Extremism struck again this week as Muslims at prayer were targeted in Christchurch, New Zealand. The perpetrator, nay the fundamentalist terrorist – let’s give him his proper name, cited numerous influences from Anders Brevik to Brexit in his manifesto of hate. His anti-invader/immigrant mythology also appears in ‘softer’ form in everything from ‘Make America Great Again’ to anti-migrant and refugee sentiment, the bolstering of borders and building of walls. How are we to instead build bridges between those that disagree and resort to extremism to put down their perceived enemies of the state – whether one that is built upon religion or race?
Invasion – ‘The Great Replacement’
The ideological language of the Christchurch killer conjures up the false idea of a Muslim invasion targeting the white Christian majority. Immigration is seen as “invasion”, as a “swarm“, “plague”, “flood“, “army”, the language of infestation and threat, when the majority are refugees and migrant peoples armed with nothing more than a determination to survive.
Who can forget the Twin Towers? The 9/11 World Trade Center attacks in 2001. Everyone remembers where they were on that day. I was watching television as the channel interrupted to show near-live footage of the terrorist atrocity. The prominent and powerful symbols of freedom, capitalism, the US (the ‘Great Satan‘), and the West itself, disintegrated in mere minutes as if they were the parabled house built upon sand and not rock.
Since then, and perhaps before, we have seen twin evils arise. Each blaming the other for their existence. Committing revenge attacks in response to real and imagined threats to their Caliphate or Caucasian identity. Claiming religious or racial purity as justification. Collecting new followers by radicalising susceptible minds wanting a cause. Creating separatist and supremacist ideologies and utopian or dystopian society worldviews, depending upon your point of view.
“The threat our societies face is so great, however, because it is a twin danger: a deadly combination of far-Right fascism and Islamist extremism….Our twin enemies are not madmen. They are driven by a purpose bigger than themselves and ideas that we must not underestimate.” – Ed Husain, Daily Telegraph, author of The House of Islam: A Global History (Bloomsbury, 2018) and a senior fellow at Civitas: Institute or the Study of Civil Society
The language of their recruiting, whether via brazen extremist preaching or hidden on message boards and the dark web, seeks to blame the ‘other’ and boast of themselves as the answer to prevent a perceived threat to their existence.
Chicken or Egg?
When summoned to the headteacher’s office after a fight, schoolkids would usually be challenged, “Who started it?” or was it “Six of one and half-a-dozen of the other”? How far back should we go – 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, the betrayal of the Arabs after the First World War, imperialism and empires, caliphates and crusades?
Whatever the origins the outcomes are clear, mutual radicalisation by further atrocity and response. Islamic State is all but decimated but it creates a power if not a revenge vacuum for disaffected and disillusioned fighters who are not deradicalised and rehabilitated. Out of Al Qaeda (1988) and its ideology has grown Al Shabab and others affiliating or aligning such as Boko Haram.
With the far right, when the BNP faded the EDL arose. From Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) in the 1930s to modern extreme nationalist movements, one fades and another arises, phoenix-like from its ashes. The UK-specific extremist right-wing parties have in common an ethnocentric identity as English or British and a xenophobic focus, often including Islamophobia, to their rhetoric – although, perhaps, rhetoric is too high-minded a phrase to describe an ancient art of discourse and persuasion.
Racism and Ostracism
Al-Qaeda and its affiliates and descendants vaunt the removal of all Western (and/or Judeo-Christian) foreign influences in Islamic countries leading to the creation of a new caliphate ruling over the entire Muslim world.
The hard and far-right similarly want the removal of all Middle Eastern influence (Jewish or Muslim) and an end to the immigration that, in their view, dilutes racial purity and an oppressed white-majority society.
Both extremisms promote a purity of religion or race as their fundamentalist base. They are similarly xenophobic – the hatred and ostracising of the ‘other’, whether the non-white or the non-Muslim. We’ve been there before with the Crusades and later Roman Empire in their attitudes to barbarians and infidels, essentially non-Romans and non-Christians.
Our liberal open societies – argues Ed Husain, are under threat. The moderate middle ground is being squeezed not only by radical and extreme left calls for revolution and far right wings threatening riots but by twin forces of ultra-conservatism and archaic-traditionalism that have become extreme and radicalised. They see each other as inherent evils in society and refuse to engage with each other. Liberal and centre which used to be harmonising language are now seen as the new elites and the ultimate compromisers of more radical solutions to society’s ills.
Brexit has created a new divide, over Europe, not simply Left or Right. Europe is seen as another liberal elite con creating a federalised coalition and increasingly common policies on finance, defence and foreign policy. These frustrate the feelings of independence that exist alike on the nationalist right and anarchist or anti-fa left.
Community and Cohesion
Without arguing for a lacklustre liberal middle-ground, since I am more on the Left myself, we must pursue greater community and cohesion, internationalism and inclusion. To avoid the scapegoating of the ‘other’ we must engage with each other – not platforming extremisms (although putting the BNP’s Nick Griffin on Question Time worked quite well to expose the flaws in his ideologies) but exploring the ideas and issues that may lead to radicalisation.
The reasons why people become disenfranchised, embittered and emboldened, and seek out cultish groups must be examined and policies put in place to re-engage with them and the causes that lead to their extremist leanings.
A former-EDL regional organiser I know challenged his own beliefs by visiting open mosques and engaging with difference. I was a religious fundamentalist (fortunately more charismatic creationist than militant apocalypsist) and right-winger in my now thankfully distant past but keeping an open mind eventually created one.
In my experience, at least, conversation and dialogue, opening lines of communication – with those willing to discuss issues in respectful ways, can ensure that moderates don’t drift to the extremes.
We need to challenge the real fascists and not just call everyone who disagrees with us one. The number of times I have heard “Nazi” and “Fascist” bandied around to simply describe all Leavers, or those that have economic objections to immigration, or that don’t support Muslims’ right to express their faith, or even those that critique transgender rights.
Sometimes, people seem beyond reach though, and our focus among them should be on countering all forms of hate-based violence and vitriol – online and in public – especially and particularly that which targets others based upon their religion or race, ethnicity and nationality.
We cease othering and ostracising best by encounter and engagement, meeting the human behind the label, discovering their difference but also realising our common humanity, emphasising that which unites and not that which divides.
Refugees from “forced displacement” recorded worldwide in 2015 numbered over 65 million according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. That’s nearly 1% of the world currently homeless, nationless, fleeing wars, terror, persecution and the slow death and disease of refugee poverty from relying on handouts and the generosity of others, NGOs, international aid and agencies. So far, this year, over 3,500 have died on their migrant journeys to apparent safety. World Refugee Day highlights the plight and peril of people seeking safety amidst an escalating humanitarian crisis.
“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem.” – Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Refugees & Migrants are People Too!
But numbers, percentages, records, are not facts or statistics, they are people too. They are not just migrants, often prefixed with the dehumanising word “illegal”, or trafficked by exploiters and transporters of vulnerable people with nothing left to risk except their life itself. They are desperate migrant peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, human beings, not cattle or ballast to be bounced around from port to port, dragged back out to sea, or denied entry based upon the decision that they may harbour an ISIL terrorist.
It’s a humanitarian crisis because they share a common humanity with the 99% of people that have settled homes and domestic security. Whilst 1% of the world control half its wealth, another 1% don’t even have a dollar a day because they are stateless, which in some countries means they officially don’t exist, being without permanent address or social security numbers. 50% of the world has access to just 1% of the world’s wealth. Global economic disparity and inequality are an injustice demanding those that have, to aid those that don’t. It’s a moral crisis as well as a humanitarian one.
Definition of a Refugee
Article 1 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as:
“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” – 1951 UN Refugee Convention
The benefits of global bodies like the United Nations and regional socio-economic communities like the African Union or European Union are that they can act as greater than the sum of their nation parts when they pull disparate national interests into international focus on issues facing the world as a whole, for which we a have a common responsibility.
Immigration and the EU Referendum
Whilst the United Kingdom votes this week to Leave or Remain in the EU, thinking little England rather than Great Britain, the world has bigger issues than one nation’s sovereignty or solvency. Immigration has become one of the most divisive issues in the EU Referendum campaign and the responses have turned ugly. Campaign posters have been called racist, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has admitted that we cannot control EU migrant numbers, however, nor would we be able to if we adopted a Norwegian or Swiss-style model of European Economic Area affiliation rather than full EU membership.
“Immigration has overtaken the economy as the most important issue to how the public will vote…[it] is now the most critical issue, cited as very important to their vote by 33%, up five points in a month, including just over half (52%) of leave supporters…which coincides with the official Vote Leave campaign focusing more strongly on immigration.” – Evening Standard
Opinion polls consistently show that immigration is one of the key Referendum issues, but one that is closely aligned with geography, age and gender. The majority of men and people over 65 would vote to Leave and the majority of women and people under 35 would vote to Remain. It’s often the areas with the least impact of immigration that would vote most against it. Those, such as London, with the greatest cultural diversity, are more likely to vote Remain. Integration and acceptance take time but then do bring community benefits and positivity.
It’s about perception, integration, insecurity and fear. A Guardian piece included the words of Chantelle, a young mother from Leigh, near Manchester, who despite 96.% of local residents being British thought that “80%, maybe 90%” of locals were immigrant foreigners!
Controls on Immigration or Contributions from Immigration?
“Immigration to the UK since 2000 has been of substantial net fiscal benefit, with immigrants contributing more than they have received in benefits and transfers. This is true for immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe as well as the rest of the EU.” – The Economic Journal
A CEBR report on world economic ranking data said of the UK’s growth and dynamism:
“The United Kingdom is forecast to be the best performing economy in Western Europe … likely to overtake Germany and Japan during the 2030s … becoming the world’s 4th largest economy for a short time … The UK’s strength (though mainly in London) is its cultural diversity and its strong position in software and IT applications. Its weakness is its bad export position and unbalanced economy … It also runs the risk of breakup, with Scotland and possibly Northern Ireland seceding and will have a referendum on its continuing membership of the EU in 2016 which might prove at best disruptive and at worst lead to a more insular and less diverse culture which in turn would generate slower growth.” – CEBR
Surely, then, the UK – currently the world’s fifth largest economy, should accept a substantial share of supporting the world’s refugees rather than turning a blind eye and walking on by as the selfish ‘neighbours’ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The country taking by far the largest number of migrants is Germany, down to Angela Merkel’s so-called “open door policy”. Germany is currently the fourth largest powerhouse economy in the world, aided rather than restrained by its immigration policy:
“Germany’s influx of Syrian immigrants is expected to keep the country ahead of the UK for a few further years as skill shortages are alleviated, wage growth restrained and profits boosted.” – City A.M.
EU Migrants a drain on Benefits?
EU benefits claimants are the smallest group receiving either working age benefits or tax credits, according to economic and statistical data. Some 92.5% of benefit claimants are British, 5% are non-EU immigrants, and just 2.5% are EU migrants. Whilst those from outside the EU are more likely to be on benefits than EU migrants, we have a degree of control over non-EU immigrants, albeit an international responsibility to refugees and asylum seekers. Even the Daily Telegraph which is essentially pro-Brexit said this:
“…whatever the arguments for and against reducing the number of EU migrants receiving British benefits, delivering such a reduction wouldn’t make a significant difference to the overall welfare bill…and seeing as the take-up of benefits among migrants is so small, it’s also worth asking how big of a draw Britain’s welfare system really is.”
Migration Breaking Point?
UKIP’s ‘breaking point’ immigration poster calling for a Leave vote and taking back of border controls has been compared to 1930s Nazi propaganda by George Osborne and even criticised by other Brexiters, not to mention being reported to the Police for inciting racial hatred. Nigel Farage has defended the poster even saying he is the victim of hate!
Even Michael Gove “shuddered” after seeing the UKIP migrants poster based upon a photo taken of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in October 2015, apparently of refugees arriving from Syria – a route now all but shut. Boris Johnson, who heads the official Vote Leave campaign also distanced himself from the poster and announced he was in favour of an “illegal immigrants” amnesty for those that had been here 12 years.
Far from immigration being the ‘breaking point’ for the UK, we are cruising it compared to many other austerity-hit nations, growing off the back of net contributions to the treasury from migrants of the past and present. Migrants are far more likely to start businesses than British nationals, nearly half as likely to be on benefits, pay more in taxes than they take out, and more likely to take the jobs others don’t want to do that keep the economy growing – over three-quarters are in employment, more than their British counterparts. They are not “taking our jobs” just more willing to do them.
Monday evening, just as the heavy rains stopped, 200 people – LGBT and allies, gathered on the steps of Norwich City Hall, to stand with the 100 fallen, killed or maimed in a hail of hate and bullets at Pulse, Orlando. The Vigil against hate was organised by Norwich Pride and featured speakers: Katy Jon Went, Julie Inns for Norfolk Police and the Chair of Norwich Pride, Andy Futter.
Norwich again shows its support for diversity and freedom of expression, as it did with its Charlie Hebdo vigil, demonstrations against the EDL and many more political but peaceful assemblies. The Norwich vigil was marked by a minute’s silence and the lighting of candles on the steps of City Hall. [See below for the texts of the speeches or photos of the event]
Norfolk local and LGBT poet laureate, Trudy Howson, at the Soho event, told Sky News:
“It is very important to show solidarity … we’re all part of the same community and it’s very important that we show love and solidarity. We’ve all been victims at some point of homophobia – we need to stand up to hate and evil and fight for respect.”
One woman held up a sign that said Every Life Matters: “Queer, Black, Muslim, Latino.” Next to me in the crowd a white man in his forties held a sign that said “I’m Gay And Religious – Get Over It.” Squeezed in beside him was a young man in a taqiyah, standing with a girl. “My friend is Muslim,” said the girl.
The London event took place outside the Admiral Duncan pub on Old Compton Street, Soho, where three people were killed and many injured in a nail bomb attack in 1999, just showing that homophobic terrorism need not be of religious origin. The perpetrator, David Copeland, was a far right BNP neo-Nazi extremist who targeted diverse communities in Black, Bangladeshi and gay areas of London in three bomb attacks. He was known to have mental health conditions including paranoid schizophrenia but insufficient, perhaps due to the public outcry, to warrant diminished responsibility as a defence plea.
Orlando Massacre explanations aplenty
As family, media, and commentators explore the reasons for Omar Mateen‘s mass killing spree, families and lovers mourn their dead, who no amount of analysis can bring back. It has been said that Mateen was bipolar, was a wife-beater, had joined several Islamist extremist groups including ISIS (at the last minute). His father says that Omar had recently witnessed two men kissing and had been disgusted by it.
The most recent reports suggest that he’s actually patronised the club and been drinking there – hardly very devout Muslim behaviour, indeed many said he was barely religious at all. Apparently, he’d also been seen on gay dating sites, so the possibility of internalised homophobia, self-hate, and sexuality identity repression seem very strong motives, with the tacking on of Islamic State, more of an afterthought seeking some kind of redemption and forgiveness in the afterlife for his, considered sinful by his faith background, sexuality.
Muslims, Gun Control and the Blame Game
Scapegoating and stereotyping have hit the headlines, making it all about IS or immigrants, religion or lack of gun laws. Some on social media have perpetuated the hate and homophobia by rejoicing in the slaying of sinners – sick! Yes, the US right to bear arms and easy access to not just a pistol or shooting rifle but an automatic weapon are accountable – but not solely responsible, for the extent of the massacre. Getting off 24 shots in 9 seconds was facilitated by the type of gun that was readily available. It was not purchased for self-defence, unless one was expecting a war. The AR-15 style assault rifle – the Sig Sauer MCX, is described by its maker as a “battle-proven weapon system”.
US Presidential candidate Donald Trump has adopted an “I told you so” type of approach, taking credit for seeing this coming and calling for an immediate suspension of Muslim immigration. Some are happy to label it terrorism, others a hate crime, yet more that it is a gun control or immigration issue. Not so many, focus on the fact that this was a very real attack on an LGBT safe space, a gay bar, some have even gone to great lengths to condemn Muslims and avoid reference to LGBT, how else can right wing nationalists stir up Islamophobia whilst avoiding any reference to their own homophobia? The crime does not fall into a neat explanatory box. Journalist, Owen Jones, walked out of a Murdoch-owned Sky News discussion because it failed to acknowledge it as a specific attack on the LGBT community.
FBI Report in US Mass Shooting Incidents
Between 2000 and 2013, 486 people were shot dead, and even more wounded in mass shooting attacks in America. The frequency of incidents has only got worse, more than doubling in the last 7 years of the analysed period, to more than 16 incidents a year. The Orlando attack was the worst mass shooting in peacetime American history.
A Mother Jones investigation going back 33 years shows 670 killed and 650 injured in 80 incidents, with mental health a factor in between 60% and 80% of cases.
The vast majority took place at commercial workplaces or schools, by disgruntled employees or students, or over things as irrationally minor as arguments over a CD player or driving ability. By far the majority were carried out by white males, not foreign immigrants or Muslim extremists. Out of 160 incidents, barely 2% could be described as Muslim perpetrators, a couple were clearly anti-semitic.
“You are no more likely to be shot by a Muslim than by a Christian or an atheist in America.”
If killing 50 LGBT people, and maiming as many, is your response to witnessing a kiss, an expression of love, between two people of the same sex, then you need help not hate, to get open minded not offended, and a change of religious interpretation. I can’t help but think there might have been some internalised homophobia going on besides mental health, anger and other issues already raked up by media, before this individual jumped on the ISIS bandwagon to tag his heinous act.
We forget that London, Brighton and elsewhere have had their own homophobic atrocities, that were not done in the name of ISIS, that Los Angeles Pride just had another violent attack on it averted, nothing to do with alleged Islamic extremism, that Prides in Israel have seen LGBT people attacked and killed by Jewish Orthodox extremism. There is no place for ill-informed Islamophobia now – people of all faiths and none, Communists and Fascists in recent history, have all targeted LGBT people.
Anger is no less a legitimate response than many others at this time. Forgiveness, albeit a healing one, can never be asked or expected of anyone unless freely given and only by the victims and their loved ones. Understanding, love, mercy, and worldwide calls for an end to homophobic judgement and violence are needed, people to challenge bad religious interpretation and attitudes, and show better alternatives. I’m pleased that many faith groups march with Pride, and historically just one small one, against it, here in Norwich.
Religious groups are all over themselves with prayers at the moment but no recognition of the hypocrisy that their slowness to accept LGBT people counts towards the fear and hate that drives confused and conflicted people to carry out these acts. The victims don’t need prayer they need acceptance, the only justice would be churches, mosques and temples overturning their hitherto homophobic attitudes, policies and doctrines. This may sound offensive but so was Jesus. Prayer without doctrinal change and better practice right now is like blessing the homeless with words but not with a blanket and some food. People of faith need to offer more than prayers right now.
I’ll put my hand up in the air, 30 years ago I was a fundamentalist Christian, opposed gay rights etc, years later several members of my University Christian Union, that I’d helped found, came out as gay or lesbian. My views changed, when I had my own coming out and Damascene conversion to LGBT acceptance. Others can too.
Will we see the same international condemnation and responses as in Paris? I doubt it, as the victims were LGBT.
Amidst the EU referendum debate, US presidential campaign and escalating immigration and Islamophobia issues, we don’t need blanket condemnations but change. People in the US and UK have hijacked Orlando as an excuse to condemn migrants, religion etc, but not to call it homophobia.
Hate and fear need naming but the responses need to be love and, ‘out and proud’ confidence.
As Martin Luther King said:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Julie Inns, Norfolk Police
Good evening everyone it’s so wonderful to see so many people supporting this event tonight. I’m immensely proud to be standing here tonight; I stand here on behalf of Simon Bailey, Chief Constable of Norfolk Constabulary and Lorne Green our new Police and Crime Commissioner who unfortunately at short notice were not able to be here tonight, although they send their best wishes for a successful event.
I am very privileged to be standing in front of you tonight with so many familiar faces some of who I know quite well and some who will be new to me, supporting this Norwich Stands with Orlando Vigil to support our LGBT brothers and sisters across the pond who have suffered this weekend and for which there are no words to describe what went on in Orlando this weekend. I just can’t think of the words to describe it. But from the Constabulary and Police and Crime Commissioners Office our thoughts do go out to the family and friends of those effected but this atrocity.
Now we all know that Norwich is statistically a safe place to live, it’s a safe county and we encourage people to come here to live, to work or come on holiday and visit and we say to you, you can come and you can bring your religion, your sexuality, you can eat your food and wear your traditional clothes and come one come all and we are really accepting of that. However we must be mindful that unfortunately in this day and age that terror can strike anywhere.
But for this to happen to them during their PRIDE celebrations in a club where they should have felt free, welcomed and happy to be who they wanted to be, I don’t know about you guys but I find that even more heart-breaking and gut-wrenchingly awful that I have no words to explain it.
So I’d like to think that we would be lucky enough in Norfolk never to have to experience anything like what happened in Orlando over the weekend and our county will never see such an atrocity. But we have to remember that it does go on and we all have a part to play in keeping all our citizen’s safe. So with that in mind let’s not blame the actions of a small minority of the people who commit these acts on the majority. And when we talk about what happened in Orlando and bandy the word hate crime around it doesn’t quiet cut it for me, it just seems to be a bit beyond that. But I want to be really really clear on this and this is important for me. Norfolk Constabulary is absolutely committed to the LGBT community in Norfolk that we will keep you safe and we will shield you from harm wherever possible. But in order for us to do this, people have to come and talk to us and sometimes that can be difficult. But we want you to be who you are, to be authentic at work and out in the community and to be safe while you are doing that, but for us to do that if there is a problem you need to come and tell us about it and I know for some of you that is going to be difficult so I’ll be here afterwards if you would like to come and talk to me or take my contact details so we can talk in private, that would be really great.
The one thing I would like to reassure you on is that when anyone reports incidents of hate to us whether it be about your sexuality, your race, which religion you follow or if you live with a disability, whatever the issue is I can assure you now, we will believe you, we do take it seriously and with your help do whatever is possible to pursue the perpetrators through the criminal justice system until we get a conviction and that is my personal promise to you on behalf of Simon Bailey and Lorne Green. So I’d like to say that Norfolk Constabulary and the Police and Crime Commissioner wholeheartedly support this vigil tonight and say no to hate. But not just no to hate, No to hate in our county, No to hate in our fine city, No to hate across the world and finally we believe in hashtag #loveislove.
Andy Futter, Chair of Norwich Pride
In the early hours of yesterday morning, at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a 29-year-old man carrying an assault rifle and a handgun and began shooting and murdering individuals before taking hostages.
Once the horrific event had played out, fifty people lay dead and a further fifty-three were hospitalised.
These people were a part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. They were enjoying a weekend night out with their friends at a venue in which they should have been safe.
I ask those of you who do not have to experience this particular brand of hate to understand that – despite it being 2016 – the LGBT+ community – my community – still needs these spaces.
They are our sanctuary.
And if you can’t understand the concept of a bar or nightclub being a sanctuary, then be grateful. It means you’ve probably never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public. It means you’ve probably never been afraid to tell people that you met someone new – simply because of the gender of that new partner. It means you’ve probably never been afraid to leave your house for fear of being mistaken for another gender and the violence that so often goes hand in hand with that ignorance.
I mean that utterly sincerely. Be grateful if you have experienced none of those things. But try to reflect on the experiences of those who have and understand that we need those safe spaces – just like the Pulse nightclub.
That should have been a safe space. But yesterday, that peace; that sanctuary, was shattered in the most brutal way.
Those individuals were no longer safe. They were targeted for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered; or for being a friend of the LGBT+ community.
Being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered is not a choice. Getting out of bed and deciding to walk into a bar to target those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered is most definitely a choice. But so is being an ally.
So for those of you here tonight who are not L,G,B or T, I thank you for your support.
Our community is strong and across the world right now and the coming days, you will see how just strong this worldwide family is; but we are all the stronger for having you on our side.
We are all the stronger for you understanding that despite huge legal steps forward – lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people still face hate on a daily basis, for simply loving the people we love and expressing our true selves.
We are all the stronger for you understanding that, so I would ask you to understand something further. Yes – every life matters; every act of terror and murder should be condemned; but make no mistake: this was an attack directed squarely at the LGBT+ community.
Right now we are scared.
But we are also empowered by our love and solidarity.
Right now we are vulnerable.
But we are also strong in ways which may surprise many – including ourselves – and we will not be beaten.
Right now we are upset.
Right now we are angry.
So when you reach out to your LGBT friends, loved ones, brothers, sisters, colleagues: hold us closer and hug us tighter than before.
Right now, we need it.
Every one of us here tonight owes it to every one of those who died at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando to stand taller. Be prouder.
We will not hide in the shadows.
We will not quietly clamber back into the closet. We will not stop living our lives.
So for all of those who died on Sunday in Orlando; to those who still lie bleeding in hospital; to those who have had loved ones ripped mercilessly from their lives, I say this: the people of this fine city stand with you.
First Brussels, now Iskandariya and Lahore, no wait, where are they? Iraq and Pakistan, so not Europe, well that’s okay then! It shouldn’t be normal to be unaffected by terror so long as it’s not in our back yard. The suicide bombs in a football match crowd south of Baghdad on Good Friday, killing 29, and on Easter Sunday in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park, maiming hundreds and leaving at least 70 dead including 29 children, show that terrorism respects no religion nor nationality, sex, age or combatant status, since along with the bombs in Belgium, the victims were all civilians, women and children included. Whilst the Islamic State-supportive Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility and that the target had been male Christians, the bombs did not discriminate.
“Christians were not the specific target of this attack because the majority of the dead are Muslims, everybody goes to this park.” – AFP report
We’ve witnessed nearly 2,000 deaths to terrorism in the first three months of 2016, over half were innocent civilians. One index suggests that there is one casualty from terrorism every 15 minutes – you are still 36x more likely to die in a car accident.
2014 saw a 172% increase in civilian deaths as well as an 80% rise in overall deaths from terrorism compared to 2013. Since 2000, deaths have risen nearly ten-fold from 3,329 to 32,685 in 2014, almost entirely accounted for by attacks in these 5 nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria, where 78% of all attacks take place. Over 20% of the attacks were accounted for by Boko Haram alone.
Fewer than1% of all attacks occur in peaceful, democratic nations, around 0.5% in western nations – and of that, just 20%, i.e., 0.1% of the world total, is down to Islamic extremism in the West.
So far, in 2016, 14 attacks were of similar or worse scale to Brussels, especially in Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey. How many profile pictures campaigns or social media check-in options were there for nations outside of Europe? Actually, having friends in Turkey and Pakistan, in each case Facebook did activate the “marked safe” check-in feature for those atrocities. Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and others, experience terrorist incidents like Brussels on an almost daily basis, for them it is already sickeningly normal.
Is Terrorism the new Normal?
Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, says that “we [Europe] will have to get used to a constant terror threat”. He blames the easy recruitment of disaffected peoples by extremists on “migrant ghettoes” and their economic and social abandonment by the state:
“the more profound failure was to basically allow this situation to grow in the first place: to not engage with parts of the Belgian population that clearly were being abandoned. You essentially allowed a vacuum to rise in your own country. And that’s the root cause of the problem: Where you have a vacuum, that vacuum will be filled.
If you have a vacuum that consists of alienated, marginalized people from migrant backgrounds who are socially and economically deprived, then it is only a question of time. Of when extremists go into that, take advantage, and push their narrative — which is basically that society is against you, and you need to engage in war.” – Peter Neumann,Vox interview
The Washington Post, which also cites Neumann, is wrong on two counts suggesting that “terrorism [might] become the new normal in Europe“. Firstly, this is nothing new, the 70s and 80s were far from bloodless, even before the rise of Al Qaeda (1988), the Taliban (1994), Boko Haram (2002), Islamic State (1999/2014) and others. Secondly, the focus should not be on Europe alone, that only exacerbates our imperialistic western, first world, detachment from what happens elsewhere.
Tragedy World Map
The Mapamundi Tragico or “Tragedy World Map” was first created by Mexican designer Eduardo Salles, in April 2015, but epitomises the way we feel about terror in nations distant from our own. We are disengaged from anything but either the closest western victims or stray white holidaymakers killed abroad. Black lives, African lives, Syrian or Iraqi lives, just don’t matter.
By way of example, the Daily Telegraph report of twice as many people as Brussels killed in Lahore, was relegated to page 13 of a bank holiday edition of its paper.
The very luxury of our European contentment -peace since 1945, and living a version of the American dream, is some of what has simultaneously attracted mass migration and extremist condemnation of the alleged ungodliness of enlightenment modernism.
Globalisation of Terror
Less than a century ago we were still redrawing maps with colonial carte blanche or war-victor spoils, with total disregard for the ethnic and religious civil wars that might later ensue. The new normal is that terror knows no borders, Europe referendum or not. The ease with which ISIL has been able to declare a so-called caliphate and Islamic state that transcends recognised national boundaries, attracting alliances in North and East Africa across more than 11 countries, shows us that we cannot fight ISIS/Daesh in traditional ways. We have to step away from national concerns and be more international.
Hydra and Terrorism’s Evolution
Terrorism is like a cure-resistant mutating virus or a multi-headed myth and Marvel-like ‘Hydra’, where decapitating one head only leads to another more brutal rising up in its place. History shows that terror has been around for as long as we have had ideologies, religions, and, nationalistic expansion, civil wars or battles for independence.
“The tyranny of Isis terrorism will not always be with us. But history shows that a new militant threat will emerge” – Jason Burke,The Guardian
The Irish Easter Rising
This year is 100 years since the Irish Easter Rising when 320 civilian casualties out of 465 dead put a temporary hold on Irish independence/self-rule. Whilst Harry’s Game (1975) may have first espoused “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” the issue and pseudo-distinction has been around since time immemorial. Janet Daley writes today that:
“These terrorists aren’t religious radicals – they’re criminals with psychotic aims” – Janet Daley,The Telegraph
For me, the degree of civilian casualties is one of the markers of terrorism versus freedom fighter. The so-called collateral damage on ‘soft targets’ has sadly become more the norm, as innocents become the primary targets of extreme actions leading to state over-reactions and public states of fear. Fear that is incendiary to semi-closeted racism and Islamophobia, or that leads to a Brussels ‘March against fear’ being cancelled because of, well, safety fears.
Je Suis Sick of this Shit!
I wonder how many will notice or care about the innocent victims of the Iraq football match bomb on Friday or the Pakistan public park explosions today. It has become all too commonplace to be JeSuisCharlie and JeSuisEveryman on an almost daily basis. I am indeed JeSuisBruxelles, but also Ankara, Baghdad, Baidoa, Bodo, Dalori, Dikwa, Damascus, Homs, Istanbul, Kabul, Kouyape, Lahore, Meme, Mogadishu, Ouagadougou, Paris, and many more towns and cities. Today, I continue to be both Je Suis tout le monde and very much sick of this shit.
Last 27 January I went to two Holocaust Memorial Day events. No I am not Jewish, nor were all the victims of Hitler’s Endlösung “Final Solution”, Mengele’s experiments, and the Nazi Aryan utopian dream – which was a dystopian nightmare for everyone else.
I did however study and teach Hebrew and aspects of Judaism in my past. I also visited the concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen, when I was 15. Today marks the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviets and Holocaust Memorial Day.
One internee at Belsen was Josef Čapek from Czechoslovakia a Cubist painter, cartoonist, writer and playwright. He wrote the utopian play “Land of Many Names” and is credited by his brother as being the first to invent and use the word “robot”. He was critical of Hitler and Nazism and was arrested in 1939. Whilst interned he managed to write “Poems from a Concentration Camp” but died in 1945, shortly before liberation.
Joe Stirling, A Jewish teenage escapee from Nazi Germany, whose parents died in Sobibór concentration camp, lives in Norwich and continues to tell his survival story. Recently published as “Escaping Hitler“, it is a reminder to people of the Nazi Holocaust and the triumph of the human spirit. Joe has led an interesting and fulfilling life since arriving in England and is part of the Human Library project where he regularly regales people of all ages with his wit and wisdom.
Genocide of the different and ‘deviant’
As an LGBTI person and outspoken human rights activist, I could well have ended up in a concentration camp alongside Jews, Slavs, Roma, disabled people and many more. Sexuality, mental health, religious non-comformism, criticism of the state, ethnic origin were all factors that could have had one sent to a concentration camp and/or exterminated by bullet or Zyklon B gas – as hauntingly revisited in Philip K. Dick’s novel and now Amazon series, ‘The Man in the High Castle‘. Yes, Hitler singled out the Jewish race for a very particular and poisonous genocide, but others suffered too.
Many people don’t realise that Romany gypsies, those with mental and physical disabilities, abortionists, Jehovah Witnesses, non-conformist pastors and clergy, certain intellectual opponents, communists, and tens of thousands of homosexuals were sent to concentration camps by the Nazis, of which there over 1000, possibly many times that number spread across occupied countries, at least a dozen of which were extermination camps – to remove Lebensunwertes Leben “life unworthy of life”, especially the Jews.
Hundreds if not thousands of people were experimented on by Mengele, with castration, forced sex change interventions, growth hormones. Those born different, disabled, intersex or twins, were especially targeted for his torturous experiments.
Labelled vice, degenerate, a plague, gay and bisexual men, many of whom were also Jewish, ended up incarcerated, experimented on, castrated, or killed.
“We must exterminate these people (homosexuals) root and branch… We can’t permit such danger to the country; the homosexual must be entirely eliminated.” – Heinrich Himmler
Furthermore, in 1945, they were not released but transferred to civil prisons as their sexuality remained illegal until 1968/9. Paragraph 175 outlawing homosexuality had rarely been enforced until Hitler took power in 1933. Germany only apologised in 2002 to the homosexual community for what happened to them before, during and after the Second World War.
Labeled as Different, less deserving
Pink triangles, like the yellow star of David patch for Jews made by two yellow triangles, were sewn on to the camp clothes of homosexuals, but the same symbol also marked out rapists, paedophiles and other “sexual deviants”.
Black triangles were used for Roma, mentally ill, pacifists, anarchists and more. Later Roma badges were brown. Numerous other groups of people were classified, badged, and interned, or killed.
Fear of difference drives prejudice. This week Trevor Phillips, former EHRC chair, has said that we should accept that British Muslims are “different” from the rest of society, and respect that, others have responded that we should not have to accept their difference.
A memorial, to Jews shot and dumped in the Danube in Budapest, 1945, is a poignant image that is also beginning to symbolise the plight of migrants and refugees from current wars and genocides. “Shoes on the Danube Bank” was created by Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer and shows just the left-behind shoes of the Jewish victims. Empty shoes have come to symbolise both silent protest at the Paris climate conference, and the positive response of communities to asylum seekers by offering shoes, including in Budapest.
Ethnic Cleansing not uniquely Nazi
Sadly, history and Hegel teach us that men and nations learn little and we do end up repeating the mistakes of the past. That is why the Holocaust and other genocides should be remembered. It’s easy to complain about human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing when it’s happening but wisdom is spotting the signs that it is about to happen. That means highlighting the laws and language that begin to scapegoat and marginalise, to discriminate and criminalise based upon sex, gender, faith, health, colour, race and ethnicity.
We can already see it in the political invective against “a bunch of migrants” (David Cameron in PMQs today), Donald Trump and Sarah Palin’s calls for American Muslim expulsion, and in the extremist cleansing by Islamic State of Yazidis, Christians, gays and non-Sharia Muslims. Meanwhile Syria continues its own purge, Turkey, Saudi Arabia subtly try to target Kurds and Shia, Israel treats Arab Israelis and Palestinians as second class.
Remembrance may avoid Repetition
As Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Sadly, most often, history teaches us that we do forget, repeat, and only learn from it after exhausting all other possibilities, as Aldous Huxley, Hegel, George Bernard Shaw and Abba Eban, all said in various ways.
“The most effective way we can combat this intolerance and honour those who survived and those who perished is to call on each other to do what the survivors have already done, to remember and to never forget.” – Steven Spielberg
We need to remember the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s similarly large-scale ethnic expulsions in Russia, state eugenics policies, Polpot’s purge in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, or the ethno-religious cleansing policies of ISIS or Boko Haram, and many more genocides and democides besides. It has happened more than once before and could, if not, is, happening again. That is why we remember Holocaust Memorial Day, so as not to repeat.
“First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.” – Pastor Martin Niemoller
Perhaps, unsurprisingly, Iran too, despite its own record executions, has compared Saudi Arabia to ISIS. Ayatollah Khamenei the self-titled “Leader of the Islamic Revolution” calling it a “White ISIS” and asking whether there are “any differences” between them.
Other atrocities apart, and excepting the variant methods of execution (Saudi still has stoning and flogging punishments, though often commuted to jail time, not to mention posthumous crucifixion), what is the difference between the continued practice of state executions by America, China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the so-called Islamic State, all of which have executed dozens of people a year. Iran has executed hundreds – perhaps a 1000 making its condemnation of Saudi Arabia somewhat hyprocritical. Pakistan has 6-8,000 people on its death row and in 2015 carried out 316+ executions a massive increase on the handful of 2014. Egypt (500+) and Nigeria (650+) have also been resorting to issuing death sentences (2014 figures).
Ironically, the Saudi Arabian national flag features a sword – the very means of public execution, before each of which verses from the Koran are read justifying the sentence. Offences can include atheism, drugs crimes, homosexuality, insulting Islam, and sorcery!
The Death Penalty
Whilst just over a dozen countries had abolished the death penalty 30 years ago, today over a 100 have ended the practice. Some among those that have kept it, though, have increased its use in recent years in the name of countering ‘terrorism’.
Thousands a year are sentenced to death worldwide but fewer are carried out, some 20,000 people are incarcerated under a death sentence, yet to be carried out. In 2014 over a 110 people in 9 countries had their death sentence reversed, leaving them exonerated as innocent. This is the biggest reason to end the practice. Three times as many countries commuted death sentences to other forms of punishment.
Twelve countries still use hanging and ten use shooting, only Saudi Arabia and Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) behead people, swift but brutal. US executions peaked at 98 in 1999 and have steadily fallen since to 28 in 2015, but over 3,000 remain on death row.
“The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country. The death penalty undermines human dignity and there is no evidence that it works as a deterrent.”
Perhaps the UK should criticise America, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China’s position on capital punishment, alongside Islamic State? As David Cameron was challenged to do and amongst excuses for close ties with Saudi responded with:
“We oppose the death penalty anywhere and everywhere” – David Cameron, October 2015
Executed Shia Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr
Arrested in 2012 and sentenced to death in 2014, Sheikh Nimr had opposed violence calling instead for peaceful protesters to resist the Saudi state and police bullets using “the roar of the word” and non-violent agitation, though he was not opposed to celebrating the deaths of tyrants. Mohammad al-Nimr, his brother, was arrested for merely tweeting about the death sentence but has since called for calm despite his own son on death row. Al-Nimr was pro-democracy and against “murder in the name of God”.
“The [Saudi] authorities depend on bullets … and killing and imprisonment. We must depend on the roar of the word, on the words of justice”…We do not accept [force of firearms]. This is not our practice…We welcome those who follow such attitude…Nonetheless, we cannot enforce our methodology on those who want to pursue different approaches…The weapon of the word is stronger than the power of bullets.” – Sheikh al-Nimr
“The oppressed should unite together against the oppressors, instead of becoming tools in the hands of the oppressors. The Khalifa family [in Bahrain] are oppressors, and Sunnis are not responsible for their actions. These are not Sunnis, they are tyrants. The Assad family in Syria are oppressors, and Shiism is not responsible for their actions. Never defend an oppressor. It is never justified for someone who is oppressed to defend [another’s] oppressor.” – Sheik al-Nimr, 2012
Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr Crufixion
Ali al-Nimr, nephew of executed Nimr al-Nimr, was arrested when just 17 for participating in Arab Spring pro-democracy demonstrations against the Saudi Arabian government. He was subsequently convicted by confession under torture. He is now 21 but in 2015 he was sentenced to death by beheading and then posthumous public crucifixion. As of today over 1.5 million people have signed just one of the several petitions to commute or cancel his sentence.
The UK Government believes that it can “achieve most by speaking privately and regularly to our Saudi interlocutors” rather than publicly confronting its ‘ally’. The Foreign Secretary recently said that he did not expect Ali al-Nimr to be executed and Shadow Minister Hilary Benn has called on him “to seek fresh assurances that he will be reprieved.”
However, by threatening death to so many, and carrying out more than previous years, it is easy for Saudi Arabia to mollify the West with a couple of concessions and reprieves without denting its religious and political ethnic cleansing of opposition.
Back in November 2011, after the fatal shooting of four Shias, Sheikh al-Nimr had called for:
“[the] release of all those detained in the [Arab Spring] protests, and all prisoners of conscience – Sunnis and Shias.”
Raif Badawi Flogging
Saudi Arabian political blogger and recent recipient of the EU’s Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought, Raif Badawi, is serving a lengthy prison sentence for “insulting Islam” and also received the first tranche of 50 or a 1,000 lashed whipping sentence. Subsequent installments have been suspended based upon his poor health, exacerbated by his latest hunger strike, these last three weeks which has led to a deteriorating medical condition.
Wahhabism and Saudi Arabian History
Saudi Arabia has a wealth of cultural and religious history, is the birthplace of Islam, home to Mecca, Medina and Mohammed. It is rich in oil and other resources but beyond poor when it comes to human rights, democracy, and accountability. It offers the West tokenistic concessions in exchange for continuing its own ruthless totalitarianism.
Its brand of Islamic belief is Sunni as opposed to Shia, and an extreme version of that called Wahhabism or Salafism. They are stricter forms of Sharia Law based Islam, literalist, anti-Western and puritanical. Jihad, whether missionary or military, can be seen as a legitimate expression as well as expansion of Islam against its detractors.
Saudi Arabia, Extremism and Terrorism
Dr Yousaf Butt, senior advisor to the British American Security Information Council and director at the Cultural Intelligence Institute, says of Saudi Arabia:
“…one thing is clear: the fountainhead of Islamic extremism that promotes and legitimizes such violence lies with the fanatical ‘Wahhabi’ strain of Islam centered in Saudi Arabia. And if the world wants to stamp down and eliminate such violent extremism, it must confront this primary host and facilitator.”
He goes on to quote Wikileaks and other sources that purport to show Saudi’s financing of terror groups, several thousand Saudis are alleged to be in ISIL’s ranks. More easily verified is the funding of extremist Wahhabism via mosques and madrassas worldwide.
Whilst Saudi Arabia has appeared to give women token political rights in recent municipal elections, they still can’t drive. Restrictions on political dissent and freedom of speech continue unabated and punishments for religious disagreement, in particular Saudi’s Wahabi version of Sunni Islam. As a result Freedom House’s freedom index ranks Saudi Arabia bottom on all counts.
Saudi Arabia is also the largest market for the British arms industry along with billions of other business deal tie-ups. As a result Britain is unlikely to publicly condemn Saudi too often, human rights will remain compromised by commercial interest. Indeed, a senior Government minister today defended close links with Saudi Arabia arguing that they enabled us to “tell them what we think”. True and unhypocritical condemnation of executions can only come when America and other countries also end the death penalty. Equally, rightful opposition to Islamic State (ISIL) should be accompanied by calling state-sanctioned extremism by Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and others to account too.
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez – guest editor on BBC Radio 4 Today programme
BBC Radio 4 Todayguest editor for a day, senior international lawyer and secret food blogger, Miriam González Durántez took charge of the programme’s direction and interviews. Intelligent and disarmingly charming González discussed politics, women, role models, immigration, extremism, high heels, and food with Jamie Oliver and Bake Off champion Nadiya Hussain, and interviewed Richard Branson, Theresa May, James Blunt among others, whilst sidestepping Justin Webb’s sexism. Barely minutes after the interview some people were criticising her interviews as “embarrassing“.
Only last week she wrote for the Financial Times on Spain’s recent election impasse, and political and judicial corruption there:
“The message is clear: voters do not want a focus on personalities or parties, they want a focus on cleaning up politics. Whoever becomes prime minister is almost irrelevant since he is likely to have to pack his (no chance of hers, alas) bags before long.” – Miriam González Durántez, Financial Times
González is an inspiring woman who also promotes the Inspiring Women Campaign since 2013 which talks with girls in state schools about future paths.
Love Miriam Gonzalez Durantez. Super bright, funny, hard working, strong defender of human rights & determined to help other women #R4Today
“I’m Spanish we talk about food all the time… at breakfast we talk about what’s for lunch, at lunch what’s for dinner!” (2h48m)
Having lived in Spain for two years and being complete obsessed by food, I must have had a secret Spanish heart transplant.
She mentioned on the programme about her love of British freedom as she’s discussed before in the Guardian:
“The very first five minutes when I came to live here, I felt a freedom that I had never felt before in my life, a freedom to be myself.”
Women and Islamic State Extremism
González challenged Radio 4 to investigate and find out why over 60 British women and teens have travelled to Syria to possibly join Islamic State. Interviews include the Unity of Faiths Foundation which fights radicalisation through football, member of the Youth Parliament and an Ambassador for TUFF FC, Umra Butt, and director at anti-extremism Connect Justice, Laura Zahra McDonald.
“Facing racism and Islamophobic slurs…it’s the only place they feel accepted, it’s about belonging and fitting in…how can we empower people to belong…” (2h33m)
Smart and Beautiful
She used the opportunity as Today programme guest editor to challenge both gender roles, stereotypes and interview male and female role models. She also called on James Blunt to rewrite “You’re Beautiful” as “You are Smart” (1h45m). Blunt apologised for his “ridiculous accent” but not for being seen as sensitive or gay.
“…not very macho…effeminate and gay…not an insult…to call me gay is a compliment, and I’d like to be considered an honorary gay man, I’m totally at ease with myself.” – James Blunt
Ever the diplomat, she chose not to slam much of the inherent everyday sexism of BBC male interviewer Justin Webb who introduced her as Nick Clegg’s wife – a dubious honour not used to introduce anyone else’s marital status or partner. Twitter of course, took him to task:
@BBCr4today did I hear you say “Miriam González Durántez..Nick Clegg’s wife”. Notice you didn’t say “Garry Linker husband of..” Shame on you — Fran Morris (@franmorris19) December 22, 2015
“Who’s in charge in your household?” (2h54m50s) “You’re the wife of Nick Clegg – it is a fact, you don’t rile from that?” (2h56m50s) “You want Theresa May to be in charge of the Tories, you are willing her” (2h59m15s)
On whether Theresa May would lead a BrExit “No Campaign”, May dodges the question, González challenges “That’s not really an answer to my question”, May replies, “I’m a politician, Miriam”, González reiterates “I’m a lawyer, I have to insist”, then deflects with laughter. (2h25m45s)
Despite a debate this morning on whether her interview with May was “embarrassing” González appears genuine, is obviously intelligent yet uses endearing humour – which may appear self and female-patronising at times, but which seems to be a ploy to disarm and choose which “square centimetre” battles to fight. Wanting to see change, she says, means choosing your battles wisely. Not every successful woman needs to be a Theresa May-Margaret Thatcher battleaxe, woman can make it by being themselves, not by being men.
Whilst the British police managed to arrest a machete wielding youth in a shopping centre, in the US a domestic disturbance armed only with a bat saw the offender shot dead along with an innocent bystander. Gun violence in America has seen over 13,290 gun-related deaths recorded so far in 2015: 331 in mass shootings, 980 by police (91 unarmed of whom 37 were black), 25% showed signs of mental illness, over 46% were non-white, and 3,371 were teens or children, injured or killed. America has way more to worry about from its own gun culture than international terrorism or ISIL/Islamic State.
The figures for 2015 are up on nearly all counts from 2014 – Police Officer-involved incidents constituted 4,344 of the 52,324 total shootings up 35% from 3,213.
Chicago Police Department Officer Incidents
On the day after Christmas, Chicago Police were called to a domestic incident by the father of a 19 year-old black youth armed with a bat and on medication for known mental health issues. Somehow, 7 bullets later, Universtity student home for Christmas, Quintonio LeGrier, and 55 year-old, mother of 5, Bettie Jones were both dead. Such a contrast to British police gun violence where most years see zero fatalities and any unjustifiable exception to this results in public outcry.
Chicago suffers the worst figures of any US city (New York is now 6th), some 240 police shootings between 2010 and 2014, 70 deaths, mostly black men. This is despite new training and measures that have resulted in “Police-involved shootings [being] down by double digit percentages”. New York is surprisingly safe these days and police self-control such that just 41 were shot dead by police in a population 3 times that of Chicago. Still too many though. Phoenix and Philadelphia are proportionately worse with 57 and 54 fatal shootings from populations half the size of Chicago.
Chicago PD alleges nearly all are justified. Despite 410 investigations since 2006, only one was found to be unjustified, though some are still pending. Most reports ends with the trite phrase:
“This investigation found that Officer A’s use of deadly force was in compliance with Chicago Police Department policy.”
A far larger number must surely be seen as disproportionate? Gun versus bat? Armed adult vs teen? White v black? For example, over 90% of those investigated in 2014 were Black and/or Hispanic.
Laquan McDonald Investigation
Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently removed the city’s police superintendent and head of the Independent Police Review Authority and the CPD remains under review following the year-long belated charge of first-degree murder against Officer Jason Van Dyke for the 16-shot fatal police shooting last October of Laquan McDonald and attempts to prevent the public release of officer-incriminating vehicle dashcam footage.
In a recent series of studies, adults who were shown pictures of children of different races labeled black children as several years older then they actually were. They were considered “less innocent than their white same-age peers” – Education Week
Mass Shootings and Domestic Terrorism
With 2015 nearly over America has seen 329 people killed and four times as many injured – 17% up on 2014’s 281. That’s considerably more than acts of terrorism. Chicago with 1% of the US population also has 3-5% of its mass shooting victims.
Wider Issues of US Gun Violence Prevalence
The bigger issue is how endemic gun ownership and gun crime are to America, that recourse to a weapon for self-defence, arrest, or to settle scores, is the first resort not the last, and that those most affected by disproportionality and/or unreasonable use of force are people of colour. Whilst America claims or has been called upon to “police the world” it should sort out its own back yard first before any attempt to be the “world’s policeman”.
…And countless other cities, countries, rural Nigerian towns, American schools, where people take it upon themselves to gun down others in the name of, well in the name of their hurts, offense, injuries, desires, greed, whatever. It’s not about Islam, or indeed any religion – each has been there with its own extremisms, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Biblical Judaism, even Buddhism and Hinduism, and Sikhism. As John Lennon sang – “Imagine … no religion”. But then there’s the Hitlers, Stalins, Maos and Polpots, of this world. Roman pagans trying to wipe out Christianity, Communist extremism. It is the extremism they have in common, not faith or race. Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Sharm el Sheikh, or Ankara, a month ago, have also seen similar scales of atrocity, not just once, but some of them daily.
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
#PrayForParis / #PrayForBeirut / #PrayFor…
…Or don’t pray at all. My thoughts are with ALL the victims of extremist ideologies (religious and non-religious ones). Whether you pray or don’t pray, do not use this as an opportunity to promote or condemn people of faith. As with Charlie Hebdo, Muslim policemen and security guards were among those trying to stop the terrorists. Nor is it the time to berate people for turning their Facebook profile pics French, although opportunities to easily do so in solidarity with Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Turkey etc would be appreciated. I modified mine to include France and Lebanon, not either/or.
Reactionary responses will only lead to more radicalisation, terror, civilian deaths, in the wars of fanatical idealogues.
Now is not the time for shutting borders, scapegoating, retaliation – but, as with the reaction of Norway’s prime minister Jens Stoltenberg after the terror attack on Utøya Island by far right white ‘Christian’ extremistAnders Breivik:
“Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity…We will answer hatred with love.”
Brevik believed in a “monocultural Christian Europe” and was against “multiculturalism” and “Islamization”. Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) believes in a monocultural Islamic empire. Its attacks in Beirut were against the wrong kind of Muslims – Shia. Elsewhere in Paris, it was against the hedonism of the infidel West. The justifications need not be consistent or rational, but they are forms of tribalism and monoculturalism, the fear and despising of that which is other. Nature and the world need diversity and multiculturalism to survive and thrive.
Now is the time to embrace refugees and migrants, not point out that just one or two of them out of the countless tens of thousands entering Europe may have been ISIS cells. Indeed, the 99.9% peaceful migrants, some Muslim, some Christian, some agnostic, were fleeing Islamic State or other state sanctioned terrors themselves. They too are victims. Innocent bystanders very often in the West’s continued interference in the Middle East, whether past or present. Nobody has clean hands.
At a No to Hate vigil in Norwich – a city that has its own dark past with the Blood Libel, killing and expelling its Jewish population – last month, I spoke and ended with the words of Martin Luther King:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Whether John Lennon or Martin Luther King, I too am a dreamer and have a dream that one day we will all live as one, without hate, in an ideal world without the kind of idealism that kills your fellow human beings in the name of any belief – political, religious or nationalist.
The Confederate Flag – a stained or Stainless Banner?
The last fortnight has seen people simultaneously complaining about the flying of the “Rainbow Flag” and the “Confederate Flag” in the USA. In the UK, the “Union Jack” or more often the “St George’s Flag” of England has been hijacked for nationalist ends too. In the Scottish independence vote the “Saltire Flag” was flown for both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns and nobody objected to a strong sense of Scottish identity, so why not the American South?
Current Reactions to the Southern US Flag
In 2011, a Pew Research Center poll demonstrated that the majority of Americans don’t react to the “Southern Flag” and that 9% view it with positive pride, however, some 30% have a “negative reaction” when they see the Confederate flag.
Two years, later and a 2013 YouGov poll revealed 38% public disapproval of flying the flag in public places. Even more, around 44%, viewed the flag as a symbol associated with racism, rather than just 20% seeing it as symbolic of Southern pride.
Back in 1961, in the middle of civil rights and race activism, the South Carolina State Senate raised the Confederate flag on top of the Senate dome, where it remained until removed in 2000 when an alternate flag was instead flown from a flagpole in the grounds. It was this flag that was removed by protestor Bree Newsome on 27 June, this year. The flag, clearly, remains divisive.
Nationalism and pride
Nationalism is not a negative concept in itself, nor indeed are regionalism and localism. Being proud of your place of origin, wanting autonomy, independence, freedom, and asserting these things is not wrong. Even for a personal identity, rainbow flags and now many others, e.g., trans, non-binary, etc, are flown and worn at LGBT Pride events across the world. Flags unite, they are a banner under which to stand and draw people together – or symbolise rebellion against the establishment and regional pride as with Confederate flag adorned General Lee in the Dukes of Hazzard:
But they can attract opposition too, and be used for aggression. Sometimes, going so far as to create a virtual or real barrier to keep people separate, outsiders out, spewing xenophobic bile about non-locals, inciting hatred and violence against immigrants, migrant communities, or those who are markedly different.
UK Independence and the Far Right
In the UK – Scottish, Welsh, and Irish independence are looked upon favourably in cultural and political terms but, somehow, English nationalism is seen as far right extremism – and many times, it is. The debate over English votes for English laws is the trade-off for giving more power to Scotland to avoid secession from the Union.
I remember the 1980s when Irish terrorism or freedom fighters, depending upon your definition, was still rife. When, even in Wales, the BBC‘s Not the Nine O’Clock News team ran the insensitive but funny sketch, “Come home to a real fire, but a cottage in Wales”, owing to the Welsh nationalist arson campaign against English second homes in Wales.
In English terms, we have witnessed the rise of a “Far Right” English nationalism: BNP, Britain First, EDL, UKIP etc. Hardly groups promoting English ‘culture’ but certainly fostering a “batten down the hatches” against ‘foreigners’ attitude. At public rallies they wrap themselves in English rather than UK flags, thus tarnishing the English St George’s flag.
William Thompson and the Stainless Banner
So, has the Confederate flag been similarly tarnished by the racist hatred of one warped young man in the Charleston black church massacre? Did it always and forever have the meaning of white supremacy? Some articles doing the rounds would suggest that it does, a “heaven ordained” white supremacy at that, according to its designer, William T Thompson.
Thompson was co-founder of the Savannah Daily Morning News newspaper in the 1850s and in the 1860s, along with one other, produced the design of the “Stainless Banner“, which came to be used as the Southern Confederacy’s national flag from 1863 to 1865, replacing the “Stars and Bars” which too closely resembled the ‘Yankee’ Union flag. Thompson said, in April 1863, that he opposed it, “on account of its resemblance to that of the abolition despotism against which we are fighting.” Many agreed that a flag that bore any similarity to the “Stars and Stripes” was wrong on the grounds of the South not wanting the emancipation of slaves.
The “stainless” aspect referred to the pure white field or background taking up the majority of the flag’s design. Though, later criticised and dropped for its association with surrender and truce, that element to Thompson and others represented the supremacy of “The White Man” and “the cause of a superior race”. Not far off Hitler’s ideology?
The American Civil War Battle Flag
It should be remembered though that the second Confederate flag (there were three and many modifications over the years) of Thompson included the now familiar Southern Confederate flag (white stars on a blue saltire cross on a red background) as its upper left element (where the stars and blue background are on the modern US flag). That flag element, also known as the “Battle Flag” was the banner of the Northern Virginian and Tennessee armies and several naval units. It was, however, never a united Confederate flag despite now being called the”Rebel Flag”, “Dixie Flag”, or “Southern Cross”, indeed, it is alleged that the cross would have been upright rather than diagonal had its designers not wanted to keep the Southern Jews on side.
How Symbols and their Interpretation change
Speaking of the Jewish people, a symbol of hate, the Swastika, was originally a symbol of benign fate and good luck in the Sanskrit language and religious cultures of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The Svastika or Gammadion Cross (based upon four Greek capital Gamma letters), Cross Cramponnée, or Manji, has been around for at least two millennia, if not ten (its first use can be traced back 10,000 years to a paleolithic settlement in modern Ukraine)!
The Nazis did not invent or invert it, they simply stole and reinterpreted it. Hitler allegedly believed the Aryan Germans were a supreme white tribe of Indian origins and semi-divine status.
Conclusion and debate
Thus, though Thompson’s “Confederate Flag” had white supremacy links, the lack of white on the current flag bears no relation to that. It does, however, have associations with Southern independence and battle against the Union and what the North stood for, including an end to slavery. Hopefully, few would argue for the return of slavery now, whether some still consider African-Americans ‘inferior’ is another matter. It it, therefore, debatable whether the flag when displayed now still has the associations of the past. Now it is more likely to be flown for reasons of Southern pride and freedom from Washington’s centralised federal governance. If it is also used by minority white supremacists and a hopefully isolated and not to be repeated white ‘terrorist’ attack against a black church (others have been arson-attacked recently though) then it clearly has negative associations for a sizeable group of the US population.
Symbols and meanings do evolve, get reclaimed, and reinvented. Removing the Southern flag from buildings may seem like an extreme reaction and is a matter of some sensitivity to both victims of race/colour hate and to proud fliers of Southern identity – which in the majority, it is hoped, are no longer inherently racist. Bree Newsome believes it is time for change:
“It’s time for a new chapter where we are sincere about dismantling white supremacy and building toward true racial justice and equality.”
Debate is needed on this and how to go forward respecting individual freedom, collective identity, and historical issues. Is flying the flag, indeed any flag, a soon to be proscribed act? In the UK only today, a man was stopped and not charged for wearing an Islamic State black flag whilst walking through Westminster, London.
The difficulty is ascribing guilt by association – do all flags have only one meaning? Is flying the Confederate flag like flying a Scots flag, a symbol of regional Southern pride, or is it a symbol of rebellion and white supremacy? The Nazi or ISIL flag more clearly represent hate-based movements.
I’ll leave the last word on flags to Eddie Izzard: