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.
Why is Holocaust Memorial Day even necessary still? Because 1-in-20 people think the Holocaust never happened. Because 1-in-12 think it is exaggerated. Because genocides of people by ethnicity, faith, or sexuality, still happen. Because anti-Semitism, anti-Romani, anti-disabled, homophobic and transphobic feelings still exist. Running the Human Library in the UK, I see people’s incredulity at the persecution and prejudice still experienced by some minority groups. Jewish, Romani, Gay, Disabled, Transgender were all human books this last week. They were all persecuted by the Nazis too. Prejudice that is so often based upon stereotyping and scapegoating. Beliefs based on racial or heterosexual purity or supremacy. Eugenics and abhorrent forms of evolutionary biology.
“Sticks and stones…” Shoah, Holocaust, Jew, Sodomite, Gay, Queer, Persecuted, Interned, Tortured, Killed… Jews and Gays shared a common status as victims of Nazi hate. Some people were Jewish and gay, wearing a pink triangle over their yellow star for double humiliation and awaited horrors including torture, rape, and death.
70 years before the Holocaust, in 1868, the term homosexual was first used in private correspondence and the next year in print, trying to repeal the Prussian penal code on same-sex relations, a code that inspired the 1871 Paragraph 175‘s criminalising of homosexuality that continued through the Nazi-era despite a 1929 attempt to end it. A law not lifted till 1969!
There was no 1945 full and true liberation for gay people in concentration camps, Jewish or otherwise. They were still seen as criminals. It is estimated that 50,000 were imprisoned and 20% of them interned in concentration camps with fewer than half surviving. Both gay men and transvestites were targeted. In 1938, the Institute of Forensic Medicine recommended that the “phenomena of transvestism” be “exterminated from public life.” LGBT was pathologised by the Nazis, by the church, and by medicine.
Also, in 1868 a Jewish boy was born. He was to become an eminent social philosopher, doctor and sexologist. He would also grow up to be gay. His name was Magnus Hirschfeld.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, he travelled widely, lectured and wrote. He also experienced the gay sub-cultures of Chicago and elsewhere, exploring the phenomena in Tangier and Tokyo as well as Rio de Janeiro.
Hirschfeld became interested in gay rights when he noticed that many of his patients being treated for depression were actually gay and committing suicide because of it. In 1896, one such patient, an army officer, did just that and wrote about the reason in his Selbstmord (“self-murder”/suicide) note.
In 1897, aged just 29, the Prussian (now in Poland) physician was living in Berlin and angered at the Oscar Wilde trial he founded the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee or “Scientific Humanitarian Committee” – the world’s earliest gay rights movement. He wanted to advocate justice through science to counter both homophobia and indeed racism (which he also wrote about and saw anti-Semitism a part of) by countering prejudice based pseudo-science with true science.
Whilst in France, Hirschfeld finished a book he had been writing during the 1930s, Rassismus (“Racism”). It was published posthumously in English in 1938. He wrote that the purpose of the book was to explore “the racial theory which underlines the doctrine of racial war,” saying that he himself “numbered among the many thousands who have fallen victim to the practical realisation of this theory.”
The Institute for Sexual Knowledge
In 1919, Hirschfeld founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (“Institute for Sexual Knowledge/Science”) including the Museum of Sex. Over 14 years it gathered huge research on tens of thousands of cases and LGBTIQ diversity.
In May 1933, just months after the Nazis took power, Hirschfeld’s Institute was sacked by a group of university students belonging to the from the National Socialist Student League. They stormed into the building (above which he lived with his lover Giese but was away) shouting “Brenne Hirschfeld!” (“Burn Hirschfeld!”), beat up the staff and smashed up the premises before later in the day the Nazi paramilitary Brownshirts showed up to burn thousands of books and files. The institute was then closed permanently by the Police.
Hirschfeld was away on a speaking tour during the crackdown and never returned to Germany, dying of a heart attack in 1935 instead. His lover Karl Giese killed himself in 1938 and his own relatives like Hirschfeld’s sister were gassed in a concentration camp in 1942. Both Hirschfeld and his lover were known to crossdress and were often referred to using feminine pronouns.
In 1933 we lost 50 years of LGBTIQ study and 20s era queer culture and openminded society. In 1935 and 1938 with the deaths of Hirschfeld and Giese we lost two queer heroes who lost family to the Holocaust and were triply persecuted for their faith, ethnicity and sexuality.
We don’t live single issue lives as Audre Lorde said, we need to stand up for others, whether their persecution intersects with our own or not. We all know Niemoller’s poem – “First they came for…” Or do we, when a third of people now know little about the Holocaust and 20% of 18-34s in France have not heard of it! Remember – Lest we forget!
Six years to the day after the 1500 v 200 EDL counter demo and the fine welcoming city of Norwich has another small demo, Norwich Against Fascists! Counter demonstration! “There are many many more of us than you” was being chanted by 750 anti-racists and Remainers (mostly) and 50Unity UK pro-Leave Brexiteers shouting back the same and “More of us voted Leave than you” and “you lost”!
The atmosphere was mostly good-natured, carnival-like with drums, whistles, chanting, occasional discussion and the odd rant. One masked protester was led away, possibly anarchist/anti-Fa, certainly a scarf covering their face but there was no violence.
The police, some 30-40 or so, created a thin blue, well hi-vis yellow line, to keep the sides apart, sadly also blocking the dialogue, the lack of which has left us in Brexit impasse land. Initially, kept to opposing pavements, and allowing the traffic to pass, the police eventually surrendered to the sheer size of the counter-protest and even re-drew the line in the centre of St Peter’s Street.
After an hour, they also mostly gave-in to allowing people to cross the street and engage with each other. At times, it was clear some of the police were struggling to keep their serious and professional faces on given the number of humorous moments.
Even the police giggled when Lab Cllr Jess Barnard started playing Benny Hill over the megaphone! Rather ironically, similar chants were echoed on each side of the street:
“Whose streets, our streets”, “No to racism, No to Nazis, no to fascism” “You’re the racists”, “No, you’re the racists!”
Towards the end, it was almost comical as the Remainers remained and the Leavers left, leaving perhaps a dozen Brexiteers facing still hundreds of anti-racists. The larger crowd refusing to depart until their counter-demo had fully seen off the other side. Police remained on site waiting for one side to completely depart but were frustrated when the larger crowd decided to cross the street and swamp the “drain the swamp” protesters. A few of the latter repaid the gesture and also switched sides leading to hilarity and confusion.
At the close, some 2-3 hours later, several protesters shook hands after dialogue, others persisted in their polarised positions.
The Unity UK Leave contingent tried to convince me that their side of the street was more diverse than the Remainers/anti-racists, but that was hard to accept seeing as how they were 99.9% white, and 75% older people, some dressed in 1950s fashion, a time they perhaps wanted to send Britain back to.
I had conversations with perhaps half-a-dozen of the pro-Brexiteers including a passionate but polite chap called Joe, an older woman whom we both agreed were opposed to Theresa May, and several others willing to dialogue. Nothing will change without conversation, communication and, probably, compromise about our beliefs.
* Alleged roots in Ancient Sparta, Plato, and Rome
* Totalitarian belief in the State, order and its Ruler
* Ultranationalism, monolithic unity, racial purity (esp. anti-Semitism, anti-immigration) and ableist idealism
* Ironically, Italian and German fascism both grew out of national socialism but opposed international socialism and communism yet share common antipathy towards liberalism, capitalism, and the individual instead favouring the Party and the State
* Militant strength, masculinity, patriotic rebirth and revolution
* Authoritarian pseudo-democracy, cultic hero worship, national power (Maurice Barrès)
Both sides were a bit confused by the use of the word fascist, both calling each other it. The word really defines those who are totalitarian, anti-democratic and ultranationalist. Along with Nazis – despite the odd mocking salute, it’s a word that didn’t really describe anyone there. One of the Leavers complained about being called a “Nazi” saying “I have an Indian wife”.
Poignant, as it was, across from the city’s War Memorial, the day before armistice day, when we remember standing up to aggression, conquest, fascism, hate, imperialistic ultranationalism, and ultimately, cultural xenophobia in two world wars.
We need to stop fighting and start uniting, build better and common futures, that was why the EU was born, for peace and prosperity, and to end wars.
Inalienable, intersectional, international human rights. Do we ALL have them yet? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948. This year, Human Rights Day begins a year-long campaign to mark its 70th anniversary.
We’ve come a long way, but we’ve a way to go yet as injustices on individual, group, and national, scales persist.
“Many leading nations treat it as a pick-n-mix document, usually ignoring the principles against torture or discrimination on grounds of sex or sexuality.” IHRD 2015
70 years – three score and ten (Psalm 90:10), was the life expectancy of some in 1948, six years fewer if you were black. As we approach 2018 many don’t reach 70 in areas stricken by poverty, famine, war, terror, femicide, homicide, mental and physical health issues, and countless other societal obstacles to living out free, equal, healthy lives.
Categorisation, Class & Checkbox
Instead of celebrating equality and diversity we are still categorising and stereotyping each other by those age-old categories of sex, class, colour, race, religion, sexuality and more. Despite the proclamation of the UDHR:
“…inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being — regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” – United Nations
Our focus, to this day, remains bitterly embroiled in judging and discriminating based upon whether a person is male or female (not to mention intersex or trans), white or black, rich or poor, Rohingya or Buddhist (yes there’s such as thing as “ultra-nationalist Buddhists”), Jew or Muslim, Catholic or Protestant, Tory or Labour, gay or straight, Celtic or Rangers, City or United…and so on.
Instead of seeing the human being before us with their unique experiences, journey, and personality, we immediately box people up and reduce them to a category, a caste, a label, a limiter.
Whilst JFK said that “the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one are threatened”, Audre Lorde, echoed with something similar:
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde
No two men or women live identical lives, again Audre Lorde: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
They are called Human Rights because they are based upon our common humanity, not because of our sex, class, race etc but irrespective of them. Respect is due our humanity – that which unites us, not that which divides us.
Any movement that claims to be a movement of justice and liberation and yet commits oppression of, for example, Rohingya, Palestinians, Yazidi, Kurds, young women and girls, trans and many other minority or disadvantaged groups needs to think about its actions and motivations.
In 2012, Aamna Mohdin of Queen Mary’s College London, Feminist Society described “Transphobia [as] the great shame of modern feminism”. She went on:
“We cannot—as a progressive community—rally around notions of “progression” and, yet, be complicit in the very homophobia, racism and sexism that violently terrorises the lives of so many others. We need to create a movement where interconnectedness and unity is our priority. Intersectionality is not an option…You must commit to being intersectional in your thinking, your actions, all the time.” – Aamna Mohdin
We are not free and equal, until we all are. Doing nothing is not an option either, it allows oppression to persist. Wherever injustice is happening, to whomever it is being done, that is where we must be, if not in person, then on social media, in correspondence to embassies, and in protests and rallies of solidarity.
“Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must — at that moment — become the center of the universe.” – Elie Wiesel
Intersectionality is not optional, it is essential.
Inaction is not an option. We must act for all.
2. Marching against multiculturalism (EDL & Britain First) and not getting the irony of bemoaning Halal ingredient sourcing in Tikka Masala – seeing curry as British and Christian!
Following a recital of the Lord’s prayer, Golding warned his audience about east London’s Brick Lane and its apparent “mobs”, telling supporters he was also finding it impossible to eat tikka masala now because of the preponderance of halal meat. Golding added: “We are the face of the future.” – The Guardian
5. Demanding the right for the UK to leave the EU but not for Scotland to leave the UK.
6. Wanting cheap food (Aldi and Lidl – German supermarkets), wine (usually French, Italian and Spanish) and clothes, yet not acknowledging the labour and sources that go into making them, whether in Lincolnshire fields at 5am, Eastern Europe, or further afield.
7. Loving foreign holidays in countries whose nationalities you spew at when back home, and expecting them to speak English in England, AND English when you visit them as a tourist abroad.
8. Wanting more money and jobs but not the endeavour, hours, productivity and wages that go into building a business. Immigrants are more likely to start self-employed businesses, contribute more to the economy, create employment than nationals.
9. Opposing immigration but not one’s own genes and forebears who are probably part Norman French, German Saxon, Norse Viking, Flemish-Dutch, Irish etc.
10. Add your own – the list could go on…
It’s an imperialistic (Great) Britain First attitude that takes what it wants from the world but does not give back or support the world from which it has taken. That, to me, is not Great Britain and the United Kingdom, but Lesser Britain and the Broken Kingdom.
We need to remember our roots, celebrate cooperation and community, discover disparate cultures and diverse expressions, and learn to share our resources with our European and global neighbours. Not to mention stamping out hate, xenophobia and bigotry wherever it rears its ugly head.
A day of beauty and soul, World Poetry Day, falls on the same day as the South Africa’s Human Rights Day, which remembers the fight against Apartheid and particularly the 1960 Sharpeville massacre of 69 black South African demonstrators and further killing of another 21 on the 25th anniversary of that day in 1985. It also became the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1966 and today still says, “We need to fight racism everywhere, every day”. It is fitting that we celebrate human writes and rights together. Whether it’s the campaigning of organisations like the United Nations and Amnesty International, or the placards of activists, or poems of voices of discontent and history, we cannot be silent to ongoing racism, its history, and its continued scourge.
Yes we need action more than just words, but 15 years ago, at a World Conference Against Racism in South Africa, the Durban Declaration sought to combine words with action:
“People of African descent have for centuries been victims of racism, racial discrimination and enslavement and of the denial by history of many of their rights… they should be treated with fairness and respect for their dignity and should not suffer discrimination of any kind.” – Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, 2001
“Fifteen years after the Durban Conference very little progress has been made in tackling racism, afrophobia, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
Maya Angelou – be part of “the possible”
Maya Angelou died in 2014 but 45 years before that, in a decade of American civil rights activism, she wrote the first of her autobiographical books, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). The book describes her early years including racism, and a rape which led to a traumatised silence for 6 years, it goes on to document her rise from child victim to young woman, mother and adult voice.
“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
Of things unknown but longed for still
And his tune is heard on the distant hill
For the caged bird sings of freedom”
She has become renowned as a woman full of inspiration, and love not hate, reminding us how to be better humans through her best-loved poems which she would write from a motel with, nearby, “a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in the room”.
Watch Maya Angelou read her poem “A Brave and Startling Truth“ which she wrote for the United Nations 50th anniversary in 1995, here is a section of it:
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness …
… We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
It would be great if we, “the possible, the miraculous, the true wonder of this world”, would stop hating and discriminating.
Maya Angelou – Still I Rise
In Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise”, are the words: “Out of the huts of history’s shame”. She’s said before, the truth is that:
“A person who does not have a clue to his or her history stands a very poor chance of mapping out a future.” – Maya Angelou interview (1m40s)
She was not one to be cowed or subjugated, instead, she found her voice and gave hope to others.
The full text of her poem, “Still I Rise”:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Be amazing, A rainbow in someone else’s cloud
Maya Angelou also said, echoing a similar sentiment of Albert Camus:
“If you are always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.”
Perhaps, we could also paraphrase that, if you are always following the crowd, buying into cheap national and racial stereotypes you will never discover not only how amazing you could be but also how amazing others are, irrespective of the colour of their skin or some other characteristic of difference. “Human beings are more alike than unalike”, she has said.
“The thing to do, it seems to me, is to
prepare yourself so you can be a
rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.
Somebody who may not look like you.
May not call God the same name you
call God – if they call God at all. I may
not dance your dances or speak your
language. But be a blessing to somebody.” – Maya Angelou
She wasn’t all “turn the other cheek” love, she also saw humour as a defence, and since “life’s a bitch”, the need to “go out and kick ass”.
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:
STOP PRESS: Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear team to return
But on Amazon Prime online video streaming in 2016 not the BBC. Meanwhile Top Gear will return to the BBC but with a different team. The schadenfreude is palpable as the BBC reports on their own loss of a profitable though oft inappropriate franchise.
In an Amazon statement, Jeremy Clarkson said:
“I feel like I’ve climbed out of a biplane and into a spaceship.”
Richard Hammond quipped:
“Amazon? Oh yes. I have already been there. I got bitten by a bullet ant.”
James May saw the perhaps double irony:
“We have become part of the new age of smart TV. Ironic, isn’t it?”
BBC suspends Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson amid mass Change.org petition
Whatever the “fracas” and nature of petulant millionaire star twat Jeremy Clarkson‘s “interaction” with a BBC producer, there’s nothing like a Top Gear fiasco (one of many over the years) to get the nation raging along with over 1 million signatories on a Change.org petition delivered this week by self-propelled big gun, aka tank (probably the slowest vehicle to appear in relation to Top Gear), to BBC HQ. It is just such a shame that this is what energises us and not more significant world matters.
Clarkson hinted that he was on the way out and had no fear, now that the internal inquiry is over – though not published, in berating his BBC bosses with a f*** laden foul-mouthed tirade at their idiocy at potentially ruining the Top Gear formula.
Diverse Top Gear Replacements
Suggestions to replace him have included Sue Perkins, Julian Clary, and Alan Partridge. Whilst they are all comedians, at least Perkins would not be sexist (towards women at least), neither she nor Clary would be homophobic, and any of Partridge’s foreign jokes would be obvious parody and satire. Other comedians who’ve appeared in the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car race around the Top Gear test track have included Eddie Izzard, Omid Djalili, and Sanjeev Bhaskar – all of whom would counter the alleged racism of the show.
Having Ellen MacArthur, Jennifer Saunders, or Jodie Kidd, on as the fastest women on the track would prove it doesn’t need 3 blokey blokes to present it – although that is the formula to date, and a politically correct presenter team would be as bad as the minimum female comedienne to be included on all panel shows which smacks of tokenism and harms female comedians standing in their own right.
Top Gear Matters to the BBC
Forget the impending General Election, Islamic State, Boko Haram, austerity crisis, the real serious issues of the day are the state of England cricket team – actually, that is pretty bad – and Clarkson’s latest open mouth (insert foot, boot, and massive car) bad boy laddish humour, allegedly watched by an audience almost equally split between men and women (60:40).
Top Gear, Clarkson, and his 4.63m twitter followers, are the BBC’s greatest export (yes, bigger than Doctor Who), greatest that is in financial rather than cultural terms. Bedder 6, as the anonymous company is called, helps to draw in £150m a year for BBC Worldwide from Top Gear from 150-350m viewers across 170 countries and spin-offs.
Just this week it was announced that in December Top Gear had somehow been cleared by the BBC of using “pikey” in a derogatory manner, to the utter dismay of representatives of Traveller communities.
The show is often no-holds-barred macho-masculine pub banter comedy that has comprised insults around race, nationality, sex, and disability. Just read some of Clarkson’s own attempts to be positive about women and yet explain the lack of female representation on the show itself:
“if one presenter on a show is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed heterosexual boy, the other must be a black Muslim lesbian. Chalk and cheese, they reckon, works. But here we have Top Gear setting new records after six years using cheese and cheese. It confuses them… Unlike furious thin-lipped feminists, I tend not to draw distinctions between men and women, apart from in bed where you really do need to spot the differences. At work, girls are just people.”
Conservative MP Maria Miller, has offered support for Clarkson, despite her being a former Disability, Women and Equality Minister. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s The World at One, she said:
“The BBC needs to be better at managing its talent … there are other organisations that have to deal with larger-than-life characters…[he] is…a legend, not just in this country, but around the world.”
Legends, however, are extinct people, like the dinosaurs, something that Clarkson himself, in his column in The Sun, admits to being.
“The fact is that you can sign as many petitions as you like and call on the support of politicians from all sides, but the day must come when you have to wave goodbye to the big monsters and move on… I think it’s fair to say that nature made a mistake when it invented the dinosaur. It was too big, too violent. So one day, all the dinosaurs died and now, many years later, no one mourns their passing. These big, imposing creatures have no place in a world which has moved on.”
Does this mean that Clarkson should go the way of the dinosaurs and gas-guzzling cars? That a petition to reinstate him is as pointless as one to bring back Terry Pratchett – however, wonderful a tribute to the latter author?
Change.org Petition to #BringBackClarkson
A record making petition on Change.org had accelerated to nearly 600,000 signatures in barely a day (now over 1,112,000), easily eclipsing more political or ethical campaigns such as the pardon for 49,000 gay men prosecuted in the UK for acts now considered legal. The site’s popularity is such that I could not even get on to it to check the count at 10pm Wednesday night, as it was down with an “Error 502 Bad Gateway” , unless that was some political ploy due to the embarrassment of its success. Well it’s back now, seemingly the site is crashing under Clarkson’s popularity, and advocating the “Freedom to fracas” and with comments including:
“I pay my TV license to ensure that irreverent people can express themselves. If you become boarding [sic] and politically correct, you may disappear BBC.” and “A minority of over sensitive people should not ruin one of Britons [sic] favourite shows.”
I wouldn’t call allegedly hitting a producer over a lack of hot food and xenophobically referencing his Irish nationality, an act of irreverence nor suspending someone for that act, “over sensitive”. That the two most popular comments both had spelling mistakes should not lead anyone to any stereotypical conclusion. They were probably texting whilst driving their fast cars!
BBC Public Service Priorities
As a public service broadcaster with essentially a tax or compulsory licence fee, the BBC’s priorities should not be mere entertainment or subsidised insults.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama
The limits of Satire, Comedy & Humour
In my past I’ve enjoyed Top Gear, some of the banter and car challenges, but I’ve squirmed at the sexist racist humour Humour is one thing, the question is whether it’s actually deeply held bigotry disguised as humour, or an ever-so clever parody of “UKIP white van man racism” – which will no doubt be seen as offensive to white van men. The thing about satire and parody is that they often fail, as with Comedy Central’s Colbert Report on race and trans issues, when delivered by people in the majority who’ve not experienced prejudice, whereas the Kumars making fun of being Indian is.
What makes the parody both unlikely and unbelievable is that either Clarkson is a bigot or he maintains the persona off-screen as well. To Clarkson, even his suspension is just another joke, despite knowing he was on his last warning.
I’ve done stand-up comedy myself, and made it a rule to only insult and offend myself, not others – although I can’t stop some still choosing to take offence.
Top Gear‘s humour is pub or front room banter, the kind you use when you think nobody is watching – but there are tens, if not hundreds, of millions that are.
And this is the “British values” we should be so proud of exporting? I’m all for freedom of speech, but allegedly hitting your employer’s staff, insulting other nations, and expecting to not only get away with it but get paid millions for it?
Whilst the infraction was off-air, it is no less abusive of workplace colleagues and bullying, despite it not being part of an aired programme. According to The Mirror, he called Oisin Tymon:
“a “lazy, Irish c***” before splitting his lip with a punch that left the 36-year-old with blood running down his face and needing treatment in A&E, the BBC investigation will be told.”
Hitting is not humour, and nor was it his first public punch up. If the rest of the show is very clever parody like Alan Partridge or Comedy Central, then it does not work. It is very hard to successfully satire racism, sexism, ableism and homophobia, all of which have appeared on Top Gear. All the more so when it fuels the white male entitlement patriarchy rather than challenges it.
“Top Gear is an escapist post modern light comedy entertainment show; the vital ingredients being Clarkson, May, Hammond and cars will keep it on the Beeb for a while to come.”
Apart from what may be a short-lived 2011 prediction of its long-term longevity, I beg to differ. Their lives on and off the screen are making stereotypical jokes, setting chauvinist poor role models, and should not be the BBC’s best export. The fact that it is popular in human rights violating China and Putin’s Russia should not be a cause for celebration if it encourages their sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia, rather than challenges it.
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou
Jeremy Clarkson – change your attitude, everyone else sign some petitions and be the change! If we are evolved at all, it is time the politically incorrect (such a polite term for sexist racist ableist homophobes) dinosaurs died out.
IDAHO day, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia
May 17, each year, is IDAHO day, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, since 2009 called IDAHOT to fully incorporate Trans people. I’ve always prefered the longer IDAHOBIT to include Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexphobia and Transphobia, not to mention the little people with hairy feet from Middle Earth!
May 17 was the day that homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1990. IDAHO day first took place in 2005 with activities taking place around the world including the first ever LGBT events to take place in the Congo, China, and Bulgaria.
In 2009 Transphobia was added to the day’s remembrance and activism although, unlike homosexuality, trans activists are still campaigning to have Gender Dysphoria removed from the various mental health classifications (ICD10/11, DSM-IV/V), though France was the first country to do so that same year. In May 2012 Argentina passed a radical groundbreaking Gender Identity Law depathologising trans and providing medical access for all without psychiatric hoop-jumping. Argentina should be watched and observed to see if its model becomes one that could be followed by other nations and allow for the safe and full depathologisation of transsexuality.
ILGA LGBTI Report
Times have changed and things improved since the removal of the criminal threat and mental health stigma from homosexuality, at least. If a recent ILGA LGTBI report is to be believed, Britain is the best place to live if one is lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex.
Launched to mark IDAHOT day, the ILGA Rainbow Europe Map “reviews the standing of European countries against essential legal benchmarks for LGBTI equality, while the Annual Review of the Human Rights Situation of LGBTI People in Europe 2014 provides an analysis of trends and an overview of key political and social developments country-by-country.”
For many there were improvements, such as same-sex marriage (although not in Northern Ireland) and for some to the East of Europe, such as Russia, a deteriorating situation of LGBTI freedoms and protections.
Apparently, the UK has the best laws (the 2010 Equality Act was pretty groundbreaking), rights and freedoms, even better than the Netherlands, Spain, or Scandinavia. This is partly down to some nations being gay and lesbian positive but then failing on trans and/or intersex, and usually totally ignoring and hence erasing bisexuals.
Homophobic & Transphobic Hate Crime
Here in the UK, homophobic and transphobic crime seems to be on the rise, although this may just be perception and/or data inflation, since increased numbers may just be better victim reporting and police recording, rather than increased incidence of hate crimes or incidents. We’ve been tackling racism for decades and it doesn’t go away over night. Just ponder the upcoming European elections and the 30% vote share that UKIP the party of xenophobia are likely to gain. Fear of difference is still endemic everywhere.
A recent NUS report into the experience of gay and trans students demonstrates that schools and colleges are still not safe places for LGBTI people. Only 20% of trans students feel safe or accepted in higher education. 20% of LGB+ students and 33% of trans respondents experienced at least one form of bullying or harassment on their campus, making them 2-3 times more likely to drop out of education, affecting future job prospects, and mental health and wellbeing.
Trans students are 2.5 times more likely to have a disability in addition to being transgender. They are, furthermore, the group at the greatest risk of suicide with 34% attempting it and up to 80% considering it. Thankfully, the UK is better than many other places and these figures are greatly increased elsewhere, e.g., the USA, Eastern Europe, etc.
Other Rights Still Not Equal
The right to bodily integrity of people with Intersex conditions (people with differences of sexual development, sometimes unhelpfully termed “disorders”, DSD) is an issue still being fought for. Just because gay rights are seemingly “in the bag”, same-sex weddings won, does not mean trans or intersex people have the same or equal benefits, nor does it mean that any LGBTI person is free from bullying, hate crime or prejudice in the workplace.
Equality itself is not yet equal, either between different strands of the diversity umbrella of protected characteristics nor across different countries in the EU, Commonwealth, or world. Some 80 nations have laws that still criminalise homosexuality, some with the death penalty. Just because a civil rights battle is part-won in one country does not mean that is everyone’s experience, either at home or abroad. So days like IDAHOBIT, regional and national LGBTIQ Prides, are still needed to remind us of how far we have come, and… how far we still have to go to achieve equality, acceptance and freedom for all.