Saturday, February 09, 2008 

Bashing the bishop while the police laugh.

Hamza/Williams: what's the difference?

The first sentence of the Daily Mail's leader is dripping with contempt at the Archbishop of Canterbury's justified complaint that what he said has been misconstrued:

The beleaguered Archbishop of Canterbury resorted yesterday to the oldest stand-by in the book - "I have been misinterpreted".

Just to illustrate how the Daily Mail has most certainly not misinterpreted or distorted Williams' speech, here's its poll where it asks who is more dangerous, Abu Hamza or Rowan Williams:

The Archbishop of Canterbury caused consternation yesterday by calling for Islamic law to be recognised in Britain. He declared that Sharia and Parliamentary law should be given equal legal status so the people could choose which governs their lives.

Clearly, the Archbishop is clutching at straws and and richly deserves the opprobrium he's received. The vote, incidentally, currently has Williams as the most dangerous by 63%. That's the head of one of the more liberal churches of the world, considered more insidious than a man who spent years preaching hatred of women, Jews and "kafirs" in general, and who provided moral and spiritual, if not monetary or physical support to the Taliban, al-Qaida and the most extreme elements of the Salafist school of Islam. Little wonder that the Bishop of Hulme described some of the treatment he's received since his speech as a "shame on our nation" and "quite disgraceful".

Compared to the Sun's coverage, the Mail's has been a totem of respectability. There's a whole column on how he's a living in the lap of luxury (presumably he should be housed in a hovel and have to wear sackcloth and ashes in penitence for his crime), which also mentions he repeatedly opposed the Iraq war, along with err, pretty much every other major religious leader, and that he's "enraged" Christians with liberal views on gays, which translated means the last rump of evangelicals and most of the primates from Africa. If anything, he hasn't been harsh enough on both groups. The main article claims that senior MPs have called for his resignation, which is news to me, while so far around only two bishops have called for his resignation, while others have notably rallied to his defence, none of whom are mentioned in the article.

Brian Fuller, 46, of Luton, said: “This is the guy who leads our country’s religion and it sounds like he’s given up.

“He’ll soon be asking us all to face Mecca when we say our prayers.”

I'm not so sure Mr Fuller - anyway, how will you be able to tell which way Mecca is when your head is so clearly stuck up your rear passage?

The Sun bus visited the Archbishop’s Lambeth Palace residence in South London with Page 3 girls Mel and Peta — and blasted out Rule Britannia.

What a wheeze! That'll show the hairy leftie!

Just as pathetic has been the Sun's sharply set up campaign to get Williams sacked. Their print-out simplification has the reasons why he should be disciplined is that "he has destroyed his authority and credibility as leader of the Church of England", which is completely untrue, and secondly that he has "given heart to Muslim terrorists". As said yesterday, it's a good thing that the Sun knows just what makes jihadists tick and gives them heart, as most of the rest of us, including those tasked with tackling radicalisation are still struggling with it. Linking what the Archbishop said with terrorism is not just insulting and absurd, it's designed to shut down the debate and make it impossible to support him, as no one wants the terrorists to win, do they?

The Scum's leader is just as cavalier with the truth:

The whole nation is appalled, outraged and incredulous that Rowan Williams should come out with such dangerous claptrap.

Some are also appalled, outraged and incredulous that the media have blown this up into a matter where making a sensitive scholarly speech is considered grounds for someone to be sacked.

It is hard to see how Williams can cling on to his job.

It is hard, too, to see why he wants it since he feels such sympathy for Islam.

Just as a comparison, the same Sun newspaper declined to join in the chorus for Sir Ian Blair to resign after he presided over a force which killed an innocent Brazilian after a systemic failure at all levels. Blair himself didn't know what happened until the following day, despite even his secretary being aware an innocent man was dead, because no one bothered to inform him. The same Sun newspaper provided constant support for the previous prime minister, who told lie after lie while his office distorted the intelligence that took us to war in Iraq. The result has been at the very least the deaths of 150,000 Iraqis, not to mention our own troops. Williams however, whose only offence is to make a misjudged speech, must go.

The heart of this issue is not religion. It is law.

To say that the Archbishop is wrong is not to attack Islam. It is to say that allowing Sharia law encourages Muslim fundamentalists who don’t want to integrate with us.

Oh, so in other words, every Muslim who is sympathetic towards Sharia law is therefore a fundamentalist. Better tell that to the banks offering accounts with no interest designed for Muslims, or those who buy halal meat. Buying from a halal butchers must be encouraging fundamentalists who don't want to integrate with us because they don't agree with meat not slaughtered according to their religious doctrines. That he never said that he was in support of allowing it but rather suggested that it might unavoidable, nor that he only suggested it might help cohesion if on civil matters Sharia was recognised under the law, as the Beth Din courts are, doesn't enter into it. It isn't enough to disagree with him because it isn't necessary or even wanted, but because it encourages the evil people in our midst who want to destroy us.

The Archbishop of Canterbury declares Muslims should be allowed to follow a law of their own.

That is totally unacceptable.

And that is why he has to go.

Perhaps then the writer of this leader ought to go for completely misleading the readers with statements that he never made. That's unacceptable, but when the newspaper does the same or similar every day of the year it becomes ingrained, routine and predictable, as the reaction of the Sun has most definitely been.

Apart from the hysterical attacks on Williams himself, the other obvious reaction of the press was always going to be to go out and find these Sharia courts, and regardless of what they were doing, make out that it's a threat to us all. The Evening Standard was first out of the traps, with the Mail and Express reprinting the story, and they're shocked, shocked, to find that some Somali clans have settled a couple of violent disputes internally rather than turning to the police, with little emphasis again on how both sides were agreed on doing so. That this is the way that such tribal or clan-based disputes have always been sorted, and that it has very little to do with either Sharia or Islam isn't mentioned or is toned suitably down. Just as we won't turn to the police to sort out every little disturbance that occurs in neighbourhoods and instead settle it informally, or even for some larger offences where we choose not to turn to the police, they're doing more or less the same. Once a moral panic is brewing however, it's any port in a storm.

The Mail's leader is more than happy to use this spurious evidence as proof that Williams is loony:

And far from Dr Williams's fluffy idea that they merely arbitrate on civil, marital and business disputes, some are trying to replace criminal courts, passing judgment on offences from criminal damage to grievous bodily harm.

They're not replacing or trying to replace anything; as one of the members describes, they're doing the same as they did in the 10th century when it would have happened under a tree, whereas now it happens in a restaurant or a cafe. Then it has the audacity to say this:

While the Beth Din operates openly and within the law, this is alternative justice outside the law, and the Archbishop's endorsement will only serve to enhance its legitimacy and power.

But that was Williams' very point: that recognising some aspects of Sharia where both agree to it could help with cohesion and regulate it. I disagree with it, but he was more than welcome to suggest it, and instead he has calls for his resignation and a vilification campaign.

This though was what was always going to happen. Regardless of the merit of his argument, Williams has been attacked, those who have most to lose from his argument are likely to be further stigmatised and abused, and the notion that Islam and democracy are incompatible is once again the foremost in people's minds. He was naive, but I know who I blame more. That this has happened on a weekend where the far more serious revelation that the police are routinely bugging conversations between defendants and their lawyers has emerged, which is a genuine threat to the rule of law and shows how far the surveillance state is going, not to mention how it could threaten convictions, means that a far more deserving story has been knocked down the agenda, which might well help the government to avoid an inquiry. That's not to mention the latest knee-jerking over violent video games and calls to filter the internet into a two-tier system to protect the kiddies, currently being considered by the government. A press committed to holding a government to account would be going fiercely over both matters; instead we're likely have the bash the bishop campaign continuing for a while. The press is again failing in its basic duties, first to tell the truth and then to protect the public and their readers' interests.

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Friday, February 08, 2008 

Bearded extremist must die! (or resign, whichever comes first)

(Slight warning: this post clocks in at just less than 2,000 words, excluding the large amounts of quoted text.)

I'll admit: I was hasty and went slightly over the top in the post I made yesterday on Rowan Williams' speech on the possibility of Sharia law being legally recognised by the state. I actually rather like Beardie; he's probably the closest that any religion will get to having an acceptable, kind and intellectual face. I'm also more than happy to make clear that I already favour the disestablishment of the Church of England. It's surely ridiculous in this day and age that the prime minister chooses the head of the "state religion"; even the Catholic Church's college of cardinals vote for the supposed messenger of God on earth.

Let's make no bones about it though: he is first and foremost not just a speaker for the CoE, but also for religion as a whole, or he at least thinks he is. Like when the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks a few years ago dared to suggest that there was a a degree of truth in all three of the main Abrahamic religions and found himself being lambasted by conservative Jews for not making clear that Judaism is the only true faith, despite them all worshipping what is to all intents and purposes the same God, Williams likes to reach out across faith backgrounds. This was obvious in his other recent speech, also widely criticised, where he considered the possible abolition of the blasphemy laws and proposed, according to some reports, laws against thoughtless or cruel words. Unity tackled it here, and found much to disagree with.

The main question then has to be this: did Williams really know what he was about to unleash? Sure, Sharia and virtually all the questions surrounding whether Muslims can be both British while retaining their religious identity are incredibly contentious and controversial, but this was the Archbishop, making an incredibly academic, lengthy and considered speech, which ordinarily would have been completely and utterly ignored, except by perhaps the religious affairs correspondents on the broadsheets. If he hadn't approached the World at One, and made a somewhat less articulate summary of his speech (The Wardman Wire has an excellent commentary and transcript of the interview), that would have been most likely what would have happened. That was where the emphasis on how some part of Sharia law being adopted was "unavoidable" came from. If though anyone had listened further than the opening exchanges, they would have realised that the very last thing that Williams was advocating was for Sharia to be used to resolve and pass judgement on individuals where the law itself had been broken.

Even if Williams is genuinely surprised and dismayed by the reaction to his speech, it has to be based on a rather less than intellectual naviety. You mention Sharia and the instant, instinctive image it conjures up is limb chopping, flogging and beheadings. This was always what was going to occupy the tabloids' mindset, and they have had an absolute field day. I haven't even bothered to look at either the Express and Mail, but the Sun's coverage is, to say the least, little sort of sickening in its distortion and use of images that are almost designed to encourage Islamophobia. The Scum naturally decided that the most appropriate image for its front page was the woman in the niqab flashing a v-sign, without any attempt to provide the context in which it was originally taken: when the police raided those who have now pleaded guilty to the beheading plot. They were entitled to feel aggrieved by how the media had descended upon their home and were at the time recklessly scaremongering as usual.

Almost unbelievably, the Sun's headline for its current online, updated piece is "Williams: victory for terrorism". To consider his speech to be any sort of victory for terrorism would require a rhetorical leap that even Melanie Phillips would blanch at, but the Sun is more than happy to link Sharia law with terrorism. This is the second paragraph:

In an explosive outburst Dr Rowan Williams, the country’s top Anglican, said there should be one set of rules for Muslims — and another for everyone else.

No he didn't - what he was clearly articulating was that Muslims could be given the choice, in certain matters of civil law, to use Sharia courts to resolve disputes. Nothing more and nothing less. I completely disagree with him, but he was perfectly entitled to make the argument, and the last thing he was suggesting was completely different systems of laws for those of different religions.

He maintained it was WRONG for followers of Islam to be forced to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”.

Here's the full sentence that quote is taken from:

It is uncomfortably true that this introduces into our thinking about law what some would see as a 'market' element, a competition for loyalty as Shachar admits. But if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it seems unavoidable.

Williams is clearly going out of his way to try and be as inclusive as possible, all in the aid of what he considers the common good. He knows full well that the vast majority of Muslims are perfectly happy with what the British state offers them, but that some do prefer through their own interpretation of their faith to conduct such matters in accordance with Sharia. This already happens, and will continue to happen. He's suggesting that the state recognise this, which is one argument, and it happens to be wrong. But if both parties are perfectly happy to go along with it, and aren't being forced into it, who are we to say that isn't acceptable?

This is another of the problems that Williams has rather unfortunately highlighted: when the loyalty of any citizen to the country at large is brought into question, the right-wing press launches the equivalent of a verbal scud missile at them. Last week it was outraged that a review of the possibility of teaching patriotism was rejected because it would require the balance of also teaching that not everything Britain has ever done has been a roaring success. The main problem I had was that you simply can't preach patriotism; it's either something you instinctively feel or you don't. That Muslims might decide that our system of civil law isn't good enough for them is obviously a similar insult to everything that this country has ever stood for; that the right-wing press would never question the loyalty of some of the orthodox Jews who use the Beth Din courts for their civil affairs shows the abject hypocrisy on the matter. It would be different if what Williams or even those of the tiny minority in favour of Sharia were proposing that it be used for all criminal offences, but they're not. Consideration must be taken of the prejudices within Sharia, but are there not similar prejudices within Beth Din? I don't know, and the tabloids sure as fuck don't know either. They do however know that Sharia will mean the end of British life as we know it.

Dr Williams’ extraordinary claim is a huge propaganda coup for extremists plotting to end centuries of the British way of life.

How? The extremists want full Sharia law to be the only law, and to apply to everyone, not just Muslims, along with Britain to be part of the caliphate, even though the caliphate only ever spread as far as Spain. Williams hasn't given even the slightest succour to such an idea; the tabloids and their response however has sent a huge message to those who are separatist, where they'll be able to point at the response and hatred directed against Muslims as a whole when such a moderate idea has been suggested, making clear that Islam will never be accepted in any way, shape, or form. Now that's dangerous and guaranteed to breed resentment.

To prove the Sun's specious point, it contacted some of those who survived the 7/7 attacks for their views:

Paul Dadge, famously pictured helping masked 7/7 victim Davina Turrell, 24, was left stunned.

The 31-year-old former fireman, of Cannock, Staffs, said: “The Archbishop’s remarks are unhelpful. I am proud to be British and find the idea that Sharia law would ever become part of British law incredible.”

Mary Burke, 50 — who survived the King’s Cross bomb on July 7 2005 — said: “Britain is a Christian country and should stay a Christian country. I don’t want Islamic law here and I believe most of the British public agree with me.”

The very last thing the ABC would be suggesting is that Britain move from being a Christian country. If he had, the synod really would be calling for his resignation. Neither of those asked to comment likely heard the ABC on either the World at One or had read his speech; they were either told what was said by the Scum's reporters or heard the generally woeful reporting of it. As a result, to ask them to comment was downright misleading and superfluous.

Muslim Labour MP Khalid Mahmood was outraged.

He said: “This is the sort of woolly thinking that gets people into trouble. This sort of talk makes people think Muslims want to separate themselves from the rest of the community and be treated differently. The truth is most Muslims do not want Sharia law.”

Which will of course be ably helped by the tabloid reaction. It's only now right down at the bottom of the article that there's even the slightest clarification of what Williams actually said:

Dr Williams spoke out in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

He did stress he opposed the extreme elements of Islamic law — including stoning and whipping — but went on: “There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law.”

Which is handily vague enough to make the average reader imagine that other elements of Sharia would be acceptable, not just where two individuals agree to a Sharia court arbitration.

The Scum's leader is inevitably even worse. Its headline could also be hardly less descriptive of Williams' speech. How it could possibly be a rant or dangerous is a mystery only the leader writer could answer.

IT’S easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat.

In fact he’s a dangerous threat to our nation. He says the adoption in Britain of parts of Islamic Sharia law is “unavoidable”. If he believes that, he is unfit for his job.

How does offering an opinion make him unsuitable for his job? How could he possibly be a threat to the nation when the Scum is always scaremongering about the few who are a genuine threat, who are nothing like Williams?

Williams says the idea of “one law for all” is “a bit of a danger”.

With that one sentence he destroys his authority and credibility as leader of the Church of England.

Except of course that wasn't even a large proportion of his entire sentence. This is where the Scum has taken that quote from:

I think at the moment there’s a great deal of confusion about this; a lot of what’s been written whether it was about the Catholic church adoptions agencies last year, sometimes what’s written about Jewish or Muslim communities; a lot of what’s written suggests that the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody; now that principle that there’s one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western liberal democracy, but I think it’s a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and the law needs to take some account of that, so an approach to law which simply said, ‘There is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or your allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts’. I think that’s a bit of a danger.

I completely disagree with him, but it isn't dangerous, nor does it destroy his authority or credibility. He's approaching a problem and thinking out loud about it; criticise him all you want, but don't say that he should be sacked or resign for it. That's quite clearly an attempt at suffocating freedom of speech.

He also gives heart to Muslim terrorists plotting our destruction.

They will see his foolish ramblings as a sign that our resolve against extremism is weakening.

The Sun seems to know a lot about how "Muslim terrorists" think. Perhaps they ought to be instructing the government on how to tackle radicalisation, seeing as they know their exact mindset. Jihadists don't care what politicians, let alone what other religious figures think; they only know that they're absolutely right.

Our legal system revolves around the principle of one law for all.

Williams, our religious leader, has a duty to uphold that principle.

And he has, as he's suggesting that our law recognise Sharia courts in civil matters. That would be still mean that there would be one law for all. The Sun is being wilfully blind.

Yet he wants Muslims to have a choice over which law they follow.

Williams says Muslims should be able to ignore British divorce laws.

Another nail in the coffin of Muslim women's rights.

No he isn't. They'd only be able to "ignore" British divorce laws if they hadn't married under the civil system in the first place. This is also to accept that Sharia instantly means that women are at a disadvantage, which is patently untrue, as Sharia is interpreted in a myriad of different ways. If that was the case, any woman, Islamic or not, wouldn't agree to have the arbitration done under a Sharia court, which is the base requirement for both parties to agree in the first place.

Why doesn’t he condemn “honour” killings and forced marriages?

What does that have to do with Sharia? Honour killings and forced marriages are almost always due to tradition and tribal circumstances, not religious differences, although there are a minority of cases where it has been a factor.

Why is our Archbishop promoting a law under which women are stoned to death and shoplifters barbarically dismembered?

Except he directly criticised the "inhumanity" of such punishments. The very last thing he was doing was promoting them. This, incidentally, is the same Sun which last week published Helen Newlove's suggestion that the birch be brought back, and today prints Jamelia's call for the reintroduction of capital punishment. Stoning is especially barbaric, but so are all the current methods of execution, regardless of the law broken by the individual sentenced to death.

As Williams was cosying up to Islam yesterday, one of his bishops — Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester — was being protected by police.

He has received death threats from Muslims for warning of Islamic no-go areas in Britain.

What has Williams said in support of the Bishop? Nothing.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is in the wrong church.

Ah yes, they were certainly Muslims. Never mind that those who jumped on the Bishop's comments, of which there was no evidence to back up, to prove that Islam was inherently dangerous and separatist have plenty to gain from such threats. Besides, he was questioned directly on the World at One about Nazir-Ali's comments and this was his lengthy response:

CL This comes in the context of very fraught debates about community cohesion. How is it achieved that Britain might move forward in that respect? How concerned are you about the state of that debate at the moment and how much do you agree with the statements by Bishop Nazir Ali about ‘no go areas’?

ABC We have got a fragmented society at the moment, internally fragmented, socially fragmented in our cities and fragmented between communities of different allegiance. Now I think that there would be a way of talking about the law being more positive about supporting religious communities that might be seen as deepening or worsening that fragmentation. I don’t want to see that. I do want to see a proper way of talking about shared citizenship and that is a major theme of what I am saying in this lecture. Shared citizenship, whatever we say about religious allegiance we have to have that common ground and know what belongs there and I think when people have talked about mutual isolation of communities, about the ’silo’ model of people as it were living together, sadly there are some communities where it looks as it is true. I think it is not at all the case that we have absolute mutual exclusion. I don’t think it’s the case that we have areas where the law of the land doesn’t run, that would be completely a misleading way of looking at it. I’ve noted in the lecture that we are dealing usually with very law-abiding communities, but we have a lot of social suspicion, a lot of distance, a lot of cultural – not just religious – distance between communities and we just need to go on looking at how that shared citizenship comes through. Now, I think there are ways of doing that. For example in relation to our education system, ways of doing that in connection with local federations and networks of different communities working together for common objectives; like better bus services - as simple as that sometimes. Better infrastructure, addressing issues of common concern about security, about families and so on. Many ways in which that active citizenship can be promoted. So I don’t think that recognising the integrity or independence - the depth of the reality of religious communities - is to ghettoize our future.

CL Was the talk of ‘no go areas’ unhelpful you think in the context of this debate?

ABC I think the phrase, because it echoed of the Northern Irish situation – places where the police couldn’t go – that was what it triggered in many peoples’ minds. I don’t think that was at all what was intended. I don’t think it was meant to point to what I call the ’silo’ problem. The sense of communities not communicating with each other and that is a two way issue as well. As I said a couple of weeks ago many Muslims say that they feel bits of British society are ‘no go’ areas for them places that they can’t go.

Clearly, the Sun is rightly placed to decide who and who isn't in the "wrong church".

As usually happens in this cases, it's not the original speech or comment which starts off the trouble, although as in Jack Straw's comments on the veil both should have known what they were about to unleash, but instead the response and backlash which they cause, usually from those twisting it for their own ends. Williams is wrong, but it was an opinion which he was perfectly entitled to broadcast, and he should be able to do so without newspapers demanding he resign. It's the contempt that the Sun and others have for freedom of speech and most of all, for the truth, which seems to me to be the real danger to our democracy in the long term.

Slight update, with the Guardian getting it right as usual:

Refracted through the twin lenses of media and politics, his words have only served to stir up the sort of fears that could make Muslims more vulnerable to abuse than ever.


Related posts:
Big Sticks and Small Carrots - We're all for tolerance but...
Blairwatch - Death Comes for the Archbishop and Bashing the Bishop update
LC - Contra Canterbury
Enemies of Reason - Get Beardie

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Thursday, February 07, 2008 

Boozing this holiday? The police want a round.

If the government is trying to look like a puritanical, reactionary, authoritarian load of killjoys, then it's certainly been remarkably successful of late. What else to make of the latest knee-jerk plans from Jacqui Smith and the Home Office?

The majority of Britain's 13-year-olds have drunk alcohol, marking a worrying "tipping point" for underage drinking, the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, warned yesterday as she promised to step up enforcement action.

I didn't realise that alcohol had suddenly turned into the devil weed where a single sip is enough to turn you into a drunken yob liable to kick someone's husband to death. Smith does realise a decent proportion of those 13-year-olds would have only have drank with parental supervision and not binged, right? I thought the whole point of relaxing the licensing laws was, apart from greatly enriching the alcohol industry and clubs and pubs, to attempt to introduce a continental culture where they don't drink just to get smashed and get smashed only. It's either failed, or Smith's forgotten it in a blaze of attempting to react to tabloid apoplexy.

Smith used a Home Office conference on alcohol enforcement in north London to warn of the dangers of underage drinking and confirmed that she was prepared to tighten 10-year-old police powers to confiscate alcoholic drinks from under-18s in public places if changes were needed: "I will listen to the police and give them extra powers to make it illegal for under-18s to drink alcohol in public so that they don't have to prove reasonable suspicion, if needed," she said.

She announced that from next week a new £875,000 enforcement campaign will get under way over half-term to confiscate alcohol from under-18s drinking in public places. A similar campaign which ran in 23 local police divisions last autumn led to 3,700 litres of alcohol being confiscated - 6,500 pints - and this year the campaign, which will run from February 9 to 24, will take place in 175 local police divisions across England and Wales.

In other words, people who are breaking no laws as long as public drinking isn't specifically prohibited, as it is in certain areas, and in most cases will also be drinking perfectly responsibly without bothering anyone else will be threatened by the police for no specific purpose other than for Smith's political advantage. It won't just affect those who are underage who are drinking in public, but also those that are over 18 but who aren't carrying ID and unable to prove their age. It's the perfect kind of action for which the police will be completely unaccountable that's bound to cause more problems than it solves, angering those who've committed no crime and punishing them in the pocket. Labour hates being accused of nanny statism and the wagging finger mentality, then it comes up with this sort of illiberal nonsense. Leaving the kids alone has never been more out of vogue.

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Opening your mind so much that your brain falls out.

Well, Rowan Williams has managed one thing spectacularly well with his speech on Sharia law and the potential for it to be given "official status" under UK law. Everyone from across the political spectrum, apart from some of the Muslim organisations, have come out against him.

Before we all get carried away, it really ought to pointed out that Williams, in his scholarly speech which ran to somewhere in the region of 5,500 words, is not suggesting installing Sharia as an alternative to common law. Instead, his plea was for it be recognised in a similar way to which some orthodox Jews have their interpretation of Talmudic law recognised; only for marriages and divorces, mostly (The MCB mention inheritance and custody also), and where the two participants are in agreement that it should be used. This isn't really law though, it's more accurately described as arbitration. As others have been pointing out, this is already going on in some places, has been for some time, and there's not much point intervening in such cases where those individuals agree to it, unless you want to be seen as being especially discriminatory.

So no, we're not going to have hands being cut off for stealing, beheadings for apostasy or genital mutilation being endorsed by men with beards in kangaroo courts, all recognised under British law. In any case, the European Court of Human Rights, when asked to rule on the dissolving of the Turkish Refah party, one of whose policies was the introduction of Sharia, came to the conclusion that "it was incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy" and found that the dissolving of the party did not breach the ECHR. A similar decision if the idea of somehow recognising Sharia law under common law was taken would be incredibly likely.

The simplest argument against Williams' points is that under British law everyone is equal and treated equally. Sharia on the other hand, whether just involving marriages and divorces, is discriminatory, and even if reformed as Williams and some reformist Muslims would like, would remain that way. To start introducing different law systems that are recognised for each religious minority which demands them would be divisive, damaging and serve the interests of the religious themselves rather than justice. Even more powerful is of course that Sharia is the legal face of Islam, while the British state is secular, with church and state rightly separated. Williams has if anything just provided his enemies with the greatest reason yet for why the Church of England should be disestablished, and quite frankly, the day couldn't come soon enough.

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Propaganda, children and war in Iraq.

Children can often be the most visible and silent of the victims of war. Visible in that when they are killed, the outrage and mourning is all the more apparent, the young cut down in their prime and before they had even so much as experienced life as adults will; silent in that the mental scars conflict leaves behind are beyond ordinary perception, and only later manifest themselves fully, creating damaged individuals that often never recover.

The effects then that videos such as those captured by the US and Iraqi forces that apparently showchildren between around 10 and 12 years old running around with guns and rocket propelled grenades while masked, conducting mock hostage taking and practicing raiding houses then is manifold. One is that they're being corrupted, making adult decisions before their time. Another is shock: that adults are apparently prepared to use children in such a way, anathema to our proud Western values. Then there's the realisation that when children are involved in such actions, it's intuitive to think that a new low has been reached, or that those training the children are themselves resorting to desperate measures.

All of the above is probably to some extent true in this case. It still pays however to pay closer detail to actually what has been filmed, what's been presented and the agenda of both sides, those who originally recorded it, and those who are releasing it now that it's been captured.

On one point, the video certainly does look numerous productions released by various jihadist/nationalist insurgent groups in Iraq, except with the adult fighters featured in those replaced by children. Because it's been captured in its raw form before it was cleaned up, edited and presented with the relevant logo of the group behind it, it's impossible to know exactly who did film it. The US army has naturally said that it's the work of al-Qaida in Iraq, or as the group is now known, the Islamic State of Iraq, but there's nothing in the video to suggest this is most definitely the case. The flag which the children are standing in front of at one point is not the Islamic State's standard; rather a simple black flag. They might have decided not to have used it, or didn't have one to hand, but most of the groups when using their flag at least have some sort of Arabic script on them that identifies them. The one image released that certainly does show evidence of the involvement of the ISI is an apparently separate image (shown above) that clearly shows the al-Furqan logo, ISI's media production arm. That image is apparently taken from one of their major releases from last year, "The Astray Arrow", which did feature children, although not in the way that these captured tapes do.

Indeed, this is hardly really anything new, although there hasn't been much on the scale of this previously released to my knowledge. Children have been featured a number of insurgent videos, not just by the Sunni jihadist/nationalist groupings, but also by the main Sufi armed group in the country. There have been allegations made in the past that the Shiite Mahdi army, helmed by Moqtada al-Sadr, but also to a degree autonomous of his command, has made use of children as young as 13.

The propaganda agenda of the video, and of both who made it and the US decision to release it to the media at large are obvious. While the army claims that it was designed at attracting new recruits, that seems highly unlikely. Rather, whoever or whomever made the video's main point was to say that even if you kill all of us adults, the children themselves, whether now or later, will continue to fight. The US army's point is also clear: that it both shows the desperation of al-Qaida and the moral depths to which the movement is willing to plunge, as if massacring Shias in markets with suicide attacks wasn't low enough.

Intelligence officials, loud-mouthed bloggers and some politicians often speak alarmingly of how we're losing the propaganda war, and on the evidence of this they might have a point, not because the video is especially effective, but because the US's argument is so weak. To begin with, the footage was shot in the summer of last year, not now when the Americans and others are daring to start to crow again that the insurgency has been broken and that the surge has worked, with last week's suicide attacks allegedly carried out by women with Down's Syndrome the mark of how desperate they were. We still haven't had confirmation that was in actual fact the case, with conflicting coverage since. If you can stomach it, footage supposedly showing the severed head of one of the bombers has been leaked onto the net, and it's as inconclusive as the reports were.

Secondly, we don't know what these children themselves have been through. The Guardian reported at the beginning of last year of how so many were showing signs of major psychological stress, and that of the others many had a favourite game: playing out mock executions, splitting off into groups and taking on the roles of al-Qaida and the Mahdi army, Sunni and Shia, reliving their own experiences of the sectarian warfare which was dominating and dividing their country. These children might have lost their parents, or had older siblings who had joined the insurgency killed, or even been killed accidentally by coalition forces; to pretend that they're definitely being manipulated by al-Qaida or even being used as anything other than pawns in a game is to make a series of assumptions based on your own prejudices. The same is the case when women carry out suicide bombings; they're not regarded as usually those most susceptible to join jihadists or kill in such a way. This ignores how the overwhelming number of suicide attacks by women have taken part in Chechnya and Russia, where they were members of a special brigade called the Black Widows. All had their husbands or relatives killed by Russian forces, and even if they had been manipulated, driven by their grief or just simply thirsty for revenge, you can at least understand why, if not even start to accept the reasoning behind what they did.

It goes without saying that use of child soldiers, which isn't potentially what was depicted here, is abhorrent and illegal under international law. It's hardly a new occurrence though: their use across Africa has been endemic, while some others have pointed to how the Hitler Youth were conscripted in the dying days of Nazi Germany to pretend the fatherland from the marauding and fast encroaching Soviets, but this also seems to be influenced by those who want to believe that the war in Iraq, if not over, is reaching some sort of conclusion, and that the insurgents are getting desperate. They might have been beaten back to their strongholds, but we all know what happened with Fallujah: those who wanted to fight stayed behind and mostly died, while everyone else got out and dispersed across the country. History could certainly yet repeat. Moreover, the Americans have the Awakening councils, mostly made out of the tribes and insurgents which previously welcomed and worked alongside al-Qaida before they decided that the Americans were the lesser of the two evils, to thank more than anything else. They themselves are fragile coalitions, and they've been armed and paid by the Americans. What happens if they break apart, or if they later again decide to turn on the Shia? The ceasefire the Mahdi army has been observing over the last six months, which has also helped bring down the violence levels, is also weak. The passing of the very limited reversal of the de-Ba'athification laws originally signed by Viceroy Bremer is also only the start of the efforts towards reconciliation that Washington has demanded be acceded to. As sad as it is, the disaster that we set in motion is still going to be playing out for years to come, and the children of Iraq are unlikely once they reach adulthood to thank us for the intervention that only the most optimistic believed would result in a quickly established beacon of democracy in a region we've been manipulating for decades.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008 

Just fancy that!

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has backed the limited use of intercept evidence in court, after an independent review.

The Chilcot report says phone tap evidence was needed in some cases in England and Wales for security reasons.

But it says material should not be used against the wishes of the agencies collecting it - or if it could have been gained in another way.

Seeing as MI5, MI6 and GCHQ all pathologically oppose any intercept evidence being made admissible, this is the best possible conclusion that both the review and Brown could have reached. Justice will always come second to "national security considerations."

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Tabloid-watch: Reporting sensational crime details, blatant stupidity and empty smears.

Today was undoubtedly another glorious day for the country's tabloids. If there's one thing apart from a missing white blonde girl that's always going to fill the front pages, it's a murdered white blonde young woman, especially if said white blonde young woman was an aspiring model who left behind a handy cache of material of her posing in a range of different clothing. Add to that how the trial of the man accused of the murder has heard that he admits to having sex with Sally Anne Bowman's corpse, which he just happened to come upon by chance, and you're guaranteed that it's going to be the story of number one interest on the day in question.

What you don't have to do is then rub everyone's face in it. That, however, was the modus operandi of the Daily Star. The PCC code on reporting on cases intruding into grief is suitably vague, but it does say the following:

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively.

Here then is the Daily Star's front page:

It's the sort of headline you'd expect from a sex scandal where the person in question is boasting about what he's done and given an interview to that effect. Why bother being sensitive to others' feelings however when you can instead use a sledgehammer to crack a nut?

Without wanting to get into a debate on whether if something similar had happened to a middle-aged non-photogenic woman it would be making the news in such a fashion, there was this further smirk inducing evidence given to the trial:

When Dixie was arrested, nine months after the murder, police found a digital camera among his possessions. On it, they found a video file showing a pornographic film being played on a television, while a man records himself masturbating over a copy of the Daily Mail bearing a photograph of Bowman.

Police later discovered a copy of the Daily Mail of March 22 2006 which had a "sticky substance" on the front page featuring Bowman.

It's true then: the accusation that the use of photographs of "pretty young dead girls" is intended to boost the one-handed sale seems to be based in something approaching fact. How then did the Daily Mail itself report this free and rather impressive plug for its journalistic content?

Police raided several properties in Horley, Surrey, and Croydon where he had been staying.

They recovered a video of Dixie performing a lewd sex act on the six-month anniversary of the model's death, the court heard.

Well, I don't suppose "the Daily Mail: the newspaper of choice for masturbating necrophiliacs" would quite hit their target market. That report incidentally only contained the one photograph of Bowman. Among the other coverage was one which had two, and this one, which went for a whole three.

Moving on, the Express splashed on how there'd been yet another suicide in the supposed cursed town of Bridgend. I think Merk from Daily Mail Watch can take the reins from here:

BBC: Death ‘not connected’ to suicides.

icWales: …police today stressed the death was not connected to the spate of suicides

Times: did not appear to be linked to the seven suicides.

Telegraph: The death is not linked to other recent sudden deaths in the area.

Daily Mail (heh): police have ruled out that the latest death is linked to the previous incidents.

Express : There were renewed fears last night of an internet death cult in the town after it emerged that Miss Fuller had visited a social networking website just hours before she died.

See where I’m going with this? Now are you ready for the revelation about the ‘Internet Cult’ from the Express? Here goes:

The teenager, the second girl to die in the spate of suicides, was a member of Bebo and Facebook. Many of the previous victims had posted profiles on such sites.

This, my friends is the self acclaimed ‘World’s Greatest Newspaper’.

I rest my case.

Finally then to the Scum, which has an amazing exclusive on the bugging of Sadiq Khan, the headline shouting "MP first probed by MI5 over 9/11":

BUGGING scandal MP Sadiq Khan was first probed by security services over his association with a 9/11 terrorist, The Sun can reveal.

And just what was this association?

Security sources told yesterday how 9/11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui asked lawyer Mr Khan to represent him after being accused of being the ‘20th hijacker’.

Oh. It gets better though:

The Labour whip was not allowed to see Moussaoui and was barred from seeing court papers in the run-up to the trial.

Yet by the tone of the article it feels like you're supposed to think that Khan is somehow tarred or condemned for so much as thinking of being Moussaoui's legal representative.

Human rights lawyer Mr Khan, 37, who says he loathes terror groups, was the only practising Muslim on Moussaoui’s team. It brought him to the attention of MI5 and MI6.

One security source said last night: “It is hardly surprising he came to the attention of security services in view of the people he was associated with.”

Who says, eh? Must be a traitor. It's quite right too. Dare to consider legally defending a "terrorist suspect" and you too will find yourself being bugged by MI5, although his supposed labelling as a "subversive" by Scotland Yard might be because he represented and defended black and Asian officers in discrimination cases, as well as bringing actions against the police. Still, so much for even the thought of confidentiality between a lawyer and his client; that's been thrown out of the window now that the sky's dark.

Last year it was revealed that five members of his family belonged to fundamental group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

It's not entirely clear here whether they're referring to Khan or to Babar Ahmed, but I can't find any articles from a relatively quick search that back up this especially lurid allegation. Indeed, Khan has spoken out against Hizb ut-Tahrir on a number of occasions, the following, in a Fabian speech, particularly strong:
Let me be quite clear. Hizb-ut-Tahrir quite deliberately have the same effect on race relations as their mirror image, the BNP. They encourage hatred and their preaching is used by the BNP to foster fear of Islam.

Calling your family racists doesn't appear to be the number one way to keep good relations with them.

Mr Straw is believed to have told officials that he thought someone was trying to “smear” Mr Khan.

Well, the Sun's certainly decided that if others are going to have a go, it may as well join in.

As Private Eye points out today, surely of even more interest than the fact that the police are now bugging MPs daring to visit childhood friends in prison, is that Ahmed has now been held without charge in jail in this country for three and a half years, awaiting deportation, even while his alleged accomplices in America have been released without charge., the site that Ahmed allegedly ran, and which can be accessed via the Wayback Machine was certainly radical: its sub-title was for "jihad and the mujahideen", but whether he broke any applicable laws while the site was still up in this country is most certainly questionable. That injustice however is of little consequence to a newspaper determined to defend the police and the security services over almost anything, however how troubling.

Slightly related: PDF attacks the puritan spin machine.

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Biting Newsnight in Private Eye.

Private Eye is generally one of the few remaining shining beacons of investigative and fearless journalism in this country. It can also however be pompous, smug and on occasion, downright wrong.

In this case, it isn't quite the latter, but it's almost as close to it as it could possibly be. Despite nearly a month of no new dispatches from either Newsnight or Policy Exchange, who've had a considerable amount of time to conduct their own investigations, which they said they were going to, or to launch a legal action, as they implied they might do, "Ratbiter" is today given nearly half a page in the Eye (1203, page 8) on the fracas between the two over Policy Exchange's "Hijacking of British Islam report".

Ratbiter brings only one new thing to the table, and more on that at the end. Apart from that, it's as if he'd been hired by Policy Exchange themselves to defend their report. According to his piece, which implies that because Newsnight sat on the report and that rather than reporting its findings it doesn't believe there's any problems with Islam in this country, something hardly borne out by Richard Watson's repeated investigations over the past year into Hizb-ut-Tahrir, other Islamist organisations and similar allegations to PE's in Tower Hamlets' libraries, "the evidence that Policy Exchange was basically right about the extremist literature available is overwhelming". Indeed it is, as long as you as selectively decide which "evidence" to include in your piece as Ratbiter has.

The only two mosques which Ratbiter mentions are the Muslim Education Centre in High Wycombe, where Newsnight openly broadcast that it had one of the books bought from it on the shelves, but that the shop had a completely different invoice to the one which backed up PE's research, one that Newsnight alleged was a forgery, and the Al-Muntada mosque in west London, where again the invoice was considered dodgy, but also never convincingly claimed that the books didn't come from there. As Ratbiter points out, one of the books apparently bought from there is still available on its website. Well, according to when the Eye went to press it was, but looking at their website now the shop link only provides a phone number and a couple of paragraphs on what's available there.

If Newsnight's evidence had relied on just those two mosques, then it would indeed have been ridiculous for it to have broadcast its lengthy report on the PE publication. Instead, as Ratbiter doesn't acknowledge at any point, the programme featured another four mosques, as my post giving a comprehensive run-down of all the accusations makes clear, one of which looks like a prima facie case of forgery that libels the mosque accused of selling the literature. Since then, allegations about material found at the Edinburgh mosque featured in the report and at a least a couple of others has been called into question.

As with the other PE operatives who defended the report at the time, rather than being angry about the allegations made by Newsnight, Ratbiter appears to be most miffed that Newsnight bothered to double-check the information in the report, and also the invoices which PE supplied to back it up. I'm currently reading Nick Davies' Flat Earth News (expect a review once I'm done), serialised in the Eye in the last issue, and one of the main points he makes in it when defining "churnalism" is that most journalists now, whether working for the Press Association, local newspapers, the big national players or indeed the BBC, simply don't have adequate time to check the sources of their material to ensure that what they're writing and providing as fact is actually true, which ought after all to be the number one service that a journalist should provide. As Ratbiter himself acknowledges, most of the rest of the media ran with it, without even bothering one would assume to so much as check that what the PE report said was accurate. That, after all, was their job, and would have prevented the journos involved from bashing out the other stories they're expected to. In other words, Newsnight provided the very base service that journalists ought to, which is to check for bullshit, and because it did, it's been hammered for it. What a sad state of affairs British journalism really is in for this to be more important than accuracy itself.

Ratbiter's main rhetorical flourish is that the researchers themselves fear for their lives as a result of threats from the extremists that Newsnight pretended didn't exist. Ratbiter's main backing for this is that the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, whose site comes off as almost a Muslim Daily Mail, but who can be hardly described as extremists, allegations about anti-semitism and funding of David Irving by one of its founders aside, put on its website while describing the researchers as "zio-con frauds", that "if you know who they are - please write in and we will expose these men and women for all the Muslim community to see." Thing is, those extremists within the community have now been enormously helped by, err, Ratbiter. Before his piece, we neither knew where the researchers currently were, or how many of them there were, with Newsnight told they were on a jaunt in Mauritania. He/she informs us that there are 8 of them, and that they are currently "somewhere in London". Doubtless those self-same researchers that have been put in danger by Newsnight's refusal to cooperate with the slide to "churnalism" will greatly thank their latest defender for narrowing the search down that little bit more.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008 

This is Flint, Caroline.

Politicians and statesmen often get attributed statements that they never actually made. It's unlikely that Queen Victoria said "We are not amused." Lenin didn't directly use the term "useful idiot". Callaghan never said "Crisis? What crisis?" Norman Tebbit never actually said for the unemployed to get on their bikes and look for work, but along with the Spitting Image puppet of him and cartoon depiction as an undead, skeletal figure (he has never fully recovered from being injured in the IRA Brighton bomb of 1984) attempting to sell the poll tax, it entered the lexicon. Caroline Flint has come up with nothing quite as catchy, but the message is almost certainly the same, and the Guardian's headline will do the job for both her and her party. Labour: if you want a council house, find a job.

As with most headlines, it doesn't really cover the full effect of what she said or the position she's apparently taken. The gist of it is, either you look for work and sign a contract to say that you will, or you won't get a council house. Flint repeated much the same message at a speech to the Fabian society today. (The Fabian society? Have supposedly social democratic organisations in this country really sunk so low?) This approach was apparently sparked by the revelation to Flint that half of those living in social housing are without paid work, which is twice the national average. When it comes to those under 25, it rises to three quarters.

On the face of it, there is an apparent problem that does in some way require fixing. The figures quoted though may not tell the full story. Are we talking about those who are the actual tenants, paying rent to the council, or just those who live in the house as well as the tenants? If so, it might go some way towards explaining why the numbers are larger. I don't have any figures to hand, but one would estimate that more people tend to live in an individual council home than they do in "private" accommodation. Indeed, we're informed that more and more households now consist of just the one person, younger singletons and the older retired generation alike. That may go some way to explaining the disparity.

Otherwise, it seems a typical New Labour solution right down to a t. As with those accused of anti-social behaviour, schoolchildren and parents with schools, and who knows, maybe even all of us once the government gets round to deciding exactly what our "rights and responsibilities" are, those who are on the waiting list for a council house (and it's usually a long wait) will be required to sign a contract stating that if they aren't in work they'll be expected to seek it, as well as undergoing a "skills audit", which probably sounds more threatening that in would be in reality. The government appears to be obsessed with either belittling or infantilising everyone; call it the sweets equation, or the Santa threat. The parent tells the child to behave or they won't get any sweets, or alternatively, that if they aren't a good little boy or girl, that Santa won't come. The difference is that they tend to be empty threats, especially the latter. With New Labour, you can bet that it won't be anything of the sort.

Flint has been accused of stigmatising council estates and those who live in them, and it's difficult to disagree with that conclusion. Certainly, the quotes she's given in the Guardian show both a lack of understanding of council housing works and how the system has been evolving, or rather been privatising as of late:

"It would be a big change of culture from the time when the council handed someone the keys and forgot about them for 30 years."

If there was one thing that councils don't tend to do, it's forget about those living in their housing. If they did, there wouldn't be buses going round where I live with the pre-festive message (I might paraphrase slightly) of "Looking forward to Christmas/buying presents? Pay your rent first. We do evict!" Nor have they forgotten about them when it comes to proposals of whether to selling the housing to a private landlord, or to stay under local government control, as Defend Council Housing have been campaigning for.

Then there's this:

"If you are in a family, an estate or a neighbourhood where nobody works that impacts on your own aspiration. It is a form of peer pressure."

What utter rubbish. I'm sure some are defeatist about it, but for every person that is there's another 3 or 4 that want to get out of the cycle of not working. The key word there is of course "aspiration"; both Labour and the Tories deeply care about the aspirations of the upwardly-mobile lower and middle-classes, who demand less tax and policies tailored directly to them as they make up the all important swing voters, but for those on the council estates who make up the bulk of Labour's vote, they can be played off, stigmatised and chastised for their fecklessness and welfare dependency, which is naturally all their own fault. It certainly also helps that the Mail and Scum lap up such rhetoric.

Less prominent but no less questionable was Flint's proposal for jobcentres to moved onto the estates themselves. Reasonable enough, and I'm sure they'll fit in just fine alongside the Ladbrokes, Coral, BetFred and others that have prospered under New Labour's relaxation of the gambling laws and which now seem to make up the majority of the shops on such estates. More typical was that the private sector will of course be given more of a role, as after all, you can't trust the public sector to be tough enough, especially when you get investment bankers called Freud to do the appropriate reviews.

It has surely come to something though when it's the Conservatives that appear more moderate on such a matter, although Grant Shapps didn't exactly shoot it down, just instead that it was political kite-flying and that it was unworkable. That isn't the point though; for all Flint's pleading that this wouldn't affect the fact that council housing is a safety net, it suggests where government thinking is going, and that's away from further building of social housing, despite how badly it's needed. Quite simply, it costs too much while those who live in it aren't giving enough back. You'd expect that sort of argument to be made by the Tories, but not from Labour, even New Labour. Flint and the prime minister's spokesman have since backtracked slightly, saying that the intention was starting a debate, even a provocative debate in Flint's case, but that seems to only suggest that they weren't expecting such a fierce backlash, or at least the intensity of it. Whether it really has changed minds or not is something entirely different.

Coming after last weekend though, when Progress said that Labour could no longer rely on portraying the Conservatives as the "nasty party", it suggests something else. That Labour seems to be more than happy to try and earn that sobriquet for itself.

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MMR and autism link dismissed yet again.

When she isn't fulminating against the treason of intellectuals or how we're slouching towards dhimmocracy, Melanie Phillips likes to spend her time ranting against the evils of the MMR vaccine. Study after study has been unable to replicate the results of Andrew Wakefield's discredited 1998 report that linked the triple-jab with autism, so it's always fit in nicely with Phillips' persecuted middle-class conspiracy theory mindset.

The latest study, involving 250 children, has similarly found no link between the immunisation programme and autism. Strangely, Phillips has yet to post on how this is the latest report that can't be trusted. The Daily Mail, the second-in-command in the scaremongering about MMR stakes, does though still continue a thoroughly disingenuous approach, starting with the headline itself, which puts disproves MMR jab link to autism in inverted commas, then quotes the usual suspects who'll never be convinced. Thankfully, Science Blogs also cover it, as does the Bad Science crew.

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Scum-watch: Language not fit for a family newspaper.

The Sun was outraged last week when Greg Mulholland of the Liberal Democrats allegedly called health minister Ivan Lewis an "arsehole" while in the Commons, saying in a leader it was language not fit for reprinting in a "family newspaper". That on its own brings to mind the old notion that you can see tits on the third page of the newspaper, but not actually in print, where it'll likely be censored to "t*ts". The Scum's currently piss-poor editor of Bizarre, Gordon Smart, has taken to referring to what you and I know as breasts as "bangers".

Imagine my surprise then when this morning's front page screams "A LOAD OF PRIX" referring to those in the crowd in Spain at the weekend who racially abused Lewis Hamilton. I wonder how many parents had to explain what that meant to their inquisitive younger children this morning.

Elsewhere, ignoring the Scum's expected supporting of the bugging of MPs, especially when it also involves "terror suspects", it's rather proving itself amazingly hypocritical on verbal abuse itself. A couple of weeks ago the leader column tut-tutted at MPs' debating skills:

SUN reader Dr Stuart Newton tells the PM that Britain’s yob culture is little surprise when our own MPs behave like thugs.

Once again he speaks for us all.

Far too often Commons debates degenerate into childish bellowing and taunts.

These are our lawmakers, meant to set the country’s moral tone, braying like donkeys.

You won't note any of the above qualities in the following dignified rebuke directed at "millionaires hunting bears in Russia":

RUSSIA is fast gaining an image as a nation of swaggering bullies.

Hard-eyed President Vladimir Putin, ex-KGB officer, loves throwing his weight around.

Newly-rich Russian tourists are becoming even less popular than the Germans.

Today’s Sun carries shocking pictures of a cowardly “hunter” after gunning down a hibernating bear asleep in its den.

Hundreds more of these wonderful animals are slaughtered as gory trophies by bloodthirsty millionaires.

Russians used to be known as thoughtful, poetry-loving, chess playing intellectuals.

Today they are seen as corrupt, vodka-swigging thugs with more money than brains.

Quite so. After all, no one in America, Rupert Murdoch's adopted country, goes hunting or slaughters animals for fun. Or at least, when they try to, they tend to shoot each other, and then only talk to err, Fox News.

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Monday, February 04, 2008 

We still need the Wilson doctrine.

In light of the revelations that the Labour MP Sadiq Khan was bugged (claims in the Daily Mail tomorrow and on Newsnight right now that he's been bugged for years and while he was working for Liberty, supposedly considered a "subversive" by some within Scotland Yard) while visiting his constituent and friend Babar Ahmed at Woodhill prison, some are asking why the Wilson doctrine is still in place, with MPs considered above us mere mortals, especially with the report released last week that showed 250,000 requests for various intercepts within a 9-month period.

While some have pointed out that there's a reason why it's known as the Wilson doctrine
, due to his own paranoia (somewhat justified) that the security services were out to get him, the number one reason why it should stay in place is that it protects both radical and maverick MPs from the attention of those so often and historically opposed to them. Of course, in this day and age radical and MP when put together seem to be an oxymoron, but we also ought to be aware that under an even less scrupulous government than this one, collaboration between politicians and security services would certainly not rule out spying on the opposition.

If the Wilson doctrine were to be even slightly modified or abandoned, there needs to judicial oversight, as Unity eloquently outlines. That this is still left to either politicians or a police officer is archaic and and clearly in need of urgent reform.

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Changing the language of "terror".

Doubtless the allegations of political correctness and dhimmification will be loudly levelled at the Home Office by the usual suspects after a new counter-terrorism phrasebook emphasising the language to use when discussing and debating extremist Islamist terrorism has been leaked to the Granuiad.

As is usual whenever allegations of political correctness are thrown about, even slightly valid or not, there's almost always a good reason for it in the first place. The reasons for it in this case don't come much more compelling or challenging: ever since 9/11, the Muslim community as a whole has increasingly seen it come under ever more enduring scrutiny, with ever harsher and looser language used against it, and as a result has turned itself off, has dismissed legitimate concerns, and indulged in conspiracy theories, when it is naturally the first port of call in tackling the extremists in its midst.

If the above reads unlike what you'll usually find on this blog, it's because both sides in this debate are wrong. Only some within the Muslim community have reacted in such a way, just as an even tinier number within it is enthralled and involved in extremism. The difficulty has been that the organisations meant to represent Muslims, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, have themselves refused to recognise that there is a problem, or indeed that they are nowhere near as representative as they claim to be. Since Abdul Bari took over from Iqbal Sacranie there seems to have a reforming agenda that wasn't recognisable before, and the organisation, including the previously bin Laden admiring Inayat Bunglawala have seemingly mellowed, and over the Sudan teddy affair for instance, were very effective in damning the decisions overseas. There doesn't seem to have been much change from the position held though that foreign policy was chiefly responsible for the 7/7 attacks and the plots foiled since, and that radicalisation, however atomised, is the main cause. However much role the illegal invasion and consequent occupation of Iraq have had upon certain individuals becoming radicalised, it's naive and myopic to believe it's the sole or even chief motivation for the blowing up of innocent civilians, even if it is the main excuse.

Just as it is for the Home Office to apparently think that by merely changing the language used that it'll engage the Muslim community more in the challenge/threat (the Home Office endorsed way to describe what has previously been called the "war on terror", which was always an idiotic way to define the al-Qaida/Salafist/takfirist mentality). The phrasebook diplomacy section of the Grauniad article doesn't seem to have been reproduced online, but it shows the difficulties of trying to substitute certain phrases for others which seem if anything to be worse. For instance, "radicalisation" is supposedly heard by the Muslim community as "Terrorism is a product of Islam" (not easily understood or translated into Urdu/Arabic). Is it really, or indeed, are the suggested alternatives, "brainwashing" or "indoctrination" better? We might be quibbling over synonyms, but radicalisation is a far better description of what happens than brainwashing or indoctrination is, especially as there is very little evidence that either are actively going on; quite the opposite, if anything, with personal research or already friendly groups being the most often ways that an individual becomes "radicalised". Similarly, "jihadi/fundamentalist" is according to the HO research heard as "there is an explicit link between Islam and terrorism", with criminal/murderer/thug the suggested replacements. While all of the latter are accurate descriptions of those who are convicted of terrorism offences, how are we meant to be able to describe those who are jihadists, or my preferred term, takfirist jihadists, who haven't actually broken any laws, but who do provide material support or at least believe in the righteousness of the extremist, al-Qaida interpretation of Wahhabist/Salafist Islam if we don't in effect call a spade a spade?

Being careful over the use of language is of course important, and it's completely true that to talk of a clash of cultures, civilisations, or a war against an abstract noun is preposterous. It's also entirely wrong to attack the Muslim community as a whole for sheltering extremists, or to put the onus on it to do the work of exposing those within that are radicalised. All breed mistrust, and risk the response that they're being unfairly stigmatised, which would again be true. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, which is what the Home Office appears to be doing, it's "what is being heard" that has to be tackled, not the language itself. Why are some within the Muslim community convinced that they are personally to blame? Could it be because of some of the disingenuous and dangerous media coverage, such as that surrounding Jack Straw's comments on the veil, the leaking over alleged plots and the ridiculous allegations from the likes of Policy Exchange and reports that "a sect linked to the Taliban" has control over a large proportion of British mosques? The first thing that could be sorted is that there is no such thing as moderates and extremists. There is everyone of us, then there are the extremists. Likewise, we have to acknowledge that talking about the Muslim community as if it was a homogenuous block is ridiculous. It makes for convenient shorthand, but little more. There are Sufis, Shiites and Sunnis out there, even if the latter are the majority, just as there are former Muslims. It's little wonder some are so exasperated at the labelling when they are entirely removed from what is being discussed.

Perhaps more insulting than any of the above is the impression given, especially by the talk of brainwashing and indoctrination, is that Muslims can't think for themselves. This view is given credence by the likes of Martin Amis and others who contend that Islam provides an all encompassing ideology which itself cannot be altered or challenged, let alone reformed. This is clearly nonsense, as so many Muslim thinkers, past and present have aptly demonstrated. Over the last couple of years we've had John Reid, the head of MI5 and Jacqui Smith all commenting on how Muslim children are being "brainwashed" or "groomed" as if they were the victims of a predatory paedophile, all without providing a single scrap of evidence that this is happening. That's what breeds mistrust and cynicism. Stop insulting peoples' intelligence and understand why "they" think the way they do, then change the language used. Only then might we start getting somewhere.

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Scum-watch: Potential breach of PCC code, gloating over Kevin Greening and more Helen Newlove.

Some of those with a tendency for remembering tedious nuggets of information about the media and its personalities might well recall that the News of the Screws under Piers Moron was heavily criticised for publishing photographs of Earl Spencer's then wife leaving a detoxification clinic. The Press Complaints Commission's code of practice quite clearly states that

ii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.

Note - Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Someone with a rather short memory then on the Scum has sailed close to the wind in publishing a photograph of Amy Winehouse not leaving the clinic she's undergoing drug treatment at, but apparently walking between buildings of the complex. It might of course be that the two buildings are in the line of sight of the general public, where the Sun can claim that there wouldn't be a reasonable expectation of privacy, but it might also be quite the opposite, as the snap is publicised as being taken by a paparazzi agency. The Scum could also argue that it's well known that La Winehouse has entered rehab, which mitigates against any claim that she has a reasonable expectation of privacy, but they seem to still be chancing their arm. The dog might yet snap it off. I certainly won't be weeping if it does.

Elsewhere, the Scum's been given another familiar, disgustingly prurient exclusive about Kevin Greening, details of which I'm not going to reproduce here. Last time it suggested someone had died in similar circumstances it was forced into giving an apology after it turned that the allegations were completely untrue.

Finally, Helen Newlove is given yet more space to talk about her anguish. Snipping out most of the personal, melodramatic crap:

MURDERED dad Garry Newlove’s widow Helen told yesterday how she contemplated suicide after vicious teen yobs beat him to death.

She sank desperately low, but has vowed to stay strong for their daughters Danielle, 18, Zoe, 15, and Amy, 13 — AND to campaign to drive thugs off our streets.

She said: “I’m going to do all I can to rid the streets of yobs. I don’t want anyone else to go through the hell we’re facing. The charter and the girls keep me from going under.”

As she's doomed to inevitable failure, one has to wonder whether she's either bullshitting or being thoroughly naive. Either way, the very last thing we need is her ludicrous charter.

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