Saturday, 25 May 2013

Islam is the problem

Islam's the problem. That's what we're meant to say, right? After Woolwich and the soldier who was horrifically and despicably murdered in the street by two men the BBC described as being "of Muslim appearance"? Or are we meant to say it's not the fault of Islam but Muslims need to do more to root out the extremists in their midst? To distance themselves from it?

Well, pardon my French, but that's bullshit.

It might be what we hear every time this happens - what the media and politicians say, what Muslim "community representatives" say to try and avoid being tarred with the same brush (a futile effort as it happens anyway) - but that doesn't change the fact that it's bullshit.

When Anders Breivik murdered dozens of young people in Norway in the name of "European Christianity" he wasn't described by the media as being "of Christian appearance". The Archbishop of Canterbury didn't feel the need to take part in a press conference to point out that murdering kids isn't part of the Christian faith or endorsed in the Bible. The Norwegian Prime Minister didn't feel the need to give a press conference calling on the Christian community to do more to root out the extremists in their midst. Universities didn't start monitoring Christian student groups for extremism.

Despite the fact that my country, my home, the UK, has been subjected to (and is still subject to in Northern Ireland) a campaign of terror, which has killed far more people than Islamist terrorism in the UK ever has, in the name of Christian Catholicism and Protestantism, I have never been stereotyped as being "of Christian appearance" or felt obligated, as someone of a Christian background (even though I'm not Christian myself) to apologise publicly for these acts of terror.

When an elderly Muslim man was murdered on his way home in Birmingham earlier this month in a premeditated attack by a white man (e.g. of Christian appearance) no one cared. The media didn't show much interest. I wasn't judged, as a white person, as being partially responsible because the suspected killer came from "my community".

Because, fundamentally, this is an issue of racism and double standards. This is white privilege. I, and the EDL and the BNP and the paramilitaries of Northern Ireland, can commit violent crimes without my entire race being held responsible.

And don't pay any attention to those slimy bigots who try to say "it's not racist coz islam is a religion not a race" - when the BBC used the phrase "of Muslim appearance" we all knew exactly what they meant. It meant a brown person, probably with a beard. And we all know that because Islam is conflated with race in the eyes of most of us. Oh, we all know intellectually that white people can be Muslims but when we hear Muslim we instinctively think "brown person with skin darker than ours" - even when we know better.

That's nothing specifically wrong with white people - the human brain naturally thinks in stereotypes. But that doesn't mean we, as a community, should try and wriggle out of the fact that Islamophobia in this country, that the huge spike in anti-Muslim attacks this week, is tied to race.

If a Muslim commits a crime, especially a violent one, or one which hurts white people, the immediate reaction of the media, politicians and society itself is to assume that their faith is the cause - and to immediately dredge up all the tired old stereotypes about Islamic extremism as the narrative we use. If a white person does the same thing then the individual responsible is held to account - not their entire community.

When a policeman was murdered in Northern Ireland by Christians I didn't read about it and worry about strangers abusing me in the street because of it. My local church wasn't the subject of an arson attack. People didn't run up to me in the street and physically attack me or throw excrement at me.

Yet that's what happens, and has happened this week, to Muslims up and down this country. Our fellow Englishmen and fellow citizens, people who are patriotic, work hard and pay their taxes and never hurt anyone, have to worry about being attacked for daring to go out in public. Are collectively criticised for not doing more to stop violent acts that even the police and security services didn't see coming. Are debated around the dinner tables and in the newspaper columns of England as being alien "others" with people asking whether they are "incompatible" with our country.

And this despite the fact that the 6% Muslims in Europe [pdf file - look at page 15] are responsible for just 0.7% of the terrorist attacks which have taken place in recent years (most attacks are carried out by left wing extremists and by nationalist separatists). Despite the fact that Muslims are disproportionately likely to be patriotic and actively proud of being British. Despite the fact that the vast majority mosques and Islamic organisations go miles out of their way to speak out against extremism on a regular basis and bend over backwards to help the security find extremists.

The reality is that European and British and English Muslims do far more to tackle terrorism by a tiny minority in their midst than any other group - and especially white people like myself whose communities have no organised programmes to tackle "white extremism" in our churches, schools and communities (I've certainly never noticed or heard of any).

And that's because, as I said, we have white privilege. We are treated as individuals. Muslims are treated as a group with every member being partially responsible for the actions of every other member. That's one of the many double standards that corrupt our society. And that's the same double standard that has led to some of the worst atrocities in European history.

If the kind of articles being written and speeches being made right now about Muslims were being made about any other group, specifically Jews or black people, we would see them as the senseless bigotry and stereotyping they truly are.

So, as a white person, I apologise to this country, particularly to Muslims. I apologise for the actions of my community. I'm sorry that the lessons of two thousand years of genocide and pogroms and racism still have not been learned. I'm sorry you are forced to defend your faith and distance yourself from the actions of two lone individuals who you knew nothing of until they committed their horrific crime. I'm sorry your places of worship are attacked and vandalised. I'm sorry that you are subject to the constant threat of violence and verbal abuse in the street.

And I distance myself from those who display prejudice towards Muslims and blame innocent people for the actions of completely separate lone individuals. The EDL and the media and the commentariat and the politicians and the dinner party conversations do not speak for all white people. And the racism and prejudice and stereotyping on display is in no way compatible with the values of tolerance and equality and progress espoused by the white community.

However, while the EDL might be only a small minority of the white community, I must express my shame and sorry that the wider prejudice and bigotry that makes their existence possible is probably currently true of the majority of white people.

And I ask for your tolerance and understanding as we upstanding members of the white community try to root out and eradicate the extremism and prejudice in our midst.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The problem with the Lib Dem coalition strategy

I just want to draw everyone's attention to this brilliant post over on the Social Liberal Forum which brilliantly highlights the problem with the current Lib Dem approach to coalition. Here's a quote but you should definitely go and read the original post in full:
I don’t mean that it’s not a good idea to restrain the Tories. Of course it is. I don’t mean that activists don’t like to hear this. Of course they do. 
But the party’s key messages have to be those that are relevant to, and strike a chord with, the wider audience. And the wider audience will simply not be won over by this Tory taming narrative. 
Let’s take a rather crude example. 
Imagine David Cameron, George Osborne and the lot of them with a litter of kittens. The room is full of piteous mewing. But the Tories don’t want the pesky things. Imagine David is about to wield the knife and kill every single little one of them. 
Nick Clegg bravely steps in. “At least spare some of the kittens” he says. 
So instead of all ten going under, three are spared and scamper away somewhere. 
The problem is most people, and certainly most of our potential voters, don’t want to kill any kittens at all. And we have just become complicit in felicide. What is more newsworthy, the seven dead ones or the others?
So the message has an obvious weakness.

Monday, 20 May 2013

The real Lib Dem position on an EU referendum

So, what with UKIP surging in the polls (despite having donors and elected representatives who are frequently misogynists and/or racists), the Tories imploding over an EU referendum (and comments which may or may not have been made by one of Cameron's chums) and the Lib Dems being asked about our manifesto "pledge" of an EU referendum, I've decided to cut through the spin and present an honest assessment of the Lib Dem position on an EU referendum:

Our position in brief

We're pro EU but we want an in-out referendum the next time there's a major transfer of powers from the UK to the EU (though we don't think that's ever going to happen). But we don't really want an in/out referendum either because we're scared we'd lose and we're not really entirely convinced about the merits of referendums for that matter.

Does this position sound barmy? Well, yes it is. But it does actually make sense for reasons which I will now explain.

Lib Dems like the EU

Yup, it's true. As a party we mainly tend to support the EU in principle - mainly because we're a rational bunch who look rationally at the realities of the situation (basically, to find the reality, just assume that it's the exact opposite of what the UK press tells you about the EU) and have worked out that, on balance, we get more from EU membership than we'd get from not having EU membership and that membership is the best thing for our national interest.

Plus, we're also traditionally internationalists who believe in different nations working together for their common interest and so naturally tend to support concepts like those behind the EU.

That doesn't mean that we don't recognise that there are problems with the EU which we'd like to change - in fact, most of our MEPs spend a lot of their time successfully pushing for changes in things like the Common Agricultural Policy - but we tend to take the view that we're better off in and that we should be working towards improving the EU rather than quitting it all together.

We're scared about admitting we like the EU

This is an ongoing problem with the Lib Dems. We have these wonderful principled, common sense positions  on various issues which are all backed up with detailed policy ...which we then promptly hide from site and never speak of in public in case it puts people off.

See, the fact is that all polls indicate that the majority (albeit a small majority) of people don't like the EU. Which, to be fair, isn't surprising when you consider the outright lies the British press prints about the EU on a non-stop basis.

And, despite the fact that there's a sizeable minority who do support EU membership (a minority which is much larger than the minority that votes for us, incidentally), we tend to be a bit scared, as a party, of admitting our real views on Europe in public in case we scare people away.

Though we're getting better at being honest and plain spoken about our views, there is still very much a tendency to try and dress up our policies, or use forms of wording, in a way that we hope won't alienate eurosceptics. Of course, no one believes this for a second, but it does explain why we have policies like an in/out referendum in the event of a future transfer of powers which we don't realistically think is ever going to happen.

We like democracy...

Referendums. Wonderful, right? We're a democratic party and a referendum on EU membership where we ask everyone what they think would be very democratic so we should support having a referendum and then campaign to stay in the EU during the referendum. Right?

...but we're not convinced a referendum would be democratic

We used to very much like the idea of referendums. In fact, for everything we weren't convinced we could some day win enough seats in parliaments to do, a referendum was the answer - exhibit A: a referendum on proportional representation.

But then in 2011 we had the AV referendum (which was not, I hasten to add, a referendum on proportional representation). And we lost. Humiliatingly.

This, in no small part, was thanks to the incompetence of the Yes campaign, but it was also a result of a campaign where the truth didn't get a word in edgeways. To give you an example, the No campaign made a big thing of their claim that AV would cost £250 million and kept on pushing that line right up until, and throughout, the day of the referendum itself. Yet, on the eve of the vote, David Blunkett, a prominent backer of the No campaign, came out and admitted the claim was a complete fabrication.

So, given how easy it apparently is for lies to be spread to distort the debate in a referendum, a lot of Lib Dems are no longer convinced that a referendum on the EU would lead to an informed choice based on the facts and think it's more likely that it might well be a decision based on lies and misinformation. Which is a big deal for us because we tend to think that the evidence overwhelmingly lies in favour of EU membership so anything that prevented the evidence from being heard could well result in a vote to leave the EU which we think would be bad for the UK.

We were opportunistic in opposition

When the Lisbon Treaty was up for debate in parliament, there were a lot of people who thought it should be put to a referendum. As a party, we might have voted for a referendum on it in parliament but there were a fair few Lib Dem grandees who threatened to publicly object and possibly quit the party if we did so. So, instead, we proposed and voted for an amendment for a full in/out referendum instead because it let us hit the tories and labour over the head with it whilst having absolutely no chance of being accepted by parliament.

But that then left us with a dilemma  We made much of that vote in our local election literature in order to try and win over some eurosceptics to vote for us (with precious little success) and then along came a general election and we had to find a way to explain our position. So we committed ourselves to a referendum the next time there was a major change in the relationship between the UK and Europe.

This was, actually, a consistent position, which we'd held all along, but it was also a disingenuous one since it let us make a pitch to the eurosceptics for votes as being the "one party that could be trusted to deliver a referendum" whilst also being a position which meant that, in reality, we'd never have to actually hold a referendum and risk losing because there'd never be a change in our relationship with the EU that was big enough to justify one.

And hence our position

And so here we are. We've got a position that's been consistent and which does follow a valid line of logic - but it's a disingenuous one at the same time because it's not a realistic reflection of what we think about Europe.

The odds are that, in 2015, we'll drop the pledge all together (after all, if we're going to have a referendum on Europe then why not one on NATO, the UN, the IMF, the WHO, etc, etc). I mean, that'd certainly be what the bulk of our members would prefer.

However, what I'd quite like is if, and the European elections next year would be a good time to do this, we were actually to finally make the positive case for Europe and try and win over the large minority of people who agree with us on this issue as opposed to running scared of our real beliefs.

Because the simple truth about the Lib Dem position is that it's one which has involved no lies, one which has been consistent, one which we can self-righteously defend, but at the same time is only that in a political sense of carefully wording things in such a way that you can't be caught out but can try and win votes by appearing to promise things you're not.

In short, it's a position which has involved no lies or deceit, but I doubt it's one which most normal people would rush to label as "honest" either.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Where I've been

So it's been over a month since I last posted on here. There are two good reasons for that: the first is that I'm lazy and the second is that I've been busy.

Glossing over the first one, here's what I've been busy with:

Coursework and writing my dissertation - over the last month and a half I've had two massive pieces of coursework to do, plus a dissertation to write. The coursework was finished off just over a week ago and the dissertation was finished yesterday and handed in pretty much just before the deadline - I have an unfortunate tendency to cut things fine I'm afraid.

Still, it's done and handed in, which means a massive weight has suddenly disappeared from my shoulders. I've still got to do a viva voca on it mind you, where I'll have to academically defend my dissertation, but that's a lot less pressure than writing the dissertation was. The subject of my dissertation, incidentally, was using electropermanent magnets to hold spacecraft together when they're docked. Electropermanent magnets are pretty cool - they were only invented in 2011 and they're basically programmable magnets which you can switch on and off and which don't use any power in either state. Though, unfortunately for me, the ones I built didn't work so my dissertation is basically just 40 pages of me talking about how they didn't work and why I think that is.

Local Elections - on the 2nd of May we had the county elections in Surrey and I was standing for Shalford division. Originally a Tory seat where no one else had a chance of winning, the local Conservatives made the embarrassing mistake and failed to hand their candidate's papers in on time. So a supposedly "unwinnable" seat for the Lib Dems suddenly became a two-horse race between myself and UKIP - and kept me very busy as a result!

While I really enjoyed the campaign in Shalford and doing the best I could to convince voters to back to me, the UKIP candidate unfortunately won and became UKIP's first county councillor in Guildford borough. Still, I got a respectable 1,023 votes (one of the highest totals for the Lib Dems in Shalford ever) and I think we've laid a solid groundwork for next time round so I'm mostly satisfied with the results. Winning would have been nice of course but the voters know best and I'm just proud that so many people voted for me.

Plus my local Lib Dem county councillors in Guildford all held onto their seats and we successfully defended a seat on the borough council in a by-election on the same day as the county elections. So, all in all, I couldn't help but smiling at the count despite losing - which was fortunate as apparently footage of me and my UKIP opponent was used on the news (I didn't see it myself but loads of people I know have told me they did).

The full election results, incidentally, can be found here.

A trip to Estonia - at the end of February I spent three days in Tallinn, Estonia with Liberal Youth at the European Liberal Youth (LYMEC) congress. It was a blast, first time I've ever been abroad under my own steam and I had great fun meeting people from all over Europe and seeing the sights in Tallinn. The congress was great fun as well - the UK delegation did very well in getting more social liberal amendments to various policy resolutions and I made quite a few speeches in the debates which, if I do say so myself, were rather passionate.

In fact, they were so passionate that a Dutch liberal (actually a libertarian who didn't think the government should do anything beyond providing the judicial system and infrastructure) accused me of being a "communist "and "behaving like the Chinese" - and this just for saying that I thought there was scope for governments sometimes investing in their economies to stimulate growth.

On the other hand, I pointed out that my party invented liberalism and that I could confirm first hand that there was nothing communist about supporting the role of the government in encouraging economic growth - not to mention that British liberals had held that view since before socialism was even heard of! Oddly, the Dutch liberal in question didn't seem particularly impressed by that but a lot of the Nordic liberals appeared to agree with me and voted for our amendment, getting it passed, so I can't complain.

And so... - and so that's what I've been busy with. It's a real shame I've been busy with all of that since a lot of things have happened in the past month and a half (UKIP, the Conservatives finally going completely insane, etc.) that I'd really have liked to blog about. In fact, I've ended up staying away from my blog because thinking about not writing anything has made me feel guilty!

But all the stuff that's been keeping me busy is over with now. I mean, I still have exams to worry about, but those aren't quite so totally time consuming as election campaigns/my dissertation were. Hopefully I'll now be able to resume a regular blogging schedule. Sorry for not being able to do so until now. And thanks to any of my regular readers who've stuck around despite my unexplained absence :)