Tag Archives: response

On Thomas Hitzlsperger, the FA and homophobia in football

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Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former Germany International and Everton footballer has today announced that he is homosexual in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit.

I have written before, most recently with diver Tom Daley as the case in point, about the importance of having men and women in the public eye being open and honest about their sexuality. I won’t rehash that article again here.

The point here is an additional one – the impact that Hitzlsperger’s decision may have on his former colleagues -including those in the FA.

In his interview Hitzlsperger stated that part of his reasoning of coming out was “to further the debate about homosexuality among sports professionals”. An admirable aim and a decision that I am sure will impact on players who are considering also coming out.

It is in this light that his decision will have immeasurable ripples – imagine if a current player no longer feels so isolated and decides to come out. Who knows how much of a game changer his decision might turn out to be.

The Premier League is watched and loved by millions all around the world, but it is still bereft of any openly gay footballer. To reiterate this – out of the 25 players in the 20 teams that play in the Premier League, not a single player is openly gay. 0 out of 500 players. This has held true (with varying squad sizes) for the entire history of top-flight football in the UK.

This then begs the question – why? Why has no playing professional ever been able to be open about their sexuality?

Hitzlsperger described the long “difficult process” of coming out. Something which the openly gay sports journalist Musa Okwonga talks more about here.

This process, even when surrounded by support, can be a challenging one. When surrounded by vitriol and hatred, the likes of which can too often be found in the stands, changing rooms and board rooms of British football, this process can transform into a goliath challenge.

It is interesting that Hitzlsperger specifically mentions in the interview that it is “it was not always easy to sit on a table with 20 young men and listen to jokes about gays”. A comment which hopefully all players will take on board.

But this homophobic banter is not just found in the dressing rooms.

One the hardest hitting sections from Graeme Le Saux’s autobiography was not the childish homophobic taunts Robbie Fowler through at him, the crowds obsessive jeering or even the referee’s despicable reaction of booking Le Saux for time wasting, but the FA’s inability to spot the real issue in the situation – institutionalised homophobia.

It is with a touch of irony then that Hitzlsperger’s announcement comes in the aftermath of the FA’s latest embarrassment – their equality adviser, who on national TV called gays ‘detestable’, resigning from his role.

Michael Johnson, the former Birmingham city defender was appointed to his role, one assumes, because of his stellar track record of tackling racism. It is a damning indictment that no one in the FA looked into his views on other pressing equality issues such as homophobia.

John Amaechi, the first former NBA player to come out in public in 2007, hit the nail on the head when he commented:

“the reason that homophobia, antisemitism, racism and other misogyny continue to blight football is that the FA does not understand how to tackle it. You don’t put one person to handle racism and a gay person for homophobia, you pick people who understand that all bigotry is the same monster.”

Today, hopefully, Hitzlsperger will have highlighted to the FA the need to act and to stop letting homophobia be what he referred to as “an ignored issue” in football.

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Filed under Football, sexuality, Sport

A response to Owen Jones on why lefties should join Labour (and not The Green Party)

I have only just read Owen Jones’ blog on why he thinks all lefties should back the common cause and get behind Labour.

I will let you read the whole blog and judge for yourself whether you are compelled by his arguments. In this blog I just wanted to take issue with one of the weakest sections of his blog – the “what about the Greens” section.

In this section Owen makes 4 points. In short:

  • The Greens’ vote is stagnating (re 2010 to 2005 vote share) – thus, they’re going nowhere.
  • His politics are based on class and the Labour movement – The Greens are not.
  • The Greens want to remove Trade Union influence from politics through funding reform.
  • Greens abroad have contributed to the austerity agenda.

Point one – He obviously missed the whole 2010 Green Party election strategy. In short it said lets “chuck everything we have at Brighton to see if we can break through this backwards political system” – you know the first past the post unrepresentative system that Labour promised to reform and then didn’t despite 13 years of majority government.

As a result of this strategy a lot of people within the Greens across the country felt let down because they didn’t get the support they wanted as the party focused its time, resources and money on Brighton.

For me though, the 2010 election was a really positive sign for the Greens. It showed the Greens had what it takes to be strategic and as a result they now have their first ever Green MP despite the electoral system (note this is something that UKIP failed to do – or come near to – despite an much more impressive showing at the 2009 EP elections).

Point two – The Greens have incredibly strong policies on worker’s rights (and then act on them). The Green Party has also made repeated attempts to reach out to the Trade Unions. In fact, I would be interested to hear what Green policies (or actions) Owen thinks are not supportive of a labour movement (note the small L Owen otherwise you’re just saying you support a political party no matter what).

Point three – What Owen fails to mention is that The Green Party are calling for (modestly) state funded politics to remove all big money donations from politics. Comparing some of the big money donations the Conservatives get to that of the Trade Unions is absurd – they are of course not the same. However, neither is Labour’s current model (that they are so desperate to hold onto) the right way forward for an open competitive democracy. Labour need to accept this and stop blocking cross party attempts at reform.

Point four – This made me laugh, implying that ‘left’ or ‘socialist’ political parties have not done this. Owen’s argument here is little more than a slur by association. Yes Greens have let many of their supporters down in Ireland and Germany but there are of course also positive examples of Greens internationally doing great work (think NZ for an example). The same can be said for Labour or Socialist parties.

So I finish with a note to Owen.

I am currently a member of The Green Party not because it is pragmatically useful but because they are, taken as a whole, the closest party to represent what I believe. The day that I leave the party is the day when one or two things happen. 1) They no longer fit the above criteria. 2) They cross a line on a single issue that I find so intolerable that I cannot stay within the party – a good example might be an illegal war that left over 100,000 dead.

And so I have to ask Owen, in what circumstances would you leave the Labour Party?

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A response to Guido Fawkes question, ‘Why Not Holiday In Gaza?’

The rabidly reactionary and yet remarkably well read blogger Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines) dipped below even his usual standards today when he published a blog entitled, “Why Not Holiday In Gaza This Year.”

The blog opened saying:

‘The IDF are good at lot of things, not least social media. This week they are releasing new images of ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and just how bad the conditions are in the “open prison camp”.’

It then showed this collage of photos:

The blog, whilst rightly criticising some of Hamas’ discriminatory (and frankly horrific) policies makes appalling light of a truly horrific situation.

Take the term ‘open prison camp’ for example. It has been used to describe the on-going crippling blockade of Gaza. These restrictions have contributed towards 80% of those living in Gaza being reliant on humanitarian aid.

Oxfam explains:

“Because of the blockade on Gaza, people are sealed in to a small strip of land and unable to flee. Our partners working in Gaza have stressed that it is not safe to move around in Gaza right now”

This blockade, according to the International Red Cross is punishing the population of Gaza for the actions of the few which constitutes one of many violations of International Humanitarian Law committed by Israel. They state:

“The whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility. The closure therefore constitutes a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.”

I tried to pick Paul up on some of this tweeting:

When Paul responded saying:

It was clear that he was either ignorant of the nature and severity of the blockade or, and perhaps more likely, trolling.

As such, my suggestion to Paul would be this: fly to Tel Aviv (for you can’t fly to anywhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territories), tell immigration you are planning a beach holiday in Gaza, then let us know what your experience of the following 12 hours is.

This might serve as the basis for a follow up blog, on your “Why not holiday in Gaza?” article.

If that doesn’t help, you could always read the UN’s July 2013 up-date on the restrictions in Gaza.

 

UPDATE: It looks like some of the photos used are not even of Gaza. Awkward. 

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Filed under Human rights, Media, Middle East, War

In defence of Amnesty International. A response to Nick Cohen.

An edited version of this article was published on the Liberal Conspiracy blog.

Nick Cohen held nothing back in this Sunday’s Observer as he declared that Amnesty International (AI) had ‘lost its way. His attack varied from the organisational to the ideological but always ended with teeth dug firmly into the jugular of the most established human rights organisation in the world.

If you were to work your way through the red mist that hangs over his article you might, at times, find crumbs of real issues and debates – all of which are already taking place within the Amnesty International membership but to which his article adds little. Indeed, the misleading and at times factually wrong nature of Cohen’s claims makes it impossible for a neutral reader to disentangle his hyperbole from genuine debate.

His opening paragraph lays down the foundations for his meandering ideological attack as he accuses Amnesty of both suffering from a ‘post-colonial guilt’ and seeing ‘freedom as a bourgeoisie illusion’.

To simplify this argument in such a flippant way is to undermine the complexity of human rights theory.  These accusations strike at the heart of the debate between and universal absolutist understandings of human rights versus a more relativistic approach. The assertion that AI has fallen victim ‘from both sides’ misses its purposeful allegiance with the argument for universal, indivisible rights.

There is a very real discussion here that is raging within the AI membership. How you reconcile Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ECSR) – which could be argued to be relative to their surroundings – with AI’s traditional absolutist approach. AI would argue that there is no distinction, many members would and do. These sorts of subtleties though find little time in Cohen’s article.

Cohen moves effortlessly in the first two paragraphs from the ideological to the organisational attacking AI saying:

it is a wreck. Staff have gone on strike in both its British and international offices to protest against the management’s decision to sack workers campaigning to defend prisoners on death row, women’s rights, gay rights and refugees”.

Indeed, AI staff have gone on strike and I have blogged about why they have here. I see no reason though for AI to apologise for moving its resources in an effort to globally rebalance its work.

Again though, the debate around growing globally and how this affects national sections is one that is fiercely debated within AI but Cohen seems happy to skip over it. There are many who disagree with me and feel that money raised in the UK should be spent in the UK, others think it is only right and proper to spread influence into geographic areas where traditionally AI has not had a significant presence.

Instead of taking on these interesting and nuanced points, Cohen goes for jugular. He quotes UNITES’s call for Kate Allen to stand down and then inexplicably connects that to Irene Khan’s recent ‘£500,000 pay off’ as Secretary General of AI.

I will not defend the outrageous actions of Irene Khan, nor the mismanagement that resulted in her leaving in the way she did. What I will do is clarify Cohen’s remarks. To start, he puts his comments into the plural “Amnesty’s directors receive £500,000 payoffs”. As far as I am aware only one Secretary General (Irene Khan) has received £500,000.

In addition, this £500,000 was not totally a ‘pay-off’. It included the current years pay and pension contributions. The actual ‘pay-off’ part of the sum was much smaller – although still outrageous.

Equally, it represents less than 1% of the annual budget, so to continue Cohen’s jumble sale analogy – it represents 1 pence of every pound raised being misspent (and that is a one too many).

What Cohen fails to say, is that at the time – the UK director Kate Allen was one of the fiercest critics of this whole debacle and spoke clearly and eloquently on the behalf of the UK membership.  Connecting the Irene Khan debacle with a call for Kate Allen to step down is unfair and misleading.

Cohen though is clearly not worrying about whose toes he is stepping on. He slips effortlessly back into his meandering ideological argument connecting AI financial situation with an accusation that “it is afflicted with a mental deformation: the racism of low expectations; the belief that human rights are “western” rights”. Again, this simply could not be further from the truth. If anything AI is too rigid in its belief that human rights are universal and applicable to all. Cohen offers no support to this statement.

Cohen moves on to take issue with AI’s expansion of its mandate, to include working on issues such as death penalty cases. Cohen argues that these causes AI has adopted (through a slow democratic process) are a ‘hodgepodge’ of campaigns that have resulted in AI work just being a ‘rich man’s self-indulgence’.  This ‘hodgepodge’ he describes partly reflects AI internal democracy (any member can bring a motion to their national AGM who will in turn take some policy ideas to the International Council Meeting to be voted on). It also however reflects AI growing capacity to work on ‘the full spectrum’ of human rights. Some in AI consider this a natural evolution for a human rights organisation.

Personally I see nothing contentious in AI adopting the death penalty as a campaign and developing it as a specialism. Indeed the last 40 years has shown us that AI has played a central role in the fight against the death penalty which has seen it almost eradicated in most of the world. This is a record in which I am proud to have played a small part of.

In what is the first logical step in Cohen’s article he connects AI growing mandate with the much more recent move ‘grow in the global south’ – an admirable goal. He then connects this with AI’s work on economic social and cultural rights, such as the right to education.

Cohen seems to see (or wishes to present no argument for) why AI might be working on issues such as the right to education. Instead he comments “Human rights “for the vast majority of the world’s population don’t mean very much”…Freedom of expression means nothing to a man who can’t read”. You can hear him sneering as he adds, “Poverty, not authoritarianism, was the evil that Amnesty must face”.

As a standalone sentence, ‘Freedom of expression means nothing to a man who can’t read’ makes a lot of sense. As I stated earlier though, there is a very real debate within AI membership about the scope of AI mandate and whether or not it should stretch to ESCR. Again though, Cohen shows no willing to dwell on such important questions.

Instead Cohen skips to another internal disagreement that resulted in the departure of Gita Saghal, the then head of AI gender unit. Cohen states she left because “she criticised its [AI’s} alliances with misogynist Islamists”. By ‘misogynist Islamists’ he means Mozzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner, who now runs the organisation ‘Caged Prisoners’.

I share some, but not all of, Gita’s concerns. Unlike her however, I feel confident within AI for room to debate these issues. The very idea that it was as simple as Gita being ‘forced out’ by AI though is simply misleading. Equally, the assertion that Cohen leaves unchallenged that ‘AI is in cohort with misogynist Islamists’ is also misleading. A curtsey glance at AI work on women’s rights across the Arab world will give evidence of that.

As Cohen’s article drags on so it gets more and more alarmist. He quotes an anonymous source ‘within AI’ that claims “sustained and strategic campaigning that we do with partner organisations, the UK government, the UK public, etc, will end“. This is simply not true. Sustained and strategic campaigning in the UK will remain at the heart of AIUK’s work. Simple.

Cohen finishes with a rallying cry for members to not ‘take it’. And, to an extent, I agree. If you are a member, research these issues beyond Cohen’s misleading snapshots and then come along to the AGMs and debate and vote.

That is how a membership organisation works!  This is how we will ensure AI is able to do what it does best – fight for human rights and shed a light onto some of the darkest situations around the world.

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Filed under Human rights