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5 February 2009

A visitor

So far this week has certainly been a memorable one. Shortly after writing my last entry I received a bizarre and extremely unexpected message on Facebook from the brother of Mark, my ex and most long-term boyfriend to date. Mark moved to Prague 2 1/2 years ago and the day he caught the flight there from London was the last time I saw him. We speak with reasonable frequency but it rarely amounts to much more than idle chat when we are bored, which in Mark’s case is quite a lot as he works very long hours at a hostel.

It transpired that Mark had been travelling back to Prague from a short trip to Paris and had landed in Gatwick for a connecting flight. Unfortunately, due to the weather (how many times has that sentence been typed in Britain this week?!) the flight was cancelled and he was stranded at the airport. And so, a few hours later, I found myself opening the door to him. It was incredibly surreal - not only because it was so unexpected, but because standing in front of me was a central character from what felt like another chapter in my life. One which I speak and think of often but am rarely confronted with in any powerful and/or meaningful sense. He didn’t arrive until after midnight and I had to work the next morning, so we had a brief catch up and then off I went to bed. I thought that was going to be it - an odd, brief reminder of another time that would be a half-remembered memory by the time I returned from work. Instead it turned out that his next flight wasn’t until Thursday morning, and so I took the next day off work so that we could spend some time together.

Time had separated us enough to allow me to feel completely at ease around him and yet find him refreshing and novel. This man whom had once caused my stomach to churn and whom I had been eager to impress; this man whom I had spent some of the best days of my life-to-date with, and whom I had wept over on the evening we broke up (still fresh in my memory - the video for ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay was on when I came home and it completely set me off). Here he was sitting across from me, and while my stomach remained flat I was filled with warmth and affection for a time that I can rationally see both the good and bad in, but which has lost any ability to bring sadness to the surface of my mind. Later in the evening I even helped him to pull someone - once seeing him do this would have cut me in ways just as real as if you took a knife to my chest, and now I could encourage it along without trouble.

The experience was incredibly positive and inspiring. I felt happy to know that there are people whom you can not see for years and still feel close to when they are in front of you. Happy to be reminded that whatever we may be going through, time marches on and helps us to let go of any pain we may feel, if we let it. The daily annoyances and squabbles are completely forgotten, while the more significant upsets are drained of their poison and stand in our personal history as lessons to be learned.

On my day off we travelled to the South Bank and met one of Mark’s friends. Once you have a job it is so difficult to not become trapped in routine, so it was hugely rewarding to be walking around London during a midweek afternoon. I was reminded of the shivering excitement London can induce, one of the reasons why I moved here yet one that has become dulled over time. Everyone and everywhere seemed alive with possibility, and sitting in some random bar in London Bridge before walking up to Hackney and relaxing with an evening pint was easily one of the most satisfying experiences I have had in recent months. In the evening Mark and his friend went back to the pub. My day had been so perfect that I felt content to stay at home, and in one sense I guess I didn’t want it to become just another day where I had ended up drunk and woke up with a hangover. I think it was a wise decision, as Mark ended up getting very drunk to the extent that he fell asleep on the train to the airport and woke up in Brighton, forcing him to wait 10 hours at the airport for the next flight.

I suppose my comment in my last entry about the ability of the weather to change the mood of the city was accurate in ways I hadn’t even considered when I wrote it. The 4 day stretch from Sunday to Wednesday stands as one of the most rewarding times I have had since I came to London.

1 April 2009

Give the anarchist a cigarette

Today’s unfolding events in London have been truly remarkable to watch - both exciting and disheartening. Exciting because, like no other time that I can recall in my life, there is a tangible feeling that this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment where things could change for the better. Change in a way that could almost deserve the description ‘revolutionary’. I think a lot of the protesters feel that way, and want to grab this chance with a ferocious eagerness and desperation. I say desperation because the politicians want to tinker with the current system and ‘get it back on track’. Back to serving the interests of the rich and keeping the poor aspiring to little more than to be in debt for the rest of their lives. A gross simplification I know, but not a completely unfair one. The lack of vision in our politicians today is depressing. Even now, there is little really separating the major parties in Britain and America when it comes to economics. They are micro-managers arguing over how best to ‘repair’ the system. No major politican has stood up and said, ‘You know what - perhaps there was something fundamentally wrong with the system in the first place’. Instead the arguments occur on social issues and are completely blown out of proportion in order to present the illusion of huge differences and, most importantly, fundamental choices for the electorate. An electorate which is treated like a focus group made up of pre-schoolers.

Which brings me to the disheartening aspect of today. In the days leading up to this the foundation was laid for the ‘violent protests’. The media fixated on it. There was endless talk of the preparation being made by the police and the measures being taken to protect the G20 leaders. The impression given was that the G20 leaders were reasonable people who were meeting to try and ‘save the world’ while the protesters were extreme lunatics who wanted nothing more than to cause carnage. And so it was with depressing inevitablity that today’s news focused overwhelmingly on the tiny minority of protesters who were violent. They of course do themselves no favour by fitting so easily into the roles which have been defined for them, but the scene was set long ago and the media has been complicit in enabling the politicians to disregard opinion that is outside of the (economically) centre-right consensus. It’s a familiar story, really. One that is drilled into us throughout our life - that this is the way the world is and how it has developed, and anyone who believes it could be radically different is horribly naive/dangerously extreme. The little coverage which has been given to the political beliefs of the protestors has been very much of the soundbite variety, with some protester’s brief fury/optimism contrasted with a ‘city worker”s stoic ‘realism’. The latter has been very much of the ‘I just want to go out and work and make a living for myself and my kids’ variety. The implication being that people who don’t have responsibilities, who don’t have children, who haven’t ‘grown-up’ - these are the people who can afford to indulge in beliefs. Everyone else is too busy just trying to keep their head above water.

Of course, it’s almost impossible to reduce the protesters to one political mindset. I disagree with some of them and disagree with how some have taken action. But Christ, I want to thank them for actually doing something while the rest of us just sit and carp and feel superior and more educated and moan about them disrupting our day and go and take photos of them because it gives a little vicarious thrill to our lives and indulge in the stultifying cynicism which makes our generation so easy to push around.

25 February 2011
3 March 2011

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.

8 June 2011

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”

10 August 2011

'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.

Posted: 7:29 PM
11 August 2011

Riot Disagreements

Having a little exchange elsewhere which I want to share here as I keep seeing same things being put forward. In short, the status was about how “grammar school pupils, 11 year olds and teaching assistants”  weren’t ‘dispossessed’ and it was actually about having ‘morals' and a 'conscience’. My dashed off response:

The UK has some of the worst child poverty rates in the developed word, and inequality is at an all-time high meaning that relative poverty is huge. Some of the worst of this child poverty is in places like Tottenham, Hackney, Brixton, Salford, West Bromwich etc. That includes 11 year olds and grammar school pupils. Despite evidence that grammar schools fail to take in poor pupils and may in fact contribute to wider poverty (and most of the top state schools are grammar schools, reflecting their make-up) there are still around 4% of grammar school pupils who live in poverty. I’d bet good money that the % of grammar school pupils who’ve taken part in this is less than 4%.

Absolutely everyone who measures these things thinks child poverty is increasing *right now* due to this government. Interestingly, the majority (some 60%) of children in poverty live in working homes (ie, one or both of their parents have a job) which suggests the problem there is not laziness, immorality or a benefit culture but low pay. And speaking of low pay, many teaching assistants earn as little as £11,000 working *full-time* while in London it’s not unusual for them to earn £7, which is the ‘London living wage’ which allows a basic standard of life. Incidentally, in the past year this government has abolished the body which set teaching assistant pay, cut teaching assistant training and cut their jobs.

However, absolutely no one would or should claim that there haven’t been opportunists and that there are problems of education and ‘morality’. However, setting aside the many issues tied up with poverty and social deprivation, where is this moral lead to come from? The MPs who stole from us all and, far from being punished, get to become Prime Minister (Cameron took out a £350,000 loan backed by taxpayers and claimed £21,000 in mortgage payments for it in a single year – despite being a millionaire)? The media who hack phones, bribe those in power and lie about it repeatedly? The police who allow themselves to be bribed and kill innocent people without ever facing any consequences? ‘Morality’ and ‘personal responsibility’ in our society comes very far behind greed and looking out for yourself and this is hardly something confined to the underclass.

26 September 2011
1 November 2011
Themed by Hunson. Originally by Josh