “It’s not my fault, it’s my genes – it’s my genetic destiny”.

I think what Andrew Marr is getting at is:

Masha Gessen replies

“One of the things I found most fascinating when researching the book is behavioural genetics. It’s very much at the beginning of this particular science – people who are doing this research are the first to give you a million disclaimers – that these are not causative relationships, that these are correlations, etcetera. But there do seem to be particular genes that heavily affect behaviour, and there are particular genes, or particular variants, that seem to be linked to various mental conditions… so yes I think we’re quickly moving into an era where we think about behaviour and psychological makeup as being genetically determined and I think one of the fascinating things about it is that it’s happening faster than we realise … before we can say “I have this mutation and therefore I need to sleep 12 hours a night” and “I have this mutation and therefore I can never meet a deadline” – it’s actually seeped into the language – I did this very sort of surface analysis of articles in the New York Times as I was finishing the book … and then I looked at articles published ten years ago and the number of times that genetics is mentioned is …

This one of many examples you can find of the gathering entry of the physical sciences into the social world which has for decades been the preserve of sociology, anthropology and psychology. At this stage its growth seems inevitable and it represents an enormous challenge to the dominant approach on the Left to tackling disadvantage, which is a fundamentally materialist one of insisting on equal opportunities as the major pre-requisite to equality.

It’s my impression that The Left has consistently resisted acknowledging any biological or physiological effects on our mental capabilities and consequently its approach to tackling inequality, while correct (see Ben Shlomo and Kuh on the effects of maternal nutrition for example) and to be defended , also omits some inconvenient truths and will consequently fail the people it sets out to help. I’m all for exploring genes but that is going to bring about the most enormous shake-up in civil rights, and we’ll need to rethink a few things, not least how you fight for the rights of fundamentally unequal humans without prejudice.

Conspiracy debunk

Conspiracy theories preoccupy me a bit and without even going out of my way I run into September 11th ones on a fairly regular basis.

It’s very difficult to debunk a conspiracy theory because the conspiracy theorists are only rational in one direction – confirming their theory. They have an unfeasible suspicion about the motives of people in power, and an unshakeable confidence in the capabilities of small cabals to effect control over entire states or even the world, without any evidence being found or any leaks escaping. It is a bit worrying that these have gained so much currency that BBC2 screened a documentary debunk tonight as part of their Conspiracy Files series.

Well worth a watch.