And like a new generation…

This morning I visited a school in Hackney to briefly speak at their Year 12/13 assembly. While sitting amongst the ‘kids’ (as little as that applies to 16-18 year olds) waiting my turn, I watched various notices and talks being addressed to them. One of them was particularly striking – a plea to work hard and think about the future, with a warning about how much competition there was for university places and, beyond, for jobs.

Even sitting there as a 31 year old in employment, I felt fear, sadness and anger. Looking around the room I saw people who looked much like I did at their age (they were generally more stylish, perhaps!) and it really struck me how different the adult world they are entering is from that of even 10 years ago. I don’t want to seem like I pitied them and in the chat that followed I certainly gained no sense that any of them felt hard done by. However it’s difficult not to think that things were easier for me. I went to university the year before tuition fees were introduced. We all marched against them and thought they were terrible (well, unless you were a student politician already with your eyes on a future career) but I don’t think there was ever really a sense that they would fully go away. Now they’re higher and any hopes of them disappearing are all but gone.

Furthermore, the experience of university is becoming more and more focused on careers and less on being places of learning, places of growth. People speak of ‘value for money’ and the path that I took (going to university to study humanities with absolutely no sense of what I wanted to do) looks ever more quaint. The message is hammered home again and again – be focused, work hard, aim for that salary and security at the end. What lies at ‘the end’, though? A mountain of debt and massive youth unemployment. An increasing demonisation of the unemployed and those unfortunate enough to need help from the state. Beyond that, a housing market which it’s all-but-impossible for most people of my generation to get onto, nevermind those coming up behind us. The creeping privatisation which is already pervading universities is now entering the school, health and policing systems. A constant mantra of how unaffordable everything is, while government grows ever more authoritarian and the pointless wars we fight show no sign of abating.

I think it’s very fair to say that the politicians of Blair, Brown, Cameron and Clegg’s generations, who benefited from free education, a proud welfare system, an NHS that was deemed sacred and all the rest, have betrayed the generations after by pushing neoliberalism further and further into our lives and, in those immortal words, seeing “the price of everything and the value of nothing”. Yet sitting there this morning I thought about how ideas move from being unthinkable to being the ‘norm’ and how resigned most of my generation is to things like tuition fees, debt and over-priced housing. Perhaps my generation doesn’t feel *too* betrayed because we caught the tail-end of the post-war consensus and benefited from it. Perhaps younger generations won’t feel *too* betrayed because they’ve never known things to be different. However much we all disagree with what’s happened, and what’s happening, we just carry on and keep believing the same old myth that if you only work hard, you’ll be alright. Maybe we have to believe that because not doing so would highlight the impotence many of us feel in the face of a ‘march of history’ which governments pursue irregardless of public opinion and certainly irregardless of whether they are ‘left’ or ‘right’.

And yet, and yet. Watching Alex Salmond’s speech at the SNP conference over the weekend, he spoke of independence offering the chance for Scotland to be a social democratic beacon in the world. He spoke of his belief in a ‘free university education’. He defended the NHS, saying:

“Nye Bevan once said that “no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.”

 He went on:

“And let me be absolutely clear – because of the independence we have over the NHS – this government, this SNP government, will ensure Scotland’s National Health Service is never for sale.

“And in education …

“I remember back to 1979 – just of course, I was a babe in arms – when some of the foremost sceptics about devolution were in our universities.

“But is there anyone on campus now – student or academic – who would rather the Tories were in charge of our universities?

“Free education would be a thing of the past.

“Public funding would be slashed.

“And tuition fees would, today, be creating an insurmountable barrier for thousands of young Scots – a barrier to aspiration and talent.

He said that they should “Never put a price on learning that undermines the value of learning” and defended the Education Maintenance Allowance. Perhaps most impressively of all, he observed that ““Westminster would spend on weapons which could destroy the world. Scotland should spend on social provision which could be the envy of the world.”

The contrast with the rhetoric we hear from Cameron, Clegg and Miliband couldn’t have been starker. Make no mistake, I have no blinkers regarding the SNP, no particular affection. Yet, for all that and for all their faults, they are doing things differently. I support the union but it’s not difficult to see why independence sounds so alluring. Where are the national figures willing to stand up for education, for the health service, for the welfare system? Above all, where are the figures who are willing to stand up and say that we should not expect our youth to pay for the ideological dogmas of their elders with their futures? The kids I met this morning were inspiring and we owe them more than this.

‘Mindless’

First things first – I don’t condone any of the rioting, looting, arson, muggings and general thuggery whatsoever. I think it’s frightening, horrible and hugely counter-productive. I hope that those involved are held responsible for their actions. I feel I have to put this because any attempt to move beyond stock responses to all of this seems to be jumped upon by crazies who accuse you of ‘siding’ with the rioters and being pleased that families are being burned out of their homes.

There are, of course, already thousands of responses to these riots out there. What I think is pretty irrelevant. However I’ve felt such despair in the past few days that I feel the need to articulate it, to get it out there so that I can move on.

The reason for this despair are the reactions to these events I’ve seen and keep seeing, particularly those from people who self-identify as ‘lefties’ and/or ‘liberals’. Card-carrying Labour members. Socialists. People who routinely condemn the reactionary rubbish found in the Daily Mail or The Telegraph. People who, only two weeks ago, were applauding the ‘measured’ Norwegian response to the massacre there and contrasting the commitment to ‘more democracy’ with the reactionary responses they imagined you’d see in Britain.

It has, to put it mildly, been eye-opening. Beliefs, if they mean anything at all, surely must be beliefs that we hold even when it is difficult to do so, when it seems that we are in a tiny minority and when there is a rush towards easy certainties. The speed with which educated, ‘liberal’ people have abandoned any semblance of reason and resorted to the language of the far-right has truly frightened me and makes me worried for what is to come after these riots are over.

Firstly, there has been an unthinking prostration before the police. People who, only last week, were at the very least suspicious of the Mark Duggan affair are now fully-fledged cheerleaders for the police, shouting down anyone who dares to question them. Let’s remember that the spark for this was the police shooting a young father and the suspicion which immediately followed this. Eyewitnesses immediately questioned the version of events put forward by ‘police sources’ and, it seems already, they were right to do so. Trust in the police is utterly destroyed in many of these communities. The IPCC swiftly moving in did absolutely nothing to placate matters – the same IPCC who, after all, immediately accepted the police’s version of events in the Tomlinson killing and only had to accept that it was false when video footage of the attack emerged. The relationship between the police and these communities is clearly hugely problematic and is playing a huge role in all of this. Yet with quite grim inevitablity, people responded to two evenings of riots by demanding a more authoritarian response from the police. I’ve seen countless demands for the police to ‘crack some skulls’, to ‘shoot the bastards’. Cuddly, giggly liberal icons like Caitlin Moran were asking for the army to move in. There was, it seems, absolutely no effort to attempt to understand the relationship between the rioters and the authorities, the effect that more brutality would have on the situation (and that is the paramount thing – I wasn’t worried about this response because of a hand-wringing concern for the people rioting, but because I genuinely believed it would make things worse).

It has since emerged that the police were ordered to “stand and observe” initially. We didn’t need the army, tanks, bullets or cannons. We needed an effective police presence. The reasons ‘police sources’ have given for this initial, ineffectual approach? That the MET felt ‘inhibited’ because of the response to the death of Ian Tomlinson and the kettling at the student demos earlier this year. It really defies belief – after riots sparked off by the police shooting a man and then (it now seems) deliberately misleading people about the circumstances, the police imply that they haven’t been able to effectively respond because people make too much fuss when they kill innocent people and imprison innocent kids. If we applaud this, if we play this zero sum game and agree with the police that it’s either their way or chaos, our society is fucked.

In short, it’s perfectly possible to want an effective response from the police, to believe that there are many brave police officers out there, without completely suspending your critical faculties.

The second hugely depressing response, one which seems almost ubiquitous, is the dehumanising of the rioters and the belief that they are all rational individual agents. There is an illogical tension here – on the one hand these people are portrayed as ‘mindless’, ‘feral’, ‘idiots’ and ‘scum’ who lack any intelligence whatsoever; on the other, they are individuals who have rationally chosen their actions and are only rioting so that they can get ‘trainers and free TVs’. You can see the hatred dripping from the screen when people write and speak it. People who seem to believe that, across the country, people have decided that now would be a good chance to get some free things. People who happen to overwhelmingly come from areas with similar economic and social backgrounds, with similar problems, with similar demographics. Clips of rioters speaking have been passed around in order that we can all laugh at how inarticulate they are, assure ourselves that they are all subhuman morons who deserve nothing but brutalising.

Make no mistake – it’s clear that the riots have moved very far from the Duggan situation. It’s clear that hardened criminals are taking advantage of them. It’s clear that many of the people involved have absolutely no political intent in what they’re doing. Accepting that is very different from saying that this is not political. From saying that there are reasons why these people even feel that they can/should engage in this behaviour while the rest of us assert that we would never do it. Others have written about this background far better than I could so I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say that when people demand that the rioters get a job, when they wonder where their parents are, when they ask why they are attacking shops, when they (as one man did on BBC news on Monday evening) express shock that this is happening in an area of ‘trendy people with good jobs’ – these are political issues and looking at each of them seriously goes some way to beginning to understand why this is happening.

The latter point regarding the ‘trendy people with good jobs’ is one very relevant to the responses I’ve seen as I think many of the left-leaning people whose reactions have provoked despair would probably fall into this category. I’ve lived in Hackney for 5 years now and I initially moved here because, quite simply, it was the cheapest place I could find. It wasn’t horrible or intimidating by any means but even then, people expressed jokey surprise that I would move to an area just beside the ‘Murder Mile’. In the years since I’ve seen the ‘gentrification’ of Hackney progress further and further, with more and more young professionals moving to previously ignored areas such as Clapton. Clearly this gentrification brings many benefits. However, it has also further fractured communities. We move into these areas and they become ‘ours’. The gangs, drugs and general ‘underclass’ who are not carried along with us become enemies on the doorstep. We exist alongside them uneasily, ignoring their existence until it becomes impossible to do so. The most striking, shocking example of this was the shooting on London Fields last year in broad daylight. London Fields is, of course, now a cliche associated with hipsters and ‘yummy mummies’ but it is smack bang in the middle of an area where privilege and ‘community’ exists alongside huge deprivation, unemployment and crime. I think we’re all guilty of blinding ourselves to this and of selecting which ‘community’ we’re a part of. It’s completely understandable and it’s difficult not to feel impotent and scared when you look at the problems around but, if we’re to move forward from this in any meaningful sense, I think this is a valuable lesson to learn.

I think nowhere is this disconnect better illustrated than in one particular response I saw to the riots on Monday, when someone living in a gated block of flats high above the streets was whipping themselves (and others) into a frenzy over the prospect of riots coming to Hackney. Updates fizzled with excitement and offers of shelter from people outwith the area were rebuffed as they did not want to ‘miss’ their ‘first ever riot’. This isn’t ‘community’. This is glee at the prospect of witnessing the ‘other’ tear themselves apart for your pleasure. Inevitably, this response turned to expressions of ‘disgust’ when the clips of the inarticulate ‘scum’ began circulating and they said that rioting was ‘fun’.

I was scared on Monday. The rioting seemed to get ever closer and my boyfriend was in a car driving around London attempting to get home (in a small glimmer of positivity from all this, he was taken in and helped by some people we know who have my eternal gratitude). I completely understand the fear and the gut responses this provokes. If civilisation is to mean anything, if we truly believe deep down in the fundamental good of people, if we hold hope that each and every person deserves the chance to improve themselves, we have to resist that fear. We have to think about our responses, think about the communities we live in and the role we play. We have to think about why this has happened and try to learn from it in order to ensure it never happens again. Because, unfortunately, as long as inequality advances unchecked, materialism is valued above education and the underclass are seen as uncivilised monsters just waiting to ‘kick off’ at the first opportunity, this is going to happen again.

Response to ‘June 7, 2011 Anti-Gay Hate Crime Up 21% in Tower Hamlets”

This response was posted by a Kevin O’Neil on the Homintern ‘press release’ re: homophobia in Tower Hamlets, which I wrote about yesterday. It was deleted within 30 minutes. I think this underlines that these people really have an insidious agenda and zero interest in any honest discussion of the issues involved. Pathetic.

Thank you for posting the link to your data source for the 21% claim. A look round the Met’s crime figures website has proved most illuminating and allows one to put your headline into a context.
A 21% increase in homophobic crime in Tower Hamlets initially sounds dramatic but becomes less so when compared with other London Boroughs. Westminster, Lambeth both 26%, Brent 29%, Islington 60%, Croydon, Sutton 62%, Enfield 75%, Havering, Kingston-upon-Thames 83% and Harrow a wapping 125%.

Of course these are self-reflexive percentages only relating this years figures with last years within Borough boundaries. What about actual numbers of reported homophobic crime? A 21% rise in Tower Hamlets has lead to a total of 81 cases in the last year, an additional 14 cases. That is less than the 88 cases in Islington in the previous year BEFORE a 60% increase to 131 cases. It equals the 82 cases in Camden achieved after a 13% reduction. It is significantly less than Westminster’s 148 cases and Lambeth’s 132.

One also has to ask what are the nature of these homophobic crimes? In Tower Hamlets the 81 incidents, 14 more than last year, will include every official report made to the Police of the appearance of the stickers. We do not know how many that was (although I imagine a Freedom of Information request should be able to obtain the data). There was talk in the gay press and online blogs and forums of up to 70 appearances of these stickers. If each of those was officially reported separately we have a very different picture of only a dozen non sticker sighting related homophobic crimes. Conversely, if none were officially reported we have the possibility of an East London gay community who really weren’t that upset by them. I suspect it would be something between these extremes. However, if the reporting of the stickers were stripped out of the statistics I think we would be congratulating Tower Hamlets on a reduction of homophobic hate crime.

You seem to want to lay some of the blame for these stickers at the feet of the East London Mosque and make demands of them which you acknowledge the say they are already doing. Whether the ELM is still harbouring homophobic, ranting, nut-jobs or not, it would appear from a more thoughtful analysis and contextualisation of your data that hardly anyone is listening to them anyway.

Your whole agenda of wanting to link homophobic hate crime specifically to an extremist Islamist campaign and to the ELM is a fallacious red herring and does a great disservice to the gay community. A look at the statistics for homophobic crime across the capital shows that there is a serious problem that needs addressing. You wish to focus on a blind alley and lead the gay community into a battle with an enemy that is about as influential as Monster Raving Loony Party candidate in a safe seat.

A number of the signatories here state they are journalists and media professionals. Why are you not investigating the real picture of homophobic hate crime across London? Why are you not looking at the increases and total numbers in Westminster, Lambeth, Islington, Camden. The homophobic crime cases in these Boroughs do not include people reporting offensive stickers. Conversely why are you not looking at the successes across London and finding out what they’re doing right; Greenwich, Bromley, Barnet, Redbridge, Barking & Dagenham, Hammersmith & Fulham and Haringey all down by over 40%.

You talk of people living in fear in Tower Hamlets. Fear does not come directly from threat, it comes from the perception of threat. Your fallacious red herring stokes a perceived threat where very little actually exists. Shame on all the signatories for instilling fear in the hearts of the gay community of Tower Hamlets and generating more misery.

One final comment. You give the increase and numbers for homophobic crime in Tower Hamlets and state that racist and religious hate crime has remained static. But you do not give a figure for it. The number of incidents there is 352.
I note however the the Met refers to “homophobic crime” and “racist and religious HATE crime”. This would seem to support the contention towards the beginning of the piece about institutional bias in tackling hate crime. But then begs the question as to why you do not make this the focus of your demands”

This is at once hilarious and really, really pathetic. It’s basically a regurgitation of  Johann Hari’s shit piece which I wrote about here:

http://howupsetting.tumblr.com/post/3503560578/can-we-talk-about-muslim-homophobia-now

with some added legalese taken from a Rainbow Hamlets press release on the same subject (which you can read here:

http://hurryupharry.org/2011/06/01/%E2%80%9Crainbow-hamlets-says-lgbt-people-in-tower-hamlets-have-been-let-down-by-the-criminal-justice-system-%E2%80%9D/ )

There seems to be some war going on between various parties in the East End ‘gay community representative’ circle. For the record, leaving aside the Muslim aspect, I don’t really agree with either on this point. I think ‘hate crime’ legislation is always going to be messy because the very concept is messy. Messy and extremely unhelpful. I don’t think we need to beef up ‘gay’ hate crime legislation, I think we need to get rid of it all.

Anyway, let’s look at some choice sections of this press release:

  • The stickers (one sixth-A4 size) have been seen in several streets in Shoreditch, Canary Wharf and Hackney as well

Which is interesting, because only one of these areas falls entirely within Tower Hamlets. The vast majority of Shoreditch falls under Hackney Borough (as does Hackney, obviously). Homophobic crime has decreased in Hackney. And before anyone tells you that this means nothing because it’s a huge figure nonetheless, the 47 homophobic crimes the MET reports to April 2011 in Hackney compares with 317 Racist and Religious hate crimes, 130 rapes and 5900 cases of ‘violence against the person’.

  • People are upset that a coordinated, prolonged, multi-city attempt to define parts of the UK as Gay-Free Zones was treated as no more than mildly disorderly conduct

If this was ‘coordinated’ then the wicked people behind the conspiracy are truly the most inept planners…ever. Seriously, I could have done better. Some really shit stickers appeared in a few places and almost no-one knew they existed, and most people who knew they existed carried on their lives without giving it another thought. These shit stickers have been whipped up into some massive boogie man by people with an agenda.

  • There is a strong feeling that homophobia is being covered up, or ignored, in order not to ‘endanger community relations’

A ‘strong feeling’ from whom, exactly?! The 12 signatories of this release, several of whom have been deliberately exploiting this issue in order to demonise Muslims in East London for several months now? The guy was prosecuted for putting up offensive stickers. Statements from local gay people were read out in court. The judge said that he set out to “offend and distress. Worst. Cover-up. Ever.

  •  A comment on PinkNews says it all…

You know you’re in trouble when you resort to quoting comments from the shower of shite that is Pink News, with a bunch of commentors who wank each other into a frenzy with the idea that they are the Jews in Nazi Germany being ignored by ‘PC do-gooders’.

  • Such a light penalty would be unthinkable if we were considering groups operating across UK to create Jew-free, Black-free, Muslim-free or Christian-free zones.

It’s identity politics bingo! Let’s list a bunch of other minorities whom the NASTY PC DO-GOODERS are afraid of offending! Let’s ignore the fact that groups who do want such things frequently hold marches and protests with either no charges arising, or charges relating to public orderoffences after trouble kicks off. The idea that there is some conspiracy where racists, Islamaphobes and anti-religious bigots are being charged with hate crimes galore while homophobes run rampant is, quite frankly, risible. Laughter-inducingly so.

  • Human rights are for everyone or they are not at all

Except, presumably, when it’s some stupid kid who’s stuck up a few really shit stickers. Then we should lose all sense of perspective and justice and demand his head on a plate.

  • The “Gay-Free Zone” campaign was deliberately committed to fill gay people with fear in an area where they have already have been subject to vicious assaults and intimidation by gangs and ideologues for years

The FIRST time I have seen any of these people mention ‘gangs’, albeit not in an acknowledgment that the incidents (which overwhelmingly seem to occur in Shoreditch) happen in places with huge gang problems and all of the violence that comes from that. When I pointed out to someone that there had been stabbings just metres from the horrible attack on Oliver Hemsley which no gay person seemed to care about, I was told that they had ‘nothing to do with gay people’. Breathtaking. Apparently it’s fair enough if you’re stabbed as long as you’re not called a ‘poof’ while it happens. Then it’s time to MOBILISE. Stupid, blinkered and useless.

    • While it is often claimed that homophobic hate crime is ‘falling’ in Tower Hamlets, the most recent statistics released by the Metropolitan Police Service show that homophobic hate crime is UP in Tower Hamlets by 21% over last annual reporting period, from 67 attacks to 81; during the same period, religious/racial hate crime remained flat

This has already been tackled by several people (http://www.islamophobia-watch.com/islamophobia-watch/2011/2/28/are-muslims-responsible-for-a-huge-rise-in-homophobic-attack.html and http://aethelreadtheunread.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/can-we-talk-about-johann-haris-shoddy-journalism-now/ to mention two ). It’s worth re-iterating that homophobic crime has actually fallen in Hackney. It’s also fallen in Waltham Forest, another heavily Muslim area, while in Newham there have been 2 more incidents than last year. Westminster, Islington and Enfield (to name 3 boroughs which don’t exactly spring to mind when you think ‘Muslim’) have had increases between 26 and 75%.

As for the quite horrible effort to play homophobic crimes against religious/racial crimes – in Tower Hamlets the rolling 12-month figure for homophobic crime is currently 81 incidents. For religious/racial crime, it’s currently 352. Hardly worthy of the ‘everything’s fine there’ dismissive tone it receives.

  • Many gay people have been forced out of the borough, unable to cope with the harassment.

Seriously – WHAT?! A repeat of Johann Hari’s assertion in the pathetic ‘correction’ to his original article. Any evidence for this? Anyone? Anything at all? I suspect it would be along the lines of ‘my mate Bob left’. PATHETIC!

    • A particularly vicious attack – ignored by national media – occurred in late August 2008, when a 21 year-old art student, Oliver Hemsley, was butchered just after leaving the George & Dragon pub on Hackney Road in Shoreditch

Leaving aside the hysterical language, it was so ‘ignored by national media’ that the first page of google results for Oliver’s name brings up articles from the BBC, Daily Mail, The Independent and Sky News reporting it.

    •  15 year old, Nasrul Islam, was the only gang member to be brought to justice. Incredibly, the police released him on bail – only for him to mug a 12 year-old girl just days later.

Well that’s odd. Did he mug a little girl because he’s a homophobic Muslim? The judge in the case stated that ”This was an entirely motiveless, mindless attack. Its ferocity makes my blood run cold. He speaks with a degree of pride about his reputation with the boys, with the local community.” So a picture is emerging of a violent gang member in the area in question. Also of note is that the court reports tell of Oliver being attacked while en-route to an off-license, and not on his way to the nearby gay bar as these people like to report. When I noted the inconsistencies in the story with the ‘gay man attacked deliberately for being gay’ narrative, I was told by one of the signatories of this statement that I was ‘fine’ with the stabbing of a young man. This is the mentality of these people. You are either with them or you are a sympathiser for a rampaging homophobic menace which cares only about whether you are gay or not and nothing else.

    • The East London Mosque (ELM), the main mosque in East London, was quick to distance itself from, and to condemn, the “Gay Free Zone” stickers

But we’ll gloss over this, and the Mayor and other prominent Muslims’ support and participation in a Faith Communities and Homophobia Forum in May, cos that makes things a bit more grey than we’d like. Regarding the East London Mosque, they can speak for themselves with regards to the IFE : http://www.eastlondonmosque.org.uk/uploadedImage/pdf/2010_03_15_17_14_22_ELM_dispatches_response.pdf

    • We must stop assuming that the ELM/IFE represent the larger Muslim community

What a bizarre statement. Who said they did? If anything it seems to be these people who are so keen to lump all Muslims in with the ‘extremists’ they perceive to be running rampage in East London. If the vast majority of Muslims oppose and condemn the IFE and the Mosque itself condemns homophobia, I’m failing to see the point here.

    • In addition to its IFE connections, the ELM has also hosted numerous hate preachers who have promoted the most vicious homophobia imaginable over the years. 

A criticism which Peter Tatchell acknowledged they had responded to and led to them promising not to host any such preachers in future.

    • While it is doubtful that many gaybashers are regular mosque attendees

STOP THE BUS!

    • the ELM’s preachers have created an atmosphere in which hate is socially acceptable

Even in non-Muslim areas by non-Muslims, apparently. ELM is PRETTY POWERFUL! The article then ends with a flourish of homophobic utterances from a bunch of Muslims. Even though they’ve just acknowledged that most Muslims apparently oppose extremism and gay-bashers are unlikely to frequently attend the ELM. That’s some nice logic there.

I don’t wish my tone to imply that there isn’t a problem. Homophobia and violent crime should be taken seriously and should be tackled. This is not served by trying to exploit and distort events in order to pursue your own personal agenda and pit minorities against each other. It is certainly not served by ignoring the common root causes of violent crime and acting like the attack of a gay man outside the George and Dragon is completely unrelated to the shooting of a straight man outside Jam (which used to be directly opposite). Engaging with these issues means growing up and getting past the idea that the thing which makes you a ‘minority’ is the defining characteristic of your entire being and everything you do and everything that happens to you, then demanding that everyone around act in the same way and responding with fury when they don’t.

The current path the signatories of this statement are on is going to achieve absolutely nothing.

Anti-Gay Hate Crime Up 21% in Tower Hamlets: Gay & Feminist Activists Respond to Gay Free Zone Case

Can we talk about liberal bias now?

The only criticism I have seen of Johann Hari’s recent silly (dangerously so) article about ‘Muslim homophobia’ has been in blogs:

http://www.islamophobia-watch.com/islamophobia-watch/2011/2/28/are-muslims-responsible-for-a-huge-rise-in-homophobic-attack.html

http://leninology.blogspot.com/2011/02/can-we-finally-talk-about-johann-haris.html

Guardian journo Gary Younge tweeted that he disagreed with it, but went out of his way to also tweet that Johann Hari was an “important voice & ought to be engaged, as some have, not demonised.”

Engaging proved difficult. Johann’s response to people tweeting criticism at him has either been to ignore it completely or to, in one case, label the person responsible as ‘extremely unintelligent’ and it seems he has blocked many of the critics (including at least one of the authors above).

Some of the attacks on Johann since his article have been quite hysterical. But most that I’ve seen have been reasoned and calm. It’s raised an interesting, but quietly disturbing question about ‘liberal writers’. Johann and many other ‘left’ journalists quite regularly write indignant columns about the ignorance and stupidity of people like Melanie Phillips and Richard Littlejohn. Whether this is helpful or productive is another question, but it’s not something that most people are going to be particularly bothered by because, on the whole, they do seem to be ignorant and stupid.

However, I have not seen a single one of these writers tackle Johann’s article. An article which has since been shown to be based on a completely incorrect assertion and which, as I argued here:

http://howupsetting.tumblr.com/post/3503560578/can-we-talk-about-muslim-homophobia-now (I wrote this before seeing the above blogs so obviously the crime figures bit is moot)

is factually selective, logically muddled and presents an at times almost incoherent argument. I have absolutely no doubt that if a right-wing columnist of a similar profile to Johann had written a factually inaccurate, inflammatory colum about Muslims that there would have been at least a couple of high-profile attacks on it. The absence of this suggests that it’s okay for a liberal writer to write provocative tosh about Muslims, because they’re on ‘our side’ and write good columns about causes close to our hearts such as UK Uncut.

We’re supposed to be better than the right-wing bastards. We’re supposed to have higher standards. Johann is a writer I have long followed and he has written some things that I have admired. His refusal to either acknowledge that his article contained inaccuracies and apologise, or to tackle the criticism head on and explain why he’s right, has greatly reduced my respect for him. People share these articles and people assume that what they’re reading is based on accurate information (the issue of people thinking about such articles critically is another one entirely). They calcify opinions and create false oppositions. They are, as I wrote earlier, deeply irresponsible.

This article infuriates me. It’s lazy, and that is the most inexcusable thing for such an inflammatory article to be. From it’s ‘Can we talk about immigration now?’ Daily Mail-esque headline (because, you know, I’m pretty sure people have been talking about ‘Muslim homophobia’ for quite some time now. With zero sense of irony, the poll Hari links to was TWO YEARS AGO!) to its selective use of facts, it’s shockingly irresponsible.

It is irresponsible in ignoring the fact that bodies such as the Muslim Council of Britain, the East London Mosque and the Association of British Muslims all condemned these stickers. Indeed, the latter organisation went even further and said “There is nothing in the Qur’an against LGBT people.  Allah has honoured every son/daughter of Adam, so such a hateful message is not only morally and ethically wrong but actually unislamic.”

It is irresponsible in failing to explain the quite striking statement that “East London has seen the highest increase in homophobic attacks anywhere in Britain.” A quick Google search reveals stark headlines about soaring homophobic crime every year dating back to at least 2005. Is it perhaps possible that the ‘increase’ is down to a) increased efforts by the police to engage with the LGBT community and, linked to this, b) increased reporting of offences? It also fails to question any link between the gay population of various parts of the UK and an ‘increase’ – if homophobic crime is increasing across the UK, it’s logical it would increase more in areas with a large gay population (such as East London) than in other areas, no? And rise it has – apparently homophobic crime doubled in Scotland LAST YEAR, as opposed to a 28% increase in London in the past 4 years. Would Hari attribute the rise in Scotland to Muslim homophobia also?

It is irresponsible in treating homophobic attacks as a ‘special’ kind of attack, as if they exist in a vacuum. We already know that single men are by far the most likely to be attacked. Has this risen in East London generally? Without this knowledge the article is immediately meaningless. I read of stabbings in East London on a daily basis, but because they are typically seen as gang-related they are seen as nothing to do with homophobic attacks. If an entire area is suffering from a large incidence of violent crime, why would gay people be excluded from this?

Related to this point, is Hari saying that Muslim people are just more likely to attack gay men? Or is it rather that people from a certain socio-economic background are more likely to do so? Are middle-class Muslims running around East London stabbing gay men? If it IS related to socio-economic status then that tells us something, no? Would Hari attribute the violent crimes committed by Christians, agnostics, atheists etc to their spiritual beliefs? If I was to go out and mug a gay man, would this be because I was baptised? This goes to the hoary (but worth repeating) point that NO-ONE ever referred to the IRA as a ‘Catholic Terrorist group’ whereas the immediate reaction to any ‘Muslim’ political organisation is to immediately highlight the religious aspect (and presumed cause).

It saddens me that gay people are so willing to applaud articles like this without applying any critical thought. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of tackling the problem of attacks on gay men. But we do not exist in a vacuum, and however much some people’s sense of identity may depend on it, we are not a horribly oppressed minority. In tackling violent crime we should join as a community – a community based on shared space, values and empathy, and not sexuality – and tackle all violent crime. Simplistic articles like this do nothing to help with this.

Can we talk about Muslim homophobia now?