Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Sceptical Green.......

I remember growing up in the 1980s nuclear war was the ultimate threat. Today that scare has been replaced by climate change.

While climate change is certainly happening nobody knows for sure how severe the impact may be. Journalists tend to report the worst case doomsday scenarios.

I very much doubt that the West will change it's behaviour sufficiently to curb greenhouse gases. The amount of 4x4s on city streets bears witness to that. To really make a difference we would have to significantly change our way of life, and how many of us are really willing to do that? How many people practically can anyway? having wind turbines in your garden may be fine if you are affluent, but can you do that in a block of flats? Somehow I can't see anyone investing in low budget housing with wind turbines or solar power included. Do many people really want to give up their holidays abroad?

Perhaps best we can hope for is that the worst case scenario does not come into being. It becomes a matter not of stopping climate change but of having an infrastructure in place that is able to deal with it. Perhaps that is too optimistic though, as the anarchic nature of global capitalism is by it's nature disordered.

Perhaps people may just come to realise that capitalism is inadequate or unable to deal with environmental damage. A non profit driven system, with decentralisation of economic and political power, may be the only environmentally sustainable one.

Monday, October 30, 2006

French Riots and Related Issues

The banlieues in Pairs provide an example of bad urban planning as well as poverty and racism.

There is only one place on the outskirts of London that bears a resemblance to the grim suburbs of Paris, that would be Thamesmead. The only suburb I can think of which is within sufficient distance from the capital, and consisting almost solely of post war social housing, to merit a comparison.

Like most of London's post war developments for the working class who formerly inhabited the Dickensian slums it has been a disaster. The creation of tower blocks has replaced one set of slums with another. My friends lived in a block in the aforementioned area when the lift rarely worked (and if it happened to break down while you were in it nobody would respond to the alarm as children were always setting it off as a hoax). You didn't walk up the stairs at night - you ran.

The creation of walkways linking developments simply provides escape routes for criminals and handy sites for muggings, as has been noted about the notorious estates around the Elephant Castle area.

Do tower blocks create anti social behaviour or is it simply the people who reside there are inclined that way? I'd say it's a combination. The people who live in these developments are usually poor or underclass to begin with, with everything attached to that. But a depressing living environment only adds to hopelessness, which can manifest in anti social or criminal behaviour. If you have no stake in society and are forced to live in squalor you have nothing to lose.

Back to Paris - much of this is just as true for the suburbs there as it is for London's poor dwellings, perhaps more so. And of course there is the added problem of racism and blatant discrimination based on one's postcode. Action must be taken before it spirals further. I am not one to romanticise the French riots or believe they have any revolutionary potential to change society in any drastic way - this is not 1968. However, the youths in the banlieues are right in discerning that the current system has nothing to offer them. But their actions are of an apolitical and nihilistic nature. Although I'm not a big advocate of affirmative action generally, I believe there is a case for it here. This must go along with regeneration of the districts concerned (local activities and housing revampment) , with democratically controlled and accountable policing. Racism is rife among the French police, and the youths are right to distrust them. They are totally alienated from the communities they are supposed to serve.

But don't let us forget that it wasn't that long ago London had it's own riots in it's depleted estates that were predominately inhabited by Black citizens. The motivations were not unsimiliar - youths felt victimised by racism and poverty, and the feeling of persecution by an institutionally racist police force.

Meanwhile lessons can be learnt about the shortfalls of social housing both in Britain and in France. Places like Thamesmead (which not that long ago described on a billboard as a 'place of London's future') will hopefully one day be monuments to it's past, as will the banlieues of Paris to it's own. The working class and immigrants should not be forced to live among crime and squalor. But until the British government drops it's policy against social housing (preventing the building of new council property) an improvement in people's lives is unlikely to happen. Meanwhile decent social housing should be campaigned for in both cities. Some existing properties have been regenerated (such as the Broadwater Farm area where the Tottenham riots took place) but this is not good enough. As a few of the elderly Elephant and Castle residents pointed out in a documentary, the development behind the shopping mall was not designed well for a good community spirit. Social problems and crime continue to plague the area. Let not the disaster of the post war tower blocks be repeated in any new projects.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

I thought I'd forward this from the Times as the link seemed to have disappeared.

Abortion exposes women to higher risk of depression
By Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent

WOMEN who have abortions are risking depression and other mental illness and should be told of the dangers, a group of leading doctors says today.

In a letter to The Times, 15 senior obstetricians and psychiatrists say that new evidence has uncovered a clear link between abortion and mental illness in women with no previous history of psychological problems.

Women who have had abortions have twice the level of psychological problems and three times the level of depression as women who have given birth or never been pregnant, they say.

Their letter, which comes on the anniversary of the legislation of abortion 29 years ago, says that the medical profession can no longer “play down” the links between depression and abortion and that the risk to mental heath must be weighed up in the decisions to approve abortions on ground of a risk to the mother.

Since abortion was legalised in 1967 more than six million abortions have been performed in Britain, 95 per cent on the grounds of physical or mental health of the mother or existing children.

“We suggest the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and Royal College of Psychiatrists revise their guidance and that future abortion notifications clearly distinguish between physical and mental health grounds for abortion,” the letter says.

The evidence cited by the doctors was published this year and came after a lengthy study that was conducted in New Zealand.

Although it has been long established that women with a history of mental illness are at greater risk of further instability following an abortion, the New Zealand study established for the first time that abortion could trigger depression and other illnesses in women with no mental problems in the past.

The research prompted the American Psychology Association to withdraw an official statement which denied a link between abortion and psychological harm.

However the letter was challenged yesterday by Abortion Rights who said that the doctors were exaggerating the risks. “On average one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, it is thus a clear exaggeration to say that all these women suffer long-term psychological trauma,” said Anne Quesney, the director.

“The consensus of all authoritative psychiatric and medical opinion is that, for the large majority of women, the effects on psychological health of having an abortion are neither major nor long-lasting. Most women report feeling a sense of relief. They suggest that the most stressful thing is coming to the decision to terminate, particularly when the circumstances are difficult. Some women may experience feelings of sadness and loss; this is not a mental illness, it is just a normal reaction to what can be a negative event.” The anniversary of the legalisation of abortion has also triggered a new row over the time limits for abortion which stand at 24 weeks. The campaign for change in the law will be advanced next week by Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, who presents a bill to Parliament calling for the limit to be reduced to 21 weeks, and for a cooling off period after a woman has decided to have an abortion.

The pro-choice lobby has responded saying there is already an unacceptably long delay in getting abortions on the NHS forcing many women to pay to go privately.

The pro choice lobby seem to be doing themselves no favours by denying the results of this research. A choice surely means an informed choice, which means being aware of any risks that may arise from the procedure. Meanwhile I am all for lowering the upper time limit (see link).

Friday, October 27, 2006

Drug Classification - No Highs

Now I’m for the legalisation of all drugs. But I do get tired of the comments made in the campaigning by those who support the legalisation of ‘soft’ drugs but shy away from asking that everything be legalised.

Their claims tend to be based on the assertion that ‘cannabis is not as harmful as heroin etc therefore it should not be criminalised’. Its use is sometimes said to be virtually harmless, even beneficial for relaxation. But the endorsers of cannabis wilfully ignore the fact that cannabis use can induce schizophrenia in a significant minority of people. I know a few people myself who have had a psychotic episode after smoking cannabis and it is not a joke. To admit to this is not lining up with the forces of prohibition, it is simply being responsible and stating a fact. I would look pretty daft if I was to allege that ALL drugs were harmless as an argument for legalisation, or to openly praise the use of heroin or cocaine.

Alcohol has recently been said to be physically as harmful as heroin. This I can believe, as we are all too aware of the harm excessive alcohol use can do to the body, besides the negative social consequences of this legal drug. But recently the medical research council alleged that ecstasy is ‘several thousand’ times’ less harmful than heroin (see link). ‘Several’ thousand? Really? I somewhat doubt this. I doubt that this research was thorough enough. How can such a sweeping claim be verified? Not enough is known about the possible long term effects of ecstasy use, due to the illegality of the substance. And if the claim was true it would have to be deduced that ecstasy is also several thousand times less dangerous than alcohol, which seems a pretty long shot.

Such nonsense obviously gets sprouted because the soft drugs lobby are too cowardly to call for the legalisation of all drugs, including heroin (pharmaceutical name being diamorphine, a powerful painkiller used for serious injuries and terminal illnesses).
Ecstasy (MDMA) was, like LSD, a psychoactive drug initially used during psychoanalysis. Street Ecstasy is not pure MDMA, anymore than street heroin is the same as pharmaceutical diamorphine. Pure MDMA may be many times less harmful than street heroin, but such a comparison is pointless as pure MDMA is almost as elusive as pure diamorphine. Like street heroin, ecstasy is cut with all kinds of crap which obviously make the drug more dangerous than it would be in its pure form. Compare the risks of both drugs in their pure form and the results would look a touch different.

It is also worth noting that the risks of drugs vary. Heroin or diamorphine is not a psychoactive drug so it is not linked with psychosis in the same way that cannabis (or LSD) is. Although it can affect mental health its biggest risk in its pure form is its highly addictive quality. Psychoactive drugs have a far greater risk of causing psychosis in those who are susceptible, yet they are not addictive in the same way as opiates (morphine and derived offshoots). But these facts are distorted due to the way prohibition has created a bogeyman in the form of heroin as a yardstick to measure the risks of other drugs by. The fact that the risks of psychoactive drugs are different from those relating to opiates become obscured, and this is of no help to anyone. Neither is it of any help to pretend that cannabis is harmless while ‘heroin screws you up’ as an attempt to get the State off the backs of cannabis users.

Any debate or research into the harmfulness of various drugs is bound to be skewered by prohibition and its effects. The long term effect of any drug (in its pure, not adulterated form) can only be known in detail through long case studies, and prohibition has made this impossible to do. The soft drugs lobby will do well to remember that this applies to cannabis as much as any Class A drug. In Holland an increase in suicidal ideation has been noted since the law on cannabis was relaxed.

Having said all this I remain convinced that prohibition does more harm than any conceived benefits. I have witnessed its effects myself. Legalising all drugs will allow their use to be monitored and regulated, and more will come to be known about the long term effects (besides the fact that it will be safer for users, who need no longer use adulterated substances or commit crimes to feed expensive habits, so it would be less of a strain on society).

We only know about the effects associated with alcohol as it has always been legal.
Being for the legislation of all drugs, including heroin, does not equate with a cavalier attitude towards the harm they potentially cause. It can equate with a responsible approach that wishes to ensure people know and are aware of the possible risks. This is why the ‘cannabis is good’ brigade annoy me so, as they are not promoting responsible drug use.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

We Always Come Back.......

Humanitarian intervention on the part of the German army here?

It springs to mind the graffiti written by 'peacekeepers' of the same nationality in the Balkans in the 1990s - We Always Come Back.

But that incident had it's own special context, a slightly different thing for Germany than it's role in Afghanistan. To understand that requires some research into the role of Germany in the break up of the former Yugoslavia and it's historic links in the region, including during the Nazi period.

This incident in Afghanistan simply appears to expose the fact that there is nothing humane about militarism or Western expansion.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Battered Men

I saw quite an interesting documentary last night on the topic of battered men, which gave me some food for thought. There were a few very distressing examples shown, one of which being the case of a man who was stabbed to death by his partner in a fit of jealous rage.

I could not help but feel some empathy with the abuser, who had a history of abuse herself (as have many abusers) and had long term mental health problems that had gone unaddressed. How will she live with herself in the years to follow? The other women featured had similiar issues in their respective backgrounds.

Perhaps the issue of female violence will need a slightly different analysis to that of male violence. But the issue does make the classic feminist analysis of domestic violence being an expression of patriarchy (or at least justified by it) look increasingly weak.

The psychology of the relationships and of the women (and men) involved appeared virtually identical to that where the man is the abuser. The male victims were isolated by their abusers, who expressed the same possesiveness that male abusers do. The man who was eventually killed by his partner expressed the same traits as do female victims of domestic violence. He returned to his partner after her pleas and apologies, 'hoping he could change her' (in the words of one of his family members). He covered up for her likewise (on one occasion telling his family he had fallen into a rosebush).

This kind of violence is uncontrolled rage, an inability to cope with emotions and to communicate and express oneself. Much of it appears to stem from insecurity. This seems to apply to abusers of either sex. If patriarchy is allegedly the ideology which justifies men's violence towards women, what is the ideology that justifies women's towards men? There isn't one. So it would appear relatively safe to say that there is not one that justifies or motivates men's violence against women either. It doesn't need an ideology, it just needs the psychology of the perpetrator.

Perhaps once in some times and in some places it was considered acceptable for men to 'discipline' unruly wives (and in some places, at certain times, it may still be). This remains an issue. The traditional patriarchal family was one place where power relations were exercised. But this structure is on the wane under late Western capitalism.

In modern society it is not socially acceptable for men to beat their wives. A batterer would not be respected by his peers. It would be a mark of shame rather than of strength or pride. And it goes without saying that very often 'traditional' codes of chilvary dictate that men should not hit women. Machismo may sometimes serve for some men a justification for violence, but a justification is all it can ever be. 'Patriarchy' is not the underlying reason for it.

In my experience on the left I have encountered men who have raised these concerns being dismissed not only by feminists but also by left wing men who stick with the traditional analysis. The fact that there may be 5 or even ten female horror stories for every male one does not mean it is not an issue that should not be addressed. We should oppose violence and take it seriously whatever the sex is of the perpetrators or victims. DV should be today treated as a gender neutral issue, as I have argued before.

One man in the documentary reported that he was not believed by the police when he informed them. Yet the police have run a tough campaign against male violence for a good few years now. Let's hope society and it's institutions will wake up to this problem, and let's hope the left rethink it's stance. Men can be victims as well as women, even if it may be less frequent.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Green or Blue?

Are the Tory party showing their true colours as the nasty party again? It wasn't that long ago that the leadership refused to discuss the matter. Now it is on the agenda again. Not a wise move if they wish to continue with their apparent makeover.

The whole package will obviously benefit the wealthy, especially the proposed abolition of inheritance tax and the reduction on corporation tax.

Despite my concern for the environment, I am always sceptical about so called 'green' taxes (which not only the Tories but the increasingly right wing leadership of the lib dems propose too). They tend to be aimed not so much at corporations but rather at ordinary people. The poor are, of course, hit the hardest.

If the proposed air fuel taxes come into being (which seem to have cross party support) flying may once again become the luxury of the rich, as it used to be. Those of us not so fortunate may have to kiss goodbye to holidays abroad.

A similiar issue is fuel taxes on cars, which stretch the budget of the average motorist (Although I would not be against an extra tax on 4x4s, mind. They are dangerous on the road as well as being pollutive. Nobody has to drive one of those things in town).

When it comes down to it taxes that are not related to means are regressive taxes. This goes for so called green taxes as well as VAT etc. More could be achieved by investing in cleaner energy via public money that is taxed from corporations who are the biggest polluters, not from ordinary people. But then that would be too much to ask. When faced with higher taxation big business can always threaten to take it's accounts elsewhere, hence the vicious circle. That's capitalism for you.

The Dolphinarium/La Femme Contraire Thursday Debate: Slack Lyrics
My friend Maria from Dolphinarium and I can't pass up any opportunity to get down and dirty. We like to wrap it up in some high-minded political posturing, though - as an excuse. So we're gonna chat about Slack Lyrics. Should radio stations refuse to play slack tunes? Or must artistry be as unfettered as possible. Let's decide.....

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Depression, Writer's Block, and the Confessional Culture
I know I've been a bit quiet over the past few days. But a touch of depression, along with a lack of motivation and ideas for writing (besides having been lax with the news) have led me to withdraw. It's a vicious circle, as the less I write the more dejected I feel, yet feeling this way seems to stop me from writing. I've been told it's not uncommon but it's still not much consolation.

Anyway, it seems that I may be sucummbing myself to the 'confessional culture' that most of the time I treat with a lot of scepticism. I'm not against talking about problems, in actual fact a good thing I find about Americans, for instance, is their ability to be open about issues and not keep it under the carpet as us 'stiff upper lip Brits' have been more inclined to do. But as we've seen with the growth of the 'recovery' movement in the States and here, the narcissism that it seems to induce, along with it's introduction into the political sphere (witness the David Blunkett diaries) it seems that it may be going a step too far.

I don't think I'm the only one to find the notorious Dave Pelzer a little sickening, along with the writers who have followed in his footsteps. Many of their accounts are being challenged by their relatives, including that of the British Judge Constance Briscoe. But whether or not it happened as they said is not the point, the therepeutic culture, based on a pop pyschoanalysis, dictates that the patient's version of events' even if not exactly true to the fact, is just as valid as any literally true account. So it seems Oprah Winfrey missed the point when she was disillusioned with one of her guests for twisting the truth in a book he earlier claimed was a true account of the abuse he suffered. But his book, I believe, still sells. Dave Pelzer has created an industry, a whole genre.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Hijab and Stuff...

I know at least one reason why many young women today reject 'feminism'. Because very often it used as a veneer for liberal busybodies who wish to lay down a code of conduct on how women should behave. It says nothing about the experience of non white women. In actual fact, it can often serve as a thinly veiled (no pun intended) rationale for racism, which most often manifests itself today as Islamophobia.

This post from the aptly titled blog (which references itself to the drunken convert to neo-conservatism Christopher Hitchens) sums it up entirely.

As it made me extremely angry I thought I would vent my rage via a weekly rant.

The post begins:

"Well, everyone knows what Jack straw thinks about women wearing the veil, so I thought I'd share my thoughts.

Whilst I understand and accept that people like to wear various apparel to show an allegiance to the particular religion they subscribe to, the wearing of the veil overspills the religious and even the cultural arena. The veil demands of a woman an extreme form of modesty which both isolates and subjugates her. Anything that does this to women, be it in the name of religion, culture, or whatever else, is wrong."

If she 'understands' why people wear religious apparel then why is the veil singled out in particular? What makes her assume that women who wear a hijab are either 'isolated' or 'subjugated'? She is automatically 'othering' the Muslim woman, hence objectifying her and denying her a voice of her own. Brownfemipower has some very interesting posts and comments following on this very phenomena (i.e white middle class feminists 'othering' the woman of colour, mostly the Muslim woman, laying claim to the veil as the ultimate symbol of oppression). As she states, this is only one step removed from the mentality that was used to justify the war on Afghanistan and Iraq. Nice white guys saving the helpless brown woman from those evil brown men (as remember, the brown woman is too oppressed to be able to fight back in any way). She is silenced not only by the sexism of her own culture, it seems, but by her would be 'left' redeemers. She plays pretty much the same role that the third world prostitute has often done for feminists, managing to personify and epitomise the sufferings of the category 'woman'(See link). In actual fact the efforts of Western feminists to 'rescue' these women has sometimes hampered their efforts at self organisation, as they are not always unable to fight back. Neither are Muslim women, in this country or elsewhere. It is an arrogant, elitist, and racist assumption that presumes they are not. If they were not then organisations like Rawa would not exist.

Getting back to Britain - the veil allegedly 'overspills' the cultural arena. What is implied by this? At times I admit I have myself felt discomfort in the past at the sight of a full Jilbab. I used to believe the veil to be a symbol of oppression but having come accross Muslim women who are anything BUT downtrodden I have long changed my mind. And recognised much of it was my own unconscious racism.

It subjugates because one of the many things a veil does is put the responsibility for controlling male sexual desire squarely on a woman's shoulders. She must cover-up or risk being sexually harassed or raped. But it is not woman's responsibility to control male sexual desire. How long have feminists fought the damaging idea that if a woman wears a short skirt that she is "asking for it". As a feminist, I'm not going to turn a blind eye to such a misogynistic view just because some ancient belief system is involved. And I never bought into cultural relativism even before I knew what that term meant.

A case of projecting your own assumptions and prejudices. Perhaps some women wear the veil not because they fear assault but because they are deeply religious, as are Hasidic Jews? They wear some funny clothes, you know.

"The veil also physically restricts the woman. How does she go swimming? Or attend a gym? Or ride a bike? How many times is she denied the pleasure of feeling the sun on her skin?"

Hmm....I suggest you leave that to her.

"Or the friendly smiles of strangers, both to give and receive? How hard is interaction with other women, never mind other men, outside her social circle? How many casual conversation is she denied in waiting rooms, libraries, bus stops, or anywhere else that humanity gathers? How many jobs can't she do? How many careers can she not follow? Just how small does that small piece of cloth make her world?"

Firstly it would have been preferable had the writer clarified as to what she meant - did she mean the niqab (as Straw specifically did) or did she mean the veil per se? Even that is not fully clear, as only the niqab (which covers the face) would prevent facial contact. But if she chooses to dress this way it is her choice. While I accept that not every single veiled woman in the UK may be doing so out of pure choice, it is still not the right of white feminists to presume to speak on their behalf. Women's groups comprising of and focusing on the issues surrounding ethnic minority women exist and they can be built upon.Southall Black Sisters is a case in point. As for integrating - Muslim women are less likely to do this if they are constantly being berated and judged by white people over what they wear!

The fact that Muslim women may face discrimination is not the fault of what they wear - it is a new discrimination, an acceptable face of racism, not based on skin colour but rather on cultural differences. Why should she not be able to engage in conversation? Perhaps, partly because of the prejudice of others? Yet the sentiments above seem to blame Muslim men for the existence of this racism, casting the woman as being helpless and an object of pity. White people are not in any way to blame for this marginalisation that occurs - it is entirely the fault of the Muslims. Neither is the system, neither is racism.

Muslim women (and men) are not generally in a powerful socio economic position. It is futile to focus on the veil as the root of all evil.

"And if the above seems insignificant to you, then just imagine this being asked of men. Imagine it being asked of you."

Shock, horror, a nice English girl like me?

"And I don't for one minute assume that all women who wear the veil, in this country or elsewhere, are made to do it by men. I know the veil is increasingly becoming a thing of choice for women in this country at least. This is because there is much currency to be found in her immediate and perhaps wider community for doing so. And what is the market for this currency? It is a market that trades in the value of women as wife and mothers, and in her rejection of the world outside of this. She is rewarded for squeezing her existence into the tiniest and tidiest image of what a woman should be, and for her rejection of idependence, individualism and freedom of choice."

Funny, but many Muslim women who choose to wear the veil do not fit into this crude racial stereotype. Many of them have been quite independent, individual and make conscious choices to do what they do. They have rejected none of the above. Many have jobs and are not just wives and mothers. Perhaps the writer should get out or at least read a bit more.

"I find such a market as unpalatable as the market that trades in women's flesh and immodesty. The women who buy into this extreme form of modesty are at the opposite end of the scale to the women who get their tits out for the lads. The Page Three Girl and the Burka wearing Muslim may be at opposite ends of the scale, but they have something in common. Both rely wholly on the approval and the mercy of men for their existence. I suggest that either place is not a healthy place to be."

What bilge. Now, I'm no fan of page three either. But to suggest that the women involved 'rely wholly on the approval of men' for their existence is stretching things a tad. They have lives beyond their jobs. And the 'existence' of the shop assistant depends on the approval and 'mercy' of shoppers, the call centre worker that of customers etc in that sense. Not only are Muslim women being 'othered' but the writer also turns her ire and projects her own preconceptions on to the classic group - namely sex workers or glamour models. The sex worker has long been the 'other' of the feminist, the 'fallen woman' being ideal both as an object of pity (needing rescue) and to categorise the sufferings of the female sex as a whole. She has long symbolised the opposite of what the 'emancipated woman' (i.e the feminist) imagines herself to represent and to be. Hence the sense of mission on the part of the latter. Today it appears the Muslim woman is becoming the target - and thus being objectified and silenced in the process. Anything she may attempt to say to counteract it can be written off on account of 'false consciousness' or something similiar (in the 1970s they sometimes called it 'male identified'). I thought such stuff was over. Clearly not.

Which makes me ask why this issue was not raised by one such as Clare Short. She, and other high profile women, spoke out against the issue of soft porn in our papers and how this degrades women twenty or so years ago. Where are these voices now? Why isn't the cultural habit for woman to obliterate their form and turn themselves into non-beings on our streets, as repellent as the cultural habit for women to expose every aspect of their body and being in our newspapers? Why are we struggling to see this as a feminist

Non beings now? You say it, not I nor they.

And above all, should our media not be finding the time to talk to as many Muslims who are anti-veil as they are talking to Muslims who are pro-veil? Because coming through once again loud and clear is the voice of the regressive over the progressive.

What about those who are neither 'pro' nor 'anti' veil? Is there not room for women who believe it should be purely the choice of others as to what they should wear?

And unfortunately I'm also hearing the voice of the racist who sees this issue as yet another chance for a bit of Muslim bashing. I desperately hope I haven't come across as a Muslim basher here. It is precisely because I don't see a dividing barrier between myself and Muslim women that makes me want to speak out.

I suggest you think again. What you write is patronising to Muslims as you attempt to force on them your own cultural norms and dictate to them what they should wear. You may not see a dividing barrier but that doesn't mean it is not there. It is obvious by your writing that it is there. People are people, and they are not defined solely by their clothing. Clothing, be it religious or non religious, makes a statement.

But clothing does not say everything about a person. You reduce the Muslim woman to the sum of her clothing, which there is a BIG problem with. Accusing your opponents of racism strikes me as being a bit of projection. The whole analysis is way too simplistic.

Meanwhile there is a good story here from a Muslim woman who does not wear the veil herself but has more of an understanding of it than the author of the article I pasted, and does not berate other women for wearing it.

If feminism is to be anything for Muslim women it must come from themselves. Any oppressed group must emancipate itself, no saviour from on high can do this for them.
White feminists by all means should support and show solidarity to Muslim women in their struggles but they should not dictate in a patronising way.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

France Proposes Genocide Denial Bill...

This bill sets a dangerous precedent. At the very best it is can be read as an attempt to stall Turkey's bid to join the E.U. At the worst it could set a precedent for further restrictions on freedom of speech. If expanded it could, in effect, be used against any journalist or academic who challenges the official view of events (such as those who question the Western line on the events in Bosnia, for instance).

'Genocide' is defined as a deliberate and planned policy of ethnic cleansing, which is difficult to prove in most cases. Mass deaths in a civil war, for instance, where there have been atrocities on every side, would not necessarily qualify. Some academics have criticised the definition as it only applies to national groups, not to political or social groups. For example Joseph Stalins extermination of the Kulaks (wealthy peasants) would not count as such as they were a social group, not a nationality. But did that make it any less of a crime?

Holocaust deniers are using crank history for political ends. David Irving is one such example. But his views have no credibility among mainstream historians as the Nazi genocide is a proven fact. His followers are only a small band of far right extremists, who would have their views with or without him. His views should be dismissed, but he shouldn't be in jail.

It is dangerous to give the State power to clamp down on any expression. Another example is the illegality in The Czech Republic and Hungary of communist symbols. In the Baltic States communist organisations find their activities curtailed, while fascist groups can operate legally. In December last year part of a resolution by the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)resolution read that:

“Communist parties are legal and active in some countries, even if in some cases they have not distanced themselves from the crimes committed by totalitarian communist regimes in the past.”

This resolution is in effect a threat. In effect laws that curtail political expression can be used against anybody, be they of the left or the right.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Why is it that despite the fact that crime has fallen, prisons are being stretched to breaking point? And how on Earth can police cells work as a substitute, with the lack of facilities they have? But the government will not suggest locking fewer people up and working on community based alternatives for rehabilitation.
A good article on the niqab on the Guardian website by Madeleine Bunting. Due to her rejection of militant secularism she receive a lot of hostility on their talkboards.

Abortion Rights...and Wrongs

The hardcore 'Abortion Rights' group are opposing this summers early day motion by a Geraldine Smith, which is:

"That this House endorses Recommendation 77 of the Report of the Science and Technology Committee, Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law; and calls on the Government to set up a joint committee of both Houses to consider the scientific, medical and social changes in relation to abortion that have taken place since 1967, with a view to presenting options for new legislation."

Let's look at exactly what is being proposed. Smith is in fact opposed to all abortion herself, but the motion is not to make all abortion itself illegal. It is simply asking for an inquiry based on scientific and medical changes that have occured since 1967, and the social effects of abortion. Any new legislation that may result will only be a reduction in the upper time limit, based on earlier viability and greater medical knowlege about the development of life in the womb. This is not 'anti choice' (sic) pseudo science' as they claim but actual medical knowlege gained by the use of technologies such as ultrasound. At 18 weeks a foetus can show signs of distress (such as grimacing), yawn, respond to sound and touch, along with taste. At 20 weeks it can open it's eyes. As premature babies born at 24 weeks are not treated without anaesthetic it is wrong to make the assumption that they would not feel pain in the womb, although they would probably have no memory (as we would understand it) or anticipation of it. But it is disputable as to whether some lower animals do either.

And this brings me to another question: Imagine the bad press the scientific community would receive if they actively opposed an inquiry into vivisection and the level of pain experienced by animals. They would be shunned by most people as being unfeeling sadists. So why are human foetuses given less regard than animals in this respect? They would be laughed at if they stated that to claim that animals have feelings is 'pseudoscience' promoted by animal rights extremists. They would in effect be doing the work of 'animal rights extremists' themselves. In many ways, then, 'Abortion Rights' are assisting their opponents.

'Abortion Rights' earlier made the claim that a reduction in the upper time limit would result in illegal abortions. This does not stand up. The abortion time limit is among the highest in Europe here. Yet other countries such as France are not filled with an epidemic in illegal abortions.

Neither should 'Abortion Rights' call themselves 'pro choice'. It is only one choice they are interested in - namely abortion. If they really were pro choice they would spend time campaigning on other issues besides, such as forced abortions in China and the forcible sterilisation of Roma women in the Czech Republic. Yet they are silent on these matters. The human rights activist Chen Guangcheng (whose picture is in my blog header) is currently in a Chinese jail for exposing the forced abortions and sterilisations under China's one child policy. If an Irish or Polish abortion rights activist was under arrest for fighting against the criminalisation of abortion in their country they would no doubt be campaigning for this person's release. So I won't do these people the favour of calling them 'pro choice' - they are pro abortion. They have a nerve labelling their opponents (many of whom, unlike them, have exposed coercive population control measures) as 'anti choice'.

They are currently following the example of the US based 'Ms' magazine, who recently launched a petition for women to speak out about their 'no regrets' experience of abortion link.
Considering, however, the enormous numbers of abortions having taken place in that country since the procedure was legalised, 5,000 seems a very small amount to sign their petition.

Their British counterparts have this to say:

"Abortion Rights is always looking for opportunities to publicise women’s ordinary, usually positive, experiences of abortion in order to break the taboo and anti-abortion media bias around the issue. We are frequently contacted by women’s magazines, newspapers, radio and TV programmes for interviews with women who have had an abortion and want to run fair, balanced features on the issue.

We have recently worked with Marie Claire magazine on a special 'I had an abortion ' feature and speak out event in parliament, with Cosmopolitan magazine, and with numerous other magazines, newspapers, radio and TV shows."

'Usually positive'? They cite no statistics to back this up, as there are none. Any opinion about this is bound to be somewhat anecdotal, but in my own experience I have only come accross one woman who told me of an abortion experience that amounted to being 'positive'. Second hand I have come accross a couple of others. But predominately in the research I have done and my own experience the feelings of most of the women amounted to being if not regretful (as was the case with some, especially those who had been coerced in some way by relatives or a male partner) at the very least ambivalent. This was even when they believed themselves to have made what was the right decision at the time.

There is no 'anti abortion' bias in the media either. The right wing 'Daily Mail' seems to have an anti abortion slant, and the Telegraph does slightly, the Independent is neutral (as is the BBC) while the Guardian is strongly pro. What this group really want is for the whole of the media to have a pro abortion stance. It is not enough that the left wing press are virtually held to ransom by this self selected clique that represent nobody but themselves. Their views certainly do not tally with those of most British womenlink. YouGov has not been the only survey that has shown such results.

Groups like 'Abortion Rights' show a callousness towards women who have had painful experiences of abortions that they regret, by portraying 'most' experiences as being positive. Despite my stance on porn and prostitution, for instance, I would never claim that *most* experience of women participating in them is positive, just that of *some*.

The fact that this organisation commands the support of many unions is a worrying fact. It has the support of Unison, which represents a large number of medical workers, not all who support abortion. Both rail unions, the RMT and ASLEF, support this group. Workers in these professions who feel very strongly against abortion will resent their funding going to such a campaign. If they feel strongly enough they may even pull out as a matter of principle and thus lose representation. I don't know exactly how this was decided by the Unions concerned, it was probably via *some* kind of democratic process. But the Unions have been known to make decisions in a bureaucratic way that represents the views of those at the top of the hierarchy, not always the rank and file. It would be far preferable if they made it a policy to remain neutral on this highly charged issue.

Meanwhile one of the reasons given why unions should affiliate is this:

"Access to safe, legal abortion is crucial for women's equality and has transformed women's employment and education prospects, incomes and opportunities."

It is only 'crucial' in this sense if women are forced to adapt to a wombless male world, a capitalist system initially created by and for men to work in, without taking into account the needs of women, who need time off to give birth and nurse children. It has only 'transformed' women's prospects under a harsh condition, that they adapt to become as men and not give birth at inconvenient times. This is why the birthrate is at an all time low and professional women often have no choice but to wait until they are well into their thirties to have children. The workplace is not a friendly place for mothers, and pregnancy discrimination is rife. Yet by the sentence above we are supposed to relax as we have been given the sop by our employers of legal abortion to rid them of our biological problem (pregnancy). If anything unlimited abortion will increase pregnancy discrimination. I'm sure an unsympathetic boss would find it much more expedient for a female employee to abort an unplanned pregnancy rather than give her adequate maternity leave and a flexible working environment.

Such a stance is not 'radical' in the slightest' - it is a sellout and an endorsment of the status quo, which in this case stems directly from the leftovers of the patriarchal public sphere and the man made working environment. Capitalist working conditions were put in place to accomodate men, not women, who traditionally stayed at home. In the modern age when women are in the workplace the workplace should adapt to meet their needs, not women who should adapt to meet it's needs. To suggest the opposite is a right wing position and should be inimical to anything claiming to be representative of any kind of feminism or socialism.

Which is why the unions should not endorse this view. And why the 'feminist' credentials of 'Abortion Rights' should also be questioned.

They claim that their aim is to defend the current time limit (24 weeks) and to make abortion available on request up until 14 weeks. A closer reading of their material, however, implies their position is more extreme than this.(link).

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Does North Korea have any right to possess nuclear weapons? The answer would have to be no. No State does have this right, to possess such weapons of mass destruction.

But this includes the West. The hypocrisy of the United States must always be stressed, that it is in no place to lecture anybody until it rids itself of it's own weapons.

Without making any apologies for the Kim regime - it is quite possible that it would not even exist (or at the very least not in it's current state) had it not been for the ferocity of the Korean war, which the US was contemplating making nuclear. That was in the day when Britain did not simply echo US foreign policy, when Clement Atlee was said to have had some influence within the 'special relationship' in persuading the administration not to do that (i.e nuke Korea). The United States is hated in South Korea more than anywhere else in South East Asia.

It is little wonder that the regime in the North is paranoid. It must be seen in the context of the history of the peninsula. The Soviets withdrew after the end of WWII, but the United States did not. Troops remained while a right wing puppet dictatorship that had almost no support among the population was installed and propped up. It was only relatively recently that South Korea became democratic.

The pro-Soviet regime in the North did initially have backing among the largely peasant based population in both regions (many in the South in fact welcomed the Northern troops as liberators). Councils did exist which represented some form of popular representation. It is impossible to say what the regime would look like had the country not been so devastated by war, or had the whole peninsula been under the regime in the North. But mere speculation leads one to suspect that it would look a little different than it does.

True, there is nothing defensible about the current regime in the North from any progressive standpoint. It would not be desirable for it to have nuclear weapons.
But as is Bin Laden and his friends in the Taliban, it is partly a product of US expansionism itself. What the US terms as 'rogue States' are not isolated products on the world stage. It is unlikely they exist in isolation from the world's only superpower either.

Update: Sanctions are now being considered following the nuclear test. These should be firmly opposed by progressives as they will only hurt the already hungry population of N.K

Scottish Socialist Party...

I don't know how much truth there was in the allegations against Tommy Sheridan. Nobody outside of the organisation really does.

I once admired that organisation, now I have to say that I despise them. The latest that has surfaced (i.e a video tape) deserves a few comments. I have no firm opinion as to whether or not the tape is authentic. But suppose that it was. What kind of a man would record a conversation with a friend for the purpose of later using it against him anyway? Very calculated and cynical. But it is curious as to why it has only taken until recently to surface anyway. Why was it not produced before and handed to the NOTW defence team? Why did it show up in the paper only last Sunday?. The lateness of it's emergence seems to lend question to it's authenticity, along with the contrived nature of one of the comments allegedly made by Sheridan:

"I ask, eh, I ask Alan and Keith to give me the opportunity to see it down and I say to them: "I guarantee you if I am presented with incontrovertible evidence — video tapes, CCTV, something of that character — I'll put my hand up and say ‘I'm sorry'...and I'll walk away."

Fuller and relatively neutral coverage is at the Scotsman.

Friday, October 06, 2006

What right have politicians to dictate to women what they should wear? As the hijab is worn by many Muslim women as a sign of modesty, I don't imagine that Jack Straw's comments would go down well with their menfolk either. Asking them to wear less? What a perve, they will say!

Whatever one's views are on religious clothing (or on religion) defending the right of people to wear it should be a basic libertarian issue. Politicians should butt the hell out.

The militant atheists and secularists of the Graun seem to have no problem bashing Roman Catholicism as a pastime. I don't quite follow the line that anti Catholicism is the new anti Semitism, but Anglophone liberals seem to write about this particular religion in a way they would not dream of doing about Judaism, or Islam. If anything the Graun goes out of it's way not to offend Muslims out of political correctness, or fear of retribution.

The prods don't get much flack either, I've never seen an article equating all Protestant clerics with the wacky fundies in the American South. The 'Face to Faith' column on a Saturday normally features a writer from the nice old C of E, or another protestant denomination. Never noticed an RCer though.

People are welcome to criticise, nay attack any religion as far as I am concerned. Nobody has a right not to be offended. But please keep it in balance. Why single one in particular out?

As far as this article goes - a big crock of shit as far as I can see. Judging by the writers clear ignorance of Catholic theology he is clearly having fun in ridiculing a religion he has never been involved in. If he knew better he would realise that 'Limbo' had never been a binding doctrine on Catholics.

But the militant secularists seem to glorify in both an ignorance and a total misunderstanding of religion.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Russia and Georgia's Diplomatic Spat

Some interesting comments to the article here.

Imagine the USSR still existed. Let's imagine that the Soviets financed a movement in, say Mexico that overthrew the previous, pro US regime and replaced it with a pro Soviet one. Not only this, but the new regime was desperate to join with the Warsaw pact. Similiar movements were being financed and built accross the region, a couple of which had also been successful. Russian troops are stationed in Mexico.

It is doubtful that Uncle Sam would have taken that lying down.

Putin has a point about South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The West actively encouraged seperatism in the former Yugoslavia - so what is the difference? If Kosovo is to be granted independence from Serbia it would only be consistent that those regions be given similiar consideration.

I dispute the leader's assertion that it is 'no longer deemed acceptable' that Latin America is seen as the US's backyard. By whom? Not by the US, who still continue with sanctions against Cuba and who only a few years ago financed an attempted coup in Venezuala.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More Style than Substance?

Such is the charge that New Labour make against Cameron's Conservatives (see link).

How rich of them. If I recall it was the charge that the Tories initially made against them (all spin and no substance) and they were, on that occasion, right. Blair ditched almost every principle that his party once stood for in order to become elected. Now it goes in full circle, it seems that Cameron is remaking his own party to look like Blair's in order to make it electable. Will the Tory right soon occupy the same place that the Labour left currently do in their party? It seems as though Cameron is likely to appeal to swing voters, as was Blair in his prime.

I am not one of the optimists who believe that the Labour left will show any signs of a major resurgency (at least not where it most matters - i.e in power). They will remain a pressure from within, it being, of course, a good thing that they at least remain as a somewhat viable force to put pressure on the party and the government.

In the advent of another right wing Labour prime minister I remain indifferent to who wins the next election. It will be the same government essentially, a situation partly brought into being by our undemocratic first past the post system (which ironically New Labour promised to reform but backed out after they found it to be to their advantage in their landslide victory in 1997).

This blog is now two months and a day old, and I have to give myself a pat on the back for keeping it up. Consistently writing something round about every other day isn't so difficult once you get into the habit. Hat tip:Temperama.
This case is a horrific example of a vulnerable woman being used as a pawn by her lawyers for a cause she did not believe in. Whatever one's views are on abortion, they should at least concede that the person that lawyers decide to use an an example actually believe in the cause they are fighting for.

I also know how this person feels. Too well.