Selected Reading (31/08/09)

August 31, 2009 at 9:40 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment
  • In their wisdom, the editors of Standpoint have decided to make feminists this month’s object of opprobrium. Nick Cohen & Clive James have both contributed very similar articles accusing feminism of turning a blind eye to Islamic misogyny. I’ll try to type my own tuppenceworth about this issue tomorrow.
  • In Red Pepper, Joanna Cabello writes about environmentalism in Peru.
  • Joshua Foust responds to General Stanley McChrystal’s assessment of the failing war in Afghanistan.
  • As some crazy Texans keep banging the drum for secession, Patrick Barry points out how dire the consequences would be.
  • After gobbling up Marvel, Disney now owns practically the entire cartoon universe.
  • After the recent furore over rape in Iran’s prisons, two leading Iranian human rights campaigners point out that, sadly, it’s nothing new.
  • After the brief flap over Portillo’s endorsement of Charles ‘Bell Curve’/’Underclass’ Murray, I thought I’d take the opportunity to post this excoriating review by the late Stephen Jay Gould.
  • And Brad Plumer notes a few non-crazy ways to re-engineer the climate.

Letter from an Occupant

August 28, 2009 at 8:40 pm | Posted in Blogging about blogging, Misc. | 5 Comments


To be honest, just the fact that I’m writing this is something of an achievement. Before this clearing house for over-caffeinated ramblings came into being, the longest I’d kept any sort of record was a 1997 “Top of the Pops” diary, which was kept for just two months & documented the details of my juvenalia: the popstars I fancied, the episodes of Star Trek I’d watched, the computer games I was playing & the trips my brother & I had made to Meadowhall. Looking back, it wasn’t the most compelling read.

When I opened this place in Feburary 08, I gave it a few months at best. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, what my ‘voice’ was or what sort of stuff I ought to be writing about. I’m probably at my happiest when I’m arranging words into sentences, but have always had trouble believing I was any good at it. I must’ve spent about 6 months with my finger hovering over the ‘delete button’ before giving up and accepting my fate as a Blogger.

So now when I write words, some people read them, link to them & maybe even comment on them. Because that all seemed highly improbable when I started out, I thought it necessary to write a little bit about certain life changes which will inevitably alter the way this blog looks & operates.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be starting a PGCE at Warwick. For those averse to abbreviations, this means that in 12 months time I will (all being well) be qualified to teach in our Great British secondary schools. Judging it in the near distance, the prospect of teaching seems all different kinds of thrilling, daunting & challenging, but above all it’ll fulfill a longstanding ambition to use my education for some kind of social purpose.

I was the first person in my family to attend university, and one of a small number of folks in this bedraggled ex-mining town lucky enough to win a place at Cambridge. I had three exceptional years there: met some of the finest minds, was taught by scholars of international renown, and sauntered, swaggered & staggered in front some of the most beautiful architecture England’s ever produced.

With all the opportunities I’d been given to make something of myself, I knew that I wanted to end up in an occupation where I could help extend those opportunties to others. Of course, being young and muddled, I had absolutely no idea how to do it, and so ended up in a series of jobs which, whilst unfulfilling, at least kept me solvent. It was only when I spent some time working in a school that I realised not only was teaching something I could do, but something I wanted to do. That might come across as mawkish, maybe even narcissistic, but it is sincerely felt, no matter how badly sincerity translates over the internet.

Regarding what happens to this blog, much will depend on how well I manage my time, but I suspect a number of things will happen. First, the posting regularity should stay pretty much unchanged (and may even increase), but the posts will be shorter and won’t be as thoroughly researched or thought-out. There will be more ‘Selected Readings’ and more posts which amount to little more than hit ‘n run link dumps. The reason I want to keep the regularity of posting up is that I know there’s a danger that if I leave it dormant for a week, fortnight or month citing workplace pressures, the obligation to keep writing will gradually diminish. I really don’t want that to happen, so it seems the best way forward is to keep on posting, and hopefully you’ll keep reading in the hope that I’ll sit down & write something good every once in a while. Just bear with me, I’ll figure something out.

The lion sleeps

August 26, 2009 at 9:54 am | Posted in U.S. Politics | 4 Comments

kennedy obama

To borrow from one of the Senator’s most memorable speeches, Edward Kennedy need not be idealised or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. There will not – and should not – be a single obituary which avoids mention of the murky & tragic death in Martha’s Vineyard, and every attempt to pay tribute to his life & work must recognise how starkly this act of private cowardice contrasts with the determination & bravery which marked his public life.

Kennedy was as flawed & tragic a figure as one could find in professional politics. His two brothers were murdered, his first marriage collapsed as his wife battled alcoholism, he survived a plane crash which left him with chronic back pain, and his twelve-year-old son only survived cancer by having his leg amputated. He was known to be a womaniser & heavy drinker, and reports of his sordid & boorish escapades were commonplace among Washington’s gossipy elite.

But if the occasion of his passing does not mean we can excuse or ignore a troubled life, nor can those black marks distract from recognising him as one of the most important and effective Senators in American history. Ted Kennedy was involved in passing (and in many cases authoring) practically every progressive accomplishment in the past fifty years: the Civil & Voting Rights Acts which ended discrimination against African Americans; the Medicare & Medicaid programmes which have provided healthcare to millions of poor Americans, and the S-CHIP scheme which extended care for children. He secured increases in the minimum wage, Family & Medical Leave, and reform which opened America up to immigration from all over the world.

He was perhaps America’s first mainstream advocate for gay rights, consistently supported a woman’s reproductive freedom, was a critic of the wars in Vietnam & Iraq, and of Apartheid in South Africa. He worked to implement the ‘Great Society’ of Lyndon Johnson, and then stood to defend it during the days of Nixon, Reagan & Bush. Very simply, his work helped to improve the material conditions of millions of Americans in a way that very few politicians, past or present, can compare to.

It will be widely mentioned, of course, that his death came before a victory on health care reform, an issue Kennedy described as the ’cause of my life’. But the Senator has still done more than most to make this a success; the committee he chaired has already passed a bill which would expand health coverage, and the delay is being caused by the gutless dithering of Senators in a different committee. If President Obama does finally get a healthcare bill through Congress, that too will have been partly due to his hard work.

It’s never wise to regard modern politicians as heroes. They can be prone to hypocrisy, susceptible to self-interest, and when they get things wrong they hurt not just themselves or their cause, but a vast number of people with whom they have never met. In his private life, Edward Kennedy made many bad decisions and was privileged enough not to suffer their consequences, but that still won’t detract from a record of public service which few will ever match.

Deep thought

August 22, 2009 at 9:38 am | Posted in Idiot Hall of Fame | Leave a comment

It’s a little troubling to discover that the people we elect to decide on matters of war & peace can lack the most basic comprehension skills.

Selected Reading (20/08/09)

August 20, 2009 at 10:44 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment


  • The image above is borrowed from Global Health Magazine, and I don’t suppose any further comment is required. (Via)
  • Rahila Gupta on Britain’s immigration laws.
  • Larry Elliott calls Tory economic policy an ‘incoherent mishmash of ideas designed by focus group’
  • Stephen Walt critiques the assertion that Aghanistan is a ‘war of necessity‘.
  • E.J. Dionne has an excellent column on the far-right hysteria surrounding Barack Obama.
  • Meanwhile, Joe Klein argues that the GOP has become a party of nihilists.
  • Epiphenom looks at the idea of religion as a civilising force.
  • And Eric Michael Johnson explains why chimpanzees make bad suicide bombers.

Selected Reading (18/08/09)

August 18, 2009 at 9:22 pm | Posted in Misc. | 4 Comments

This might be my last missive ’til Monday; tomorrow I’m off to Liverpool to meet my brother and after that I’ll have some friends coming round for a few days. So here’s some stuff:

  • Tim Montgomerie has seven defences of political blogging.
  • In the Washington Post, Peter Moskos & Stanford Franklin make another case for legalising drugs. Matthew Yglesias offers a partial critique.
  • If you’ve got an hour to spare, this diavlog between Joshua Foust & Michael Cohen on the future of Afghanistan/Pakistan policy is a useful watch for people wondering what the hell we’re doing there and whether we can win.
  • Speaking of Josh Foust, he’s in Columbia Journalism Review, talking about the Russian/Georgia war, one year on.
  • Brad Plumer wonders whether rooftop wind turbines will ever catch on.
  • Spencer Ackerman points out that Gov. Mike Huckabee’s comments against the two state solution now puts him to the right of Hamas.
  • Back in Blighty, here’s David Wilson on how cuts are stifling some of the good work going on in prisons.
  • And, via asquith, this video of some wingnut shouting ‘heil Hitler!’ at an Israeli might just mark the nadir of the town hall protests.

Maybe I’ll dump some more links during the week, but if not, have a good ‘un.

In defence of girl guides

August 18, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment

I suppose I was never really cut out for scouting. A preposterously timid, unfit little boy, I had little in common with the boistrous, energetic lads who liked climbing, fighting & setting various things on fire.

It didn’t help that I wasn’t particularly outdoorsy. I resented being forced to sleep somewhere which wasn’t my own warm, cumfy bed, I never ate the campfire ‘cuisine’ and couldn’t read a map to save my life.

We once went on a late night hike around the rural parts of Barnsley (yes, they do exist!). I misread the map, sent us down the wrong bridleway and accidentally committed trespass. Cold, tired and completely out of my depth, after three hours I decided I’d had enough, so I threw myself to the floor and faked an asthma attack. Got cow muck all over my waterproofs.

So it’s not for everyone, I guess, but there’s still plenty to be said for scouting (my parents called it ‘character building’), and there are plenty of opportunities to socialise, stay fit and learn valuable skills. It is, or can be, a very positive outlet for young people’s energy & creativity.

Anyway, it turns out that 2009 is the one hundredth anniversary of scouting’s female equivalent, the Girl Guides. To commemorate, the BBC’s produced an hour long documentary about the history of this national institution (available ’til Sunday) and Rowenna Davis has an interesting piece in The Guardian describing its virtues:

During the first world war, the Guides trained women to work in munitions factories as the boys and men went off to fight, helping them to gain the credibility in employment that would eventually help win them the vote. In the second world war the Guides raised funds for the fight against the Nazis and learned first aid and how to keep the public calm in a crisis. Today, many of Britain’s top women link their success to their participation in the Guides. On the BBC’s 100 Years of Girl Guides, Olympic champion Kelly Holmes said it taught her to “be the best you can be” and comedian Shappi Khorsandi said that it fostered in her a sense of community and kindness. As well as giving her the first opportunity to try alcohol and cigarettes, BBC foreign correspondent Bridget Kendall said the training she received helped her survive the toughest parts of Soviet Russia.

For the young women of the Noughties, the movement continues to provide one of the few female-only spaces where they can take a leadership role and develop their confidence. It also gives the “I’m Worth It” generation a chance to break away from the relentless individualism so eloquently described by Anne Perkins. For once, girls are given the chance to “Be Prepared” to escape from egoism, judgment and insecurity and think about something bigger. Forget Sex in the City; it’s time to Camp in the Country.

Better the devil you know?

August 17, 2009 at 9:37 pm | Posted in International | 2 Comments

When Israel launched its military offensive against Hamas last year, critics of the operation made a number of important points. First, we argued that it was a fantasy to believe these raids would do anything more than briefly reduce its ability to toss rockets into Israel, and that there would be no prospect of either destroying the group, or fatally weakening its grip over the Gaza Strip. But more importantly than that, we also insisted that it was a mistake to think Hamas’ defeat would end Israel’s security problems.

Whilst there’s always a (very slight) possibility that Hamas could implode or that the people of Gaza will eventually turn to the more moderate & cuddly Fatah, given the amount of poverty & raw despair in the territories, it’s far more likely that whatever did replace the militant group would be even more extreme, more reactionary and more likely to render peace between Israel & Palestine as impossible.

We’ve seen some evidence of that in recent days, as a deadly shootout between members of Hamas and a militant splinter group demonstrates that some of the alternatives to Hamas are even uglier. Jund Ansar Allah, the group at the centre of the violence, has become increasingly critical of Hamas in recent months, has demanded the imposition of Sharia law and has even – and somewhat presumptuously – declared Gaza an ‘Islamic emirate’.

Whilst both these groups share the same self-defeating hatred of Israel, their ultimate aims are very different. For Hamas, the primary goal is the creation of an independent Palestinian state. For Jund Ansar Allah, it is the violent imposition of Taliban-style stone age religious subserviance. If there’s one thing the Gaza Strip doesn’t need right now, it’s a group which attacks Hamas for being too liberal.

One of the naive hopes people had about isolating Hamas was that when Palestinians were able to see how little the group was able to achieve, they would soon return their support to a group like Fatah, who Israel and the international community felt they could do business with.

Instead, the dissatisfaction with Hamas seems to be leading some Palestinians towards the more extreme factions. Jund Ansar Allah was only started in November and now claims to have over 500 soldiers. That might not sound like a lot, but it’s enough to give both Israel & Hamas significant security concerns.

I can understand, of course, the reluctance people feel about negotiating with a group which doesn’t recognise the state of Israel, but if it seems that Hamas is currently the best of an extraordinarily bad bunch, it may be better to talk to them than one day confront a much fouler beast. After all, Israel, Hamas and the United States do all have one thing in common: nobody wants to see Gaza become a stomping ground for Al Qaeda-inspired lunatics. As grounds for peace go, it’s not much, but it’s a start.

Webb’s mission to Burma

August 15, 2009 at 8:48 pm | Posted in International | Leave a comment

aung san suu kyi jim webb 1

You’re not exactly spoilt for choice, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more interesting member of the U.S. Congress than Jim Webb. A decorated Vietnam veteran who still defends the decision to go to war; an outspoken opponent of the invasion of Iraq; a journalist & author; a former Secretary of the Navy; a former Republican and now the Senior Democratic Senator from the traditionally conservative state of Virginia.

But it’s not just Webb’s rich life story which makes him interesting; he’s also won admirers for the kinds of issues he works on. Whilst widely-regarded as conservative, Webb is one of the few politicians to speak out about the vast inequalities of wealth in the United States, even going so far as to speak of ‘class struggle‘. He’s also started trying to raise awareness about America’s broken prisons, and is proposing reforms to the criminal justice system and drug laws which might lead to fewer people rotting away in jails.

But it’s Webb’s mission to Burma which will stand as the most significant moment in the Senator’s short legislative career. As the highest ranking American to visit this vile dictatorship in 10 years, there’ll be much comment in the next few days over what might have been achieved, what could be achieved in the future and what this reveals about the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

The first superficial signs seem positive. The release of Alan Yettaw, the man arrested for trying to meet imprisoned democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, was described by his own lawyer as ‘impossible’ prior to the meeting, and yet he will soon be back on American soil and subject to the barrage of media offers which will follow. Additionally, in meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, Webb achieved what even the U.N. Secretary General has not yet been able to.

But the longer-term consequences are much harder to predict. Just as President Clinton was criticised for having his picture taken with Kim Jong-il, so critics of the Obama administration will claim that this trip threatens to legitimise one of the most repressive regimes on the planet. Exiled Burmese democrats have already warned that the meeting will be manipulated by the military junta for propaganda purposes, and I’m sure they’re right. Furthermore, there does seem to be little ground for compromise with a regime for which brutal suppression of human rights is the primary means of self-preservation.

Yet it’s not entirely clear to me that there was any realistic alternative: successive sanctions regimes have failed, the state remains able to trade with its neighbours and, crucially, the dictatorship retains the quiet support of the Chinese. Also, in the context of President Clinton’s trip to North Korea, a similar outreach to the junta was perhaps inevitable. Given the rumours about Burma’s collusion with the Koreans to obtain a nuclear weapon, it seems sensible for Washington to have at least established some form of diplomatic contact. In the event that Burma did join the nuclear club, the voices for dialogue would suddenly become much louder and more numerous.

At the moment, we can’t see Webb’s visit to Burma as anything other than an experiment which has yielded one small success. It remains to be seen how much further the United States is willing to go to engage with either Burma or North Korea, and whether either of those states will be able to make the kinds of concessions that American diplomacy demands. What is clear, though, is the extent to which the Obama administration is committed to trying the kinds of diplomatic overtures which haven’t been considered by the foreign policy establishment in a very, very long time. With so few alternatives, our only recourse may be to hope that they’re right.

This is your war on drugs

August 13, 2009 at 3:48 pm | Posted in Drugs, International | 1 Comment

death saint

On 16th February 2002, Valentina Rosendo Cantú was washing her clothes in a stream near her home in Caxitepec, Mexico, when six soldiers approached. Seemingly too busy for pleasantries, the men started barking questions at her: Who was she? Where was she from? Had she seen the people they were looking for? Did she recognise the names on the list they thrust in front of her?

Her answers weren’t good enough, so one soldier pulled a gun and threatened to shoot. Another punched her so hard that she passed out. When she came to, two men tore off her underwear and raped her, one after the other. She was sixteen years old.

It took several months for Valentina to find a doctor willing to treat her; her nearest hospital turned her away because they didn’t want any trouble from the military. The next nearest, which she walked for eight hours to reach, examined her but offered no medicine. Only after legal action was threatened did she finally receive the gynecological care she needed.

At the time of writing, no criminal prosecution has ever been brought against these men and no one has been formally disciplined by a military which has perpetually dragged its feet over investigations. Some 7 years later, she still hasn’t found justice.

This case is just one of many allegations of human rights abuses levelled at the Mexican military in pursuit of an expensive, bloody and failed war on drugs. As well as rape, the allegations include enforced disappearance, torture, arbitrary detention and unlawful killing. And it’s all being bankrolled by the United States of America.

Last year, Congress approved the Mérida Initiative , a 3 year aid deal worth $1.4 billion which was designed to equip and train the Mexican security forces against drug cartels & organised crime – one of countless handouts the country’s received in the past few decades. One of the conditions of the deal was that the country should receive a routine certification by the State Department that it was adhering to human rights obligations. That report was ready for publication, and the money was waiting to be released. And then someone threw a fork in the road.

Last week, Democrat Patrick Leahy blocked the report’s publication, insisting that Mexico had not met its obligations, and reflecting rising concern that American money was subsidising a security service which appears corrupt, unaccountable and sometimes barbaric. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for this aid to be frozen until the military is made more accountable for the crimes committed by its officers.

But the real question should be how much longer we can tolerate this grossly expensive, brutal & fruitless war on drugs. For decades the United States has lavished money on Central/Latin America and beyond for the purpose of fighting narco-trafficking; it’s sent these countries arms and trained their military, and all it’s ever achieved are momentary, short-lived price rises. Cartels have risen & fallen, gangsters have come & gone, Presidents have been elected & defeated. Yet for all the money it spends in its own country and throughout the region, it has never once looked like it was winning.

Instead, we just keep piling up the victims. If the ‘war on drugs’ really was a proper war, then the rape of Valentina Rosendo Cantu, and many other cases cited this Human Rights Watch report, might well have constituted a war crime . If that doesn’t bring into sharp focus the kinds of acts we’re subsidising in order to fight a drugs trade which will never end, then I’m not sure anything will.

(Image: A man with a tattoo of the “Santa Muerte,” or “Death Saint,” attends a protest by the folk saint’s followers against the destruction of their shrines in Mexico City, Sunday, April 5, 2009. Mexico’s government is targeting the folk saint, destroying “Santa Muerte” shrines in its all-out war on the cartels, saying the unofficial religion is usually a sign of something more sinister: Crime, drugs, even brutal killings.)

A face & a name

August 11, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment


Is she as you imagined her? The slackened jaw; the furrowed brow; the baffled, vacant expression. Does she fit the image you had of the callous, ‘sex-obsessed slob‘ who puffed smoke, glugged booze and watched porn whilst her boyfriend & lodger tortured her son to death?

Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter. It won’t bring Peter Connelly back, won’t prevent further abuses from happening, won’t stop other helpless little boys & girls from being murdered by the people in their care. All it satisfies is some short-lived curiosity for a face & a name.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t still relevant, important questions to be asked two years after this child’s death. Has Haringey Council improved its provision and oversight of social services so that evidence of abuse is acted upon quickly & decisively? Have other councils assessed their own departments to ensure a similar tragedy couldn’t occur? Are we confident that we’re able to provide enough support for victims of abuse to help them avoid inflicting similar cruelties on their own families?

Another important question, posed here by Sandra Laville, is why the death of Peter Connelly caused such a tremendous expression of anger, but similar deaths by abusive parents have not. Laville highlights the three-year-old Tiffany Wright, who was starved to death by her mother and left in a filthy, beetle-infested bedroom for three days. Then there was the case of Amy Howson, a 16-month-old girl whose father inflicted several limb fractures, gave her a serious head wound and broke her spine in two places. Sure, both of these cases were reported by the local & national media, but they passed by very quietly compared to the weeks of high-profile coverage from Haringey. Since Baby Peter’s death, there have been 30 other cases of children dying from abuse. I bet you can’t name 5 of them.

So how do we explain this inconsistency? Was it because the child was first known only by his initial, and that the shortening of his name seemed to symbolise the neglect & horror visited upon him? Was it because this death happened in London, and it was easier for the media to amass outside Haringey council than it was Sheffield or Doncaster? Was it because we need to believe that such abuses are singular abberations and don’t want to consider that they’re more frequent? Or was it just a quirk of the news cycle and the coverage of his death would’ve been the same as these other tragedies had different events been dominating the news? You’ll notice that there are far more questions here than I’m willing to answer.

Also left outstanding is the direction the country’s social services will take in the coming years. The ferocity of the reaction to the ‘Baby P’ case had both positive & negative aspects. On the positive side, we could see some sensible reporting around the case, and there were serious questions asked by dedicated journalists & public servants which helped improve our understanding of social work in Haringey and beyond. In addition, the case clearly demonstrated failures in management, and the public outcry meant that the pressure for reform and accountability was irresistible.

However, it also mutated into one of the most unpleasant media witch hunts we’ve seen in recent years, with blame being tossed in every direction and these overwhelmingly dedicated, over-worked and under-paid social workers being held personally responsible for failures which were not entirely their own.

After the murder of Victoria Climbie caused a similar outcry back in 2000, the government responded by introducing Every Child Matters – a well-meaning initiative which culminated in the 2004 Children Act and has had some positive effects. However, when this was implemented by the social services, it lead to what some have called an ‘audit culture‘, creating more bureacracy at the expense of actually going out and doing casework. Social workers were complaining about the extent of this bureacracy even before baby Peter met his death, with CommunityCare reporting that a third spent 60% of their working days doing administration. The task for the government faces is figuring out how to free these people from their desks whilst improving management and accountability, and how they do that remains to be seen.

So yes, there’s still much to discuss about the death of this tragic child – many unanswered questions, plenty of unresolved debates. In comparison, finding out the identities of his killers seems pretty small fry.

The unthinking criticism of South Yorkshire Police

August 5, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Posted in British Politics | 1 Comment

Depending on your point of view, it’s either an innovative approach to building community relations or proof of the Islamisation of our police force. You might’ve heard about the revelation that two sergeants and a community support officer spent a day accompanying a group of Muslim women around Sheffield city centre. All the women, including the white police officers, were dressed in Islamic costumes, including the burkha, jilbab, hijab and niqab.

Naturally, a lot of folks have flapped their jowls in fury: the bile-soaked secularists who squat in blog comments sections; the various ‘jihad watch’ websores who warn of ‘dhimmisation’; and the more ‘wholesome’ Christian People’s Alliance, whose response makes you suspect they wouldn’t have had a problem if only they’d all dressed as 12th century monks .

Even the more respectable sections of the blogosphere threw up some thrupenny critiques, with both James Forsyth & Shiraz Maher jumping on this 24 word quote from one of the officers who participated:

I have gained an appreciation and understanding of what Muslim females experience when they walk out in public in clothing appropriate to their beliefs.

To which Maher responded: “There are a very large number of Muslims – male and female – who do not believe that the burkha has any place in Islam. Indeed, many also reject the notion of the headscarf itself as being anything Islamic.” Forsyth added: “This statement could be read as South Yorkshire police implying that Muslim women who do not wear these clothes are not behaving appropriately.”

I’ll concede that both Maher and Forsyth are superfically correct. The sergeant’s statement was poorly worded – the consequence, perhaps, of not having had extensive media training or the luxury of being able to write blogs for a living. However, I suspect they’re smart enough to spot a bodged choice of words when they see one, and their refusal to give her the benefit of the doubt & instead play on the story’s supposed sharia symbolism is an example of commentary at its most unthinkingly critical.

Both the sergeant quoted in the piece and the management of South Yorkshire Police know that only some Muslim women wear these forms of dress, but they also know that Muslims make up around 5% of Sheffield’s population and that a portion of that number will wear items such as the burkha. Being police officers, they might also have noticed that you very rarely see burkha-clad women wandering around Sheffield city centre; not because there aren’t any, but because too many seem to prefer to stay in their own small communities.

Now, if you aspire for your city centre to be a place where people from all walks of life can meet and mingle, you might just wonder whether anything can be done to encourage these women to shop in Fargate rather than Firth Park, and whilst I’d be quite happy for burkhas to disappear completely, what’s far more important is for Muslims to wear what they like free from fear & suspicion.

South Yorkshire Police’s experiment was imperfect and partial and can’t be regarded as either a success or failure unless seen in the context of the city’s broader commmunity relations strategy. But the opportunity to experience, however briefly, what it’s like for these women – to understand why they sometimes feel unsafe, to notice how the rest of the city interacts with them – is something you can’t put a price on.

Just by going out of their way to understand other lives, the officers involved in this experiment have gained an experience for themselves and their police force which can encourage the understanding & cooperation they need to actually fight crime. And by sniffing with unthinking derision, Maher, Forsyth and all their anti-caliphate comrades have just demonstrated how little they have to offer.

Selected Reading (04/08/09)

August 4, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Misc. | 4 Comments

Not sure whether I’ll find the time to write anything this week or will just subject you all to link dumps. Watch this space, I guess.

Selected Reading (03/08/09)

August 3, 2009 at 6:22 am | Posted in Misc. | 4 Comments

Been a while since I did one of these…

Matthew Engel calls for an end to the war on drugs.

  • Albor Ruiz on the constitution-trampling excesses of the Honduran military.
  • In Afghanistan, human rights workers call for more aid, not more troops.
  • Jess McCabe finds an interesting study into the differences between feminist & non-feminist women’s views of men; discovers proof that feminists don’t actually hate men.
  • Are we starting to see some sanity from this government over the number of women it imprisons? Only took ’em 11 years..
  • Juan Cole looks at the similarities between Sarah Palin & Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (no, really).
  • Since the Foreign Affairs Select Committee wants Britain to stop trying to fight a war on drugs in Afghanistan whilst also fighting a war on the Taliban, I thought I’d link to an older post by Joshua Foust on how our governments’ opium obsession is making things worse.
  • And in today’s End of Civilisation Watch: Afghan youngsters are listening to Shakira.

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