Terror threat: Let’s not fall for it again

Do they expect us to believe it all again? With weary familiarity, I have been reading the government’s claims that we face a heightened “terror threat”. UK governments have been making this claim every so often since 2001. It is usually followed by a fresh restriction of civil liberties or the departure of British troops to yet another war zone.

Despite Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destructions, despite the killing of the entirely innocent Jean Charles de Menezes, despite the absurdity of tanks sent to Heathrow in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, despite the widespread distrust of politicians, we are for some reason expected to fall for it this time.

When the “terror threat level” was raised a few days ago, I predicated a new assault on civil liberties. I’d barely typed the prediction on Twitter before Cameron and Clegg began to fulfil it. We can apparently expect some sort of announcement from them on Monday about new measures to tackle the “threat”. Cameron has spoken of filling the “gaps in our armoury”.

Ed Miliband has loyally weighed in with his own suggestions for reducing our freedom. In his article in today’s Independent, he makes some good points about tackling the root causes of support for IS and working multilaterally. He then ruins it with a call for the return of control orders and a “mandatory programme of deradicalisation for anyone who is drawn into the fringes of extremism”. I’m not sure what this phrase is supposed to mean, but it seems to imply that people should be punished for their beliefs rather than their actions.

The odd thing is that the “terror threat” claim might be true. It could be the case that we face a greater than usual threat of terror attacks on British soil. But we’ve got no idea, because the claim has been used so often to mislead and manipulate us that a true claim would not stand out.

Certainly, the announcement is convenient ahead of the NATO summit in south Wales next week. The front page of today’s Independent shows residents of Cardiff passing through metal detection barriers in order to be allowed to walk around their own city. Restrictions on peaceful anti-NATO protests, and the arrest of protesters, will no doubt be justified on the grounds of the threat of terrorism.

The concept of protecting NATO from terrorism would be funny if it were not so sickening. Unlike Iraq, several NATO members actually do own weapons of mass destruction (the US, UK and French governments own nuclear arms). NATO’s explicit policy is to encourage high military spending among its members, inevitably reducing spending in socially useful areas such as healthcare and education. NATO’s attitude to Ukraine is every bit as aggressive and imperialist as the Russian government’s.

In short, the leaders of NATO have at least as much blood on their hands as anyone that they want “protecting” from.

I’m not denying that there is a chance, perhaps a strong chance, of terror attacks in Britain. The British government’s killing of innocent people around the world makes it likely that some will wish to respond by killing innocent people here. I am not for a moment suggesting that this makes such killing justified. To identify someone’s motivation is not to condone it. Nor will I pretend that the UK government is in a better moral position than those it condemns.

Cameron’s government sells weapons to the vicious regimes of Bahrain, Israel and Saudi Arabia. British drone pilots have been killing civilians in Afghanistan for years. George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith have snatched away the livelihoods of some of Britain’s poorest people, who may well feel more under threat from their own government than from terrorists in Iraq.

Whatever the “terror threat”, I cannot support efforts by Cameron and Clegg to defeat it. I detest “Islamic State” as it now calls itself. It is a gang of mass murderers and no decent-minded person of any religion will offer them the slightest measure of support. Nor do I support the terrorism carried out by the US and UK governments. I oppose NATO as much as I oppose Putin, and the IDF as much as Hamas.

In short, I will not unite with one group of killers against another. The people of Britain, of Iraq, of Ukraine, of Palestine, of Israel, of Russia and of the US share a common identity and future as human beings. We have too much in common with each other to give in to those who kill in our name.

symon_av Symon Hill – http://symonhill.wordpress.com/


A different legacy: Lessons in peace from the first world war

On the 28th July, it was 100 years since Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia – the beginning of World War One. On the 29th, it was 100 years since the first shots of the war were fired. Tomorrow, 4th August, will be the centenary of Britain joining the war.

I’ll be writing a lot more about the first world war over the coming days and weeks, especially about the people who campaigned against it. The New Internationalist yesterday published an article of mine on their website, entitled A Different Legacy, about what the peace movement of today can learn from the peace campaigners of the first world war.

You might like to watch out for my writing in the Morning Star on 4 August, which will also be translated into German and appear in the German newspaper Junge Welt on the same day. Also on 4 August, the White Feather Diaries, an online storytelling project about first world war Quakers (which I’ve been working on) will go live.

symon_av Symon Hill – http://symonhill.wordpress.com/

Gender differences and the trans community

My sister is one of those people who, while not gay herself, is surrounded by gay people, particularly gay men. I, on the other hand, tend to befriend trans people, particularly male to female trans. Aside from being wonderful people, I find the fact that these people have experienced both genders to be extraordinarily fascinating (I have a degree in Anthropology, I can’t help it). As a cis woman, I do sometimes wonder if I’m imagining misogyny or everyday sexism. However, my trans friends tell me that this is not the case.

Recently on Facebook I told a story about how my husband accidently went into the woman’s toilet and didn’t realize it until he saw the sanitary bin in the toilet stall. My response was surprise that there is no bin in the men’s room. My husband gave a pithy, ‘What would we put in there?’ (Touché, sir, touché.) My friends responded by listing off all the things they had noticed being different since they transitioned.

For example, the European tradition of kissing on the cheek (I’m American and the first time someone attempted this I nearly decked them) seemed, to me, to belong to both genders. My friends were quick to point out that older men only do it to women and also pat on the bum. The pat on the bum I did notice, but the fact that kissing for men is generational was news to me.

I have also been told that women’s dressing rooms are much nicer, a fact that appalled my clothes horse of a husband. As men are getting more and more interested in what they wear and as their wardrobes grow to rival their female counterparts, it makes sense from a business standpoint to rectify this.

This one made me feel less like I have been imagining things. Men do in fact talk down to women when it comes to ‘manly areas’, such as cars, carpentry, or plumbing. Growing up in a construction family I know quite a lot about these areas and still get every detail explained to me. An engineer friend told me that ever since she has been living as a woman she gets talked to like a child. Her qualifications have not changed, just her gender.

It’s not just how men talk to women, it’s how they physically interact as well. I mentioned older men patting on the bum earlier. But men of my generation also invade women’s space as well. Take being in a crowded environment such as a pub. If a man is trying to manoeuvre around another man he will place his hand on the man’s arm. If he is trying to get around a woman he is more likely to put his hand on her waist. Not only is this an invasion of space, but it is an intimate space that most women are uncomfortable with. However, many men feel that they have the right to do this.

Now, I’m not going to go on a rant about how this is not right; I’m sure you, my dear reader, already know this. What I am going to rant about is how people say that this is just a figment of our imagination. When we have people that have experienced both sides, we have people that can tell us what is going on for a fact. We need to take advantage of their unique insight and work together to be more respectful towards each other.

sarah_av Sarah T

London LGBT Pride – giving publicity to human rights abusers

This week, I’ve seen two movements that I love become sullied by complicity with the arms trade. First, Church House (a leading Christian conference centre) hosted a gathering of arms dealers and generals. Now, London LGBT Pride are about to allow a section of this week’s march to be used to publicise a company that is complicit in homophobia– and other human rights abuses – around the world.

BAE Systems, a multinational arms company that sells weapons to dictatorships, has been allocated its own section at the Pride march in London on Saturday. This is a march to promote and celebrate the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. Yet BAE’s biggest customers include Saudi Arabia, one of the most viciously homophobic regimes in the world.

Thus the Pride march will include the symbols and branding of a company that actively works against the very things that the march is calling for.

BAE is not one of the “official sponsors” – though these include some very unethical multinationals, such as the tax dodgers at Starbuck’s and Barclay’s. BAE is one of the companies that have been allocated a section on the march for their workers. BAE have an LGBT employees’ group and it this group that will be on the march, in the same way as there will be other groups of workers from John Lewis and the Direct Line Group. There are also religious and cultural groups (most of them placed near the back, as usual). I will be marching with Christians Together at Pride.

I don’t want to stop BAE’s workers marching at Pride. If BAE employees support LGBT rights, I’m pleased to hear it (especially as their bosses clearly don’t). But they will undoubtedly be wearing, carrying or otherwise displaying logos and publicity from BAE. This will help the company’s bosses in their relentless drive to present themselves as being ethical and pro-human rights.

I tweeted the organisers of the march (@LondonLGBTPride). I’m grateful to them for replying very quickly. However, their reply made a very unclear argument. It said:

“Organisations apply and BAE have an LGBT group. Change can come from within. We will not abandon and disengage with LGBT groups who strive for the right and the freedom to express themselves”.

I’m pleased if the LGBT workers at BAE strive for the right and the freedom to express themselves. I’m glad they’re coming on the march. But it’s either naïve or misleading of the organisers to overlook the fact that by listing BAE Systems as one of the groups on the march, and allowing BAE branding to appear, they are actively helping the company to promote itself.

Of course, I accept that this issue is part of  a wider problem with the commercialisation of Pride. There are various other unethical companies involved. I wouldn’t rate Barclay’s or BP as much better than BAE. You could make an argument that this is just as bad. However, I suggest the nature of an arms company is different.

An arms company cannot become ethical, because of the very nature of the arms trade, which involves selling weapons to virtually anyone who will buy them (if they can get away with it, which they usually can). Further, BAE actively promotes homophobia by arming homophobic governments that oppress their own people. I don’t know what “change” the Pride organisers imagine will “come from within”, unless it’s by the active rebellion of the workers against the BAE bosses (which would be great, but seems unlikely).

Despite the commercialisation of Pride, despite the excessive alcohol, the high prices and the vacuuous celebrities, despite all the things I don’t like about it, I must admit that the Pride march in London has played an significant part in my life. Going toPride was an important moment for me as I decided to be public about abandoning my former homophobia. London Pride was one of the first places in which I told a stranger I was bisexual. In 2011, when I walked from Birmingham to London as a pilgrimage of repentance for my formoer homophobia, the Pride march was the last leg of my pilgrimage. The significance of the Pride march for me makes me feel even sadder and angrier about its misuse by arms dealers.

Please tweet @LondonLGBTPride, or otherwise contact them, about this issue. And remember, you can always wear a Campaign Against Arms Trade badge on Saturday.

symon_av Symon Hill


Home Office Suspension

In my routine scour of the internet I came across this article. http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2014/07/14/uk-home-office-suspends-worker-over-interrogation-of-gay-passport-applicant/ the tl:dr version is that Randall Cole was asked extremely intimate and homophobic questions about his partnership while trying to get British citizenship via his same-sex marriage.

This interests me because I am going through the same process, however in a heterosexual relationship. I can tell you that while the home office does asks questions regarding our relationship and requires us to prove our relationship, we have NEVER been asked about our sex lives. We have never been asked what people think about our relationship. And we have never been asked about our previous relationships.

The woman that interviewed Mr. Cole was right to be suspended and investigated as she went out of her way to ask questions that are inappropriate in any circumstance. I commend the home office for their reaction to this incident and will be interested to hear the outcome of the investigation.

sarah_av Sarah T

World Surprised By World Cup Corruption Allegations While Children Starve in Brazil

This week the world seemed to respond with surprise that corruption was rampant inside FIFA, the soccer organization governing the World Cup. In an amazing display of detachment the world has somehow found payoffs and slush funds to be more unethical than the starvation of Brazil’s poor to build stadiums for this year’s games or the sex trafficking networks that follow the World Cup.

For those unfamiliar with the allegations, Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 games has been called into question after charges that a Qatar-native, Mohamed Bin Hammam, maintained a slush fund and bought votes. In the Western world, people responded with horror even though Bin Hammam’s behavior was a lot more honest than the behavior that occurs in most national elections. The idea that somehow a few million dollars in payoffs between wealthy Arab nationals and wealthy African nationals is somehow intolerable is laughable when compared to the fact Brazil has spent well over $11.5 billion constructing stadiums for this year’s games.

16 million people in the country live on less than $360 per year. The poorer areas in the country have become militarized police states intended to keep the have-nots in their place and out of the world’s eye while the globe’s elite enjoy their soccer games. Protests have sprung up all over Brazil as construction budgets are paid even though they are grossly over budget and children all over the nation starve.

Here’s a quick look into the protests going on right now in Brazil against the World Cup and the violence being committed against those who are standing up:

FIFA’s selection of the nation in first place was unethical. Rewarding the overwhelming corruption and poor public stewardship of the nation by allowing it to host the games borders on the criminal; especially when the FIFA leadership knows about the sorry state of the nation. The lack of the condemnation from around the world for a nation choosing soccer stadiums over the welfare of its own people is unethical.

Brazil is home to 500,000 child prostitutes, and the Brazilian Supreme Court acquitted a man accused of raping three 12-year-old girls because the girls were sex workers. The ruling in essence was similar to the United States Supreme Court’s Dred-Scott decision of 1857, which held that a black man “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” A nation that allows the rape of children simply because those children were already forced into prostitution was selected as the host for this Year’s World Cup.

The outrage over a few petty bribes is nothing short of idiotic when it occurs in an organization that apparently condones or at least turns a blind eye to government graft, economic exploitation of the poor, police brutality, and child rape.

f8414aa3b3c9753250de4852dec6a943-bpfull Justin King

Words of wisdom

You aren’t born a (___), you made a decision to be (___). Just stop being (___), why can’t you just be normal?

If you ever say this, you are saying some painful sh*t. Shaming someone because they are different, or not what you expect.

Fill in the (___) with a gender, sexual orientation, preference, skill, hobby, style, religion, etc.

annie_av Annie Mei Shen