Thursday, 30 May 2013

If The Government Is Looking For Extremists, Just Look Out Of The Window

This weekend saw a resurgent far right nationalist movement mobilise across the country on a largely pro-forces and anti-Islam platform. 

It is an incredibly divisive and dangerous message of schism which our elected officials have been complacent towards by allowing it to take-root so significantly.

My activism against the far right English Defence League (EDL) has been well charted in the public domain. My BBC1 debate with Tommy Robinson last year lead to face-to-face private discussions over a meal. No stone was left unturned in those three hours and despite being left dumbfounded and contemplating whether I had been “reading a different Quran” to others, since coming out of prison he has redoubled his efforts. Woolwich has resulted in a fivefold increase in support for his group and a tenfold increase in anti-Muslim attacks and incidents. Our paths crossed again over the May Bank Holiday weekend in a heated clash of words on the backstreets of Newcastle ahead of the EDL demonstration last Saturday, which I estimate was at least 7,000 strong; notably four times the official estimates from Northumbria Police. In light of the subsequent public reaction to our meeting, and the disappointing response from some prominent commentators on the left, my statement on social media dealt with the myths, clarified that ‘hug’ and being ‘papped’.

Despite that picture and the story printed in the Sunday Mirror, there is a human and personal side to this war of wills which many forget about. It is as much my faith as it is my sincere belief, that we cannot elevate, educate or enlighten those on the far right by demonising them, denying them a platform to engage or by attempting to crush them. There must be positive dialogue – albeit challenging and highly critical – to bring about change. We must move towards a peaceful settlement founded on tolerance and ultimately love for our fellow man and our communities, if we ever wish to hope to improve our condition.

As sickening and heinous as the killing of Lee Rigby has been, it is an utter disservice to his memory, to our forces and to his family, for the far right to be allowed to exploit this situation for their own ends. The societal impact and creation of rifts of intolerance makes it arguably more abhorrent than the disrespect shown to those passing through Wootten Bassett. The move by Help for Heroes and the statement from founder Bryn Parry to refuse donations from Tommy Robinson and the EDL has been a severe blow to the imprimatur of faux-credibility of far right nationalist extremists and their everyman Englishman delusion. They have not, and remain not, a friend to our forces. Woolwich must not be allowed to become a trigger moment for the EDL and other far right groups to mobilise their forces against the perceived common enemy of Islam, an ‘identified enemy’ in a ‘war’ as the leader of the far right recently described. This must be considered by some distance as equally extreme and as equally dangerous rhetoric, as any coming from the mouths of those preaching hate. We now face some fundamental questions about the shape our society needs to take moving forward from this – how we balance the freedom of speech and expression, especially where it is non-violent, against the interests of the state apparatus and the need for peaceful community relations.

In the past I have certainly called for the EDL to be proscribed, I make no secret of this. Those public calls were made at a time when the Home Secretary had taken the unprecedented decision to ban extremist Muslim groups who were fomenting hate and hostility.  At that time and still now, I see no argument why that should not have extended to the EDL when applicable to others. Peddling a twisted ideology based on hate, intolerance and a fundamentally flawed view of reality is always dangerous and an undeniable gateway to appalling crimes. To not have done so was to not only pander to the far right for politicking but to send a clear signal to British Muslim communities: your right to a safe, peaceful and tolerant existence in British society is not a priority interest for this government.  Government paralysis over the actions of the far right will continue to result in attacks as numbers swell. It is an absurd appeasement with direct parallels to the darkest of times in the 1930s.

I worked extensively on local, regional and national programs to counter extremism and delivered findings relating to both strategic communications and community engagement at the earliest inception of the Channel program. Those of us, who have actually delivered, know what works and also what clumsy, ill-informed, knee jerk reactions can do to increase radicalisation, marginalisation and disaffection. This is not the time to move towards easy and lazy Quilliamesque Peter King McCarthyism, where they become self-appointed arbiters and gatekeepers of the acceptable and unaccepted, but rather to take the best of the learning we have, the best of what has been delivered and the exemplars of best practice.

From the drum beats it seems that our betters will be shortly deciding to lower the bar on tolerance, for the sake of the common good, against those who spread extremism and hate in our society. If it transpires that the PM and Home Secretary choose to ignore the far right at this time, it will set a dangerous precedent for the future of community relations and sends a further worrying signal – that the rise of the far right will not be opposed by our elected officials. It is a mistake we have made before and cannot afford to repeat.

[Cross posted on the Huffington Post]

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Cake, Cardiology and Christianophobia

The morning I had my heart attack, I was preparing to head off to New Broadcasting House to do BBC World News that afternoon.

In that huge list of ridiculous things that happened that morning, I had first tried dealing with the chest ache with a small glass of milk and a lemon fancy. No. Cake is not the answer to a heart attack. Aside from my woeful misdiagnosis of 'some acidy thing', the fact that I had anticipated still making the 11.08 to Waterloo, having just been dropped off at the hospital by ambulance at 8am, I hope speaks to my optimism more than anything else.

Its odd what you think about whilst sat in a hospital bed waiting to hear about troponin levels. For me, I was keen to rip the line out of my arm and was badgering my wife on the logistics of getting out of Dodge and upto London. She seemed unimpressed. I had wondered whether she had actually listened to my mad rantings at 5am about how I was going to tackle Rupert Shortt that afternoon on his book 'Christianophobia'.

As lovely as she is, I wasn't sure how Rabbi Glasner was going to get a word in edgeways. Attacks on Christians are heinous and to be completely condemned, however the figure being banded around of 200 million persecuted faithful was appalling. Not for the scale, nor for what it says about our current geopolitical situation but for the fact it was utterly nonsensical. I was going to tell him how that figure had been regurgitated since the early 90s and how Ken Roth from Human Rights Watch had discredited it. How the figure was based on a late 80s estimate of a Chinese Christian population which was anywhere between 14m - 100m. I was also going to tell him that Shea (whom he called a civil rights activist)  was a neocon GOP stooge and how she with Michael Horowitz had been outed as wanting to not only wage war on 'the liberal elite' in the US, but they had admitted and Jeffrey Goldberg had established in the New York Times in Dec 1997, that the Christian Coalition was working to lobby Congress - the persecution narrative was entirely political. Even Nelson Graham (Rev Billy Graham's son) had called it a 'destructive political tool'.

Shortt was peddling a 20 year old narrative that we had imported from the US, based on a flawed and politicised narrative from Paul Marshall via the World Evangelical Alliance feeding the fundamentalist far right of US Christian politics, which had been used to devastating effect in train-wrecking legislation and ousting the Democrats to bring GW Bush into office. It was the precursor to the Tea Party and a golden period for the GOP and neoconservatism. Aside from that I wanted to hear from Shortt on his speech at St Michaels College, Cardiff a couple of weeks previous, where he had repeated the same mantra of attacking the liberal elite media. I thought it was about human rights.

And where was God, tolerance and bridging the gap with the Muslim world in amongst all of this? Working towards understanding and peace, not using the insidious, dangerous and reckless language of division and absolutism. I had wanted to know about connections, philosophical or otherwise to Nina Rosenwald and Gatestone, a spin off from the Hudson Institute. Rosenwald had been called the 'Sugar Mama of anti Muslim hate' by Max Blumenthal, was hugley influential in funding pro-israeli and anti-Muslim organisations, and had previously rolled out the red carpet for Geert Wilders. I had wanted to know what Shortt thought about his work being commented on by as varied luminaries such as Pepintster but also Frank Gaffney Jr.

I had wanted to know how he felt being a poster boy for this unholy alliance of anti-Muslim activists and intolerant Christian fundamentalists, and how even the US National Council of Churches had warned about this persecution complex giving rise to pre holocaust Nazi ideology. I had wanted wanted to know how he responded to the idea of widespread anti Muslim action, a hardening in the West and how there is almost no populous country on the planet where Muslims are able to live free and unfettered by either political  social or economic oppression.

But that was rather a lot to squeeze into a small discussion slot and I wasn't entirely convinced Mishal Hussain was going to allow it. In fairness, this stuff is enough to give anyone a heart attack, let alone a morbidly obese political commentator of Asian extraction. I had better take my meds. Visiting hours soon.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Red Cap of Liberty

It was only when they came into power as coalition partners at the last election, that we realised precisely how far we had come.

Finally, children had become used to studying for the English Baccalaureate. After the judicial reviews had abated, it was only natural to see social acceptance follow. 

All it needed was a little time. 

Last week, the Education minister spoke out for all of us “The Government has a duty ensure that before all else, the children of this land learn about Englishness”

The Englishisation reforms were entirely necessary, we were told, to strike back at the heart of cultural and academic revisionism, and a growing intolerance of the English. The billboards two elections ago echoed what every child now knew by rote -

"The English are no longer a minority in their own land. The fightback begins here"

Without the education reforms a generation ago, it may well have been that we would continue patiently down the wrong path. The problem with multiculturalism was that it had given rise to fanaticism - a belief that all peoples, of whatever race, religion or creed were entitled to a proportionate slice of the pie. Clearly, in such an overcrowded land as ours, this could never be the case. As in fact, history had proven time and time again. A handful of Marxist journalists and now jailed politicians, had created a climate where understanding and the accommodation of different backgrounds, had become more important than remembering who we as a people once were.

A leading backbencher quipped during a Commons debate that "having a month dedicated to studying the influence of Blacks - it's simply got nothing to do with us in England". It was important to give children an understanding of how The Indian Mutiny had been an uncharitable poke in the face of a benevolent presence by poorly educated Indian hoards; it was equally beyond comprehension to think that once our children had learned of Seacole rather than Thatcher.

Restrictions on foreign press reporting had been a natural consequence of the great Press Reform Act which followed a series of inquiries and a decade of debate. We had been shown evidence of 'scandalous misreporting' and 'media manipulation' from foreign broadcasters and naturally, as both upholders and arbiters of media virtue, the Government now had a responsibility to ensure the collective would not be corrupted again; and so it was only "right and proper" as the Home Secretary had said, that two licensed broadcasters be enough. In fairness, as we often say to the children, if they don't like the cartoonomercials from the English Broadcasting Company, they can watch America Global - choice as we have been told, is quite rightly, distracting.

Arguably, the "Reinigungwoche" even today, and after all these years, is still considered controversial in some quarters. History teaches us that whenever those predicated to barbarism, incivility and unrest increase in numbers, when a critical mass is reached, that public disorder follows. The Reinigungwoche deaths, as sad and widespread as they were, entirely needless had those people not resisted their facilitated relocation to the Supermax residences. The minutemen had to do their jobs. As our historians have subsequently recorded, as have our politicians showed their support. It was important, as the PM said to "cleanse the palette" once in a while.

Society is indebted to those brave activists and political social leaders who worked tirelessly to awaken the English to the terror of Islamic extremism. No longer shackled by the bureaucracy of long defunct and man-made concepts of human rights and fiscal union, once European states were set free, we too were able to press forward with long needed domestic national security reforms. Secularism has been our saving grace. That we have a state Church which does not interfere in our lives and has nothing but a ceremonial presence, is as much of a compromise as we the people, will allow. For once, we can recognise the work of the Secretary of State for Communities and Secular Society in ensuring that religious extremists keep their views to themselves. Advances in our understanding of the non-overlapping magisteria of the real world and the spiritual realm, have enlightened society beyond all recognition.

Today, we realise that limiting our understanding of human rights has been an economic disaster. The "Pathways to Success" program has saved 72% of our welfare bill through effective management and was a key component in the reducing the deficit - it's something a nationalised health service could never have introduced. In fact, amongst my friends it's now considered unusual to not take the state subsidy at age 60. Dignity and being able to choose the time and place of one's passing is a fundamental human right. Latest polls indicate that Population Management is the fastest growing area of study for the Oxbridge-Ivy students.

For the record, my wife and I have already opted to take our state subsidies together on her sixtieth birthday. We have booked a two week, all inclusive, assisted-retreat in the Bahamas. It should be incredible.