Friday, July 22, 2005

"Our lucky day, Four bombs, three trains, one bus, zero deaths."

That's the headline in the Daily Mirror - says it all really.

So here we go again - more attacks, failed attacks but attacks all the same. And it looks like they were designed to kill but just went wrong, so we'll all be anticipating another attempt then? Great!

So what now? Sniffer dogs at every station? Oyster cards that morph into ID cards? X-ray scanning to get on the tube like they have at airports? Search everyone carrying a rucksack?

Or do we just not go on the tube anymore? Or should we just avoid it on Thursdays? Nick Ferrari (97.3Fm) has just admitted he now won't let his kids on the train after all this. One attack we become reslient to, another attack we start to think twice? Or do we just get used to it - is this beginning of a new way of life for us? Will we all start to get blase?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

What really is the message of Islam?

In the last week I have had, in effect, 3 gentle warnings from 3 different people about what they see as a serious misconception of Islam and so I have been reflecting on our recent discussions in the context of July 7th. Who are we to be discussing Islam? What do most of us honestly know about it?

One of the three people expressed concern about politicians 'romanticising' Islam, another in a newspaper article drew out contrasts between the New Testament and the Koran, emphasising that the latter had nothing like the message of love that Jesus proclaimed, and the third directed me to the following website for some 'real' information about Islam!!! If I understood correctly, the essential point that all three were trying to make was that whilst individual Muslims may be peace loving the message of their faith is not. As I have still not managed to read any more than selected quotations from the Koran and have not yet tackled the pile of books Alifya kindly lent me some time back I am yet to make my mind up on the issue.

HOWEVER what I do know is that in politically sensitive times like these it is very difficult to have a proper debate on the important issues and very tempting to get caught up in the wave of hope that we can all live peacefully together without trying to find the root of the problem. As I said, I have not made up my mind on many things about Islam yet, but I dare say that there is now an increased risk that anything said publicly in criticism of Islam will be deemed as spreading Islamophobia. And why is it that the newspapers are either at one end of the two extemes? Either they're sensationalising the presence of Muslim clerics who preach messages of hate or as Becky points out on her blog they are burning with "self-rightous, bleeding heart indignation" over backlash attacks. Why can't we have a middle ground where the facts of the matter are debated in a rational manner?

And finally, changing my mind yet again over the proposed legislation against the incitement to Religious Hatred, I share the concern of the writer of the afore mentioned newspaper article that in the future the new legislation could " see me incarcerated for expressing my sincere thoughts".

Friday, July 15, 2005

Barking has not gone completely mad!

Hooray, a piece of good news!! The BNP DID NOT win the Barking By-election!!! Did anyone see how they exploited the London attacks in their election campaign? One of their leaflets juxtaposed a photograph of the wreckage of the No 30 bus with the headline "Maybe now it's time to start listening to the BNP". If the law against incitement to religious hatred shuts the BNP up then I'm for it.

Monday, July 11, 2005

And so the backlash begins.

On the news tonight they reported that the windows of Mile End mosque had been smashed.

I felt so angry and disappointed when I heard this. I mean I know backlash was sadly to be expected because imbeciles are so predictable but I was really really hoping that maybe just maybe it wouldn't happen. The Muslim community has made a big effort to publicly condemn the attacks and yet violence against them still happens. Two wrongs don't make a right, but even if they did, these imbeciles have attacked people who have nothing to do with the bombings. On the news tonight they showed pictures of a very empty looking Brick Lane and a very quiet Whitechapel market. Commuters may be being resilient in returning to use the tube today but many of London's Muslims it seems are scared to go out. And that is so very very sad.

Friday, July 08, 2005

What a difference a day makes......

- corny maybe but Dinah Washington's words sing true.

After winning the Olympic bid the Evening Standard had the audacity (in opinion) to proclaim that this was the best day London had ever had. The cruel irony then that today the media were reporting on what felt like the worst day. I'm no fan of the Olympics and I had been mentally preparing my scathing blog on the way home but it didn't materialise because during my journey my spirits were lifted. Not even I could stay unaffected by the Olympic euphoria everywhere. It's hard to stay critical when your usual mundane journey home is transformed by the rare sight of happiness at rush hour. As I walked through Stratford station there were signs of having won the bid everywhere and although I cringed as the women on the stage at Stratford was "Biggin it up for East London" the celebratory atmosphere did completely change my mood (if not my opinions).

And so in the context of this, yesterday's bombing which would have been tragic enough anyway seemed to be such a cruel cruel irony. Somehow a blog does not seem the right place for detailed comment about yesterday's events but the last couple of days has got me wondering about the whole collective London thing. Obviously not everyone in the same place feels the same way about things but even if you don't to begin with, intense emotional states whether of euphoria or of distress do seem to be contagious. Is this simply the way humans in a shared space work or is it all down to the media? Or is it a bit of both? How much is hype and how much is real? Is our shared Londoner identity genuine or manufactured? Is there really such a thing as London pride? Are Londoners really resilient in the face of disaster? Do a people make a place or does a place make the people? Maybe my questions are begging the obvious but these are some of my less painful reflections from the last few days.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Last Laugh?

20:00 Today ITV1 'LondonTonight with Trevor McDonald'

"As Rowan Atkinson leads comedians and playwrights protesting against the government's Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, the programme asks if the new law genuinely threatens their freedom of speech, and whether comedy and performing arts can incite religious hatred".

I am having trouble making my mind up about the proposed legislation to outlaw incitement to religious hatred. I thought spending the night with Trevor McDonald might help but I am none the wiser and so I have turned to my blog!

On the surface the legislation seems like a laudable idea and our beloved mayor had this to say on the matter recently,

Incitement to racial hatred has been a criminal offence since 1986 – and has played an important part in improving race relations in the UK. Under this law some religious groups, such as Jews and Sikhs, are protected because their religion is also their race. But members of other religions, such as Muslims and Christians, are not. People of all faiths – and people of no faith – are entitled to equal protection. Failure to update the law will leave a dangerous loophole, which is already being exploited by the extreme right.”

(Ken Livingstone, The Londoner, June 2005, page 9).

The main criticism seems to be that the law would affect freedom of speech or expression. There is concern that it could prevent open debate, silencing all criticism of religion and comedians are particularly concerned that they might end up prosecuted for telling a ‘joke’ that caused someone offence.

Now I really don’t know where I stand with this. Freedom of speech I think is a must but it should not be abused e.g. to incite hatred towards others. But where do you draw the line, say between the criticism of religion, the mocking of religion or the outright expression of hatred. There are grey areas and I wonder whether legislation is really the way to go here. I hate the PC culture we have here and I don’t want it to get any worse, I already think the notion of freedom of speech is a charade in our so called democracy and hate the fact that our sensational and highly ideological media has such a powerful influence on the shaping of people’s ideas. This is why (as some of you know) I have the ambition to set up my own café as a discursive space where people can freely discuss important cultural and social issues without fear of reprobation but hopefully it will also be somewhere where people’s prejudices can be challenged, but in an amicable way.

However I am not a libertarian like Tony Benn – I am most definitely not against censorship per se and when it comes to matters of religion and morality it really gets quite tricky. Sometimes I wonder if it is a matter of taste. Why is it that despite my increasing movement towards Catholicism I still find Life of Brian funny yet Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ video I thought was downright wrong and I felt uneasy after watching a short clip of Jerry Springer the Opera on Trevor McDonald’s programme this evening. Is it simply that my humour is essentially Pythonesque, and that I do not find Americans entertaining or amusing? Or willl I in time find Life of Brian offensive? And would it matter if I did since in terms of the proposed law the issue is about stopping incitement to religious hatred, not stopping anything that might cause offence. ‘Our Ken’ states;

There has been much confusion over the issue. Opponents of the ban argue that it will silence all criticism of religion. This is not the case. The law will ban incitement of hatred, not criticism. Freedom of expression will be unaffected by this law. Artists, authors and comedians will be able to carry on using their work to tackle controversial issues relating to race and culture. And religious groups offended by these works will continue to have the right to protest to express their displeasure.” (Ken Livingstone, The Londoner, June 2005, page 9).

I am not convinced but that does not mean I am against the new law. I suppose there are several questions I find myself asking;

1). Is legislation the way to tackle the issue of religious hatred?

2). What will be the impact of the new law – will it hamper free expression, criticism about the subject of religion or will it just do what the politicians say it will.

3). Would it be a bad thing if it did go beyond issue of religious hatred and got used to stop programmes like Jerry Springer the Opera being shown?

4).Where are the boundaries between things that incite religious hatred and those that simply cause offence?

5). How do you draw the line between being sensitive to others and taking political correctness to ridiculous proportions?