Thursday, 18 June 2009

Virginity scholarships

Salon's Broadsheet today discusses this news of university scholarships being offered to schoolgirls in Biriwa, Sierra Leone who can prove they are virgins. The scheme is aimed at reducing high rates of teenage pregnancy, and is being implemented along with a measure that bans "any schoolboy found guilty of impregnating another student from all educational institutions." Eligibility for the scholarships requires a virginity test administered by a community nurse.

Apart from the fact that a virginity test that examines the presence of an intact hymen is not reliable (a hymen may rupture at any point through regular physical activity and some women are born without them. And I hate that I even have to point all this out in the context of this article), subjecting a young woman to this type of test is grossly invasive and potentially shaming, whatever the result. But further prizing women's virginity and using it as a basis for a reward of education is very problematic. It creates an artificial relationship between the purity of women and their potential for academic attainment. Because even though in this setting, teenage pregnancy may interrupt young people's academic careers, with adequate access to birth control and reproductive health education, sex in itself need not. Even though one may argue that applicants subject themselves to the conditions of the scholarship, we all know the extent to which restrictions in opportunity also mean restrictions in choice, especially in a country with already limited access to education for girls.

And this type of measure also makes no distinction between young people engaging in sexual activity with each other and rape. Victims of rape are of necessity not eligible, so that these schemes not only stigmatize women's sexuality and pregnancy and prize virginity, but punish victims of sexual violence and reinforce the notion that the victim is to blame.

Boys are also being punished for their sexual behaviour, and incredibly, being permanently denied access to education. So while we may want to encourage young people who become pregnant and decide to care for their child to pursue education in order to better provide for themselves and their families, this measure advocates the opposite. It caps the educational attainment and future earning opportunities of boys as a punishment for the 'crime' of impregnating a young woman. I understand the desire to balance the responsibility of child care so that women are not disproportionately affected, but this is not the way to do it, and is essentially counter-productive, since it has the effect of limiting any potential financial transfers of father to mother for the support of the child, whether these transfers be voluntary or facilitated by the State. And if the motivation is to subject teenage fathers to the same 'punishment' as teenage mothers of being kept out of the school system, perhaps the answer is not to punish anyone at all, but to work towards a system that does not convert pregnancy into a lifetime sentence to poverty.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Ah, the crisp smell of fascism in the Italian air

You know what's a completely ingenious, not at all inflammatory, irresponsible idea?

[G]overnment officials said they would go ahead with legislation allowing unarmed citizen patrols to help beef up security in Italian cities and towns. The plan is part of a crackdown by the conservative administration on illegal immigration, which Italians increasingly link to crime.

And we all know what the defence of this lunacy will be, and indeed has been: citizens must qualify according to clear standards; there will be strict guidelines and protocols; this isn't a call to arms for nationalists and racists. Oh. Hang on.

A new vigilante group has been banned from walking the streets because of the similarity between its uniforms and those worn by Mussolini's Fascists in the 1930s.

The Italian National Guard was launched at a news conference over the weekend, sparking outcry from the centre-left opposition, Jewish groups, police unions and others that it evoked Italy's fascist-era paramilitary Black Shirts.

Benito Mussolini's Black Shirts violently attacked communists, socialists and other progressive groups, breaking up strikes and attacking trade union headquarters. Their 1922 march on Rome brought the fascist dictator to power.


The guard was introduced by the right-wing fringe Italian Social Movement at a Milan party conference during which at least two speakers gave the straight-armed Fascist salute.


Leaders of the Italian Social Movement said the guard's creation was made possible by the bill [yes, that bill], which must still to be approved by the Senate, leading the center-left opposition to say the case highlighted the danger posed by the plan.

See? It's a perfectly reasonable bill. Nothing at all happening here.

The Daily Mail: here to protect you from evil, burkha-wearing, train fare avoiders

Well I suppose I have to admit it now. I sometimes read the alarming mess that is the Daily Mail. And most of the time I manage to ignore the copious amounts of racist, misogynist and almost any other -ist of which you could conceive garbage that issues forth on its pages, in part because I'm used to it; because sometimes there are actually thoughtfully-written pieces among the drivel; and because I often think that half these stories are written by random, bored people having a laugh on their lunch break. Clearly, one such person is Allison Pearson, if that's even her real name.

Ms. Pearson presents the not unfamiliar anti-immigrant condemnation of people who dare to bring their religious and cultural heritage with them when they migrate to the UK. Except she spices things up a bit by calling her particular brand of intolerance - I speak not in jest - 'Burkha Rage'. The capitalization is hers: she clearly thinks this nomenclature and the sentiment behind it not only acceptable and valid, but worthy of conversion into a proper noun. The woman means business.

On a train to London, a young woman wearing a burkha, with only her heavily made-up eyes peeping out, did not have a valid ticket.

Challenged by the guard, the young woman gave a litany of excuses. She had left her bag at her boyfriend's, he had bought the ticket, she had no money on her...

My friend Jane, who was in the same carriage, noticed how the guard became nervous as the Muslim girl presented herself as an innocent in a society she didn't understand.

Instead of issuing a penalty fine, the guard backed off, shrugging his helplessness at the other passengers.

So imagine my friend's surprise when she got off at the same station as burkha girl and saw this 'penniless innocent' whip out a credit card from under the folds of her dress with which she promptly bought a Tube ticket.

Jane was so incensed she sent me a text message, explaining what she'd witnessed. It ended: 'Attack of Burkha Rage. Grrr.'

Notice the attempt to call into question the woman's true religious conviction by mentioning that her eyes were heavily made up. She's only pretending to be Muslim, you see, because behold how she adorns herself with all manner of worldly varnish. It's clearly an elaborate ruse to avoid the train fare.

And notice how the decision of the guard not to continue challenging her on the fare is somehow mysteriously related to the fact that she's wearing a burkha, and therefore her fault. She knew what she was doing when she wore that thing! She "presented herself as an innocent in a society she didn't understand"! It's nothing at all like American tourists in their snow white trainers and baseball caps, brandishing maps the size of Cleveland, who inspire the sympathy of guards that at their discretion, might decide that they indeed sound confused, and let them off with a warning. They knew what they were doing when they wore those Dockers!

But in fact, it really is nothing like that, because in the latter case, the tourists are pleading innocence and ignorance. That is their express claim, borne of who they are: strangers in a foreign land. This woman, from Pearson's own account, made no such claim, unless simply wearing a burkha qualifies as attempting to hoodwink the authorities. Pearson certainly thinks so. The woman did not say "Islam does not allow me to buy train tickets", or "I spent all my money on this here burkha" or even "I've only been here a few days. I don't understand," which incidentally, if she had, may be deemed a perfectly understandable excuse. She gave your run-of-the-mill excuses that I've heard time and again from people who are demonstrably White and Western. She may have been lying, or nervous, or involved in a dastardly plot to steal 3 quid from TFL, but whatever she was, by the writer's own telling, it had nothing at all to do with her burkha.

Pearson not only goes on to disrespectfully refer to the subject of her rage as 'burkha girl', but she further outlines the role of the burkha in this thievery and affront to British pride. The woman, after having the misfortune of alighting at the same station as Jane, withdrew into the folds of her dress - this strange dress is a place where evil acts abound - to produce a credit card. So what did she buy, after having "presented herself" as penniless? A caramel latte? A Radley bag? A ticket to the opera? The evil, opportunistic 'burkha girl' bought a Tube ticket. Even as the plot thickens, it is never as thick as the writer and her idiot friend Jane, who seem not to allow for the possibility that this woman may have forgotten to buy a ticket at the start of her journey, and was simply taking this chance to make restitution.

Lies! This woman is just one of a small but menacing (at least sufficiently so to inspire their own syndrome complete with capital letters) minority of Muslims who come to the UK and refuse to assimilate, who hide behind religion in order to avoid train fares. She's just like that woman who sued her employer for suggesting she wear an immodest dress at work (we all know Muslims are by far the most litigious group anywhere. It's science); or the Sainsbury's employees who refused to sell alcohol. But the White or Black or Asian doctors and chemists who refuse to dispense emergency contraception or birth control pills or whatever else because of their own beliefs? Well, they don't wear burkhas, silly. And alcohol is considerably more important than preventing an unwanted pregnancy.

And Pearson, like a true, card-carrying bigot, does not neglect to recite the Bigots' Anthem. (See? I can randomly capitalize too.) The "But I'm not (or in this case Jane is not) a racist!" anthem complete with a "some of my best friends are burkha people!" refrain:

Jane is not a BNP voter. She is a university lecturer who specialises in the developing world.

I confess. I laughed at the irony of the BNP reference. Because Jane, if not already a BNP sympathizer, can I'm sure now expect a knock on her door from her local White supremacist candidate for government. She is the perfect sketch of their type of voter. At least she would be the perfect sketch, if she weren't unfortunately real. But perhaps I'm being unfair to Jane. She is, after all, a university lecturer who specialises in the developing world. She not only loves you poor, burkha-wearing people, she's an expert on you. Therefore, she is free to be an intolerant turd. It's a perk of the job, just like the free photocopying.

I have to say that if this is the face of a lecturer meant to understand developing nations and their people, anyone in her classes should get their money back. Or the BNP is going to have more than a couple seats in parliament to look forward to in a few years.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Wake up, mongoose!

I haven't been as industrious with the blogging of late because I'm a little busy with planning a move and all of the phone calls, paperwork and appointments involved in wrapping up one life and starting another. One upside of the whole thing is that I've been very motivated to spend time with friends from the area that I won't see very often once I've left. You should live every day like you're about to move. Either you'll remember why the people in your life are there, and appreciate them even more, or you'll all realize you hate each other and get tired of the love-ins pretty quickly. The former rather than the latter applies in my case (for me, at least. One hopes all others involved agree). But either way, I'd say the process is useful.

Fear not, however! I have a folder full of blogworthy (I hate that word. Someone find me a new word) news items and thoughts to attend to; complete with underlined words and exclamation marks and lions and tigers and bears. So I hope to have some time this week to jump right back into the fray, fighting evil, championing justice and eating jellybeans. That last one is just for me.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Friday language lessons

MP Mike Gapes is on the news objecting to the fact that Bermuda has agreed to accept and resettle four Chinese Uighurs who, though having been cleared of any charges of terrorism, have been held at Guantánamo Bay for the last 7 years. In the short interview, Gapes is adamant that Bermuda does not have the autonomy to make such arrangements independently of The UK Foreign Office, because it is a British colony, and though in general it operates more independently than its other colonies, remains the property of the UK.

Apparently, no one told Mike that we no longer use the word 'colony', but rather say 'British overseas territory', because colonialism, even though it clearly persists, is now generally frowned upon, what with the centuries of slavery, torture and subjugation that have been involved. 'British overseas territory' is of course fooling no one. But at least it isn't the giant "yeah we don't care that we enslaved you people and still own the lands we dragged you to to work and we killed other people to steal" that 'colony' is.

Just giving you a heads up there, Mike.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Another WTF moment brought to you by the Met Police

Never content to be left out of illegal torture scandal (not that they were), the UK has been accused of waterboarding suspects in police custody.

Metropolitan Police officers subjected suspects to waterboarding, according to allegations at the centre of a major anti-corruption inquiry, The Times has learnt.

The torture claims are part of a wide-ranging investigation which also includes accusations that officers fabricated evidence and stole suspects’ property. It has already led to the abandonment of a drug trial and the suspension of several police officers.

And what was the time-sensitive, immediately dangerous activity that may have warranted (as one theory - not mine - goes) such extreme, atrocious measures?

Police said they found a large amount of cannabis and the suspects were charged with importation of a Class C drug.

Well there's your ticking clock right there.

Other reports call the 'methods' used 'water-based torture', including pushing suspects' heads into buckets of water. But however you term it, according to the accounts given, it is torture and it is illegal. And with the UK's record on human rights not exactly clear, it perhaps comes as no surprise that the line between aiding in the torture of terrorist suspects in far-flung locations and torturing UK criminal suspects has started to break down.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Star Trek reviews and the lying liars who lie

The trailers for the recently-released Star Trek film barely registered with me. There were flashes of beautiful, young people, several explosions, bits of camp dialogue, and I thought: "Star Trek this is not. All this is likely to be is a typical, silly, summer blockbuster hiding behind the Star Trek name to make some cash." Not even the casting of Zoe Saldana as Uhura was enticing me. But then out came the reviews hailing it as true to the Star Trek culture. Trekkies will love it, they sang, amidst a chorus of general praise and adoration. Of course I couldn't read the reviews in depth, for fear of spoilers, but I had all I needed to give the film a shot.

And how wrong had I been in my original appraisal? Why, not wrong at all.

I am of the The Next Generation generation, and watched the original Shatner/Nimoy series to get some context. Any true Star Trek lover must, of course, understand its origins, but Picard and crew were my Star Trek. Watching the older episodes from the original series, you can see how Gene Roddenberry's creation and conceptualization of a universal peace-keeping and humanitarian task force operating in a future universe - with all the moral complications and scientific advances that would allow - was genius and pioneering in 1966 when it came about. But to a TNG Trekkie (and I use that term loosely. There were no conventions in my part of the globe. I was simply a die-hard fan), Shatner's Kirk was a little melodramatic to Patrick Stewart's Picard, and twenty years of developments in cinematic technology and makeup made TNG a cooler proposition to a 10-yr old at the time. One also got the sense that by this time, the writers and creators were more at home with the world they had created: TNG had a greater sense of fluidity that made you think this world might exist even as you watched. Still, whichever your Star Trek poison, the show had a definite culture of intrigue and excitement, yes, but within the principled, disciplined world of Starfleet, which, frankly, made it all the more intriguing.

In Star Trek the movie, all that goes out the window. And this might make sense to some. After all, the film is meant to chronicle the early days of Kirk and his crew, and there's nothing to say that the glory days of the USS Enterprise were not borne of a power struggle between its brightest minds. But what a farce of a power struggle this, and indeed the entire film, turn out to be. There are so many disappointing elements, I can only touch on a few, after mentioning some of the things the film did right. (This part shouldn't take long.)

First, it's a great story. To convey how great a story without important spoilers is difficult, but when you combine generations of genius Humans and Vulcans, self-sacrifice in the face of apocalyptic destruction, time travel and heroic missions aplenty, how could it not be? And the casting isn't atrocious either. Zachary Quinto makes a credible young Spock, even if his intensity belies the painfully average dialogue; and Bruce Greenwood is the Captain (Pike)! I love me some Bruce Greenwood. The man makes made-for-TV movies worth living for. Simon Pegg is a refreshing Engineer Scott (thank God for someone in this film who understands comic timing), and Zoe Saldana could have made a fantastic Nyota Uhura if someone had remembered to write the actual character into the screenplay, instead of just the name.

Second, the bad-guy concept is almost flawless. Unfortunately, conceptualizing a kick-ass bad guy and then through poor dialogue, inadequate face time and what seems like misguided direction turning him into an 'also-there' is a pretty significant flaw. Nero, played by Eric Bana, is a rogue Romulan - dark, brooding, bloodthirsty and covered in tattoos - in command of a seriously awesome, terror-inspiring ship, the Narada. He doesn't give a crap about rules of engagement or anything smacking of common decency: not as refined a nemesis as The Borg or even the Cardassians who can be brutal and almost genteel at once, but still, worthy of some development. Alas, there was none. His dialogue is pretty weak. He's all snarl really. And while you expect to be terrified by this unprincipled Romulan seeking revenge, he pretty much just whimpers to his demise while you look on unimpressed. This was supposed to be the 'what they did right' part, I know. But the line blurs.

The film also makes use of a nifty little device: red matter, which allows them to take this seemingly innocuous little thing with incredible destructive power, and create very cool scenes of annihilation. The problem was, they didn't slow the annihilation down. When everything is blowing up everywhere, destructions of entire planets - billions and billions of people, we're talking - need a little time to create effect. You can't just drop it in there among run-of-the-mill torpedo explosions and general heroic somersaults and expect the film to have any pace or build any anticipation. And of course, this film failed to do that.

Now, onto the things I found bothersome. I'll try to make quick work of these. First, to the most disappointing for me: Zoe Saldana as Uhura. Here's what I was glad to see: she was a top cadet, she was assertive and didn't feel cowed by her relationship with Spock into being shoved aside in the interest of propriety, we were told exactly what she did on the ship instead of her just seeming like a random ensign with a receptionist's headset (the original Uhura was a communications officer before being promoted to Lt. Comm. and then Commander, but somehow, in those early episodes, she seemed like an intergalactic receptionist to me. Her presence was, of course, nonetheless important for other reasons, but those stretched beyond the confines of the story) and she got to use those skills in saving the galaxy and all that. Here's what I wasn't so thrilled about: she was a role, not a character. Uhura I felt had one dimension. She was to be the woman in the film who was not maternal, and was to represent another part of womanness: the fearless, educated, unimpressed by random flattery type of woman. And she did all that. But she did that without having her character well developed. She was really a paper tiger; and I didn't actually mind her stripping down scene and the fact that she wore miniskirts. I felt it was real. Women high-achiever types are also sexual and attractive: that's fine. In fact, that's great. But at the end of it all, she was really just Spock's girlfriend, wasn't she? And that worked well for Spock's character - it made him seem reachable and helped make us care about him. But Uhura as an individual fairly disappeared into yet another woman who, like Kirk's and Spock's mothers, was just rooting for a man to survive. And I get the impression that any individuality we saw was all about Zoe Saldana: about her great screen presence as an actor, and not so much about the dialogue, depth and direction given to the character that had been envisioned as Uhura.

Next, who on earth was Chris Pine in this thing? Certainly not Captain Kirk. I did not like this man. He was too many parts entitled, spoilt little shit and not enough parts eventually heroic Starfleet captain. I did not care at all about his character. He could have perished at any point and I would not have felt lost about where the story might be going. And apparently in Abrams' conceptualization of Starfleet, seniority and experience mean not nearly as much as they do in the Starfleet the rest of us know. People are promoted to First Officer and Captain at the drop of a hat. Kirk himself simply skipped on board to become a cadet as if he were catching a ride to the bus station, and yes his father was a hero and that meant a whole heap, but it contributed to the overall effect of "this is Kirk's world, the rest of us just live in it". And that was not attractive. We get enough of the privileged, sexually adventurous, all-American White boy image in so many other films. Did they really need to make Kirk this as well? Yes, I suppose he was meant to seem troubled. That's why they gave us that wholly gratuitous car chase scene thrown in the middle. But he didn't seem as tied to and affected by his past as, say, Spock was. And they could have made him a devilish character while still making him a bit sympathetic.

My overall impression of the film was this: it was not Star Trek. And it could have been; it would have been better served by being Star Trek. There was none of Roddenberry's nuanced treatment of human intimate and political behaviour (after all, it's all a metaphor for humanity) and the exploration of what our future psychologies might hold. Even among the explosions this was possible, but was absent, and left a shell of a film. And further, even on its own, without the Star Trek legacy to uphold, it was not a good film. It suffered from a main character who did not seem of its world, from dialogue that did not distinguish it from any other pedestrian action flick, and from the glaring under-development of its characters. And it's such a shame too. Because this was an epic story which, told differently, might have been one of the greats.

Monday, 8 June 2009

"I don't like this evidence. It doesn't support my hate and disgust."

If you're wondering about the kind of thinking that could have led voters to elect the White supremacist, hatemongering BNP to two seats on the European Parliament, new research by the British Red Cross may have some insights, (although, as Sunny Hundal points out in the Guardian, "The BNP is not increasing its votes. In both Yorkshire and the north-west, its total number of votes fell from 2004. This absolutely does not mean that more people are being seduced by the BNP's propaganda. It means that Labour's share of the vote collapsed and went to other parties, thereby helping the BNP under a proportional system.") Still, in news that is not at all surprising to us here at the Chronicles - and by 'us' I mean 'me' - The Independent reports that:

Attitudes to asylum-seekers in Britain are being skewed by gross over-estimation of the numbers of refugees reaching the United Kingdom and prejudice towards immigrants among young people, the British Red Cross says today.

Nearly a quarter of people believe there are more than 100,000 asylum applications every year – about four times the annual figure of 25,670, and just 5 per cent of Britons know to within 10,000 how many refugees come to the UK every year.

The entire article is worth a read. It outlines how we are all essentially completely wrong about the numbers, education levels, magnitude of the role of the UK and pretty much everything else concerning immigrants seeking asylum here that has informed widely-held prejudices against them. But the real gems are to be found in the Comments section, if you can stomach it, in which several of the commenters poo poo the data and carry on with their "Up with the BNP!" message. The rest of Sunny Hundal's article, linked above, tries to highlight a silver lining in the BNP's rise to MEP status, but with people's eagerness to prioritize their own fear and prejudice over actual evidence, coupled with the fact that Labour could barely string together a decent response to the immigration hysteria when the party was fairly intact, let alone now that it is in shambles, I may need a healthy dose of whatever Hundal's having to keep my optimism alive.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Not so amazing

This is a Kwik-Fit ad that runs on UK TV, although I don't recall seeing the subtitles as we do here.

I suppose what we're meant to be amazed by is that this Black employee might speak Chinese. Even though Kwik-Fit would argue that they're simply representing the surprising scope of their services, offered through all employees, substitute a White man and the whole thing would seem a whole lot less amazing, right? Or are we to believe the actor they chose is a coincidence?

Do you know what today is? (Not our anniversary)

It's voting day in the European Parliament and English council elections, and Obama has just delivered his much-awaited Cairo speech in which he addressed US relations with the Muslim world. But none of this seems to be overshadowing the real buzz in London today: Big Brother is back, and I am not a little bit annoyed.

I don't understand the thing. It is huge and all-encompassing, devouring and pre-empting everything in its path. So there's the show itself, where a bunch of people, isolated from the outside world, sit around in a house waxing philosophical and either annoying the shit out of or discovering they can't live without each other. Then there's Big Brother's Little Brother, hosted by the ubiquitous, perpetually sleepy (no one is fabulous enough to keep him alert) and always perfectly-edgy-without-trying George Lamb. George delivers his special brand of commentary on what happens in the BB house, and in this way seems to entertain thousands of viewers in ways I can never hope to understand. And there's of course Big Brother's Big Mouth, hosted by Davina McCall and airing directly after the weekly live eviction. It's described on the E4 website as:

[A]n adrenaline-fuelled and instantly reactive discussion show for the most passionate fans to voice their opinions. All the week's events from the House will be discussed, dissected and digested by the audience alongside special guest experts, journalists and celebrities. Viewers at home can get involved by ringing in live to the studio, emailing or texting their opinions.

And betwixt and between (as my mother would say) all this hullabaloo, is perhaps the only redeeming part of this entire extravaganza: the voice of the omnipresent narrator who presides over the day-to-night coverage of the BB house. The entire thing is one of the spookiest experiences to be afforded via reality television. Turn on the TV at any random time of day or night, and there are the housemates - always - there they are, eating, sleeping, arguing, playing games and having the oddest and stupidest of passionate conversations all taking place in this surreal haze, and punctuated by this voice that, to be quite frank, gives me goosebumps, and not the good kind.

Marcus Bentley is the narrator. And the reason I say he might be the only redeeming part of the show is that his voice - this brash, Geordie monotone that seems way too dramatic for the nothingness that is the show - really contributes to the strangeness of the whole thing. It's almost as if the housemates are moved to action merely by the strength of his own voice. It also tickles me a little at times, because his pronunciation has quite a lot in common with the thickest Bajan accent you might encounter, particularly in the last week's run-up to the show, when every day he could be heard counting down the launch with the words (as an example): "Foiv deahs tuh goouh". (Five days to go.)

Still, this is not enough to offset my mild annoyance with the very existence of Big Brother in its myriad incarnations. If, at this moment, you're thinking - as you should be - "dude, just change the channel", you're right of course, even though just happening upon the show, and having all its ridiculous updates in the news are enough to make me glare pointedly at no one in particular. I'm not even ideologically opposed to reality TV itself. I think some of it can be quite entertaining, and a few reality shows have counted among my guilty pleasures over the years. But Big Brother is a different animal. It's everywhere, always, when the season comes around, and I keep expecting that one day it will surprise me and offer something interesting, but in truth, I'm too afraid to spend too much time on it, lest it eat my soul.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Some notes on the BNP or Look what you made me do!

The sky, moon, stars, a couple pianos and some anvils are falling over at Downing Street. A day before local and European elections, and amidst the colossal and ridiculous MPs' expenses scandal that has taken Hazel Blears as its latest casualty, rogue Labour MPs are seeking to unseat Gordon Brown, and I am about to do something I never expected to do here in this blog: expend even a few words on the BNP.

This article in yesterday's Guardian describes how voter discontent arising from the wanton abuse by MPs of taxpayer-funded expense claims has breathed new life into the nationalist, fascist, racist, xenophobic, misogynist and all-around hateful British National Party - enough life, at least, that it might gain ground in council elections, and even achieve its first European parliamentary representation.

Griffin himself [Nick Griffin, the party's chairman] may be a former National Front member with a conviction for inciting racial hatred, and the veneer of respectability on the party's candidates may be transparently thin, but however noxious or downright laughable the views they and their party associates hold, the truth is that the BNP is the fastest growing political party in modern Britain. Its support has risen sharply in successive elections since 1987, and it already has more than 50 local councillors, as well as Barnbrook's London assembly seat. A study co-authored by Matthew Goodwin, a research fellow at Manchester University who has focused on extreme right political parties, found that BNP's vote at the last European elections, in 2004, was an eightfold increase on 1999 and the largest vote for an ultra-right party in a British election.

Now this is a party one of whose London Assembly candidates Nick Eriksen was withdrawn last year after having been discovered to have written the following on a blog:
"Rape is simply sex. Women enjoy sex, so rape cannot be such a terrible ordeal.

"To suggest that rape, when conducted without violence, is a serious crime is like suggesting that force-feeding a woman chocolate cake is a heinous offence.

"A woman would be more inconvenienced by having her handbag snatched."
This is a party represented in the European Elections by Eddy O'Sullivan, a Salford-based BNP candidate who set his Facebook status to read "Wogs go home", and also wrote:
"They are nice people - oh yeah - but can they not be nice people in the fucking Congo or... bongo land or whatever?" O'Sullivan, who also joined an internet group called "Fuck Islam", denied that the comments were racist and insisted they were made in private conversations between individuals. "I also may have had a drink at the time," he added.
This Guardian article lists several other examples of the party's unapologetic racism. Yet, it seems to be gaining in popularity, and while this may be fuelled by the expenses scandal in the midst of people's recession anxiety, I wonder whether the alleged growing numbers of BNP sympathizers do not share their ideology anyway, but now have more of an excuse to openly show this support, hiding behind the fact of MPs misconduct in order to align themselves where they would really prefer.

Following BNP member Richard Barnbrook on his canvassing rounds in Hornchurch, the Guardian writer notes (emphasis mine):
Three workmen have stopped for a cigarette outside a house in Stanley Road, and are happy to be coaxed into a conversation about immigration by Barnbrook, who is sporting a red, white and blue BNP rosette, a gold party pin and a frankly alarming sand-coloured suit. "All the boys where I am are voting BNP," one of them says. "My mate lives in Chafford," offers his colleague, "and there's 10 Nigerians in the house next to him. Ten! And they are taking all the work. I have had enough."

Ten! They don't even have the decency to spread themselves out or come at the rate of one a year! Now this is blatant anti-immigrant sentiment, and while it might be exacerbated by tough economic times, this kind of intolerance doesn't simply materialize in the minds of otherwise tolerant individuals. Still, even though people who want to persist in their racist hate and ignorance will find a way to do this, Gordon Brown himself and his Labour government, and in fact politicians from all parties, also have themselves to blame if they are losing ground to the BNP. It is Brown's own incendiary "British jobs for British workers" slogan that has been appropriated by the BNP in order to advance its agenda of ridding the country of all 'non-indigenous people', i.e. of creating a White British nation through its 'immigration policy'. And when people see Brown's own slogan being used - to be fair in the right context - by an absurd far right party trying its best to appear mainstream, well, that certainly helps it appear mainstream. After all, it's Brown's slogan and he's currently in power.

The BNP has not become extinct, as it should have by now, because rather than have an open, transparent dialogue on immigration and racism, the mainstream parties have all carried on skipping nervously around the issue, being confronted more and more with blatant and growing intolerance in British communities, but preferring instead to behave as if it doesn't exist. Meanwhile, the media continues to paint immigration as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, to sensationalize it by having gulping, wide-eyed anchors fling about uncontextualized statistics and interview politicians who have no clue, no plan and worst of all, no message, and we wonder why this kind of hate is allowed to thrive.

And I feel compelled to remind people not to be fooled by the notion that the BNP represents British interests. The BNP represents the interests of what they call indigenous British people - yes, that means White. From their website:

On current demographic trends, we, the native British people, will be an ethnic minority in our own country within sixty years.

To ensure that this does not happen, and that the British people retain their homeland and identity, we call for an immediate halt to all further immigration, the immediate deportation of criminal and illegal immigrants, and the introduction of a system of voluntary resettlement whereby those immigrants who are legally here will be afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin assisted by a generous financial incentives both for individuals and for the countries in question.

Now since 'British' is not an ethnicity, clearly what they're trying to say is that White people can stay, and everyone else should just go home. I find this important to point out to people like my friend of mixed race who, in conversation the other day, mentioned that 'some of the immigration policies of the BNP are useful'. This was in response to some frustration felt by her and some of her friends that policies meant to offer support to British people were being utilized disproportionately by non-nationals. And I understand that frustration; it indicates a system that might be improved upon, surely. But supporting the BNP, a party that if they had their way would see her shipped off with the rest of the half-breeds, is certainly not the way to go. It's important not to be fooled by these people's weak, transparent attempts to appropriate the votes of the very minorities they stand in active warfare against. This kind of hate does not pack up and go away on its own. It only becomes irrelevant when we, as a nation wholly affected and with unafraid leaders, take a stand to show that we have no use for it.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Remembering Dr. George Tiller

I was not going to write about the murder of late-term abortion provider George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas on Sunday. I thought I would leave it to those closer to the horror to come to terms with their own feelings about it, to write about them, to remember the man and his work, and - unfortunately but inevitably - to actually have to defend Dr. Tiller's memory and the value of his work against those who would argue that he reaped what he sowed. I thought I would silently commiserate with the women he helped and whose lives he saved, and with those he would have helped but who will now have no place to go; and wordlessly offer up my thoughts and love to his family and friends.

But I find it difficult to go on with my week here at the Chronicles and in general without making this written statement about Dr. Tiller. And it's because as people who work to secure reproductive rights and health for women in different parts of the world, this act of terrorism affects us all. The same language that has been used to intimidate women seeking abortions and to incite hatred against people like Dr. Tiller who provided them - words such as 'abortionist' (as if he practiced this gleefully as a hobby) and 'baby-killer' and far uglier ones - are also used where we work to obscure the truth, because hate thrives where the truth is hidden. And the truth is that in the US, third trimester abortions are less than 1% of all abortions and must be medically indicated. In parts of the global South, that percentage drops even lower, as the diagnosis and procedures that would allow for life-saving terminations are less accessible. I've embedded the linked video by RH Reality Check below.

So I stand today with everyone else acknowledging the brave work of Dr. Tiller and honouring his memory. And I think the message that needs to be sent unequivocally by government through its abortion legislation and through its prosecution of this kind of terrorism and the language and intimidation tactics that give rise to it, is that this is not a war that will be won with guns. Being shocked and outraged is fine, but that shock and outrage are nothing unless they lead us to swift action to protect the reproductive rights of women, and the lives of those who secure them.
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