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The Will Of The People

Today, the 15th November 2017, the results of the (non-binding) Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey were revealed. Voters were asked the question, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” They had two options – ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ The result was a 61.6% vote in favour of ‘Yes.’ The turnout (defined here as legally cast votes) was 79.3%.

On the 23rd June, 2016, the United Kingdom held a (advisory) referendum to decide whether or not it should remain a part of the European Union. Voters were asked the question, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” They had two options – ‘Remain a member of the European Union’ or ‘Leave the European Union.’ The result was a 51.9% vote in favour of ‘Leave.’ The turnout (defined here as legally cast votes) was 72.2%.

On the surface, these two scenarios and outcomes may appear very similar. They are not. Unfortunately, we now need to talk about statistics. The data is everything, because it tells us what is really happening. Please bear with me. I will be as terse as I can.

In the Australian Marriage Equality Survey, 7,817,247 voted ‘Yes.’ Frustratingly (if, like me, you are a supporter of marriage equality), this equates to 48.8% of the total electorate (16,006,180), thus falling just short of an overall majority. So, not then ‘the will of the people.’ Or is it? To achieve more than 50% of the total electorate, 8,003,091 votes were required. The ‘Yes’ vote was only 185,844 short of this target – or 5.6% of those who did not vote. Is it reasonable to assume they would obtain these votes were it possible to ask the non-voters? Yes of course it is. In fact, it’s practically guaranteed that they would. Therefore, the result of this survey can and should be considered the will of the people, and the Australian government should move to legalise same-sex marriage immediately. Happily, their Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has already indicated that he wishes to change the law by Christmas.

In the UK’s EU Referendum, 17,410,742 voted ‘Leave.’ This equates to 37.4% of the total electorate (46,500,001), well short of an overall majority. The ‘Leave’ vote required 5,839,259 more votes to achieve over 50% of the electorate – that’s 45.1% of those who did not vote. Is it reasonable to assume they would obtain these votes were it possible to ask the non-voters? No. The data suggests strongly that the total electorate is in favour of remaining in the European Union. 62.5% of people under the age of 50 voted ‘Remain’ and we know that the over 65s were twice as likely to have voted as people under 25. Clearly then, leaving the European Union cannot and should not be considered the will of the people.

The key factors in all of this are the margin of victory and the voter turnout. ‘Yes’ won by 23.2% in Australia, with a 79.3% turnout – a clear and resounding victory. By contrast, ‘Leave’ in the UK won by just 3.8%, with a 72.2% turnout – ambiguous to say the least. Thus, while Australia unites and rejoices, the UK becomes ever more divided as it stumbles towards the EU exit door with no apparent plan in place and a government that looks distinctly out of its depth.

There was of course a very easy way to avoid this situation. When devising the grounds upon which they would agree to act in response to the results of the referendum, the UK government should have required certain criteria to have been met. A minimum 75% voter turnout and a 5% margin of victory seem to be the obvious choices. It is unconscionable that the Tories were so irresponsible as to not put these safeguards in place.

It would be remiss of me also not to point out that, while marriage equality is something one could expect the public to fully understand and make an informed decision on, the consequences of leaving the EU are not (especially when so much misinformation was spread during the campaigns). Therefore, the UK’s EU referendum should never have taken place to begin with.

Alas, the EU referendum was only advisory and Article 50 can be revoked. It is now the duty of the UK government to acknowledge that not only did ‘Leave’ fail to win an overall majority of the total electorate, but that it never could have. It should then cancel the process of leaving the European Union and focus its energy instead on effecting change from within. One might almost say it should, ahem, take back control.

Southgate’s England Teams

You know how when you watch the England football team, it feels as though the players have never even met before? You wonder why there’s no anticipation of each other’s passes or movement, why crosses arrive into barren wildernesses, hopeful 60 yard balls bounce into touch, and it seems like the ball has one of those security devices installed in it that supermarkets use to prevent their trolleys from being stolen – it looks like it can only travel sideways or backwards. As for tempo, have you ever listened to a Nick Drake album?

There’s a very simple explanation for this; the players quite possibly haven’t met on the pitch before. During the 12 matches that the current England manager, Gareth Southgate, has been in charge, he has averaged four changes to the starting line-up from one match to the next. As Joe Hart has played in 10 of the 12 games, these changes have almost always been to outfield players. Consequently, almost half the outfield team is different each time the national side plays – and often more so.

Surely though, to steal the hapless Prime Minister’s slogan, strong and stable leadership on the pitch should be able to overcome this to some extent, you might be thinking? Maybe so, but unfortunately Southgate has switched the captaincy eight times during his tenure. Wayne Rooney, Jordan Henderson, Joe Hart, Gary Cahill and Harry Kane have all had a play with the skippers’ armband – none of them more than four times.

But this doesn’t account for why our top class attacking players haven’t been able to establish a working relationship and hammer home the goals against very weak opposition, you may rightly suggest. Of our attack-minded players, only Dele Alli has begun more than half the matches (nine) since Southgate took over. Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling have both started six times, Adam Lallana five times, Marcus Rashford four times, Daniel Sturridge three times, Jamie Vardy twice and Jermaine Defoe once.

In fact, only seven outfield players have started more than half the games (and not necessarily at the same time) and only one outfield player has started more than 75% of the matches (Gary Cahill).

These statistics are devastating for multiple reasons. Motivation and team spirit are built around feeling like part of a team – as is a players’ respect for the manager. If you are constantly being dropped, you are likely to feel resentment toward both the manager and the player(s) replacing you. In such a haphazard selection system, a player is also less likely to feel an affinity with the shirt or play his heart out to retain it when he gets his chance, partly no doubt due to fears that he will be dropped next time, regardless of his performance. If England caps are made to feel like a lottery, don’t be surprised when performances resemble a lucky dip.

Bizarrely, as shown above, these problems are only exaggerated when a light is shone upon the forward selections, and with predictable results. This England team were only been able to score 18 times in 10 matches in a group that included Malta, Lithuania and Slovenia. To give this some context, Germany and Belgium netted 43 times, Spain 36 times and Portugal 32 times. Only Iceland scored fewer goals (16) than England as group winners but they had quite a tough group.

This awful reality that leaves the fans so dispirited, presumably further undermining the teams’ performances, can only be due to Southgate selecting a different attacking line-up in every game, given the general poor quality of England’s opponents in the qualifying group. How can they possibly develop the necessary understanding or confidence required to breakdown stubborn international defences? Ironically, Southgate has often pointed towards opposing teams ‘parking the bus’ as a reason for our lack of success in front of goal, without apparently being aware that the one solution available to solve this conundrum is being thwarted by him.

Most people’s ideal attacking four for the world cup next year, injuries aside, will be Lallana, Alli, Rashford and Kane, yet they have never played 90 minutes together to date. They did all start once – four months ago against Scotland, but two of them were substituted in the second half – just before Scotland scored two goals!

At a glance it appears as though England qualified comfortably for Russia 2018. But injury time goals against both Scotland and Slovenia, and only a penalty against Lithuania, give gloss to what was actually a rather uncomfortable affair.

If England wants to avoid the embarrassment of the last two international tournaments, Southgate must settle upon his best team and formation and play it in every game going forward between now and June next year. International football is not the same as club football. You don’t get months to work on different systems and you don’t need to rotate the squad due to the amount of matches played. Being able to focus on the very best scenario ought to be viewed as a luxury, yet successive England managers seem to be utterly befuddled by this and contrive to turn an advantage into a disadvantage. Focus Gareth, focus.

The Alt-Right: Meet The Deplorables

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I’ve began to feel as though I left a few things unsaid in my previous article, so consider this piece an addendum of sorts, albeit I fear, a slightly angry and unpolished one…

Hillary nailed it; the alt-right is deplorable. Though its adherents deny it one and all, they are white supremacists trying to fly under the radar with a quirkier sounding name. They insist that their detractors are simply too easily offended and don’t like free speech, or when this ruse fails, claim that they are only joking. But there’s never anything much to laugh at, and aside from the childishness of this defence, it reveals that they know very well just how sinister they are. Alas, all that appears to matter to them is their desire to push the boundaries of insult further and wider.

So who are the alt-righters? Well, they were the ones shouting ‘build the wall’ and beating up dark skinned people at Trump’s rallies. They’re the ones who want to stop all Muslim immigration and to ban the building of mosques. They’re the ones who do not wish to see a single refugee set foot in the developed world, especially if they look like they might be a day over 16 or aren’t close enough to death for their liking. They were the ones who insisted that Trump’s boast of sexual assault was just’ locker room talk’. They were the ones who spread malicious rumours about Barack Obama’s American citizenship, a barely concealed racist attack if ever there was one. They’re the ones who scream ‘femi-nazi’ at any woman who dares to have an opinion opposed to their own. They were the ones who scare mongered for years about the impact of immigrants on British society. They were the ones who deceived the electorate about the cost of EU membership and lied about where these make believe savings could be spent, for the sole reason of stopping foreigners coming to Britain. And last Saturday (19th November), in Washington DC, they were the ones shouting ‘Heil victory’ and throwing Nazi salutes back at Richard B. Spencer, the man who coined the term ‘alt-right’, while he told them that America was “a white country that belongs to us.”

Here is a taste of how some of the alt-right’s favourite spokespeople behave:

Katie Hopkins – Former ‘The Apprentice’ contestant and loudmouth columnist for The Mail Online.  If you thought the headline below was bad enough, her first paragraph reads: “NO, I don’t care. Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad.  I still don’t care.”

katie-hopkins

Milo Yiannopoulos – The alt-right poster boy.  Previously exposed as a plagiarist, he now writes a column for Breitbart News.  He thinks feminism is worse than cancer, and apparently at least 11,678 of his fans agree:

milo

Nigel Farage – Former commodity broker, one has to remind themselves that he has never been elected as a member of parliament, given his overbearing, unceasing presence.  He’s currently the acting leader of UKIP, the populist far-right party in the UK, and a favourite of Donald Trump.  Here he is fear-mongering about Britain being invaded by refugees:

nigel-farage-refugees

Raheem Kassam – He is the editor-in-chief of Breitbart News in London, the favoured news feed of the alt-right.  He’s also regularly obnoxious on Twitter.  Here he displays the misogyny and the disdain for disabled people that has become so characteristic of the alt-right world view:

raheem-kassam

These people are the dregs of society. Doubtless you’ll be familiar with the calls to hear them out and to try to understand the grievances of this mob. If there ever was a time to indulge such a menace in an unnecessarily generous nod to civility, that time has long since passed. These people now have what they wanted. They have effectively won the Presidency in America and they have thrown Britain into a political, economic and diplomatic crisis by dragging it out of the European Union. If we are to prevent them from destroying everything that we have come to cherish – the freedom, the tolerance and the diversity, then all there is left to do is mobilise and to fight back – peacefully and democratically of course, but most importantly everyone must resist the urge to merely hope everything will turn out alright, or worse, simply assume that enough other people will make a stand. Those who cheer on the Donald Trumps of this world are counting on this. They are banking on liberals continuing to sleep walk into obscurity. It was the naivety of liberals in the first place that enabled all of this because the threat has always been there – it never goes away. However, recently too many liberals have forgotten to check their privilege and have taken too much for granted. 2016 must act as the wakeup call, before it’s too late. There’s so much at stake – we can’t afford to lose anymore elections.

Donald Trump And The Politics Of Hate

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I started this blog primarily to write about, and to offer some resistance to, what I believed to be the greatest threat to our way of life – organised religion.  I must admit that I didn’t expect this to change so soon. But on the night of the 2016 US Elections, it did change. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Donald Trump is the worst possible choice as the leader of the free world one could wish for. If every US citizen were to draw straws, you’d almost certainly be guaranteed a better option. Sure you might end up with someone who is uninformed, as Trump certainly is. They might even be a misogynist and a racist. But they’re unlikely to also be a world champion narcissist who, for example, thinks that they know more about Iraq and Afghanistan than US army Generals, as Trump has claimed to. Indeed Donald Trump is so uninformed, that his own ignorance is a stranger to him.

Much has been written about the character traits that ought to have disqualified Trump from the Presidency, but it’s worth reiterating a few of them, if only to soften you up for my conclusions, so here goes…

Donald Trump is a racist, a xenophobe and an anti-Muslim bigot. Whether or not his father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan is up for debate, but what is certain is that Donald’s real estate company was sued for racism. In two states, New York and Virginia, black applicants had their forms marked with the letter ‘c’ for coloured. One of his hotels, The Trump Plaza, was also sued for $200,000 for ensuring its black employees did not serve a regular customer who was known to be a racist, in order to accommodate him. Undeterred, Donald would go on to be the most prominent voice in the ‘birther’ movement, a patently racist motivated effort to have Obama’s tenancy of the White House cut short due to him being a Muslim, a Kenyan or some other apparently undesirable non-American. Of course there’s no doubt that what was really meant by all those who supported this despicable movement was that they didn’t want a black man sleeping in the same bedroom previously occupied by Madison, Jefferson, Adams and so on.

When Trump launched his Presidential campaign last year, rather than seeking to reset his reputation concerning minorities, he immediately quadrupled down, calling Mexicans rapists and drug dealers and insisting that a 60 foot high wall be built along the US-Mexican border in order to keep them out. Trump then demanded that all immigration from Muslim countries cease immediately (Trump seemed unaware that Muslims also emigrate to America from Europe). Perhaps one of the most unsavoury and under reported events of Trump’s campaign was when he invited an organisation of women that exists solely and unfathomably due to their shared experience of having had a child murdered by an illegal immigrant, to stand alongside him at one of his rallies while he hate mongered to his mob. Deplorable doesn’t even come close.

Donald Trump is a misogynist who has no respect for women. It’s clear from the long history of his predatory behaviour that he sees women as objects without agency that he can do whatever he wants with. If you doubt this, just take another read of what he was caught on tape saying to Billy Bush in 2005:

“I just start kissing them… I don’t even wait. When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

It’s interesting to read the above statement in the context of the sexual assault allegations that have been made against him. Here is a list of those alleged attacks. The correlation with his own professed attitude toward how one can treat women is uncanny:

1980 – Jessica Leeds says Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt on an aeroplane

Early 1990’s – Kristin Anderson claims that Trump put his hand up her skirt and touched her vagina through her underwear on a dancefloor in a New York nightclub

1997 – Temple Taggart, Miss Utah 1997, says Trump twice kissed her on the mouth uninvited

1997 – Four contestants from the 1997 Miss Teen USA, including Mariah Billado, say Trump walked in on them while they were changing. Some of the girls were only 15 at the time, but that hasn’t stopped Trump from boasting about the incident

1998 – Karena Virginia accuses Trump of grabbing her breast at the 1998 US Open Tennis Championship

2003 – Mindy McGillivray says Trump grabbed her bum at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida

2005 – Rachel Crooks says Trump kissed her on the mouth uninvited outside an elevator in Trump Tower

2005 – Natasha Stoynoff, a journalist with ‘People’ magazine, claims Trump pushed her against a wall and forced his tongue down her throat while she was interviewing him at his Mar-A-Lago resort

2007 – Summer Zervos, former ‘The Apprentice’ contestant, says Trump kissed her on the mouth uninvited, grabbed her breast, and thrust his genitals at her during a meeting to discuss possible employment

2013 – Cassandra Searles, the 2013 Miss World winner, says Trump grabbed her bum after the event and invited her to his room

Please remind yourself how Donald Trump mocked a disabled reporter who dared to criticise him. America, meet your new President, the man who now represents you on the world stage:

Video Link

Here are his ‘thoughts’ on climate change:

climate-change-trump

On abortion, Trump said the following in an interview with Chris Matthews earlier this year:

“You have to ban it… there has to be some form of punishment” (for the woman).

During a meeting with foreign policy advisers, Trump reportedly asked on three occasions why America can’t use its nuclear weapons. He also supports the proliferation of nuclear weapons to countries that currently do not have them, specifically naming Japan and Saudi Arabia as good starting points.

I could go on of course. There’s hardly a topic you could name that Trump hasn’t said multiple stupid, divisive or truly dangerous things about. The point that I’m trying to ram home is this; his victory wasn’t about economics. It was about hate, plain and simple. Surveys have shown that the average annual income of Trump voters is $72,000 (£57,000). No one chanted about trade deals at his rallies. They screamed “Trump that bitch!” and physically attacked people with dark skin or who simply looked a bit different. If you haven’t already, you really must check out Jared Yates Sexton’s live tweets from a Trump rally in Greensboro in June this year. They’re truly terrifying: https://storify.com/case_face/a-trump-rally-in-greensboro-anger-in-here-is-palpa.

It’s patently ridiculous to suggest that a white man, born into extreme privilege, who has hob knobbed with the rich and famous, including billionaires and Presidents, his whole life, and who hasn’t paid federal income tax for the best part of 20 years, represents the outsider or the hard working men and women of America. One of the great things about the internet age is that everyone has the key information. Everything that I wrote in the first 1,000 words of this article was outlined ceaselessly every night on television and was constantly trending on social media. No one could have been under any illusions as to what they were voting for, and no one surely could have imagined that Trump was really what America needed to be great again. The 60 million people who voted for Trump simply didn’t care. They were fully prepared to burn the house down in service to their lust for hate. For most, it was hatred of ‘the other’ (blacks, Latinos, Muslims, homosexuals, women), for some, it was hatred of Hillary. But I would argue that the latter reveals more than many seem willing to entertain because if you believed it was more important to block Hillary’s path to the Presidency than to resist the sexism and racism of Trump, then in my book you just don’t care enough about sexism and racism. One does not have to travel too far into our past to witness the consequences of such indifference. Sadly, many on the left were also culpable here, and ultimately they too played their part in handing Trump the golden ticket.

So what now? Depressingly, with the Senate and Congress also lost to the GOP, America and the rest of the world can only cross its fingers and hope we get through this with Western civilisation still intact. It’s that bad. Going forward, liberals must learn to recognise fascism when they see it, and be prepared to set aside their petty squabbles to unite against it. They must also learn that elections are largely about personalities, and just as Miliband and Corbyn proved inadequate to resist Farage and the brexiteers, so too was Hillary Clinton incapable of garnering enough support to defeat even an obnoxious buffoon like Donald Trump. Good luck everyone.

Brexit: Now Is The Time To Fight

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So a week has passed since the people of Britain voted to leave the European Union, and with it immediately threw the country into economic turmoil (we’re on the verge of relegation from 5th to 6th place in the world’s leading economies and have lost our triple A credit rating status), brought down the existing Prime Minister, David Cameron, leaving the country without stable governance, and tarnished our reputation internationally, not least due to the shocking rise in hate crimes toward foreign nationals in the aftermath of the result – apparently many appear to believe that the outcome of the referendum legitimises racism and means we’re poised to tell all immigrants to go home. Among the plethora of potential long term consequences is the increased likelihood that Britain will be broken apart, as Scotland voted regionally to remain a member of the EU. Who now could blame them for once again seeking independence?

And all of this for what? We haven’t regained our sovereignty, for it was never lost. The EU has a parliament of 751 members, voted for in free and fair elections by the citizens of member countries. There will be no more money for the NHS. The £350m a week that was claimed to be available by the Leave campaign, isn’t actually there (the highest possible amount is in fact £161m but this doesn’t take into account other inevitable costs of leaving the EU), and does anyone imagine that the Far Right would spend it on socialised medicine even if it was available? On matters of security, Britain has now made itself vulnerable to what intelligence experts refer to as the ‘discontinuity effect’. 40 years worth of cooperation and institution building now has to be unravelled and reset. Doubtless it will be in the interests of everyone to continue to work together, but changes of this magnitude take time to impart, potentially creating gaps – gaps that terrorists are experts at taking advantage of. As for immigration, the real issue that ‘leavers’ voted out on, well anyone capable of doing further reading beyond the headlines in The Sun and Daily Express knew that access to the single market (touted as unnecessary by the ‘Leave’ campaign before the election but now acknowledged as essential by the very same people) was always going to turn on our borders being open. There will be no significant change in immigration.

Yet in spite of this unrelenting disaster for the future of Britain, a strange air of resignation appears to have taken hold. I keep hearing and reading things like ‘let’s make the best of it’, ‘we’ll find a way, we always do’ and perhaps most aggravating ‘the most important thing now is to all pull together and heal the divisions.’ Even ‘Remain’ voters seem to be falling over themselves in a race to come across as the most reasonable. It reminds me somewhat of those atheists who nonetheless compete to see who can tolerate the most religious intolerance. Well I’m sorry, you’ll have to excuse me, but this self-congratulatory posturing is not for me and I certainly do not feel much like bridge building. Here’s why:

  • The Leave campaign was almost entirely built on lies, as laid out above but also now largely admitted by many of those involved. One of the most unsavoury features of the past 7 days has been witnessing key figures in the Leave camp seeking to distance themselves from the campaign they had led.
  • The Remain campaign simply did not get its key demographic to the polling stations. Only around a third of 18-24 year olds voted, compared to more than two thirds of over 65’s. Yet 73% of young people intended to vote ‘Remain’. Statistically speaking, the older you are the more likely you were to vote ‘Leave’ – over 60% of the uppermost demographic voted ‘Out’. By contrast, considering that the consequences of this decision are decades long, it is the young who will be the most affected.
  • We now know that significant numbers of those who voted ‘Leave’ regret their vote. They say that they voted to leave either because they believed the lies or because they thought that a positive result for the Remain side was a done deal and so decided to use their vote as a form of protest. If the polls are accurate, then we would see somewhere in the region of a 900,000 vote swing in favour of ‘Remain’ if all those who voted could have another go.
  • At the time of writing, 3,923,805 people from the United Kingdom (4,086,208 worldwide) have signed an online petition demanding a second referendum – approximately 9% of the total electorate. If you haven’t done so already then please go ahead and sign now. You can find the petition here: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131215/
  • I would argue that our membership of the EU is not an issue that ought to be decided by a referendum. This probably requires an essay in itself to fully flesh out, but in summary I feel there is simply too much required reading to do in order to be fully informed of all the facts. The reality is that most people do not have the time to do it. This is an issue, like thousands of others, that our politicians are paid to sort out on our behalf.

I believe these 5 points layout not only a compelling case, but also a moral duty to challenge this debacle. It is not anti-democratic, as staunch ‘Leavers’ would have it, to seek a peaceful way out of this mess. Indeed, it is the final con trick of the Far Right to bully people into thinking that they have no choice but to accept the result lying down. On the contrary, the wonderful thing about a democracy is that there are always options available to protest governance without having to resort to anything other than conversations and debate. I would like to beckon you all to do whatever you can to keep building the pressure on our MPs so that they feel empowered to reject our exit from the EU by whatever means possible. If we have to have another referendum, then so be it. Now is not a time to feel sorry for ourselves or to surrender. Now is the time to fight.

“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

– Benjamin Franklin


A Short Note On Pacifism

Pacifism

Recently, on Real Time with Bill Maher, rapper Michael Render, ironically known as ‘Killer Mike’, said the following with regards to an advertising campaign for a charity representing wounded warriors:

“Why don’t we stop sending poor and working class boys to war? And then we don’t have to have those commercials, we don’t have to have a charity, we don’t have to get angry that the VA (Veterans Association) hospital won’t see them for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when they come back so we have higher suicide rates. If we do the right thing by avoiding war, we don’t have to have that…”

This soap box rant received rapturous applause despite the fact that it has at best only a tenuous grip on reality and is somewhat immoral if taken literally.

While I was still thinking about what to make of this, I found myself in a political debate with a total stranger in the café at my local gym. He was steeped in regressive left rhetoric, tracing every problem on the planet back to Dick Cheney and Tony Blair, before topping off my growing frustration with him by proclaiming, “you can’t stop violence with violence.” Though I’m fairly confident I’d debunked this within about 20 seconds, he nonetheless remained perfectly satisfied with his position.

So what could my fellow gym goer and Killer Mike possibly mean? Surely we all want to avoid war, so what’s the problem with their beliefs and commitments to non-violence? Here are some thoughts:

Pacifism hinges upon two propositions:

  1. There are no truly evil people and ultimately anyone can be reasoned with.
  2. It is better to die without putting up a fight in order to set an example of non-violence.

The first of these misunderstandings really has its roots in western privilege. To put it simply, the majority of us have never encountered a truly dangerous person in a situation where we’re vulnerable to being victimised by them. This is of course a good thing and alludes to the fact that in the west we have built relatively safe and civilised societies. However, this also provides a false sense of security in that it disarms many people from even being able to imagine how badly a collision with a psychopath in the wrong circumstances might go. But a brief study of the cases of Richard Ramirez (The Nightstalker) or Dennis Rader (BTK), or an afternoon spent sourcing the uncensored versions of Jihadi John’s videos, ought to provide you with all the information one could require to realise that if you were ever cornered by people like this then the time for talking in the hope of a good outcome has long passed.

Unfortunately, this is where the rot really sets in. There are people who believe that even when words have obviously ran their course, the only thing left to do is to submit yourself to whatever harms are in store for you without resistance. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, this means one person armed only with a knife could murder everyone in an entire city, given enough time and the requisite motivation. It also inspires apparently moral people, such as Mahatma Gandhi, to say things like this:

“Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from the cliffs.”

I’m proud to say that this is not the world I wish to live in. I believe that tyranny and evil should be confronted wherever they arise. If ever there were an example of a utopian vision setting us off course and causing real and avoidable harm, pacifism is surely it. The unhappy truth is that there are some very bad people in the world who can only be neutralised by recourse to violence (either actual or convincingly implied) and so even moral people will occasionally be required to apply it if our goals are to survive, to live in free and democratic societies, and to minimise suffering.


The Truth About Fox Hunting

David Cameron Fox Hunting

Dotted across the globe there are many places where Vulpes vulpes’, commonly known as red foxes, did not exist until about 250 years ago, when they suddenly appeared overnight in large numbers and began to flourish.  Was this the fastest known example of evolution?  Or, if you prefer, a last minute addition by an omnipotent creator?  Of course not.  These foxes were being shipped to various parts of the planet, such as Australia, by British colonialists who simply couldn’t think of another way to pass the time in the brave new world other than to watch animals be ripped to pieces.  Some pests.

Fortunately, though somewhat belatedly, Britain finally lived up to its reputation as the world leader in animal welfare and banned this disgusting and cruel activity in November 2004 via The Hunting Act (2002 in Scotland).  Its legislative aim, as stated, was thus:

“…one of preventing or reducing unnecessary suffering to wild mammals, overlaid by a moral viewpoint that causing suffering to animals for sport is unethical.”

Hear hear to that.  The act passed in parliament by a wide margin, 356-166, and considering that public opinion has never wavered far from the 80% support of the ban as reported by the Ipsos MORI poll in 2013, one could have been forgiven for thinking that would be the end of the matter.  But then one has to remind themselves that we haven’t had a majority Conservative government for 19 years.

David Cameron, now unshackled from the coalition, has made it plain that he wishes to see the Hunting Act repealed.  He is a big fan of fox hunting, has openly admitted to taking part in multiple hunts, and though he was certainly misquoted by the BBC’s Andrew Marr when the hapless journalist claimed in an interview with the Prime Minister that he had once stated it was his favourite sport (interestingly, at the time Cameron did not refute this, so presumably he thought it plausible that he may have said it), he did say the following:

“It is my firm belief that people should have the freedom to hunt, so I share the frustration that many people feel about the Hunting Act.”

Then adding:

“I’m a country boy, I support country sports.”

This is where we must pick up the story.  You may first want to read my opening paragraph again, followed by Mr Cameron’s comments above.  Those words ought to make it clear that any suggestion of the necessity of fox hunting for wildlife management is a barely disguised subterfuge that hunt supporters themselves regularly forget to uphold and certainly cannot sustain in knowledgeable company.   In reality, the debate is simply one between human rights to torture and kill animals for fun (the ‘freedom’ David Cameron refers to), versus animal rights not to be tortured and killed for fun.  Thus, it is in effect, on a par with bull fighting.

Let’s do some myth busting.  To begin with, there is no scientific evidence that fox hunting reduces the density of fox populations.  Dozens of studies have been undertaken in this regard, many freely available for you to look up online.  The published findings have always been the same; hunting has no significant impact.  In a rather unfortunate irony for the barbaric minded, it has often been found that fox hunting increases the number of foxes in a given area, for two reasons.  Firstly, when foxes are chased out of their earths, it becomes a vacant lot bound to attract the interest of foxes from surrounding areas.  Secondly, hunt organisers themselves have been known to dig false earths in order to attract more foxes to their patch so that they have something to chase and slaughter on their big day out.

Another myth propagated by fans of this obnoxious blood sport (including by David Cameron in his comments above) that has a particularly foul stench to it, is that this is an issue of town versus country, or even worse, the working class versus the upper class.  But what the blood thirsty do not want you to know is that Ipsos MORI exposed this lie.  They found that precisely the same share of people living in rural England were against hunting as those living in towns and cities (80% need I remind you).  Allied to this, numerous studies have shown that around two thirds of farmers do not believe foxes to be a pest at all, citing the fact that foxes help control the numbers of rabbits and other small animals which they do consider problematic to their interests.  Perhaps then, Ricky Gervais put it best when he said:

“The only way fox hunting would count as vermin control is if the posh twats fell off their horses and broke their necks!”

Before I close, here are a few other things you may not be aware of.  Prior to the ban, hunt organisers used to put down more than 3,000 dogs every year.  Not because they were unwell, but just because they were ever so slightly past their prime and so were of no use anymore.

Regarding the hounds, it’s certainly not irrelevant to notice that they are bred for endurance not speed.  This is because huntsmen do not want it all over too quickly – the thrill of the chase (and thus the prolonged psychological torture of the foxes) is everything.

As if the ‘fun’ rather than necessity factor needed to be rammed home any further (not by me, but by the hunters themselves), fox hunting is packed full of pomp and ceremony.  One such ceremonial tradition is the infamous act of ‘blooding’ that involves the smearing of a fox’s blood on the face of a first-time huntsman, usually a young child.  Another requires that a fox’s head and tail be cut off and taken away as trophies.

So you see it really does take a very particular type of person to partake in this kind of activity, the type of person most of us would hope never to have the misfortune to meet.  It is then, at least to me, quite alarming that the most powerful person in Britain is one such person.

Finally, our government has now spent over 700 hours debating this topic.  Who knows what that equates to in terms of our taxes, but please can every one of you use your voice to ensure that it is not discussed for one minute more by signing this petition:

https://www.change.org/p/david-cameron-mp-keep-the-ban-on-fox-hunting-2

UPDATE!

This week (week commencing 08/06/15) the charity The League Against Cruel Sports released the shocking results of their recent undercover investigation into the Middleton Hunt, near Malton, North Yorkshire.  They discovered, among other things, that this barbaric group have been stealing young cubs from the wild to ensure there are plenty of foxes to chase come hunting season.  Needless to say, I roundly applaud The League Against Cruel Sports for their fantastic and brave work during this operation.  The 6 minute video of their findings can be viewed below.  I should warn you that it is quite upsetting.

Video Link

 

“The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.”

– Oscar Wilde on fox hunting from ‘A Woman Of No Consequence’


Where Are The Feminists?

Suffragettes

The release of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book ‘Heretic’ has predictably reignited the debate on the status of women’s rights, particularly, though not exclusively, within Islamic cultures at home in Britain and around the world.  My regular readers will be aware that I’ve already laid out many of my thoughts on this subject elsewhere on my blog – for example, see: www.believethetruth.co.uk/veil-of-confusion.

However, a brief glance at my twitter timeline has made me feel more than ever before that there is a very fundamental misunderstanding in play here that is subverting the crucial conversations that ought to be taking place, so I am going to revisit this topic.

Firstly though, such is the level of toxicity associated to many of my contentions (indeed I’ve been blocked on Twitter multiple times, but not before being called ‘an EDL-type’ or similar) that it is necessary to preface my thoughts by stating my political persuasions; I call myself a true liberal, mostly of the left but I have opinions that cross the political divide.  I’m an atheist, I support socialised healthcare (the NHS in the UK), I’m pro-immigration, pro-drug legalisation (read strict regulation), pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights including marriage equality, I support the right to die campaign and I’m a passionate defender of animal rights – in fact I spend most of my time working and fundraising in this field.  I despise UKIP with every sinew and I happen to think nationalism a divisive concept – indeed it appears to be the last western government endorsed form of prejudice.

So, while I may be correctly accused of many things, I hope it’s clear that I’m not a far right-wing nutjob!

Below are a couple of tweets I recently read.  This article is not meant as a personal response but they are a useful summary of the challenges I believe we are facing:

“Women within Islam challenge things all the time. Why can’t we just support that?”

“What is our role – it isn’t for us to decide.”

Sometimes it feels as if people who say things like this are totally unaware that, for example,  women were once banned from voting, that black people were treated as second class citizens and that gay people were thrown in prison – all within living memory in western societies.  It’s truly staggering how quickly people forget, how quickly they take their freedoms for granted and how they fail to imagine the complexities of oppression or the barriers it may construct.

The truth is that the progress of western women and various minority groups with regards to human rights would have been impossible without tireless campaigning from outsiders – simply cheering politely from the side-lines but otherwise keeping out of it, as the above comments seem to recommend, would have been all but useless.  The most important step in the liberation of the oppressed from their chains always comes from State backing and legislation.  It ought to be obvious that this is somewhat difficult to achieve for minority groups and for those who are silenced, unless they receive the full and unequivocal backing of other good people.  It ought to be.

Frederick Douglass

Women’s rights in cultures that have their roots in the developing world are facing an emergency.  Currently, the situation is so uniquely terrible that we now have fascism playing both sides of the board.  On the one hand, religious fascists, largely from the Islamic community (this is not to say that all Muslims are fascists – but various surveys inform us that some significant percentage clearly are, and it is those to whom I refer), are campaigning to keep women in the dark ages via the concept of ‘honour’ enshrined within their faith.  This, they believe, entitles men to decide who women can have sex with, who they can marry, what clothes they can wear, what, if any, education they should receive, when they can go outside and with whom, and even if they should have a clitoris or not.

Yet as I write this, the only significant pushback to this dreadful set of circumstances that millions of women endure every day, is coming from the far right and white supremacists in Europe and from the Tea Party conservatives in America.  This is a shameful and un-mitigating disaster for women everywhere, for all of us in fact.  One only has to take notice of how these people tend to talk to white women (the ‘get back to the kitchen sink’ brigade) to know that they do not really care about women’s rights.  They are simply using the plight of Muslim women as a pawn in their racist, anti-immigration, bigoted agenda.  Imagine how hopeless this scenario must appear to those who dare to dream of one day deciding their own destinies.

Western liberals, particularly feminists, have a responsibility to take this fight out of the hands of people with ulterior motives and to stand up to misogyny in all its forms.  That it may occasionally be justified within holy texts should make no difference, and frustratingly, when it comes to the various outrages against women with regards to birth control that are becoming increasingly common across the Bible belt in the US, most seem to understand this.  But bizarrely, when the backdrop switches to other cultures, far too many people are seduced by cries of racism or Islamophobia.

This must stop.  Now.  We must not allow the terrible behaviour of our ancestors in the colonies to fool us into believing that only white Christians can ever oppress people.  Sadly, it isn’t even necessary to journey to Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan to witness State complicity in the oppression of women.  Here in the UK, tens of thousands of women have been genitally mutilated (to say nothing of the millions of men, without explicit consent) yet there has not been a single conviction – and only one case has ever been tried.  Forced, arranged marriages are all but ignored.  Shari’a jurisprudence is allowed to take precedence over inheritance claims, meaning that women are often left with no financial support to raise their children.  In mosques and on university campuses, gender segregation is enforced and protected, and the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal has revealed that many of our state funded schools are also segregating children on the basis of gender, as well as teaching some truly awful things about the roles of men and women in society, including that women cannot say no to men in the bedroom.  Finally of course, many liberals wear the defence of the effacing of women via the niqab, as a badge of honour.

I believe that now is the time to rediscover the spirit of the suffragettes and finally call time on these injustices.

Will you march for Muslim women’s civil and political rights? Or will you wait half a century for the movie..?

-Ayaan Hirsi Ali


Waking Up After Charlie Hebdo

CH Cartoon

As the latest outrage to peace, liberalism and free speech draws to a close in Paris, with at least 17 innocent people lying dead, one thing must be shouted through the fog of confusion that is inevitably already infecting media and social media commentary; an issue of major concern in the aftermath of this horror is not a consideration for the possible hurt feelings of anyone with regards to the contents of satire, cartoons and so on.  No one has the right not to be offended in a liberal society.

Due to the avalanche of usage, I must once again briefly deal with the word ‘Islamophobia’.  Islam is a set of ideas written in the Quran (the Islamic holy book, dictated allegedly by Allah) and the Hadiths (the sayings and the actions of the Prophet Mohammad).  Therefore, the word ‘Islamophobia’ actually implies that the liberal world is irrational if it dares to criticise a book, which is bad enough, but in reality it is always deployed in such a way as to imply bigotry against all Muslims.  There are two crimes here; the conflation of criticising ideas with bigotry, and the downplaying of actual anti-Muslim bigotry, which is abhorrent.  The intention of course, is to stifle debate.  The word’s very purpose is to frighten everyone into silence.  We must all reject it if we wish to honour the bravery of those who were killed defending freedom of speech in the offices of Charlie Hebdo.  Human beings have rights that deserve respect, books or ideas do not.

The correct and necessary response to the nightmare in Paris, is to make a stand against this assault on liberalism by publishing the above cartoon.  We must spread the risk.  Below, Ayaan Hirsi Ali explains why:

Video Link

 

“I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.”

– Stéphane Charbonnier, editor of Charlie Hebdo, who was murdered in Paris on Wednesday.

 


2014 – Another Year In Denial

ISIS

So it’s been another big year for religion.  As such, it’s almost impossible to list all of its ‘achievements’ but below are some ‘highlights’:

In terms of wars, we’ve seen the growth of ISIS as they conquered large areas of Syria and Iraq, murdering, enslaving and raping tens of thousands of people in the process, and beheading four western journalists and an aid worker. We’ve witnessed yet another outbreak of violence between Israel and Palestine, resulting in the deaths of approximately 2,200 people, many of whom were innocent non-combatants. There has been a continuation of the bloodletting in the Central African Republic between Christians and Muslims, causing an unknown number of civilian casualties – but 5,000 is considered a very conservative estimate. Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamic group, have moved on from hit and run attacks to holding territory in the North East of the country, displacing over half a million people while doing so, and murdering at least 2,000 just between January and June of this year (a total number for the whole year is unknown), to say nothing of their habit of kidnapping and raping pre-pubescent girls by the truckload. Finally, the fight against the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan continues to rage, with atrocities a regular occurrence, the worst of which we learned about only 2 weeks ago when 132 school children were shot and killed with automatic weapons at a school in Peshawar (9 teachers were also killed). Of course, though I will not make the case here, one could also argue that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is in part religiously motivated. Certainly much of Putin’s disdain for the West is linked to our increasingly secular, humanist and moral outlook that flies in the face of his professed and apparently sincere Orthodoxy.

With regards to religiously inspired terrorist attacks on Western soil, in the last few weeks alone there have been deadly strikes in Ottawa, Canada, in Nantes, France and in Sydney, Australia.

One thing that should instantly leap out at you from the above information is that this is truly a global struggle, with every continent regularly falling victim to attacks by individuals or armies high on religion. Last year of course, we had to endure the assault on the oilfield in In Amenas, Algeria, the Boston Marathon bombing in the US and the vicious murder of Lee Rigby on the streets of London, England, to name but three corners of the globe forced to mourn the loss of innocents.

In a sane universe, something like the following would make sense:

In response to the threat of religiously motivated violence, the world’s 2 billion atheists, along with the moderate faithful and the many leaders across the West in particular, are decrying these outrages against humanity in no uncertain terms. They are highlighting the obvious link between some religious texts and the actions of certain groups and individuals and demanding that these scriptural passages are universally rejected as simply wrong and pronounced as incompatible with a desire for a peaceful, moral and tolerant world. They are not only insisting that all religious leaders drive through reform from within their communities but furthermore are doing all that they can to intercept the passing on of terrible ideas to the next generation by attempting to ensure that every child receives a modern, secular education, free from religious dogma. Finally and more generally, the separation of church and state is being steadfastly defended and reinforced.

Unfortunately however, we appear not to live in this sane universe, but one parallel to it, where truth and logic are strangers. Here is David Cameron’s response to the massacre of 132 children in Peshawar:

“There is not a belief system in the world that can justify this sort of appalling act. I think what this shows is the worldwide threat that is posed by this poisonous ideology of extremist Islamist terrorism. It is nothing to do with one of the world’s great religions – Islam, which is a religion of peace.”

Here is US president, Barack Obama, on ISIS:

“ISIS is not Islamic because Islam is a religion of peace.”

After the self-appointed Iranian Muslim cleric Man Haron Monis, a man previously known for his habit of writing crude letters to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, walked into the Lindt Café in Sydney (incidentally, an establishment I have visited myself) with a shotgun and a black flag with the Shahada (the Islamic declaration of faith) written on it, and murdered two innocent people and shot a policeman in the face, Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, spoke these words:

“(Man Haron Monis) is a deeply unstable person with a long history of violence and mental illness… I guess one of the encouraging things is there are less and less of people trying to explain and justify terrorism in the name of religion.”

This mindless currying of favour with the public, rather than making nuanced arguments, is not only popular with politicians; some celebrities are also big fans, as was demonstrated recently by ‘Affleck-gate’. In the video below, mediocre American actor Ben Affleck loses both his marbles and his manners when he calls comedian Bill Maher, and author and neuroscientist Sam Harris “gross” and “racist” merely for articulating some of the undeniable intolerance and inequality that exists in parts of the Muslim world toward women, free-thinkers and homosexuals:

Video Link

At this moment in time, there appears to be no discernible plan at all by Western politicians to find a way out of the circle of violence.  I’m sorry to have to sign off the year on such a low.

 

“Islamophobia; a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.”

– Someone on Twitter