Tag Archives: Britain

Syria – Considering the Basics

After David Cameron’s historic slap down from the House of Commons last week, the wheels seem to be coming off the intervention in Syria bandwagon altogether. Whilst some policy makers in the West are still adamant intervention is necessary in order to stop the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, the case for military action is fundamentally flawed. Going back to the basics of information gathering – who, what, where, when and why? – the shortcomings of the interventionist argument become clear.

Map of Syria, showing its adjacent location we...

First of all – it is yet to be confirmed who is responsible for the attacks? The current evidence is shaky and reports from the ground are contradictory – conflicts such as this aren’t a simple case of good vs. evil. Whilst the Assad Regime is deplorable, the Rebels are no knights in shining armour. As well it should not be forgotten that the justification for the Iraq war was based upon ‘unimpeachable’ evidence that Iraq possessed WMD’s, which of course turned out to be a lie. David Cameron’s initial gung-ho attitude risked history repeating itself.

Secondly, what will an intervention look like and where will it target? It’s been stated that an intervention would be made up of ‘strategic military strikes’ and its been promised there will be ‘no boots on the ground’ – however many analysts have doubted the effectiveness and coherence of this strategy. It’s never been articulated how the desired outcome of ‘ending the slaughter’ will be achieved through the proposed military action.

Thirdly, when would said intervention be deemed a success? What if the proposed strategy fails in its goal? Do we just keep rolling the dice until we get the result we want? UN estimates over 100000 Syrians have died in the conflict; will it be deemed acceptable for this bloodshed to continue just because chemical weapons are no longer being used.

Finally and perhaps the most important question, why is military intervention the first go to option? There is little appetite from the public for an intervention based on current evidence and its effectiveness is highly doubtful for a number of reasons. Its goal has never been clearly articulated nor has conclusive evidence been used to back up its justification. Going to war is a course of action that requires a detailed plan scrutinised at every level, not a decision made on a whim that ‘something must be done.’ David Cameron has since announced he envisions the UK to lead the world in getting humanitarian aid to Syrian Refugees – it’s unfortunate that this has been considered the lesser option to an escalation of violence.

Perhaps a military intervention in Syria should not be ruled out entirely, but as things stand – where there are more questions than answers – it would be wrong for the UK to commit to a military intervention in a volatile region that would lead to more bloodshed.

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These so-called defenders of Britain are in fact one of its greatest threats

A driving component of nationalism is the perpetuation of national myths; one contemporary popular myth is to demonise Islam as an expansionist political ideology that threatens to undermine the foundations of British democracy.

For example, take the fresh-faced political party Liberty GB – according to them the threat of Islamist extremism in the 21st century is comparable to the danger that Nazism posed in the 20th century. In a recent viral video entitled “My name is Paul Weston, and I am a Racist”  Liberty GB’s party leader laments that the political establishment has tagged him as a racist for wishing to preserve his country’s culture and for daring to criticise Islam – a tag he now embraces as an ironic political stunt.

Weston slams Islam as a violent and savage political and religious ideology – one that needs to be ‘called out’ for it’s wicked ways. He cites horrors that have been done in the name of Islam and is convinced they will inevitably occur in Britain. Horrors such as the stoning of adulteresses, the beheading of babies and the hanging of homosexuals, Weston predicts, are soon to be a common sight in Britain.

Juxtaposed with this depiction of Islam as a savage force of evil is the factoid that the Islamic population is growing nine times faster than any other demographic in Britain. From this Weston reaches the logical conclusion that Britain is soon to face a ‘full blown religious civil war’ – to occur around 2040 mind you – and it is his and Liberty GB’s duty to confront Islam to stop this. At no point does Weston mention he is talking about extreme examples of fundamental Islamists – it is clear that he despises Islam as a whole and tars all Muslims as fundamentalists.

What Weston has effectively done is put two and two together to get five; he assumes Muslims are a united body hell bent on spreading the terrors practiced by jihadists and militants in the East to the West.  What he spews is based upon selective evidence, ignorance and unjustified fear. Groups such as Liberty GB instead of serving to protect British society and culture arguably do the exact opposite – they create tension based on selective evidence, spread ignorance to impressionable minds and whip up hatred based on unfounded claims and dubious conclusions.

Weston has proudly embraced the racist tag, twisting it to wear as a badge of honour. To avoid giving him what he wants, he should be labelled as not the defender of British culture and society he styles himself as, but one of the architects of its demise. He wilfully spreads misinformation and fear to demonise a minority the consequence of which will inevitably lead to less social cohesion, greater violence and a less safe society.

Half of Britain’s mosques have been attacked since 9/11 and if voices like Weston’s that tar all Muslims as savages become louder, then inevitably anti-Muslim violence in Britain is likely to grow. Violence begets more violence, instead of defending British culture; Liberty GB’s actions undermine it. You wont see people like Paul Weston tearing up your local town centre like the EDL, but a quick glance at the comments on the “I am a Racist” video and you can see the bile they spread is being picked up and inspiring the wrong sorts. Comments ranging from racist slurs to calls for violence are commonplace and there is no denouncement from Liberty GB for them, that is reserved for anyone that dares criticise them letting their true colours shine through.

It is easy to deconstruct the myths about Islam that Weston and his ilk peddle. Tired of constant smears and myths being propagated about Islam, a group made up of two Muslims and two non-Muslims (including one ex BNP member) decided to go out and conduct their own survey to find out what views the average British Muslim really holds. They did so in Alum Rock Birmingham, an area that contains a large Asian population. Alum Rock gained notoriety for being home to suspected terrorists and has been described as a “no go” area for white people. If anywhere is going to give an accurate poll on what British Muslims think, it is here.

Funnily enough the findings of the poll found Muslims in Britain to be a much more tolerant group than the likes of Liberty GB would have you believe. For example- 99% don’t support terrorist activities, 99% don’t believe the Quran justifies terrorism, 98% said they would support their child if they came out as gay, 95% said men and women are equal in the eyes of Allah and believe that Muslim men and women should mix freely. Less than 1% thinks that homosexuals should be stoned to death and 98% don’t believe that Sharia Law should apply to non-Muslims in the UK. Of course this poll is open to accusations of bias due to the motivation behind it however it offers a refreshingly stark contrast to the disgracefully selective bile spewed by Liberty GB.

As well recent events such as the uprisings in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood are testament that not all Muslims want to enforce Islamist teachings as a political ideology. However Liberty GB like to ignore these truths, as they don’t fit in with their depiction of Islam as the greatest threat to British society and culture. This publication also further dispels widely held myths about Islam that are far too often spread and believed.

Radical Islam has been responsible for atrocities in Britain; the obvious ones that spring to mind are the London bombings in 2005 and the murder of Lee Rigby in May of this year. These events are deplorable yet they are also so sporadic that to argue they are evidence that Islam is threatening the stability of British civil society is farcical. Groups like Liberty GB that are spreading fear and misinformation are far more likely to create a climate of terror in this country rather than the overwhelmingly moderate Muslim population.

There are legitimate concerns and debates to be had concerning radical Islam but if you believe movements like Liberty GB have the answer, then you don’t understand the question.

 

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The British Perception Problem

A new survey by Ipsos MORI has revealed there is an unsettling gap between what the British public perceives to be true, and the actual state of affairs on a number of key political issues.

When asked about divisive issues such as crime, welfare, government spending and immigration, the public paint a caricature of Britain that is devoid of any resemblance to reality. Britons think crime is rising when it has actually fallen considerably in the past decade. We believe benefits are being claimed fraudulently en-masse when in reality less than 1% of welfare money is done so. On average we believe that foreign-born immigrants account for nearly a third of the population when the actual estimated figure is a more reasonable only 13%.

Equally as worrying as this widespread ignorance is people’s reluctance to accept fact. When those who were seriously off the mark had their claims challenged, their response was to dispute and question the data presented to them. Of those who thought the percentage of immigrants in the UK was 26% or higher, over half said they stated a higher figure as they believe ‘people come into the country illegally so aren’t counted’ by official stats.

These misconceptions are what you’d expect to overhear from the sorts in your local pub that lament the current state of affairs before concluding how that Nigel Farage bloke has got the right idea.

What causes the people of one of the most advanced, liberal democracies to hold views that are so out of touch with reality? Economic uncertainty can be attributed to fuelling these fears but also the sensationalist media should also shoulder some of the blame for creating this caricature of British life.

The top 3 most circulated daily national newspapers in the UK are The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Mirror and all are guilty for their frequent casual snippets of scaremongering and sensationalism. Better still, if you happen to have the pleasure of reading the online versions of these papers on any given article, you’d be forgiven for thinking Britain was a brewing cesspit on the brink of social meltdown with only a few gallant keyboard warriors willing to tell it how it is. The comments section from a Daily Express article regarding the survey is a particularly depressing read.

Sensationalism sells and our print and broadcast media is saturated with tales of the extraordinary so that it has become the ordinary. The results of this survey poses a significant question, how can voters effectively participate in a democracy when they are so misinformed on what they are voting on?

Hetan Stah executive director of the Royal Statistical Society believes the solution comes at three levels. Firstly, politicians need to talk in facts and stats not spin. Secondly, the media has to try and genuinely illuminate issues rather than sensationalising them. And finally schools should teach statistical literacy more.

His suggestions can’t be argued with, we would all like politicians to stop lying, the media to stop sensationalising and people to be more educated and aware, but are they realistic or really helpful suggestions? The most obvious way to enact the first two solutions would be through some form of regulatory legislation. Even the strongest advocate of government intervention should feel uncomfortable about the idea of the state deciding what is or isn’t news. Considering the authoritarian tendencies of governments it is irrational to assume this course of action will be corruption free.

Considering the final suggestion, I am sure it’s true that if people were more educated about statistics, they would probably think twice after reading a headline such as “Mick Philpott, a vile product of Welfare UK.”

But this is all a bit ‘state the obvious’. It isn’t just ‘uneducated masses’ reading tabloid headlines, watching channel 4 documentaries on obscure societal issues or asking the reactionary questions on Question Time. All sections of society fall victim of sensationalism and spin, and the left and the right can be equally as guilty. This is a fundamental flaw in democracy; it is impossible to have an electorate that act rationally with all information available to them.

As Sam Bowman identifies referring to the findings of a political psychology study, “the more information you have about something, the more resistant to new contradictory information you are – or, in other words, the more dogmatically ideological you are.” Just because an individual is highly educated about a subject it does not mean they will use this information in the ‘right’ way.

So if the answer is not more regulation and if more education isn’t going to cause much positive change, how can you solve a problem like the perception gap in British politics? By taking away power from central government that responds to the perception of the electorate is one way. By pursuing greater localism we can have a better politics insofar that people are more aware of issues concerning their local area. Through localism voters can be more educated about issues in their immediate area, and the sensationalism peddled in national newspapers will be marginalised. Local governments would be more responsive and accountable than a central one in Westminster and consequently policy would be tailored to benefit local needs. Instead of pandering to the public mood based on sensationalist headlines, politicians would be responsive to actual facts and stats.

Despite all of this doom and gloom about British perceptions there is a silver lining about the current state of affairs. Even though the survey appears to reveal the average Brit to be a frothing at the mouth bigot, in reality our democracy does function first rate in keeping out the views of the more extreme and reactionary wings of the political spectrum. It’s just that it could do a better job of not rising to it for cheap political gains.

 

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The Only Crisis Here Facing Men Is….Dianne Abbott

An analysis of Shadow Minister for Public Health, Dianne Abbott’s, ‘cry wolf’ statements lamenting a “crisis in masculinity”.

This week Diane Abbott declared that we are facing a ‘crisis of masculinity’, I believe that she is right to raise the importance of men’s issues and how gender equality needs to be analysed from all angles. However her narrative about the causes and fear-mongering about a ‘crisis of masculinity’ does nobody any favours.

Diane Abbott is no stranger to controversy of course; half her Wikipedia page covers her various political misdemeanours.Now, in a week when the Shadow Minister for Public Health thought using the word demented pejoratively was fair game, her latest assertion that Britain is facing a ‘crisis of masculinity’ provokes more than it aims to help.

‘Male issues’ and discussions over masculinity are important and this article’s aim is not to discredit that or any discussions regarding gender issues. Gender inequality is still a vast contemporary issue for men and women and the incorporation of men’s issues in to feminism is of great importance. However, Diane Abbott’s attempt to create a moral panic over masculinity is misguided and unhelpful.

 To her credit, Diane Abbott draws attention to issues facing men that are often not discussed in mainstream politics. She identifies, “the first rule of being a man in modern Britain is that you’re not allowed to talk about it”. There are various men’s issues that need to be tackled and Abbott highlights them. Issues such as, the reality that men are more likely to take their own lives than women. Men have lower educational attainment at all levels of the education system. Men are more likely to be homeless. Common psychological disorders, including depression and anxiety, are under diagnosed in men and men are less likely to access NHS services available to them.

These problems need to be addressed but the way Dianne Abbott frames the debate is counter productive and comes across as disorderly. Abbott argues that rapid economic change is warping male identity and encouraging machismo and misogyny leaving us in a crisis like situation.  This is like putting two and two together and getting five.

What this assertion ignores is that society and its attitudes towards being macho and issues regarding masculinity have changed. This is not to say that there aren’t issues to be dealt with, but we are not entering a new era of crisis. The notion that the economic crisis causes men to lash out in a macho and misogynistic manner is grounded in little evidence and appears to be little more than a tribal attack on the government.

Diane Abbott has identified male issues, but has wrongly asserted the causes. Abbott contends that Britain is facing a crisis of masculinity that celebrates heartlessness and normalises sexism and homophobia.

Firstly, one of the successes of feminism over the past century has meant that men’s attitudes to women have improved dramatically. Tony Parsons’ argues in response to Abbott that ‘Men have never been better than they are today. More involved in bringing up their children. More genuinely supportive of their partners. More willing to discuss their fears with those closest to them.’

The idea that this contemporary crisis of masculinity normalises homophobia conflicts with evidence that suggests that homophobic attitudes are vanishing in schools.

Abbott also contends that porn is part of this concoction that has led the modern man to crisis point. Whilst the jury is still out whether or not porn causes violence, assertions like that are not helpful.

In regions such as The Middle East, Asia and Africa where women are treated worst, access to the Internet is also more restricted. Violence against women is a problem that needs to be addressed, generalising the problem is not the way to do so.

Albeit tongue in cheek, this clip from comedy film 21 Jump Street exemplifies changing attitudes to masculinity. Being violent, macho and homophobic is far more socially unacceptable in contemporary society.

Abbott is right to raise men’s issues, it’s just a shame that her narrative is about men who she contends are still massively homophobic, misogynistic, hyper-macho and obsessed with pornography and drinking. If we are apparently entering a crisis of masculinity, then what has been happening over the course of human history? We certainly haven’t had the ideal golden age of masculinity.

@harry_fraser

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