Tag Archives: UK

24 hours in the UK

slad
Last year when my plane touched down at Heathrow coming back from Uganda I was met with a wonderful scene to welcome me back to old blighty. Queuing to enter the terminal building, what the British do best, an elegant determined woman pushed to the front of queue – sacrilege! One chap next to me notices that I have clocked this queue jumping outrage and chips in with the comment, “fucking French huh”.

What a welcome back to the UK – baseless xenophobic queue based hatred all performed to the backdrop tinny Christmas carols under a smattering of drizzle!

This year I was a smidgen disappointed to find no Christmas carols on repeat but delighted to make it out of the airport without witnessing any casual racism.

Once back in the hills and valleys of the ‘West Country’ though I took little time to head out for a walk. Thinking that this is what made the UK amazing I walked with uncharacteristic clear skies and meek winter sunshine hitting the frost covered ground. I was in a buoyed mood striding across farmer’s fields and down hidden valleys following bubbling brooks.

This mood was lifted further though with what truly makes the Great Britain great. With every dog walker passed a friendly ‘good morning’ was chirped followed by a compulsive observation of the uncharacteristically good weather: “wonderful day for it” or “you couldn’t ask for a better day” before then swiftly apologising for their dog who would be eagerly sniffing my trouser legs.

These small interactions last less than a few seconds but make up an integral part of the DNA of British culture.

Warmed by the simple pleasant jollity of rural British life I stopped in the open fire warmth of a local pub – the Woolpack in Slad – where I had arranged to meet family.

Sat sipping local real ales on slightly uncomfortable wooden furniture (why is that both pubs and churches consider it a virtue to have furniture that in other walks of life would be considered completely unfit for purpose?) I watched dogs curl up on the floor close to their owner muddy wellington boots. With a low warm afternoon winter sun breaking through the window I sat back with family around me and listened to the impromptu piano/saxophone performance that only added to the ambiance.

Outside, after a hearty pub lunch, we strode up Swift’s Hill which enjoys some of the finest views in the region down over the Slad Valley across the market town of Stroud and out to the Severn Valley and across to the Black Mountains in Wales. A few clouds clung to the horizon to exaggerate the sunset as wonderful pinks and oranges were thrown over the fields and footpaths.

It felt like the weather was welcoming me back to the UK, giving me 24 hours of pleasure before it inevitably resumed in the monotony of drizzle that everyone seems to perpetually believe might stop at any moment but so rarely does.

Walking back over the fields I make a decision to call into another pub on the way home. Instead of live piano/saxophone renditions, this pub instead has the unmistakable sound of football coming from the TV screens. Excited to be able to watch my national sport with my fellow countrymen I step in and order my pint of warm frothing ale.

Looking for a place to sit I approach a stranger with the prerequisite of “excuse me, I am terribly sorry, but would you mind if I possibly took a seat” motioning towards one of five empty seats surrounding him. Smiling warmly the man looks up from his Daily Telegraph with impeccable replicable manners and says, “Please, it would be an honour”.

How wonderful is that – being told it would be an honour for me to sit next to him.

Buoyed by these little interactions I sit happily watching Arsenal score four goals with the return of their star striker – Giroud. In an unspoken acknowledgment I suggest to the man next to me through nothing more than eye contact that I was happy, that I was delighted to be back in the UK and that in that moment I could think of nothing I would rather be doing.

Responding to this the man next to me commented in a perfect middle England accent, “Typical isn’t it”. “What’s that?” I responded. “The fucking French keeping such an English institution like Arsenal afloat” he sneered.

Sigh.

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The ‘great’ British potential in development and aid

This is a guest post by Dan Smith. Dan is an Engineer working with sanitation companies in frontier markets. He is also a good friend who blogs here. You can follow Dan on twitter at @dpksmith.

Burma
Everything about this image is ridiculous. From the fact that the British Embassy in Myanmar feels it’s necessary to persuade people how ‘great’ Britain is, to the idea that using posters resplendent with outdated nationalistic iconography is a good one.

All of it smacks of desperation.

A friend of mine recently sent me the picture from Yangon. My friend asked if this was how the British Government treated all of the countries we’d previously undermined. Looking at it historically and considering that my friend is Austrian; this comment is somewhat ironic but shows how our colonial history still pervades today.

The Austrians and Germans don’t cling to the dying embers of Empire, so why do we?

The simple fact is that the British Empire was an immoral occurrence over a generation ago, yet 60 years on it is still acceptable to promote the UK using imagery and terminology from that period alluding to the fact that we’ve changed. Whilst our pernicious foreign policy and the actions of British companies ensure that we’re still acting in a similar manner. Why can’t we move on from our history and start leading by example?

Our Government advertises the UK with outdated iconography whilst telling expats to go home. Our society bickers amongst itself about how best to manage our own sustainability whilst our international companies continue to steal resources from other countries as they always have done. All off this is white washed with propaganda about how great we are and as such our entrepreneurs come up with solutions for luxury abandon.

Perhaps this should change?

The Africa Progress Report 2013 paints a damning picture of powerful companies influencing kleptocratic governments in order to procure the rights to extract resources from their countries. The sharp end of the wedge highlighted in the criticism of the recent WTO Trade Agreement that this promotes the rights of corporations over the rights of individuals, poor or otherwise. All of which suggests that companies from rich countries are still operating in a similar fashion to the way various Royal Charter companies did back in the 18th and 19th centuries.

There is proof that British companies are complicit in such actions, such as the Vedanta Mining Corporation that wants to mine a culturally significant area of India or the shooting of 34 miners at the Marikana mine in South Africa owned by Lonmin. Closer to home there has been a devastating yet largely overlooked case where the British police have colluded with large construction firms to blacklist 3,200 people viewed as “leftwing or troublesome”.

Staying at home, shallow arguments such as this and this by the George Monbiot (a journalist that at least has his ‘heart in the right place’) demonstrates the divide between the middle class left, who paint themselves as the proletariat, and who the left perceive as the evil land owning bourgeoisie farmers. Yet most of our home grown challenges, such as sustainable energy security, are smothered by Government backed jingoistic promotions (such as some woman marrying a posh bloke and having a baby) to persuade everybody that we’re ‘great’.

If you do a quick search for people making change in the world you’ll find a plethora of young entrepreneurs in Africa developing businesses to fix many of the problems they see in front of them. Yet if you look for young British ones, more established ones, or look to entrepreneurial promotion such as Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice, you find people providing low cost throw away consumables, luxury goods, weaponry and food for students; as if there aren’t more pressing issues than creating maximum profit. Why are we still promoting profit over environmental and social performance?

In the UK we are a knowledge economy. We hold some of the best universities in the world; we have world leading research institutes; and some of the most respected consulting agencies. Why can’t we use this potential to lead the way in sustainable development rather than clinging to outdated dogma?

If the government really wants to increase foreign trade then perhaps it should start by regulating and prosecuting companies that are acting immorally and often illegally in other people’s countries rather than putting up posters. That would be a large step forward in changing the image of Britain. Whilst it’s doing that it could remove all of the Empiresque imagery from our foreign policy documentation and create strategies that work with people of other countries rather than against them.

Admittedly, social enterprise is supported in the UK through the creation of Big Society Capital and Social Enterprise UK. But why does this have to be at the loss to Government public sector? We could do both by going after the financial sector with the Tobin Tax – which is being pursued across Europe. Yet our government lacks both the teeth and the will to go after either the banks or international corporations.

If we could develop Triple Bottom Line businesses out of old neo-colonial corporations and promote “sustainability entrepreneurs” and “intrapreneurs” to meet our own challenges and set high sustainability standards in the UK. Then the rest of the world would look to us as leaders in sustainable development.

With external trade based on global sustainability rather than individual profiteering we wouldn’t need to tell anybody how “great” we still are.

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As Germany commits to taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees can you guess how many the UK has agreed to take?

Zaatari refugee camp

Zaatari refugee camp

 

Dear the British political establishment (you know who you are),

You have today been arguing over whether or not Britain should take in 500 Syrian refugees. Do you have any idea how contemptible, abhorrent and just completely ridiculous this makes you look?

You see there are currently just under two and half million Syrian refugees – that is about one in ten of the country’s population.

In response to this almost unheard level of severity, the UNHCR approached you and other European leaders to ask if Europe could take just 30,000 of these refugees. Leaving mainly much poorer neighbouring countries to take the disproportionate burden.

Germany stepped up in response to this modest request and committed to taking in 10,000.

In contrast, after a week of trying to avoid your moral – if not legal – obligation to take in any additional refugees, you have now compromised and agreed to take in 500 spread out over the coming year.

You must be able to see that this makes you, at best uncaring and at worst, a collection of abhorrent human beings?

In one ear I know you could hear the whisperings of middle-England, ‘We are just a tiny Island and we cannot take in more people’ and I know this influenced your decision. But it is this small Island mentality that you’re now perpetuating that looks, not just ridiculous, but, in the light of this crisis contemptible.

In contrast – a much smaller nation, Lebanon who has a population of just over four million, is currently hosting over a million Syrians. 85% of whom are registered as refugees with the UNHCR.

Please, just step back and just look at what you’re actually saying. After weeks of trying to say ‘none of our business’ you have finally agreed to take 500 refugees but are turning your back on the thousands that UNHCR has asked you to help and millions who are still languishing in temporary camps.

These people have had their lives ripped to shreds by war and you know you could be doing far far more than just sending money!

The parameters in which you have framed this debate have sickened and embarrassed me.

I hope, in the coming days you will grow the fuck up, take stock of just how appalling your position has been, and start fully cooperating with UNHCR’s plan.

In hope,

Steve Hynd

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UKIP MEP, Stuart Agnew, not just sexist – but also right wing and wrong

The Independent newspaper has today run a clip from the European Parliament showing UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew saying:

“Women don’t have the ambition to get to the top because babies get in the way”

The implication of this is that another UKIP MEP has put his foot in it with some deplorable sexism. True, but he commits an equally awful blunder that needs to be picked up on.

His belief in a meritocratic society – a disproportionately right wing belief – leads him into an idiotic comment at the end of clip. He says, “those females who really want to get to the top, do so”. 

Really? Does he honestly believe that any women who “wants to get to the top” – can do so? That nothing stands in your way other than your own work rate and inherent ability?

This belief in such a flagrant falsehood – that Britain is a meritocracy – is almost, if not as damaging as his unpalatable casual sexism.

I wonder if he could explain all of the following through “unmotivated women” and babies. 

We have:

  • A gender pay gap of around 10% difference
  • Approximately 70% of people in national minimum wage jobs are women.
  • Women making up only 17% board directors of FTSE 100 companies.
  • Up to 30,000 women being sacked each year simply for being pregnant.
  • 14% of white British women have being asked about their plans for marriage and/or children at a job interview compared to 20-25% of Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani women.
  • A 24 year high for women’s unemployment – highest amongst black and minority ethnic women.
  • Only 1 in 4 MPs being female and women from minority ethnic groups making up only 1.2% of MP.
  • Just 23% of reporters on national daily newspapers in the UK being women. 
  • A 4:1 male to female ratio for experts appearing in our media.

Source

Discrimination is a blight that Old Blighty is having to deal with. To tackle this we have to show that those who peddle the myth of a meritocracy are simply, if sadly, wrong.

 

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Violence against women – the global crisis

A series of papers published in the Lancet have revealed shocking statistics surrounding rates of rape in the UK. 1 in 10 women in the recent study admitted to being forced into having sex against their will. 1.4% of men also admitted to being forced into having sex against their will.

While these figures are shockingly high, I thought it would be interesting to place them in a global context. The last two countries that I have lived in, the occupied Palestinian territories and Uganda, help to highlight the truly global nature of this crisis.

Just yesterday I was reading in the Ugandan Observer that:

“Six in ten Ugandan women have experienced physical violence since the age of 15 and 34 per cent of all Ugandan women have experienced physical violence in the past 12 months…

The 2006 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey shows that at least 24 per cent of women report that their first sexual encounter was against their will and at least 15 per cent of the women have experienced violence during pregnancy.”

To reiterate – 1 in 4 women’s first sexual encounter was against their will.

When I read out this quote to a Ugandan (who, by chance was female) she simply responded saying, “I can believe that to be true”.

In the occupied Palestine territories the situation was, if anything, even worse.

Sexual violence is a chronically understudied phenomena in the oPt, so statistics are few and far between. But, a few months ago I read this report on the Al-Monitor that reported:

“The Bureau of Statistics report indicated that Palestinian women face many forms of violence, with 76.4% of Gazan women being subjected to emotional violence, 34.8% to physical violence, 14.9% to sexual violence, 78.9% to social violence and 88.3% to economic violence.”

While I was in the West Bank gender based violence (let alone rape) was near to impossible to talk about. One Palestinian who I got to know quite well responded to me talking about the problem of violence against women in the UK by simply saying, “We don’t have these problems here”. I think he might have believed that as well!

Anyway, I choose these two countries for no reason other than my recent residency in them. Similar shocking statistics can be drawn from all over the world.

It’s a depressing context in which to look at these UK statistics but I feel it to be an important one.

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The UK has turned its back on victims of war crimes

This article was written for Social Justice First.

White phosphorous used by the Israeli military at a UN school in Gaza. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP

“We saw streets and alleyways littered with evidence of the use of white phosphorus, including still-burning wedges and the remnants of the shells and canisters fired by the Israeli army” Chris Cobb-Smith, a British weapons expert who visited Gaza.

“Commanders ordered their subordinates to shoot civilians and ‘hors de combat’ fighters, and to torture and mistreat detainees. Orders were often enforced at gunpoint and anyone hesitating to comply risked arrest or summary execution” UN report on war crimes in Syria.

These quotes are from two wars and describe two different accusations of war crimes.  Britain’s response to these atrocities should deeply worry us all.Last month Cameron all but offered Assad a safe passage out of Syria. Rightly there was outrage. Amnesty International commented that, “Instead of talking about immunity deals for President Assad, David Cameron should be supporting efforts to ensure that he faces justice, ideally at the International Criminal Court at The Hague”. They rightly then drew attention to the mass indiscriminate bombings that Assad had overseen – actions that constitute a war crime.

The arrogance that Cameron showed on that occasion was alarming. He believed that his idea of getting Assad out of the country at any cost was somehow superior to that of International Law. That he could bring peace where established human rights mechanisms couldn’t.

This was the first time I had heard this government leave its staunch “we support international law” line that it hides its inactions behind. Sadly it looks as though it wasn’t a one off. The Foreign Office on Monday night implied that the UK is prepared to back a Palestinian statehood bid at the UN if, and only if, Abbas pledges not to pursue Israel for the war crimes it has committed.

Can anyone tell me, since when has the UK started to hand out impunity for war crimes in return for entering into peace talks?

I can’t believe that these two incidents are not connected and I fear that they are signals for what is to come from the FCO.

The consequences of Cameron’s words

The UK is saying is that Abbas should not pursue justice for the victims of Israel’s 2009 “indiscriminate and reckless” use of white phosphorus. In contrast, Human Rights Watch said that senior leaders should be held to account as civilians “needlessly suffered and died”.

Equally, it is saying that Abbas should not follow up the evidence that suggests Israel used indiscriminate attacks in the latest up-surge of fighting in Gaza.

The UK has asked Abbas not to apply for membership of either the International Criminal Court(ICC) or the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The first being a body that aims to offer accountability by bringing to justice those who have committed the worse crimes – namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The latter is a pre-judicial body that aims to settle legal disputes between states based on international law.

The Foreign Secretary needs to be asked why it is he thinks Palestine should be a state – but should not have access to these bodies!

Clearly the UK is acting in this way for some reason – perhaps trying to compromise with a hard-line US position for example. Or perhaps they are hoping to avoid Israel annexing settlements in the West Bank. But, this is a price too far.

Once you start to compromise on these internationally agreed standards – standards that Israel has signed up to – then you stand at the top of a very slippery slope!

What we need is for the UK to be making clear and bold statements calling for all those accused of war crimes to be held to account through the established bodies – regardless of who the perpetrators are!

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Standing up for [some] civil liberties

The Protection of Freedoms Bill is today in its second reading in the Lords. It is, in the words of Nick Clegg, the vehicle by which this government will “restore Britain’s traditions of freedom and fairness”. Broadly, it aims to reverse Labour’s appalling 13 years of state sponsored intrusions into our civil liberties.

Within the Bill there are positive proposals on issues such as collection and retention of biometric information, limits on stop and search, the right to trial by jury, and restrictions on surveillance powers. The most widely reported measure is bringing the permanent precharge detention limit down from 28 to 14 days.

These steps are all welcome and needed, but also provide a nice overview of how Labour fundamentally let us down on civil liberties.

There is however, a worryingly long list of Labour policies that are not included in this bill. This Bill would have been the perfect ‘vehicle’ to address the extended administrative detention of nonnationals, redressing the balance between security and freedom found in various counter terrorism measures, the intrusive ‘mosquito’ device which stops youngsters from meeting in public.  Equally, this Bill could have been used to rectify a situation where a Christian cannot wear a discreet cross to work.

This bill is so important in restoring basic standards, but needs to go further. The very fact that we need this bill however should leave any Labour politician or supporter to shame.

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The arrest warrant for Gaddafi confirms that we were right to enter the Libyan conflict

Gadaffi, along with his son and his chief intelligence advisor have been accused of alleged crimes against humanity including persecution and murder.  Gaddafi has been accused of orchestrating waves of attacks against civilians. A number of opponents have been killed or have disappeared.

ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo alleged that the attacks were systematic in nature and aimed at civilians.  In the recent months Amnesty International has pointed to evidence that suggested war crimes and crimes against humanity such as the repeated attacks on residential areas in Misratah.

This further intrenches the international community’s original justification for entering into the Libyan conflict. With the operation in the Libya now being over 100 days old, it is important to remember the original justification of conflict, to protect civilians. UN resolution 1973 authorises ‘all necessary measures to protect civilians’. What this arrest warrant does not do however, is justify further mission creep. Indeed, the UN resolution specifically excludes a foreign occupation force of any form on Libyan territory

The UK (as a member of the UN) has an obligation to not offer safe haven for any of the wanted men, they do not have international legitimacy to go after Gadaffi’s life. This is extra judicial execution, just as the US’s operation against Bin Laden was simply an extra-judicial execution.

What the UK must do however is to ensure that all other members of the UN deny safe haven for Gaddafi. This is not the first time that an arrest warrant has been issued for a head of state, the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has faced arrest since 2009 on charges of genocide, crimes and humanity and war crimes. The UK has to use all its diplomatic channels to ensure the Libyan leader cannot travel freely to rally support for his regime.

Equally, the UK must continue to urge the Libyan Government to comply with these arrest warrants and hand the wanted men over. It is important to remember that a lot of people involved with the regime are there by chance opposed to ideology. There are amazing stories coming out of Libya of men and women who have taken a stance against the regime and refused to act against their own people or commit atrocities. The UK Government should also applaud and seek to support these individuals.

Most importantly, this arrest warrant sends a clear message to all the senior figures involved in this conflict that they cannot act with impunity.

The UK can take strength from this announcement as it shows that we were right to move to defend civilians. It remains as important as ever to make sure we do not over step this mark. We must live up to our international obligations the same way the any other Government must. I do not believe that this development justifies any further increase in military operations – unlike some.

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Shaker Aamer – it is time to lobby your MP

I have blogged before about the terrible plight of Shaker Aamer, the Brit that is still in Guantanamo Bay. This blog is about taking action and making it easy, both for you and your MP. Together we can force the US to put their morals where their mouth is. I want YOU to write to your MP (you can find out who your MP is here) highlighting his case. You can use the following as a guide or you can simply cut and paste into an email. Please do let me know any response you receive

Dear [name] MP,

As you will know there is a British resident still languishing in Guantanamo Bay.  I hope you agree that Shaker Aamer’s detention without charge or trial is unacceptable.

As a result I urge you to write to Hague about this issue pushing him to go further that he already has (raising it with Clinton).

Please sign the following letter without delay.

I look forward to you taking action on this case.

[your name and address]

Rt Honourable William Hague
House of Commons,
London,

SW1A 0AA

I am writing on behalf of a number of my constituents who have expressed deep concern at the current status of Shaker Aamer, a British resident currently detained in Guantanamo Bay.  Raising this case to the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton is timely  and welcome.  However, a number of my constituents are concerned that the UK government is not doing enough to bring  about his release or trial.  I would therefore urge you to continue to push for his immediate release or trial and report back to Parliament on the outcome of your discussions with Secretary of State Clinton.

Shaker is a British resident who has been held in captivity for nearly nine years with no charge or trial. He has alleged numerous cases of torture and has spent much of his time in solidarity confinement on hunger strike. Guantanamo Bay remains a travesty of justice that we cannot let encroach onto our government’s time in power.  President Obama has made the commitment to fully close Guantanamo; we have to push for this promise to be fulfilled.

To bring this case to a swift resolution, I urge you to pursue the following:

  • Push for an agreed timetable with the US authorities for Shaker Aamer’s release or trial.
  • Ensure that all allegations of torture and illegal detention are fully investigated, including the possibility of any British involvement.
  • Call for the complete closure of Guantanamo Bay and the use of illegal detention.

For as long as Shaker Aamer remains in custody without charge or trial there is no possibility of our government drawing a line under these cases of alleged torture and illegal detention overseas.

I trust that you will see that action on this case is imperative for not only Shaker and his family waiting for him in the UK, but also for Britain as a whole.

I look forward to your response.  

 

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I support military intervention in Libya, but arming the rebels brings too bigger risks

No action in Libya would have been disastrous. Hundreds died in the weeks where the international community dithered. The UK is quite rightly backing a NATO led force in Libya to protect civilians. The UK has been central to the delivery of humanitarian aid. There are whisperings however of arming the rebels. I cannot see how this would be conducive to the UK’s aim of protecting civilians. This smacks of an entirely different agenda – regime change.

Let’s start with the positive. The UK Government is funding the ICRC which is providing support for 100,000 people’s basic needs and 3,000 medical needs for those affected by the fighting. They have sent blankets and supplies to the approximate 38,000 people stuck at the border of Libya. They will soon be flying out supplies for 10,000 IDP’s. Equally, the UK has been instrumental in evacuating 12,500 migrant workers who are fleeing the country. All of this is highly commendable.

I fully support the current British military involvement, it holds the backing the whole cabinet, the UN and a strong proportion of parliament and the international community. The crux of the operation is to protect civilians. In this case, military intervention is necessary, legal and right. This is stark contrast to previous UK military commitments such as Iraq. The no-fly zone is helping to reduce the risk faced by ordinary civilians. It has to be supported.

There are however, three very good, practical reasons why we should not be arming the rebels.

1) Differing views within the impressively diverse coalition that supports the current intervention will almost certainly be split if we tried to arm the rebels. Equally, I do not swallow the argument that if an Arab state provided the arms then it would reduce the controversial nature of it. Regardless of where the arms come from, the very action of them arriving in the country will divide the coalition. This would destroy the international support for the action and undermine the basis of the mission to protect civilians.

2) The allies would have no control of how or who would use these weapons. I have no doubt that by further arming one side; you would undermine our own ability to protect civilians. Even at the height of civil war, we need to be looking to reduce the conflict not escalate it.

3) There is no way of controlling and influencing where else in the world these weapons would head off to. We should be under no illusion; these “freedom fighters” are made up of a mix of groups and individuals – some of which are rather unsavoury. We have an obligation to ensure weapons we supply do not end up in other wars. I do not believe we can guarantee that this would not happen.

The rebels are clearly militarily underdogs to the regimes army. The UK however has to keep its cool and not look to finish this conflict with a silver bullet. The best military assistance the UK can now give (along side policing the no fly zone, enforcing an arms embargo and welcoming defectors) is to offer training and support to the ground troops. The last thing the revolution wants now is a wasteful surge to only be beaten back with heavy losses.

I cannot see how arming the rebels will help protect civilians and no one yet has managed to provide an answer to that. Yet, our PM has said he is not willing to rule out military intervention.

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Movember – the good, the bad and the ugly

My little bit of luxury

The month of movember has come to an end.  It has been a global effort that has raised in an excess of £34 MILLION. Not bad! It’s not too late though, now you can see my masterpiece you can still sponsor me. For a little bit more about why I was taking part in movember have a look at my previous blog.


Will Hichens going for the "Victorian"

Before I go, check out my fellow Mo-Bro Will Hichens who has gone above and beyond the call of duty.  If that’s not worth a donation, then I do not know what is!

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It’s the month of “Movember” and its time to get hairy

Movember - A little bit of hair can say so much about a man

The concept of “Movember” was thought up in Australia in 2003 with the aim of creating a men’s health event that would become as formidable as the equivalent breast cancer awareness campaigns. Men, warriors and citizens alike, agree to grow a mo (slang for moustache) for 30 days in the month of November.  I have taken up this challenge, if for no other reason, than to try and break down the taboo around testicular cancer. 

I was amazed when I read recently about John Hartson’s ordeal with battling testicular cancer. He had noticed lumps on his testicles for years before he had them checked out.  He was lucky to survive as the cancer had spread throughout all of his body.  This, I am sure, is not an unusual response by men – to ignore health issues.  The “it will be fine approach” is used up and down the country.  The message is simple, get it checked out, because if you don’t it might not be alright!

Thus, this blog becomes a plea.  Please not only sponsor me and donate money to Prostate Cancer Charity and Everyman (Institute of Cancer Research), but also help to bring this disease out of hiding.  Do not be afraid to talk about this.  The great thing about “Movember” is that it acts as a light-hearted tool to enable people to bring this issue up.  Let me illustrate…imagine you are sat in a pub (without a mo) and you try and bring up testicular cancer with your mates, difficult? Now imagine you are the proud owner of a beautifully crafted mo and people ask you about it, easier? You see my point.

Please donate here

Please have a look at both the Prostate web-site and the Everyman web-site as well.

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We are still haunted by the legacy of colonialism

We have to reclaim our history, however vile!

The modern western world has colonialism and imperialism entrenched into its history.  The racial and ethnic tensions that are apparent in contemporary society can be traced through history back to the time of colonialism and imperialism.  To pretend it is not there is to play into the hands of the modern far right.

Colonialism refers to the political authority of the European powers over some of the areas of Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Americas.  Broadly it is the time when there was a political economy based around the slave trade By the end of the 19th century nearly all Africa had been colonised by one or other of the Great Powers.

Modern racist discourse can be traced back to the slave trade.  Although, it is important to remember that racism and slavery did not always go hand-in-hand (think of the ancient Greeks!).  Why then, in our murky colonial history did race become such a big deal? From the earliest recordings of British involvement in Africa (large scale in 17th century) the exaggerated term “black” was used to describe the very obviously different skin colour between British and the (at first) West Africans.  However the colour ‘black’ came with some deeply ingrained values; it was associated pre 16th century with dirt and death.  It had connotations of evil and wickedness.  This is illustrated in the distinction between black and white magic and as well, the Black Death.  This all came at a time when the ideal of beauty in Britain was very much of a pale white face.

Throughout the Colonial period the appearance of the African was stretched and exaggerated through European discourse.  Their nakedness was often highlighted to illustrate their difference from the ‘civilised’ European.   To start with people were content to comment on skin colour to describe their difference; during the 17th and 18th centuries however a number of other characteristics were attributed to them.  Soon African men were considered to have potent sexuality.  The men were considered to have a larger penis and to be extremely lusty.  Some Europeans at the time speculated on the sexual intercourse that might have occurred between apes and Africans.  Indeed increasingly Europeans would compare the Africans that they ‘discovered’ to the apes that they “discovered” at a similar time. Indeed, other characteristics were recorded at this time such as laziness and superstition.  After meeting Africans as neutrals (pre slave trade), the colonial legacy slowly degenerated into a deeply racist discourse.

Towards the end of the 19th century a movement developed to legitimise Imperialism.  Social-Darwinism was used to justify the colonial power’s actions in Africa.  There was a belief that there was a natural hierarchy of races.  These were predominantly European ideas and as such Europeans were normally ranked as the ‘highest being’.  This is an almost laughable idea today, but at the time was considered gospel by many.  It is important to note that such broad biological assumptions are still made and believed in modern racist belief.  For example Charles Murray’s book ‘The Bell Curve’ (1994) is still used by extremists to argue that White people have a higher I.Q than black people. Stereotypes still persist in main stream society in many western countries as the mass of the population still see Black Afro-Caribbean’s consistently performing low skilled manual jobs (a changing but lingering phenomena).

Although the dark days of our colonial past, are just that, our past.  It is worth taking a moment to reflect the impact that they are still having on our society.  There are some very clear ethnic tensions that can be directly linked to European colonial past.  The continued conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo demonstrates some extreme racial tensions that have a clear link to the Belgium legacy there for example.  The racism that we see most regularly today however is a lot more subtle.

Modern conflicts, especially in the West appear to be increasingly more complex than simply a reflection of race.  Ethnicity is a wider term that can describe a group of people beyond their inherent characteristics.  For example the Muslim community in the U.K could easily describe themselves as an ethnic group.  No longer does it simply describe your skin colour. This leads to a more complex system of discrimination where culture, religion and race all become intertwined.  In the UK there is no simple way of defining what it exactly is that people discriminate against. However appearance still plays a large part in social discrimination in contemporary society.  This is reflected in police stop and search figures; increasingly Arabs have been subjected to a greater number of searches.

Despite conflicts growing increasingly more complex, there are still racial elements to most conflicts in the western world.  In November 2005 large-scale riots broke out throughout France.  The BBC described these as ‘race riots’ as it was predominantly members of the black community rioting.  However a more accurate way to try and have one term to describe these riots would perhaps have been to describe them as socio-economic deprivation boiling over.  It is no coincidence that these riots took place in some of the poorest neighbourhoods across France.  However these riots were portrayed across the world more as race riots.

Today we can see the BNP riding a roller coaster of popularity (for whenever they have risen high they have very soon plunged in public opinion).  The peaks of the BNP’s popularity however should worry us.  The BNP often attack a way of life opposed to a specific “race” (although the racist undertones are clear).  For example their leader Nick Griffin was cleared of the charge ‘inciting racial hatred’ for describing Islam as a ‘wicked faith’.  In his trial he argued he did not hate Muslims or any ethnicity but purely the faith they followed.  However what the B.N.P does illustrate is that there is still interest and small support for such extreme right-wing politics.  They often play on fundamental fears that are still apparent in society; for example they argue that these ‘migrants’ are stealing British jobs.  It is apparent that there is interest in these ‘racial’ issues in the main stream even if there is not much support for it.  A lot of the discourse they use is similar to that of colonial times.  For example the B.N.P campaigned for many months about the Asian ‘sexual predators’ that were coming after ‘our girls’.  This is a clear link back to colonial stereotypes that play into the discriminative discourse that the B.N.P wishes to capitalise from.

To forget our colonial past, in all it’s ugliness, is to give the modern racist a free use of a deeply ingrained sub-conscious tool.  Regardless of whether we would like to admit it or not, racism still exists in this country.  We have to acknowledge that it has a long history.  If we do not acknowledge this history, then those outdated images of the black man as a sexual predator, or the monkey chants across football grounds will continue to be used.  We have to reclaim our history, however vile it is! At least we have the decency to acknowledge it to be vile!

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