Will South Africa survive without its symbol of hope Mandela?

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Rarely do I display emotions in public, but visiting the Apartheid Museum in the Rainbow Nation earlier this year struck a chord deep within me. From an early fresh-faced activist to a humbled charismatic leader, Nelson Mandela emerged into a divided South Africa after 27-years imprisoned on Robben Island. The iconic wave beside then wife Winnie was to mark the beginning of reconciliation for the country. But will the death of a symbol be the demise of South Africa?

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As I travelled throughout the city, reaching the farthest point, it was highly apparent that the apartheid still lingers in some areas. The South West Township, better known as Soweto, houses millions of black South Africans. And that’s the crux of it.

Speaking to local Sowetans, it was harrowing to understand that the majority of those still living in the apartheid-built ghetto are black. In fact as the local born-and-bred Sowetan tour guide told me he had “never seen a white person” living in the area. Only until recently when a local white South African family opted to move to the area, to experience the “other side”, was there knowledge of others living in Soweto. “We are still labelled as all blacks. What they don’t understand is that we are nine different tribes, with different languages. And most of the time, we don’t necessarily understand each other,” he said, only reiterating the point – how far has South Africa come since the end of apartheid and has it actually ended? If people are labelled in a bloc, is it not perpetuating prejudice?

On the other end of the spectrum, white South Africans spoke of the ‘dire’ situation under the ANC. A local businessman told me: “They [ANC] have given all the jobs to the underskilled black people since they’ve been in power, we’ve lost our livelihood”. If this is the case, there seems to be no winners in this ‘post-apartheid’ nation, and the colours of the Rainbow still seems to be clearly divided.

And yet despite its modern day segregation, Madiba (Mandela’s tribal name) continues to echo throughout the country as a symbol of hope and peace, an important tool that the ANC has used  to maintain this status quo. Only time will tell if the ANC will be able to hold on its own.

Rest in peace Madiba. (1918-2013)

Won’t anyone think of the children: Society failing UK’s youths

Daniel Pelka

(Warning: Some readers might find the content of this article disturbing)

At the risk of sounding like Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons, a recent spate of high profile abuse and teen suicide cases make people question ‘Won’t somebody please think of the children?’ Whether it is the justice system, social services or the internet, there appears to be serious gaps protecting the most vulnerable in society and it seems to be too late before any action is taken.

The case of Daniel Pelka highlights once again that there are children falling through the cracks, being abused behind closed doors. And it is not just Daniel, but thousands of others. These cases appear to pop up intermittently to remind the public that abuse is still widely occurring. According to figures from the NSPCC, there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of children under the charity’s protection plan. In 2008, there were 29,200 children suffering from neglect, physical, sexual, emotional and multiple types of abuse. While last year saw a dramatic rise, with 42,850 under the plan. But statistics fail to grasp the reality that these minors are enduring and that there may be many more than figures suggest.

Four-year-old Daniel was starved for at least six months before being beaten to death in March 2012. An autopsy performed on the child found 22 different injuries across his body. Ten of these injuries were to his head and included asubdural haematoma, a serious brain condition where blood collects between the skull and surface of the brain.

(Picture of the simulated injuries can be seen here).

Daniel’s body was similarly damaged. He suffered extensive bruising across the back of his neck, his shoulders, his back, across both his buttocks, on both elbows and both knees and around his right ankle and left thigh. Since the conviction of his mother Magdelena Luczak and her boyfriend Mariusz Krezolek, MPs have been pointing the finger of blame over who could have let such a horrific crime go unnoticed.

Daniel’s father said that the life sentences handed out to Luczak and Krezolek were “severe enough”, but he only “wishes the same thing would happen to them, what happened to my son”. Eryk Pelka said:

I blame Magdalena and her partner. And also the social care and Daniel’s school that they haven’t reacted earlier – maybe this tragedy could have been omitted.

After the sentencing, the MP for Coventry North West Geoffrey Robinson added that Daniel had been “badly let down” not just by an “evil stepfather and indifferent and selfish mother” but also by his school, health professionals and social services.

Mr Robinson called for the director of children’s services Colin Green to step down now, rather than in September as planned, saying:

He takes with him the indelible stain of Daniel’s cruel death, which his department had failed to prevent.

What human being, with the slightest understanding of children, would not have been concerned enough to take action to set alarm bells ringing?

Those who failed Daniel must examine their own consciences, and conclude whether it is appropriate for them to remain in their posts.

But instead of shifting the blame, wishing for heads to roll after the death of a child, we must question why more isn’t being done beforehand. Images of other prolific cases of children failed by the system are immediately rehashed, such as Baby P and Victoria Climbie.

Baby P and Victoria Climbie

Sharon Shoesmith, former children’s services director at Haringey Council in north London, which was heavily criticised for failings over both deaths, said after the cases in 2009: “The very sad fact is that we can’t stop people who are determined to kill children.”

And the then Children’s Secretary Ed Balls reiterated this point:

The fact is this was a mother who did the most terrible things to her son and actively lied to cover up – in the end you can’t stop that from happening.

So what needs to change for children to stop being victimised? It is not just bureaucratic red tape at the top. It is the attitudes of every adult in society. Everyone is responsible. There appears to be a lack of support for people generally unable to defend themselves across the spectrum.

This has been rather apparent in a case of a judge who let a paedophile walk free this week after a prosecutor said the 13-year-old victim was “a sexual predator”.  Prosecutor Robert Colover told judge Nigel Peters:

The girl is predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced.

She appeared to look around 14 or 15 and had the mental age of a 14 or 15 year old despite being younger than that.

There was sexual activity but it was not of Mr Wilson’s doing, you might say it was forced upon him despite being older and stronger than her.

His Honour Judge Peters QC and Prosecutor Robert Colover.

His Honour Judge Peters QC and Prosecutor Robert Colover.

The defendant Neil Wilson admitted engaging in sexual activity with a child and was still handed an eight-month suspended sentence at Snaresbrook Crown Court. Police also found images of child abuse and bestiality at Wilson’s home in Romford, Essex. Evidently, there has been massive failures in this case. Even from a legal stance, under the Sexual Offences Act it is deemed as a serious crime.

The law presumes that when a girl is under 13 she is not mature enough to consent to sex. So even if a 12-year-old girl willingly has intercourse, as far as the law is concerned, she has not “consented” to it because legally she is not able to. There is no defence to statutory rape – even if a man suggests the girl was willing or that he thought she was older than she was, it would not matter.

If found guilty of statutory rape, the maximum sentence is life, but average sentences for rape are between five and seven years. So why is it in this instance a 13-year-old girl was said to have “egged” the paedophile on? It is the fundamental attitude of people within the systems and within society that are creating the problems. It’s time for some serious re-education.

The Prime Minister said that it was right for the Crown Prosecution Service to criticise the comments and for the Attorney General to look at the sentence. But the damage has been done. As Angela Dobbs from Fentons Solicitors LLP said:

Although the number of cases being brought to court has increased and the conviction rate has improved, vulnerable victims are still being subjected to not only facing their abusers in court – effectively reliving the abuse – but also to overly aggressive questioning, often over a period of days.

Victims are subjected to further trauma as a result of the court process and the level of often unnecessary and lengthy questioning. This serves as a deterrent for victims in coming forward to report the abuse in the first place, let alone proceeding with a prosecution.

And if it isn’t a 13-year-old girl accused of being a ‘predator’, it’s a 14-year-old girl taking her own life because of endemic cyber-bullying. Hannah Smith died on Friday after receiving abusive messages on social networking site Ask.fm.

Hannah Smith

Launched in 2010, the social networking site invites users to pose questions which other users can respond to – often anonymously or with pictures and videos. According to the technology website CNET, the site has some 60 million users of which half are under the age of 18 and a portion under the age of 13. It reports that teenagers see the platform as “fun and dangerous” because of the option of staying anonymous and the common use of profanities.

Why is it only after deaths such as Hannah’s that people seem to pay attention to the dangers of teens and tweens being exposed to the online world? The perils of the World Wide Web have been ever-present since its inception. From chatrooms, messengers to Facebook and Twitter – there is nowhere to hide from the long arm of abusers and bullies. So it’s all well and good to show sympathy but it is too little too late for these young people.

And just as it is in the Daniel Pelka case, David Cameron’s reaction was to boycott “vile” cyber bullying sites to avoid further deaths. The father of Hannah said Mr Cameron is “passing the buck” on internet safety. He said:

I think he’s passing the buck like normal. He’s passing the buck onto the companies that do the websites and the websites aren’t going to do it.

So nothing’s ever going to change unless we get some regulations in to change the way websites are used. The internet needs regulating. It’s a waste of time going to the website people and saying they have to do it because they are not going to do it, because they are making too much money.

It’s up to the Government to now start regulating the internet and make the internet safe for children.

Mr Cameron has initiated legislation to put in filters to stop child abuse images from appearing on search engines. Meanwhile, thousands of people have backed a campaign calling on the law to be changed, which would make it illegal for teachers not to step in if they suspected a pupil was being mistreated named “Daniel’s Law”.

The Crown Prosecution Service is also to review the case of the 13-year-old girl, suspending the judge. Justice Minister Damian Green has already launched an investigation into aggressive courtroom cross-examination of vulnerable victims in June. This is all well and good. But similar measures were taken after the cases of Baby P and Climbie, with senior figures being sacked in the aftermath and yet it happened again.

So what’s the solution to these crimes? It’s time to pay attention and empathise at all times, not just when it’s too late. Otherwise we will see many more instances of Daniel Pelka and Hannah Smith.

Sign the petition for Daniel’s Law here.

‘Go home’ to Bongo bongo land: Ukip and the Home Office

'Go home or face arrest'

After a long summer of flag waving and royal baby madness, it was only too soon that the patriots needed a new distraction. Lo and behold, it came in the form of an angry tirade directed at immigrants once again. Large billboards and signposts carrying the warning “Go home or face arrest” are being driven around London on the back of advertising vans in a new Home Office bid to reduce “illegal immigration”. Except on the face of it, it is selectively targeting areas where non-white folk may be residing.

The advertising vans have been initially deployed to six London boroughs including Ealing, Barnet, Barking & Dagenham, Brent, Redbridge and Hounslow. It comes as no surprise that five of the six areas are in the top 10 ethnically Asian boroughs. According to the 2011 Census from the Office for National Statistics, more than 116,000 ethnically Asian people live in Redbridge, the second highest number out of all London boroughs, closely followed by Brent with 105,986. So is it by coincidence that these areas are being specifically targeted?

Immigration minister Mark Harper said that the scheme would help to prevent “unlawful working” and “reduce the burden on public services” caused by illegal migration:

We are making it more difficult for people to live and work in the UK illegally.

But there is an alternative to being led away in handcuffs. Help and advice can be provided to those who cooperate and return home voluntarily.

And in a typical British fashion, giving a sharp nudge of the elbow, it seems the Home Office is quietly ushering out non-white folk by the back door. The UK government appears to be ‘helping’ immigrants by offering a phone number, potentially giving free flights and other travel assistance, but it is a choice of two evils: ‘Go home or face arrest’.

The initiative has received criticism from local campaign group Southall Black Sisters as well as human rights organisation Liberty. Meena Patel from SBS warned that the government is “turning the clock back to the 1970s”. She also said the UK’s hunt for illegal immigrants was “akin to Nazi Germany”.

“They may deny it, but that’s what it looks like,” she added.

The caption for this picture was, 'A suspected visa overstayer arrested at a Swansea nail bar'.

The caption for this picture was, ‘A suspected visa overstayer arrested at a Swansea nail bar’.

The Home Office posted images of ‘immigrant arrests’ after announcing the scheme, but was widely criticised after the photos appeared to show only ethnic minorities being targeted.

Guardian columnist and writer Charlie Brooker tweeted in response, “Hey @ukhomeoffice why not make your tweet-a-long-a-stormtroop gallery of brown folk thrown in vans even more dystopian by using cattleprods?”

Lawyer and writer David Allen Green added, “Perhaps citizens should have a #ReportContempt button for dealing with unlawful tweets from the @ukhomeoffice?”

And Labour peer Doreen Lawrence, whose own son was murdered in a racist attack, told ITV’s Daybreak:

Why are they focusing on people of colour, I am sure there are illegal immigrants from all countries? Why are they focusing on that? That is where racial profiling is coming in.

Liberty hit back with its own counter-advertising, sending a van on to the streets of Westminster carrying this billboard:

Liberty immigration posters

A statement from Liberty said the Home Office’s messaging had “racist connotations – mirroring National Front slogans from the 1970s”. It’s worrying that even right-wing Ukip party leader Nigel Farage agreed that the posters were “nasty” only because it was “driving away support” from the party.

And to contribute to the general tone of Daily Mail-style anti-immigrant sentiment, a senior Ukip politician has been caught on camera this week saying Britain should not send aid to “bongo bongo land”, claiming the recipients lavishly spend the money on luxuries.

Godfrey Bloom, a Ukip MEP, was filmed at a meeting of supporters in the West Midlands saying those who received aid spent the money on “Ray-Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it”.

Adding insult to injury, he defended his comment  saying: “If I’ve offended anybody in Bongo Bongo land, I will write to their ambassador at the Court of St James.” He later ‘apologised’ adding that he did not want to “upset” his party boss or party chairman hence he “shan’t use it again”, before walking out of a Channel 4 interview.

But it raises a rather big and uncomfortable question for ethnic minorities – how is this going to end? Are non-white British people being squeezed out from the middle?

Even neo-Labour is jumping on the bandwagon. In March, Labour leader Ed Miliband reiterated his stance on immigration pledging a tougher line after “past mistakes”. Rather a ridiculous notion to have being the son of a Jewish immigrant himself. Mr Miliband said:

I’m going to tell people what I believe. And I believe that diversity is good for Britain. But it’s got to be made to work for all and not just for some. And that means everybody taking responsibility, everybody playing their part and contributing to the country. That is what One Nation is all about, and that’s the Britain I want to build.

There was thought that ethnic minorities may push their vote towards Labour at the next election, especially after four years of being in the firing line for all of Britain’s troubles. But Labour’s popularity has been waning as shadow health minister Diane Abbott said following the speech.

Ms Abbott warned the party could be plunged into a downward spiral if it tried too hard to apologise for its record on immigration. She said:

We are in the middle of a recession, or as near as damn it. In a recession you always see a rise in racism and anti-immigrant feeling – you had it in Germany in the 1930s.

We have to be very careful about our language because when people are frightened about their future, they want to blame outsiders, they want to blame the other.

Faith minister Baroness Warsi said in response: “Immigration is not about the colour of anyone’s skin any more, it’s a simple issue of resources at any one time.”

And this is the crux of the debate. The immigration polemic has been racialised by politicians no matter how much they try to distance themselves from it. By targeting ethnically specific areas, overtly arresting non-white people and referring to resources being taken away to ‘bongo bongo land’ suggests nothing other than let’s get rid of those ‘benefit-scrounging’ immigrants or in other words non-Caucasian ethnic minorities.

Is Britain’s attitude towards its extradition detainees fundamentally racist?

Guantanamo Bay

A Guantanamo Bay prisoner currently on hunger strike has penned his experiences from the controversial ‘facility’ this week in the New York Times, claiming instances of torture through force feeding and deliberate neglect. Alongside Yemeni Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, there is growing concern for the last British resident Shaker Aamer, also amongst the hunger strikers, who was supposed to have returned to the UK in 2007 and yet is still currently being held in Camp Delta. So what is it that makes the UK turn a blind eye to torture allegations when it comes to dealing with the US?

There are clear inconsistencies within the implementation of the UK-US extradition treaty, as the Bush administration even conceded that it had no evidence against Aamer and he was cleared for release with the other British detainees. And despite the UK attempting to change the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as it stands, it does not allow for prisoners to be extradited if there is any possibility for torture, as is the situation with radical cleric Abu Hamza being deported to Jordan.

According to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The European Human Rights Court emphasised the fundamental nature of Article 3 in holding that the prohibition is made in “absolute terms … irrespective of a victim’s conduct” (Chahal v. The United Kingdom, 1996). This also meant that states cannot deport or extradite individuals who might be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in the recipient state. Despite legislation being put in place to support the plight of detainees, there seems to be an overall gap in the actual enactment, allowing some to supersede, and others to fall through the system.

Shaker Aamer with his children

Shaker Aamer with his children.

As said by Aamer’s lawyers, he was one of fifteen detainees who lodged a torture claim in the High Court in London where it is alleged that MI5 and MI6 agents were present when he was badly beaten by CIA officers in Afghanistan in 2002. Amnesty International director Kate Allen said: “Given the time involved, the lengthy spells in solitary confinement and the torture allegedly used against him, Shaker Aamer’s plight has been one of the worst of all the detainees held at Guantanamo.”

The father of four was captured in December 2001 by the US, which claimed he was fighting with the Taliban, and moved to Guantanamo the following year. He is thought to have spent most of his time in solitary confinement, in a cell 6ft by 8ft, with 24-hour exposure to light, and a succession of hunger strikes has left him weighing half his original 17st.

In September 2006, Aamer’s attorneys filed a 16-page motion alleging that he had been held in solitary confinement for 360 days at the time of filing, and was tortured by beatings, exposure to temperature extremes, and sleep deprivation, which together caused him to suffer to the point of becoming mentally unbalanced. A motion was filed to enforce the Geneva Conventions in which the US is a part of, on his behalf.  So why has the UK taken a rather blasé stance in terms of Aamer, and yet others in the US penal firing line have been excused?

Gary McKinnon freed

The obvious contradiction can be seen through the case of hacker Gary McKinnon. The Scottish systems administrator was accused in 2002 of perpetrating the “biggest military computer hack of all time,” after allegedly hacking into 97 American military computers at the Pentagon and NASA between 2001 and 2002. McKinnon, who has a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, remained at liberty without restriction for three years until June 2005.

After the UK enacted the Extradition Act 2003 – which implemented the 2003 extradition treaty with the US wherein the United States did not need to provide contestable evidence – McKinnon faced possible extradition, in which he expressed fears that he could be sent to Guantanamo Bay. But instead of taking the ‘threat to national security approach’ as with the other detainees, Home Secretary Theresa May announced to the House of Commons in October last year that the extradition had been blocked, saying that: “Mr McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights.”

While McKinnon’s Asperger’s Syndrome was used as a reason to block his extradition, Briton Syed Talha Ahsan had no such avail. The 33-year-old was detained without trial in the UK for six years before being extradited to the US in October 2012, although he also has Asperger’s Syndrome. Formerly from Tooting in London, Ahsan was accused of “conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists”, “providing material support to terrorists” and “conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim, or injure persons”.

In an article in the New Statesman earlier this year, Kings College London’s Ian Patel contends that Ahsan’s supposed participation in an Islamic media website (that at the time of his arrest had been offline for four years and operated out of Connecticut) was behind the reason of his detainment. According to his lawyer, Gareth Peirce:

“Before his Asperger syndrome had been diagnosed in June 2009, a psychiatrist had predicted a high risk of serious depression leading to suicide if the third applicant were to be extradited and placed in solitary confinement for a long period. [Ahsan] also submitted a statement prepared by an American criminologist, detailing the heightened difficulties experienced by those with Asperger syndrome in federal prisons and the absence of proper facilities within the Bureau of Prisons to treat the condition.”

Ahsan was subsequently been put in a “super-maximum security” prison in Connecticut, in which prisoners are in open-ended isolation for 24 hours a day and, in certain cells, denied natural light. The United Nations itself has said: “Indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement, in excess of fifteen days, should also be subject to an absolute prohibition,” noting that scientific studies have established that some lasting mental damage is caused after a few days of social isolation. The Ahsan – McKinnon case only highlights the fact that “all are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

The Home Secretary was praised by the Prime Minister at a Conservative Party conference for successfully securing the extradition of radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza, along with “four others”, to the US. She purported that while the offences of McKinnon and of Ahsan have similarities in that they were both internet-based, Ahsan’s crimes, according to the US extradition request, were in support of terrorism and could have led to deaths.

But similar to Shaker Aamer’s case, there has been no concrete evidence of Ahsan’s alleged activities linking to terrorism. It is all based on an assumption that underlines the fundamental attitude towards those who seem ‘less British than others’. And whether guilty or not, British residents have the right to a trial in their own country. It’s a wonder if anyone is actually safe from extradition when people’s nationalities and rights are put into question because of their cultural and religious beliefs. And what’s more, it raises the issue on whether Britain really is a ‘liberal democracy’.

You can support the campaigns here:

Thatcher and the Philpott children: The double-standards of speaking ill of the dead

Margaret Thatcher the Iron Lady

Margaret Thatcher’s death this week received a stern warning from politicians that celebrating it would be “wrong and in bad taste”. The 87-year-old former Prime Minister was a ‘divisive leader’ to say the least, playing a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War; denouncing Nelson Mandela and his ANC as “terrorists”; destroying trade unions; while others argue she repaired Britain’s broken international reputation. Unsurprisingly, a widespread backlash has since ensued from both political figures and the voting public. Yet within two weeks, there has been a rather stark contradiction from the same notables issuing these ‘bad taste’ warnings.

Both Chancellor George Osborne and the current Prime Minister David Cameron were thought to have been ‘exploiting’ the deaths of six children killed in a house fire in Derby, by their parents Mick and Mairead Philpott. Within hours of the guilty verdict being read, Mr Osborne questioned why the taxpayer should pay for benefit “lifestyles” such as those of the child killer. Instead of deeming the remark “in bad taste”, Mr Cameron backed the Chancellor’s comments, insisting that the case did raise “wider questions” about the welfare system and saying society had to consider what “signals” benefits sent.

The Prime Minister said: “I think what George Osborne said was absolutely right. He said that Mr Philpott was the one to blame for his crimes and he should be held responsible. But what the Chancellor went on to say is that we should ask some wider questions about our welfare system, how much it costs and the signals it sends. And we do want to make clear that welfare is there to help people who work hard and should not be there as a sort of life choice. I think that is entirely legitimate.”

So why is it right to make political capital from the deaths of six children, but condemn remarks against an ambiguous political public figure? Guardian columnist and associate editor Seumas Milne was immediately put on the ‘naughty list’ by blogger Steve Hynd, along with a host of other notable leftists for expressing their views in the aftermath of Thatcher’s death. Milne referred to his 2012 article about the Iron Lady, in which he described her as “the most socially destructive British politician of our times”, while the Conservatives denounced the Liberal Democrats for not suspending their Leicester City Council election campaign after her death.

Hunger strikes in Northern IrelandConservative deputy county council leader Byron Rhodes said: “It’s sad and disrespectful. She was the greatest Prime Minister of our lifetime and she changed the face of British politics.” Even the usually politically-inclined BBC coverage was accused of being “disrespectful” by Tory politicians. The news channel aired a live interview with Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who said “working-class communities in Ireland were devastated by Thatcherism…her draconian policies prolonged the war here, she is most famously remembered for the 1980s hunger strikes.”

Many critics spoke out against the interview, describing the decision to air his words as “disrespectful” given the IRA attempted to kill Lady Thatcher. Tory MP Ben Wallace said: “I think it’s disrespectful to give such a significant amount of coverage to a man who belongs to an organisation which tried to murder her.” There seems to be a timescale in terms of the Thatcher debate in which certain opinions are permitted to be expressed while other ‘negative’ comments are deemed impertinent.

Yet was there any sensitivity shown towards the Philpott case? Within two hours of Mick Philpott being handed down a life sentence for the manslaughter of his six children, the Chancellor said: “It’s right we ask questions as a Government, a society and as taxpayers, why we are subsidising lifestyles like [Philpott’s]. It does need to be handled.”

Philpott children

A Daily Mail article following the comments said that Mick Philpott “embodies everything that is wrong with the welfare state” and described how he allegedly treated his children as “cash cows” to generate a £60,000 a year income from benefits. The article emblazoned with a photograph of Philpott and the six young victims, hones in on the Philpotts’ desire for a “bigger house”. While there is no justification for Philpott’s behaviour, there is a time and a place to “cash-in” on the affair for political gain.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls subsequently launched a scathing attack on what he called the “cynical, nasty and divisive” way Mr Osborne linked the Philpott case with the broader issue of state benefits. Mr Balls said the “desperate” Chancellor had offended millions of hard-working people and was playing politics with a tragic case for his own political gain.

The double-standards seem to reflect the type of person targeted. Tellingly, few people have trouble understanding the need for balanced commentary when the political leaders disliked by the west pass away. For instance, the Guardian reported upon the death last month of Hugo Chavez: “To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.” No one used the grounds that it was disrespectful to the ability of the Chavez family or the rest of the Philpott family to mourn in peace unlike Thatcher.

As the Guardian’s civil liberties columnist Glenn Greenwald writes about the “misapplied death etiquette”: “There’s something distinctively creepy – in a Roman sort of way – about this mandated ritual that our political leaders must be heralded and consecrated as saints upon death… If anything, it becomes more compelling to commemorate those bad acts upon death as the only antidote against a society erecting a false and jingoistically self-serving history.”

Therefore, it’s a question over who is worth grieving – according to political needs. The bottom line is that the Conservatives still hold up Thatcher as their trailblazer; as Mr Cameron expressed “Thatcher made Britain great again”, while Chavez and Philpott are just instruments of the ‘terrible welfare state’ or ‘evils of Communism’.

Iraq War about ‘nuclear orientalism’ and not ‘weapons of mass destruction’

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“Britain is going to war with Iraq”- I still remember sitting in a school assembly when those words were uttered. Even after a decade, both the United States and Britain are still lingering in the Middle East. Have they really ‘emancipated’ the people from the reins of a dictator, or did the West just expel themselves of a threat to their insecurity? Was it really ever about weapons of mass destruction, extracting oil or promoting democracy? The war symbolises how the structure of global politics dominates in favour of a Eurocentric approach, a crusade of neo-liberal and realist ideologies and consequently the prejudiced undertones of the ‘West versus Other’ mentality.

It was one of the first questions I began to ask – why is Iraq seen as a threat when nuclear weapons exist in the West? According to leading academic Hugh Gusterson, there has long been a widespread perception among Western defence intellectuals, politicians, and nuclear pundits that, while we can currently live with the nuclear weapons of the five official nuclear nations (the US, UK, France, China and Russia), “the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Third World, especially the Islamic world, would be enormously dangerous.”

Gusterson notes that this observation is a form of “Nuclear Orientalism” or outright “Nuclear Racism” in which those with shared Western cultural identities and ideologies group together, creating oppositions such as “civilised” vs. “barbarian”; “West” vs. “Other”; and “modern” vs. “backwards”. As soon as we see these terms, because of mainstream discourse and media, we immediately associate this positioning ‘as a matter of fact’ to non-Western countries. What ‘nuclear defence weapons’ are to the West, ‘weapons of mass destruction’ are to the East.

But what is missing from the mainstream, is the point that the language used is discriminatory from the outset. The West has determined what states are considered to be ‘sovereign’ or ‘real’ and which are considered ‘quasi-states’ i.e. ‘not-formally-seen as sovereign’ states. Even Germany, with one of the most advanced economies in Europe has long-been considered only ‘semi-sovereign’, principally because of the Second World War. So it’s hardly a surprise that a Middle Eastern country such as Iraq would be seen as a ‘rogue-state’ alongside many of the Arab nations, “too immature” to play with nuclear weapons.

Subsequently when Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009, helped to sell the war to the public, even Hadley said he was wrong in citing Saddam Hussein’s alleged stock of weapons of mass destruction as a reason for the invasion. He stands by the judgment, however, that Saddam was a threat to the US and the region. So this isn’t about the fact that Iraq had nuclear weapons as such- it’s about ‘the wrong people’ having nuclear weapons.

In Western discourse, the passionate or instinctual has been identified with women and implicitly contrasted with male human rationality. Third World nations are also portrayed as children, and the US as a parental figure ensuring “good behaviour”. In a 1987 New York Times editorial on Pakistan’s nuclear programme, it speaks of the US “scoldings” of Pakistan and that “US demands for good Pakistani behavior from now on“.

As Hadley wrote in the Wall Street Journal in 2010: “[The Iraqi people] endured great brutality under Saddam, suffered enormous hardship after the invasion, joined forces with us to liberate themselves from al Qaeda terrorism […] But even Iraqis admit that they could not have succeeded without the United States.” This only goes to highlight the Western attitude, in which they see themselves as “saving” populations – in the same vein as European NGOs and formerly Christian missionaries, spreading the word of Western ideology.

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We will keep seeing iconic images, such as the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein, the victory signs made by Iraqi civilians and the “success” of the Iraq war. But are Iraqis really living in ‘ebony and ivory’ with US and UK troops? The National Public Radio quotes that so far, about 4,400 US troops, of which 136 have been killed in action; while the BBC writes that 179 British service personnel, and more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians, have been killed. The Iraqi people are portrayed to be “ungrateful” to the West for ‘liberating’ them, despite the catastrophic number of Iraqi deaths.

In the language of realist defence intellectuals, better still the current CIA director John Brennan –  civilian deaths are merely seen as “collateral damage”, whilst the security of a state by its armed forces against the Other is by far the most important factor of international politics.

At his confirmation hearing to become CIA director, Brennan was questioned on why drone strikes were being used. He insisted that targeted killing programs were used only as “a last resort to save lives when is there is no other alternative.” What this only goes to show is that Western lives are worth “saving” at the expense of non-Westerns – a slightly worrying notion that the leading political discourse, in which global politics uses as a foundation and claims to be ‘rational’ and objective, is evidently prejudiced.

Edward Said, the literary virtuoso behind “Orientalism” identified the fear of a Muslim holy war as one of the cornerstones of orientalist ideology, which was labelled as the “Islamic bomb”. Unsurprisingly, Iran is next on the “kill list”. So why does the West invade a country in the name of “saving” it, and in the same breath label the peoples “backwards” and a “threat?” It surely isn’t in the Iraqi interest, but rather safeguarding the neo-liberal identity.

Iraq continues to experience violence on a daily basis even with Western ‘humanitarian intervention’ and the death of Saddam Hussein. So it’s barely a measure to go by. By framing political dynamics in non-Western contexts in comparison to models of European state formation only seems to continue dominance of Western powers within the state system, and what we are left with is a smokescreen of a valiant knight in shining armour protecting the damsel in distress.

We wouldn’t need Comic Relief if we gave back African resources to Africa

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There is nothing more heartrending than watching the desperate plight of African children for Comic Relief every year. Raising more than £800 million in 25 years is a commendable effort, but it alludes to an important issue. Why is the African condition not improving and are we looking at the wrong actors for the cause of this?

According to an article published by The Citizen, statements made in March 2012 at the Times Africa CEO Summit by former EU trade commissioner Lord Peter Mandelson suggested that European humanitarian organisations were involved in a conspiracy to keep Africa in the throes of poverty. Lord Mandelson said that European charities opposed his attempts to re-negotiate trade agreements that would benefit Africa with more commercial opportunities: “When I tried to re-negotiate EU’s trade rules […] who were the people trying to silence me? [...]It was the European NGOs!”.

The former Cabinet minister accused Western charities of “trapping Africa in continued poverty” by hampering trade talks with the EU that could have delivered development and economic growth adding that it was “biggest discovery of my life”.

However, European NGOs are hardly the only culprits involved in keeping Africa in a permanent state of dependency and poverty. African states are seen to bear the brunt of political dysfunction, primarily because of two financial institutions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, well-known for imposing conditions that cripples the African continent.

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These institutions seem to prescribe unrealistic and unpopular measures to qualify for loans in which conditions include measures to privatise natural resources and allowing unlimited access to foreign companies, designed to keep Africa eternally poor or dependent on the West. It’s ironic that the two monetary institutions were first formed by 44 nations at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 with the original goal of creating a stable framework for the post-war global economy.

Now, the IMF and World Bank are largely controlled and owned by the development nations such as the US, Germany, UK, Japan, amongst others. As academic Michael Hodd writes in “Africa, the IMF and the World Bank”, the US controls 17 to 18% of the voting right at the IMF. When an 85% majority is required for a decision, the US effectively has veto power at the IMF. In addition, the World Bank is 51% funded by the US treasury.

Under a plane devised mechanism, the World Bank and the IMF loan money in return for the structural adjustment of their economies. This means that economic direction of each country would be planned, monitored, and controlled in Washington. Even as Africa faces the worst health crisis in human history, these institutions insist that debt repayments take priority over spending on the fight against poverty and HIV/AIDS. Nana K. Poku, Professor of African Studies at Bradford University, writes that African countries continue to spend up to five times more on debt servicing than on health care for their populations. So despite all of this ‘guidance’ from the West, it’s rather clear that the poverty-stricken conditions of Africa isn’t about to change, otherwise it would have done so decades before.

Consequently when Lord Mandelson and former Prime Minister Tony Blair argued at the Times conference that the solution to Africa’s problem is effective governance and foreign direct investments, it seems the current arrangement is part of the problem in why Africa remains one of the poorest places in the world.

Renowned author of the Shock Doctrine Naomi Klein wrote: “Sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest place on earth, is also its most profitable investment destination. It offers, according to the World Bank’s 2003 Global Development Finance report, “the highest returns on foreign direct investment of any region in the world.” Africa is poor because its investors and its creditors are so unspeakably rich.”

It’s hardly any surprise that proponents of the anti- Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) move between Africa and the West, including Tanzania’s retired president Benjamin Mkapa, contended that the West still want to hold Africa hostage to trade and investments. At the same summit, the former president said African economies could not be fully opened up to the West without responding benefits to level the playing field.

Mkapa argued that Africa will not emancipate itself from poverty and chains of colonialism until it chooses to reconsider its position in the world today through regional integration towards a United States of Africa.

This privatisation goes hand-in-hand with trade liberalisation, as well as neo-liberal ideals. Neo-liberals argue that, the fundamental factor responsible for the economic crisis in Africa is the excessive state regulation of the economies of African countries, which among other things distorts the process of economic development and leads to inefficiency in the allocation of resources.

ImageThey maintain that the problem can only be overcome through the peripheralisation of the state and the ascendancy of market forces in Africa’s political economy. In this light, neo-liberal countries have decided to impose their neo-liberal ideas on African countries.

Neo-liberals call for good governance, democratisation and human right. Through this, they tend to present themselves as friends of civil society while presenting the state as the enemy. The emphasis on liberal democracy and state sponsored democratisation has only resulted in the installation in power of the corrupt and decadent element that contributed greatly to the development crisis in the first place. Not to mention, the allocation of resources has played directly into Western hands.

And that is exactly what this situation entails. Neo-colonialism has mutated into a financial-based hegemony in which distinctive cultural orientations and foreign policy pressures prevail over other cultural groupings such as in Africa.

So while charities continue to raise money every year to save the plight of millions by attempting to provide vital vaccinations and crucial treatment, the only way Africa can be ‘saved’ is by handing African resources back to Africa, and making the governments involved pay the price for inducing this crisis.

Women should be acknowledged everyday and not just once a year

International Women's Day

I don’t want to be the patronising malcontent that spoils the fun on a day such as International Women’s Day (IWD), in which women across the world celebrate various facets of what makes a woman just that – a woman. There is never any harm in all the pomp and glory that comes around on the 8th March every year, but it is important to note that celebrating respect, appreciation, achievements and love towards women should be exercised every single day.

It’s a bit like hailing the fact that some newspapers such as the Guardian or The Daily Telegraph have a ‘Women’s Section’. And while it is important to raise these issues, it’s rather depressing that women have been casted under the ‘Life & Style’ category, as if we have chosen to be one because it is a la mode.

Award-winning columnist Suzanne Moore has written a rather cynical article in the same vein marking the ‘special day’, in which she rightly asserts that “Somehow it all feels rather patronising”. The lists, the interactives, the images, tend to brush over all the hard work that women put in 364 days in the year just to walk one more step towards equality. And then in one fell swoop, the media and governmental hogs take credit for taking notice of women.

IWD in some cases has been deemed as a form of ‘Mother’s Day’ or ‘Valentine’s Day for the matriarchy’ with even condescending greeting cards for the occasion; in which many take notice of the fact that woman ‘feel unappreciated’ and just ‘wants some attention.’ It has been depoliticised into a cliché, when its origins are rooted from a strike in New York by garment workers which led to the setting up of the first trade union in America.

Meanwhile, the statistics that appear on the 8th March, only goes to prove that for the rest of the year, not only are women missing from the picture, they are also far from being equal – they are underpaid, underprivileged and unacknowledged.

Take for example, 13,500 people – 80% of them women – reported domestic violence to charity Citizens Advice last year; 140 million girls will become child brides by 2020 at current rates; and a survey of women in work, ranks Britain 18th of 27 countries on job security and pay - far from an egalitarian utopia. These figures only seem to get front page coverage on IWD, while for the rest of the year; it is a mere footnote, hidden in the back pages.

And after wading through all the flag-waving and harmonious chanting, what’s even more depressing is that women who have been campaigning tirelessly are nowhere to be seen on these high-flying power-lists, or these glorified images. And by the day after, when all the Twitter hashtags have disappeared and it is no longer news or social media-worthy, the people who only celebrate equality on IWD would have all scattered in various directions, and the movement would once again be ejected to the Lifestyle pile.

So for all those wimms who have been putting women at the forefront and making a difference to all out there every single day, here is a personal thank you.

Find organisations/ outlets to support here:

(The list is endless, so apologies for missing out your organisation.)

It’s hard to ‘keep calm’ when you’re being sold sexism

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This weekend saw a spate of online indignation at internet retailer Amazon and US company Solid Gold Bomb after the T-shirt business ‘inadvertently’ sold tops with offensive slogans including ‘Keep Calm And Rape A Lot.’

After hundreds of #NotBuyingIt tweets in less than 24 hours after they went on sale, the T-shirts have since been removed.

The company has since apologised claiming it was a computer error: Slogans had been “automatically generated using a scripted computer process running against hundreds of thousands of dictionary words”, they said on their website.

The clothing line also included messages like “Keep calm and hit her” and “Keep calm and knife her”. These statements show a worrying trend of sexism and general lack of corporate social responsibility, a trend that has been going on under our noses and right in front of us simultaneously for quite some time.

In the latest statement by founder Michael Fowler, he ironically called on the nation to halt the tirade of violent verbal abuse he has subsequently received following this matter. “Turn the hate off and get off the bandwagon,” said Fowler. The same could be said of the company towards women.

Even British politicians voiced their outrage at the “Keep Calm” logo.

Former Labour Party deputy leader Lord Prescott, the MP who was urged to step down in 2006 for being labelled “sexist” said: “First Amazon avoids paying UK tax. Now they’re make money from domestic violence.”

“These are ridiculous, mindless products for anybody to attempt to sell. It is absurd to say they were manufactured in error,” said Conservative Party MP Caroline Dinenage, according to The Daily Mail.

And the shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman told The Independent that Amazon should give all profits from sales of the T-shirts to a women’s refuge as an apology.

“Domestic violence and sex offences are not something people should make money out of,” she added.

Amazon in this instance has been caught red-handed. However there are far more examples by the company that can be addressed.

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Just typing in the word ‘sexist’ in the Amazon search box, you can find a whole host of sexist products. For example, the “Get Back in the Kitchen” bumper sticker is a popular sell.Image

And there are plenty more T-shirts of which consumers have an array of options, not just limited to the “Keep Calm” series.

But it’s not the first time a company has used some form of sexism to sell a product and it needs to be called upon. Consumers have an array of options, and are not just limited to the “Keep Calm” series.

And on my quest while searching for sexist products, I was led straight to Zazzle – a godforsaken haven for women-hating imbeciles. One of the first T-shirt messages spotted on the website seemed to make the Solid Gold Bomb T-shirts look like compliments.

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Apparently “50,000 women battered and I’m still eating mine plain” is an attractive top to wear when you are outside along with a plethora of other benign messages.

Men’s Lifestyle online website “Ask Men” have even posted about the ‘sexist attire’ trend. According to the writers, JCPenney, and Forever 21 have “all weathered controversies recently”, but their products are only the latest in the long tradition of the sexist T-shirt.

Abercrombie was identified as the “biggest offender” in their T-shirt galley, but they added: “And while we don’t endorse the messages on these shirts, we have to admit: Some of them are pretty funny.”

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In 2011, Topman came under pressure to explain why they compared women to dogs and a T-shirt featuring a checklist of excuses which bear an uncomfortable resemblance to those associated with domestic violence.

Topman responded: “Whilst we would like to stress that these T-shirts were meant to be light-hearted and carried no serious meaning we have made the decision to remove these from the store and online as soon as possible.” It is worrying that such a product was made in the first place that deems a rather sinister T-shirt, a bit of ‘light-hearted’ fun.

Business Insider did a scoop in the same year about all the sexist T-shirts available, worryingly even children were made targets.

David and Goliath, a ‘leading apparel designer, manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer,’ according to their corporate website, is yet another novelty brand that seems to think the way into consumers’ pockets is by targeting certain audiences to make a sale.

ImageThe retailer sells anything from men’s and women’s T-shirts to children’s accessories, so it was rather disturbing to find ‘buttons’ that state: “My Other Ride is Your Mum”, and “Gold Digger – Like a Hooker but Smarter”.

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So we’ve clearly seen how apathetic businesses respond in terms of social responsibility. But if Amazon is anything to compare by, then internet retailer Play.com is not far behind. ‘Lusty Linda’ the animated talking pen holder, was one for the record books. According to the F-Word, Lusty Linda The Pen Holder had 10 different sayings including: “ooow (ouch)! Get out you, you dirty old man! What are you looking at? Help! Help! Oh ooh (excited).”

You can just picture the hideous misogynistic corporate co-worker ogling it on his desk, while essentially raping a toy.

In a world with a shifting social consciousness and women accounting for 85% of all consumer purchases, it is astounding that such blatant sexism still abounds in the marketplace.

There is a general consensus in the world of business that companies must engage in corporate social responsibility in giving back to their communities and their consumers. And as brands continue to become increasingly interactive with their consumers, we will expect that they become our role models for social change.

Now having seen the heated reaction against Amazon, perhaps a culture of “naming and shaming” may have to be induced as it seems only fair that other companies start showing that same level of responsibility to the wider cause.

Britain points their finger at India’s rape culture without addressing their own

ImageThere seems to be an aftershock from the Delhi gang-rape and subsequent death of the 23-year-old victim named ‘Damini’, the “lightning” strike that continues to shake the world. But is it that the incident is so horrifying, it makes us cringe at the thought of such an occurrence or does it essentially strike a chord with Britain’s prevalent rape culture?

Soon after the atrocity, a group of women vandalised a bar in Mumbai because it had continued to sell a cocktail called the ‘rapist’, despite India being amid a social and political upheaval after the death of ‘Damini’. But rape cultures have not been created in a vacuum. It has been nourished by traditional norms and attitudes, even condoned, trivialised and celebrated in popular culture and language both in the West and the East.

‘Rape’ jokes, analogies and casual talk are commonplace within all walks of life in British popular culture, from titillating lads’ mags to comic gags about incest and pornography. At the 2012 Edinburgh comedy festival, there were rape and domestic violence jokes flying left, right and centre. Writer and spectator Tanya Gold described an instance of a comic called Gerry K, who told a joke about watching a pimp fighting with two prostitutes. “I’m not having that,” he says, “So I joined in.” And then the reveal – “I punched her spark out.”

Renowned comic Jimmy Carr, of course, has several one-liners on the subject (“What do nine out of 10 people enjoy? Gang rape.”) Trivialising and normalising violence towards women only makes it more acceptable and easier to perpetuate inequality. Unfortunately, sexism does not appear on par with other forms of prejudices, and so it is still used excessively both in the UK and in India.

Another common culprit is lads’ mags. A group of men and women participating in a study at Middlesex University published in 2011 found it difficult to differentiate between statements given by convicted rapists and the way lads’ mags routinely describe women. Quotes were taken from The Rapist Files: Interviews With Convicted Rapists by Sussman & Bordwell and four titles: Zoo, Nuts, Loaded and FHM.

“Go and smash her on a park bench,” could appear to be the words of a convicted rapist. But in actual fact, the phrasing was chosen by former Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys in 2011, which was a direct quote from a mid-shelf publication. So it comes as no surprise that the results revealed overall, more of the men identified with the quotes by rapists, only changing their minds when the source of the quote was revealed.

Delhi Gang Rape protests

So after I attended the Delhi Gang Rape protests in London, I was hardly surprised to be confronted by women campaigning that “Rape is No Joke”. The campaigners write:

“One brave woman in the audience of a Daniel Tosh comedy gig heckled “rape jokes are never funny” after he had told several in a row. He responded by asking the audience: “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her?”

We’re not laughing. And neither are the 80,000 women who are raped every year in the UK alone.”

Rape culture in the West gives the impression that is harmless, titillating entertainment, while India’s customs is considered social and deeply political. The shift onto the political has helped to showcase the topic as a matter of urgency, allowing the UK to distance itself from its own imperfections around inequality by demonising Indian society.

However, India is not far behind the UK and the US in terms of creating a western rape culture, becoming the third largest user of pornography in the world according to the Hindu Times. The vast country even has its own cultural language to describe the endemic sexual harassment of women and sexual aggression – Eve teasing. This kind of harassment, often described in India as innocent play, is almost routine.

The archaic term comes from the Old Testament, describing harassment as “teasing,” and manifesting as touching, groping, staring, slapping, flashing and even pornographic material. And yet such degrading behaviour has been linked to romanticised Bollywood films.

A hero teases a heroine as part of the wooing process and invariably, the latter succumbs to his ‘masculine’ charms. However, Indian men seem to be re-enacting their own lewd versions of the films. As many as 90% of women have reported instances of Eve teasing, according to a study by Srividya Ramasubramanian on the Portrayals of Sexual Violence in Popular Hindi Films.

The author wrote: “The findings suggest that moderate sexual violence is depicted as fun, enjoyable, and a normal expression of romantic love […] severe sexual violence was portrayed as criminal and serious, whereas moderate sexual violence was treated as fun and romantic.”

And no doubt, Indian governance and politics plays a substantial role in disenfranchising women from the offset. In 2002, Law Professor Upendra Baxi said that the political system created a rape culture, preventing women from being able to report sexual violence along with other crimes, and concluded that it set the stage for violence against women to be a “perfect crime”.

By creating a foundation that trivialises rape, both Western and Eastern societies have set an example that it is perfectly acceptable for women to be sexually harassed. Without changing societal attitudes and transforming fundamental practices, the rape culture will continue to transcend boundaries, legitimising violence against women.