Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe - Please Help!

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter, Gabriella, both held prisoner in Iran

About two weeks ago, someone I hadn't talked to in a long time told me that his son and daughter-in-law were on holiday in Iran. Slightly shocked, I said that I hoped they would both get back safely. Iran, as any human rights campaigner will tell you, is not the best place for British citizens (or anyone else) to visit. One glance at either the Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International reports on human rights in Iran is enough to show what life is like for those who fall foul of the regime. In fact, you can find yourself arrested in Iran for no apparent reason.
Nowhere is this unjust practice better illustrated than in the current predicament of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. As Amnesty International says:
"Nazanin, a charity worker, was visiting family in Iran with her two-year-old daughter, Gabriella, in April this year. They were about to board a plane home to the UK when Nazanin was arrested. More than six months later, Nazanin is still in prison in Iran. In September, she was sentenced to five years behind bars after an unfair trial and the official charges against her remain a secret."
In a nasty little "extra", the Iranian authorities have confiscated her daughter's UK passport, effectively making two-year old Gabriella a hostage. Now, Iran has a history of holding westerners to ransom, going back to the storming of the US Embassy in Tehran back in 1979. Months of negotiation and compromise happened before the US Embassy staff, held captive, were released. It is thought that Nazanin's incarceration is happening for similar reasons, i.e. the regime wants something, and is holding her hostage to exert pressure on the British Government. As her British husband said: "Nazanin's detention and charges have always felt like she and Gabriella are being held as a political bargaining chip for internal and international politics," Mr Ratcliffe said.
"The fact that she was sentenced with unrecognisable charges the day after the UK embassy was upgraded makes this all the clearer."
This is not our concern here. What is of concern to me, human rights organisations and Nazanin's increasingly desperate family is the detrimental effect prison is having upon Nazanin's physical and mental health. She is being held in Iran's notorious Evin Prison, where, as the BBC says:
"Maziar Bahari, a journalist and former detainee at Evin Prison told the BBC it was an infamous jail with a history of executions and torture.
"Thousands of innocent lives perished in that prison and for someone like her who has not had any prison experience, being there will be a real torture," he said."
Nazanin has already been on hunger strike and is suffering terribly. For this reason, I appeal to all readers to support the campaign to keep her spirits up, and to continue to exert pressure on the Iranian authorities. Please, if you have not already done so, send a message to Nazanin via the Amnesty International page - CLICK ON THIS LINK. And - please - encourage others to do the same. Let's work to bring Nazanin and Gabriella home!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Jo Cox - a Victim of Fascism

The trial and sentencing of Thomas Mair this week has thrust before us the issue of the threat to democracy from the extreme right. The "Fash", as some of us call them, have not been very successful at any time in this country. Oswald Moseley's Blackshirts were only a pale imitation of Mussolini's blackshirted "Squadristi", despite their violence and posturing. The National Front (NF), even in their heyday, never came anywhere near to achieving the power and influence of Hitler's Sturmabteilung (SA). Nevertheless, the sickening murder of Jo Cox, M.P., has shown that they are still among us and as violent as ever. As Nick Lowles puts it:
"While Britain’s far right might be numerically smaller than in the past, it is becoming more violent and dangerous."
The background to this, and, I would argue, to Jo Cox's death, was the EC Referendum which heightened feelings and tensions in our communities that led to the victory of the Leave Campaign, some elements of which were only too happy to play the racist and anti-migrant card. UKIP has much to answer for in this regard. The most glaring example of this was Nigel Farage and UKIP's "Breaking Point" poster, which even Boris Johnson condemned, as The Guardian commented at the time:
"Earlier, controversy over the poster had prompted Boris Johnson to distance the official leave campaign from Ukip. A string of politicians from Nicola Sturgeon to Yvette Cooper also condemned the poster."
Let's not forget, either, that Nigel Farage was the last politician of note to express sorrow for Jo Cox's death. In fact, he seemed more concerned that Jo Cox's murder might lead to a loss of support for the "Leave" Campaign.He also showed an execrable lack of good taste after the referendum vote, when he said that Britain had voted Leave "without a shot being fired". Wrong, Mr Farage. Three shots were fired - by Brexit supporter, Thomas Mair, into the body of Jo Cox.
Now, as might be expected, UKIP condemned the attack and sought to distance themselves from the Ultra-Right in Britain. This has not stopped UKIP from cementing links with far-Right parties in Europe. As "Hope not Hate" pointed out on November 4th: "UKIP has provoked anger in Sweden for its role in arranging an extreme-right networking event, to take place in Stockholm’s Grand Hotel this evening.
The “European Freedom Awards”, organised in conjunction with the far-right Sweden Democrats (SD), indicates a deepening of existing ties between UKIP and the European far right."
UKIP has shown signs of possible self-generated disintegration. Let's hope it comes soon.
In conclusion, I can only express my admiration for the courage and dignity of Jo Cox's family following the sentencing of Thomas Mair. As Brendan Cox, Jo Cox's widower said:
"For her killer we have nothing but pity that his life was so devoid of love, consumed by hatred that this act was his desperate, cowardly attempt to find meaning.
"An act designed to drive communities apart has instead brought them together, an act designed to silence a voice has instead allowed millions of others to hear it.
"Although she is dead the opinions and values she held so dear will live on."
That is very noble, and I totally support the view that the best way to beat the Fash is by positive action, but I also believe they have to be watched and vigorously opposed. Jo Cox herself was writing a report on the far right in Yorkshire before her murder.
Jo Cox was a victim of one of the most evil political ideologies ever devised. As such, she joins the fallen ranks of its other victims in other countries, the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. As we remember them, we should include remembrance of her - while the sick fascist who took her life deserves nothing but obscurity and contempt. Salud, Jo Cox - No Pasaran!
Thomas Mair, sick fascist terrorist

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and the Coming Populist Crisis

Along with the entire population of the earth, with the exception of North Korea, I felt that enough had been said about Brexit, the US Presidential Election, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump without me joining in. However, the recent refusal by Teresa May to deny discussing making a peer of Nigel Farage has stung me into action.
It's not been a good year for anyone to the left of Farage and Trump. Two seismic events that I thought could never happen - Brexit and Trump becoming US President- have happened, and I, along with what Farage would describe as "remoaners", "looney lefties" and "the liberal establishment elite", am still coming to terms with the shock.
If we are to make sense of these two shocks to the political system, we have to ask what has caused the two events. Now, there are differences between Brexit and the US election results, but one outstanding common factor is "Right-Wing Populism".  Wikipedia (which is not always wrong) says:
"Right-wing populism is a political ideology that rejects existing political consensus and often combines laissez-faire liberalism and anti-elitism. It is considered populism because of its appeal to the "common man" as opposed to the elites."
Besides this, of course, is another factor: hostility to immigration. Both Farage and Trump favour an end to the free movement of labour and unrestricted immigration (Muslim and Mexican immigration, in Trump's case), but the growing refugee crisis has stimulated Populist Right parties all over Europe. As The Economist says:
" Across the continent, right-wing populists are gathering steam. This year’s migrant influx has proved a huge boon to politicians hostile to Islam, immigration and the European Union."
There is no doubt that concern about these issues greatly helped Trump in the USA, as well as Farage and the Brexit campaigners over here. Some people say that without playing the migrant card, the Brexiteers would have lost the referendum. Ironically (or should I say tragically?), The Guardian's research showed that those who experienced the highest levels of migration were the least anxious about it:
"London, which absorbed 133,000 of the 330,000 net arrivals in 2015, voted the most strongly for remain. Manchester also voted for remain – and at 13,554 had nearly double the level of net migration seen in Birmingham, which voted leave."
From this, we can discern that fear is an element in populist success. There is also a need for a crisis that can be exploited. During the EC Referendum, UKIP and the Leave campaigners campaigned very hard in areas badly affected by the Tory government's austerity measures following the international banking crisis. Instead of putting the blame where it belonged, on the bankers and the government, the Leave campaigners - or at least the UKIP elements - diverted resentment towards refugees and the EC migrant communities. The rise in hate crime after the referendum is the result.
But there is a problem for populist politicians, should they come to power: what if they don't deliver on their promises? Donald Trump has already begun to go back on some of his election pledges. As the BBC point out, his stances on prosecuting Hillary Clinton, the Mexican Wall, Obamacare and banning Muslim entry to the USA are beginning to soften. He is even appointing an immigrant to one of the top jobs in his administration, as this photo of Michelle Obama shows:
Trump may well find himself unpopular with some of the more extreme and violent elements among his electoral supporters, if he is seen as backtracking on his promises.
A similar thing might happen in the UK if Leave campaigners feel themselves frustrated by the slow progress of Brexit. Nigel Farage has already threatened mass protest on this issue. The voice of the choleric Right, The Express, said:
"Sir Gerald Howarth, the Tory MP for Aldershot since 1997 has said any plans to hold back the will of the majority by going by preventing triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty could be met by angry opposition on British streets."
Farage, Howarth and their ilk are playing with unstable explosives here. If you stir up populist anger to resolve political issues, you may well find it impossible to control, as the French revolutionaries found out, nearly two centuries ago. The late Jo Cox, M.P., whose alleged murderer is on trial at the present time, was probably the first victim of that anger. Should Brexit happen, and the imagined benefits not happen, we may well see Farage, Howarth, Boris Johnson and the other Leave politicians denounced by other, more violent demagogues who will not hesitate to rouse populist passion into action on the streets. Still, I really should not go scaremongering. I may have been wrong about Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, but I am sure that such things as angry populist mob violence could never happen here...

Thursday, 10 November 2016

US election: sisters are doing it for themselves

And as of this week, 45.
Former refugee elected as first female Somali-American legislator
Ilhan Omar is the next State Representative for Minnesota's District 60B. At the age of 12, Omar fled the civil war in Somalia and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp. She arrived in the USA as a Muslim immigrant.

First black female senator elected since 1999
Kamala Harris is only the second black woman to be elected to the US Senate, and the first-ever black politician in US history to represent California in the Senate. She was also the first female attorney general in California. She is the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants,

First openly LGBT person elected US governor
Kate Brown has become the first openly LGBT person to be elected as governor. Although she held the post from 2015 in Oregon after the previous governor resigned, this time she was chosen by the voters. She intends to fight all forms of discrimination, thus providing some reassurance for LGBT people who may feel unrepresented by the presidential result.

Indian-American woman elected to Congress
Pramila Jayapal was an immigrant to the USA when she was just 16. In response to the hate crime caused by the 9/11 bombings, she set up the anti-hate group, OneAmerica, for which she has been praised in the Senate. Although she’s not actually the first Indian-American woman to be elected to Congress, her victory in Washington state is a triumph in view of all the anti-immigrant rhetoric during the election.

First elected Latina senator
Despite constant rhetoric about excluding the Hispanic population, Catherine Cortez Masto, the granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, has also made history. She ran a campaign around renewable energy and protecting undocumented immigrants. She says: "I'm proud to be Nevada's first female and our nation's first Latina senator. It’s about time our government mirrors the diversity of our nation."

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Will Cornick, a Flawed Report and the Need for a Deterrent

Back on April 29, 2014, I wrote of my feelings about the murder of Anne Maguire, the Leeds teacher killed in her classroom by one of her pupils. At the time, the name of the culprit was not known. What was clear to me was the fact that classroom violence, which was (and is) all too common in our schools had reached a new level. At the time, I said that a Rubicon had been crossed. I still think that, but, fortunately, no more teachers have faced a similar fate - so far.
Anyway, today, as we know, the Leeds Safeguarding Children's Board (LSCB) have stated in their report that no-one other than Mrs Maguire's murderer, Will Cornick, is to blame for her death, and there were no early warning signs that could have stopped the attack. Nick Page, the report's author, said there had been no "credible warning signs" that could have been picked up by the school about Cornick's behaviour. According to Page, it was an "unprecedented emergency situation". He went on to say:
"Will's school friends and peers considered that he had a dark sense of humour and could talk very negatively and unkindly about people he did not like.
"None of the young people in the class or friendship group who heard Will talk about killing Ann, and were told about or shown the knives he had brought into school on 28 April 2014, had believed that he would actually carry out an assault."
I read that more than once with disbelief, as I have had experience of a pupil - primary age - bringing a knife to school. The matter was reported to me by other pupils. After summoning the pupil, I took the boy and the knife to the head teacher and the matter was dealt with accordingly. I am amazed that Cornick's classmates did not report these knives immediately. Had they done so, Ann Maguire might still be alive.
According to the BBC:
"Mark Peel, independent chairman of the safeguarding board, said: "It is also reassuring that this outcome of the learning lessons review is in agreement with the findings of the court, in that this tragic incident could not have been foreseen or prevented..."
I disagree; had those pupils been as responsible as my primary pupils of some years ago, those knives could have been confiscated.
I was also bemused at the way the LCSB quoted Cornick's explanation of his crime without any apparent critical analysis. Look at these seemingly consistent statements from the BBC article:
"Cornick, who was 15 at the time of the murder, told the report's author, Nick Page, he had gone to his Spanish class in "a red mist, not conscious of his surroundings".
We are then told:
"Earlier he had packed a rucksack containing two knives."
And then:
"He approached Mrs Maguire from behind and stabbed her in the upper back and neck seven times in front of "a large number of pupils".
The teenager then pursued her as she fled from the classroom and continued his attack, before being restrained by members of staff."
I find that the second and third statements contradict the first. If, as he says, he was unaware of his surroundings, how was he able to pack two knives? Surely that required forethought? Again, the fact that he was able to attack Mrs Maguire shows that he was clearly aware of his surroundings and of Mrs Maguire's movements.
Unsatisfactory as it is, the LCSB report stands, and, to be fair, I have not read the whole report. Perhaps the LCSB are right in their overall conclusion that nobody could have foreseen Cornick's actions. Perhaps he is the only person to blame. The one thing I find no fault with is Cornick's sentence. A more lenient term of incarceration would only have encouraged the small minority of evil pupils (yes, I know what the word evil means) to carry out further attacks on teaching staff. As I have said too often, I do hope that he is not sent to a mental hospital with the possibility of early release and a further possibility of killing again.
I do not know how Ann Maguire's family will react to this report. I can only send them my good wishes and those of Rhymes and Routes readers. Rest in Peace, Ann Maguire.