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Exhibit B and artistic censorship

Some time ago someone suggested I might like to write about the ‘Jew in the Box’ exhibition in Berlin.  I found the questions this raised so difficult – was it undermining or participating in antisemitism? – that I decided not to write a post.  The idea of making any kind of judgement on the meaning or value of the ‘performance’ was made more difficult by the fact that the responses of Jewish visitors were sharply split, with passionate arguments being put forward for and against the exhibition.

‘Exhibit B’ raises similar issues.  Like ‘Jew in a Box’ it is clearly designed in an anti-racist spirit, but has been criticised for being complicit with racism.  The views of BME visitors seem to have been quite as divided as Jewish opinion on the Berlin exhibition.  Is staging racism itself racist – or is its use of shocking imagery a responsible and effective way of encouraging viewers (whatever their background) to confront past and present prejudice and discrimination?  Similar issues of complicity were raised by the inclusion of real ‘Dianas’ in Mark Wallinger’s installation at the Titian exhibition, tempting visitors to become voyeurs.

Thinking that – or just wondering whether – a work could be racist is one thing. Demanding it be banned or cancelled is another.  Although protestors were in fact demanding a boycott, not an outright ban, Exhibit B was forced to close on its opening night due to safety fears, but the Barbican still stands behind the exhibition.  I received this response to a comment on Twitter:

love it when white liberals tell Black people how to think about racism

But insisting that what amounts to censorship is wrong is not the same as telling someone how to think about racism. Also – not all Black people oppose Exhibit B. My Twitter interlocutor was watching Sunday Morning Live but seemed to have blanked out the very clear support for the exhibition voiced by Stella Odunlami, one of the performers, who mocked Lee Jasper’s censoriousness, and insisted that she and her fellow artists had made an informed choice to participate.  In a different context, ironically, I toned down my instinctive uneasy feeling that a performance brushed up against racism because I read the views of a black participant and thought her opinion ought at least to be attended to.

Susan Greenfield struck a particularly off note on Sunday Morning Live, encouraging self-censorship:

‘You have the responsibility to see that actions have consequences. You can’t just assert your freedoms without considering the freedoms of others that might be offended.’

and Lee Jasper, to the disdain of Claire Fox, tried to deny accusations of censorship before declaiming that ‘we will stop it in New York, Paris and Moscow.’

Sometimes art, or other kinds of expression, may stress test one’s commitment to free speech. Dan Park’s ‘art’ is clearly designed to offend and provoke, for example.  But Exhibit B doesn’t fall into that category, despite the fierce debate it has sparked, and its cancellation is yet another example of art/expression being silenced by bullying and intimidation. As Catherine Bennett writes:

In fact, the much greater official tolerance of homemade censorship since the fatwa on Salman Rushdie seems to have nurtured an ever-growing number of Jaspers, of all castes, races and predilections, sometimes hailing from the very heart of the white liberal elite. To judge by recent successes, limits to free expression can be just as stringently imposed when claimed, at random, by or on behalf of its self-styled victims, than when systematically enforced, pre-1968, by the lord chamberlain.

Whether people want to hear Ayaan Hirsi Ali or watch a production of The Death of Klinghoffer – it’s important that we get the chance to make up our own minds about controversial material, even when it is more unambiguously ‘offensive’ than Exhibit B.  Here is part of the Barbican’s statement:

“We find it profoundly troubling that such methods have been used to silence artists and performers and that audiences have been denied the opportunity to see this important work. Exhibit B raises, in a serious and responsible manner, issues about racism; it has previously been shown in 12 cities, involved 150 performers and been seen by around 25,000 people with the responses from participants, audiences and critics alike being overwhelmingly positive.

The Short Comings of Brooks Newmark MP

This is a cross-post by John Sargeant at homo economicus

Finally Brooks Newmark MP resigns as civil society minister after a series of cock ups. Culminating in a literal one sent over the Internet.

The one which finally did for the married father of five children, was apparently exposing himself in a series of explicit photos to an undercover male reporter, acting as a female activist. The story was about to break over the Conservative Party Conference. Where the minister had promised his sex text lover:

“Afternoons fairly full with speaking engagements but around late evenings. Promise we’ll meet up though. X.”

This matters because he was in charge of increasing the role of women in politics. Looking to have an affair with a female political activist would be a clear abuse of privilege and position. This is not a private matter, but an abuse of public office. There was no option but to resign.

You can read the rest of John’s post here

Muslim women invite Israeli-born writer to speak at Bradford Literary Festival

In the light of George Galloway’s hateful assertion that Bradford should be an ‘Israel free zone’ it was heartening to read this news.

Now, two Muslim women have invited an Israeli-born poet to take part in Bradford’s literature festival this weekend. The festival will also feature a walking tour highlighting the city’s Jewish heritage, which includes the poet Humbert Wolfe and the artist Sir William Rothenstein. Bradford’s Jewish population has now dwindled to 299, according to the 2011 census, compared with 129,041 Muslims.

The Israeli-born poet and playwright Atar Hadari will perform at a multi-faith event in Bradford’s last remaining synagogue, which was saved from ruin last year after a group of local Muslims chipped in to keep it going. The event, called Sacred Poetry, is billed as an “uplifting celebration of divine music and verse from across the religious spectrum”[.]

You can find out more about the festival here.

IS murders Iraqi human rights lawyer

To the surprise, I hope, of no one, the Islamic State terrorists don’t only “execute” Western journalists and aid workers.

They have also murdered in public (after five days of torture) the Iraqi Muslim human rights lawyer Samira Saleh al-Nuaimi in Mosul.

Al-Nuaimi was kidnapped by Isis (also known as Islamic State) on 17 September after she allegedly criticised the militant group’s destruction of places of worship in Mosul, Iraq, since it had taken control of the city, in comments posted on Facebook.

She was then kidnapped from her home by a group of masked men and tried in a self-styled Sharia court for apostasy, which for the militants is considered to be an act of abandoning Islam by converting to another faith, or by committing actions that are against the Muslim faith.
Al-Nuaimi, who according to the Gulf Centre For Human Rights had worked on detainee rights and poverty, was then sentenced to “public execution” and killed on Monday.

Since occupying Mosul, IS has blown up both Christian and Muslim religious sites. Apparently anyone with the courage to oppose this destruction is deemed an apostate deserving of death.

In the UK, the usual suspects signed an urgent plea to do nothing. (I keep hoping Michael Rosen, who used to comment here and whom I rather like, will break from the pack some day.)

Of course anything we might do to try and stop these atrocities is far worse than the atrocities themselves. Just as the Yazidis who were rescued from Sinjar Mountain.

Republican outreach watch

As an aficionado of ridiculous rightwing and Republican political ads (see some of my favorites here, here, here and here), I found this one more strange and insulting than amusing:

The ad, sponsored by an outfit called Americans for Shared Prosperity and reportedly aired on TV in North Carolina and Colorado, depicts a young, slightly dark-skinned, presumably single woman discussing her “relationship” with Barack Obama in terms of a boyfriend she has broken up with.

To understand how women might find this patronizing, imagine an ad featuring a man talking in similar terms about a female politician.

And this ad– trying to appeal to a young socially-conscious demographic– is so awful that it seems almost like a prank played by Democrats. (Apparently it’s not):

What are they trying to do here? Wreck the GOP brand, which is to a large extent built on contempt for people who drive Priuses and recycle?

Hell, I have more respect for the jerks who do this:

Our Enemies’ Enemy is not always our Friend

This is  cross post by Mohammed Razzaq – a research assistant at Quilliam

A recent video plea by imams earlier this week to free the captive British aid worker, Alan Henning, is welcome, but we have to be wary that our vigour to condemn ISIS, does not help legitimise other extremists that hold views which are an antithesis to a Liberal Secular society.

Three UK based imams launched a video appeal on YouTube denouncing threats made by ISIS promising aid worker Alan Henning would be killed next.

The video appeal, which featured Haitham al-Haddad, a judge on the Sharia council of Britain, Abu Eesa Niamatullah-  a Director at Prophetic Guidance, and Shakeel Begg, of the Lewisham Islamic Centre in South London, received a largely positive response for to its calls for the safe return of Alan Henning – including coverage on the BBC.

All three speakers in the video have been known to harbour extremist views across a wide range of issues. According to a report by the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, Haddad has previously stated that to oppose suicide bombing would be to “nullify” “defensive jihad”. As well as this, he has stated that it is a duty for Muslims to “fight everyone until they establish the law of Allah.” I ask myself the question – isn’t that also what ISIS want?

These statements warrant the question as to whether Haddad would believe further beheadings by ISIS, or anyone else, would be legitimate if they were to meet his criteria of “defensive jihad”.

Additionally, by mainstreaming the opinions of those involved in the video, such as Haddad, we run the risk of allowing for the greater exposure of their views regarding other domains of discourse.

Abu Eesa Niamatullah, also featured in the YouTube video, has previously angered many through social media. On international Women’s day earlier this year, Eesa tweeted a number of comments which sparked controversy, eventually leading to an online petition which called for the Al-Maghrib institute, an institute dedicated to Islamic studies to which Abu Eesa is an instructor, to fire Eesa on the grounds of tweeting misogynist comments. One of the many tweets, included

Int’l Women’s Day is great, but starting tomorrow, it’s 364 International Men’s Days again, so stick that in your oven and cook it.”

Despite calls by many for Eeesa’s removal from the institute, including a large number of women within the Muslim community, the Al-Maghrib Institute failed to take any punitive action on Eesa and did not even get him to offer an apology.

The Al-Maghrib Institute has itself come under scrutiny concerning terrorism related issues. In 2008 Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who in 2009 was convicted for attempting to detonate plastic explosives on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 headed for Boston, Massachusetts, had attended classes held by the institute in Houston, Texas.

The third player in this new twist is Shakeel Begg. Begg is a hate preacher with a special interest in terrorist suspects and convicts who finds former Guantanamo inmates “inspiring” and worthy of a divine salute as well demanding that the police must not be helped, for they are the devil.

It is not enough to condemn ISIS from a theological perspective alone – as per the video, which called for the protection and release of Henning and other aid workers according to Sharia law. Acts and threats of barbarism should be condemned on a human rights level as well as a theological level. The failure to do so threatens to undermine attempts of critical engagement, and thus potentially allow for morally abhorrent views to congeal amongst members of society, causing greater harm than good.

Furthermore, it is clear that these people preach hatred and the concept of an Islamic State as well as in some cases, support and defend other people who have tried to commit terrorist activities. There seems to be only a tactical difference between them and ISIS – perhaps they would react differently if their Sheikh had been in charge? I hope we never get the chance to find out.
Whilst it is important that we do hear voices from all walks of societies condemning ISIS, we must not let the desire to do so confuse us as to what it is that we are standing for as a society and that we don’t make the mistake of believing that everyone who condemns ISIS is in actual fact moderate. For these reasons we should be careful in distinguishing between pleas made by those who are sincere and demonstrate morally laudable qualities, such as those shown by the family of Alan Henning this morning, with those offered earlier this week by Haitham al-Haddad, Abu Eesa Niamatullah, and Shakeel Begg.

Richard Branson’s ‘holiday non-policy’: Work life balance – or poisoned chalice?

Richard Branson is offering his staff complete flexibility over their free time:

Employees can take leave from their jobs when they like without seeking permission, as long as the timing of their break will not have a detrimental impact on the business. Staff benefiting from the new scheme include those working in Branson’s family office, his investment team, marketing, brand and PR teams and the Virgin Unite foundation, but the new rules do not apply to thousands of others working for Virgin companies.

“It is left to the employee alone to decide if and when he or she feels like taking a few hours a day, a week or a month off, the assumption being that they are only going to do it when they feel 100% comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business – or, for that matter, their careers!”

If absence is no longer be monitored it will be impossible to tell whether staff take more time off under this new system.  Although this sounds like a generous scheme it has the potential to inhibit employees from taking holiday because the vaunted ‘flexibility’ seems hedged around with so many caveats. It’s hard to feel confident that all one’s projects will run smoothly during a two week vacation – unless you are checking your email twice a day.

Even those working in companies with standard holiday arrangements can find it difficult to find suitable times to take their full allowance.  A set leave entitlement is an acknowledgement of the fact that people need time off even (or especially) if they work in very pressured environments.  Some professions will mean that it’s more difficult to take leave at certain times of the year but in general the onus shouldn’t be on employees to prove that taking a holiday won’t be inconvenient.

Branson’s approach would work well for certain types of freelancer or for PhD students.  No one minds when their work is done, or how long it takes, as long as the result is good, and completed to an agreed deadline.  But for those working in more conventional jobs a ‘holiday non-policy’ might too easily shift into a ‘non-holiday policy’.

Hat Tip: Kolya

Was Israel right to shoot down that plane?

Yesterday a Syrian war plane crossed into Israeli airspace and was shot down by an Israeli Patriot missile moments later. The aircraft was a Russian made Sukhoi-24. The Syrian Air Force used to have 19 of them according to the Times of Israel. It is a pretty clear cut incident, a Syrian war plane strays into Israeli territory and is shot down as a result.

Not so for everyone.

In the website +972 Larry Derfner takes issue with this incident. He looks at the information and decides that Israel is at fault. Even more than this he thinks that this kind of behaviour is going to start another war and that’s what he’s afraid of. He called his article “Another Israeli act of military madness in Syria”.

Straight off the bat he’s misunderstood a small detail of this story. He writes;

So what did Israel do then? What else? It blew the Syrian jet out of the sky. The crippled plane landed on the Syrian side of the border. Thankfully, the Syrian pilots ejected safely.”

Now I’m not an expert in war planes but as far as I know the Sukhoi-24 can’t land itself once the pilots have ejected. So far as I understand the pilots ejected and the plane was destroyed. In his rush to criticize Israel I think Derfner forgot to read through his piece and check it.

But really I wanted to hi-light this piece because it’s exemplary of a certain state of mind that we see sometimes and on +972 relatively often. It’s the knee jerk criticism of Israel routine. I don’t know what it is the Derfner expects from the IDF in this situation. He says that;

All these details – the Syrian jet’s incursion was an accident, it lasted two seconds before Israel fired the missile, it was the first Syrian incursion in 30 years, the jet was planning to bomb Al-Nusra jihadists on the Syrian side of the border – point to an act of incredible recklessness and stupidity.

But in all honesty I don’t know what it is he wants the IDF to do here, short of allowing the aircraft to actually bomb Israel. The guys with their fingers on the air defense button have mere seconds to react. The rules are simple and effectively have kept the “peace” between Israel and Syria since 1982; there is a line dividing Israel and Syria, beyond that line you do NOT cross. Any crossing of said line will result in Israeli fire.

But more to the point is that to my mind this is such a clear cut case that Derfner’s take on it represents a mindset whereby Israel simply can’t do the right thing. Unlike in the West Bank where just about everything fades into a murky shade of grey, sometimes darker, sometimes lighter, but always grey, this situation is clear; Syrian war plane crosses into Israel and is shot down as a result.

This is demonstrative of someone who is so sure that he has the right answers and so frustrated that Israel hasn’t adopted any of them that just about anything Israel does is fodder for his criticism. By the same token just about anything others do is acceptable. It seems strange to me that Derfner actually defends the Syrian Air Force in this situation on the grounds that they claimed the aircraft was on its way to bomb the Al Nusra Front. This is a part of the military that has murdered 120,000 people most of them innocent civilians. Why would he believe their claim about the mission the aircraft was on?

When it comes to shooting down aircraft that have flown into Israeli air space and when it comes to defending Israel and the people in it, Derfner needs to re-evaluate what his position is. The fear that he expresses is that;

I believe Israel will set off a war with Hezbollah or Syria or Iran or somebody, because its limitless fear produces limitless aggression”

This is a justifiable fear to have, but so is the fear that a war plane flying into Israeli territory and loaded with bombs is going to attack a target in Israel. I don’t know how long a hostile aircraft needs to remain in Israeli airspace before Derfner considers it a threat, I don’t need to know and the Syrians and everyone else for that matter already know. There is NO amount of time a hostile aircraft is allowed to be in Israeli airspace before being shot down.

Now everyone knows the rules and the consequences for breaking them.

Uighur moderate Ilham Tohti sentenced to life in prison

In response to unrest and separatism, including acts of terrorism, China has imposed collective punishments on Muslims living in Xinjiang.  Restrictions have been imposed on Islamic dress, including hijab and beards – in the city of Karamay anyone wearing such items has been banned from using the bus service.

In a recent sweep of Urumqi, the region’s capital, authorities last week said they seized 1,265 hijab-type headscarves, 259 jilbabs and even clothes printed with Islamic star-and-crescent symbols. Officials also “rescued” 82 children from studying the Quran, the government said.

The prohibitions on Islamic attire and beards have attracted widespread criticism, with many experts saying such repression angers ordinary Uighurs and risks radicalizing them.

Students and civil servants have been banned from fasting during Ramadan.

In a contrasting move of apparent conciliation, an animated series has been devised which celebrates a legendary Uighur princess, Princess Fragrant, and celebrates peaceful co-existence between China’s different ethnicities.

The trailer also has a scene of the princess dancing for guests at a banquet, which is in line with the popular depiction of ethnic minorities by the Communist Party. Propaganda posters, publications and television shows across China often portray members of the country’s 55 ethnic minorities as smiling folk dancers in colorful native garb.

However many see this as propaganda which papers over the true history and culture of the region. Another rather dubious method of trying to engineer co-existence is the policy of offering cash rewards when Uighurs intermarry with Han Chinese.

Although some Uighurs have indeed been radicalised by extremist preachers, the latest high profile victim of the government’s crackdown on separatists is a moderate. Ilham Tohti is a critic of the government, but does not share the separatist aspirations of some of his fellow Uyghurs, let alone the violent methods favoured by some.

“I am innocent,” Tohti said, according to a tweet by Liu Xiaoyuan, one of his two defence attorneys. “I have never organised a separatist criminal group, and I have never engaged in criminal activities intended to split the country.” Tohti has claimed that he spent his career attempting to foster an honest dialogue between Han and Uighurs, rather than advocate Uighur independence.

Now Tohti has been sentenced to life in prison.

Ms. Wang [Maya Wang from Human Rights Watch]noted that the indictment of Mr. Tohti was consistent with a broad move in recent years by the Communist Party to silence advocates known for their “measured words and actions,” including Xu Zhiyong and Pu Zhiqiang, two well-known lawyers arrested for their political activities.

“These and Tohti’s harsh sentence are signs of just how far the authorities have gone in severely restricting the already limited civil liberties in China,” she said, “and that the situation might get even worse down the road.”

Here’s a press release on the sentence from Amnesty International.

When dealing with terrorist threats there is always a danger that some methods or policies will further alienate or radicalise a group. Sometimes such steps are – or seem – necessary and justifiable despite this risk. But China seems to be imposing completely unnecessary and illiberal restrictions and punishments against people and  practices which have no clear terrorist association and are not necessarily even associated with peaceful separatist aspirations.

The Lancet strikes again

Do any physicians still take the British medical journal the Lancet seriously as a source of reliable and unbiased information?

In 1998 the Lancet published the infamous paper by Dr. Andrew Wakefield linking autism to the childhood vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. Twelve years later the journal finally got around to retracting it.

[Wakefield's] assertion, now widely discredited, caused one of the biggest medical rows in a generation and led to a steep drop in vaccinations in the United States, Britain and other parts of Europe, prompting a rise in measles cases.

In 2006 a Lancet report extrapolated 650,000 deaths as a result of the US invasion of Iraq three years earlier– many times higher than other estimates. The study’s author later refused to supply “basic facts” for an inquiry into his work.

Now The Telegraph reports:

[A]ccording to senior British medical figures, the Lancet is being hijacked to campaign indefatigably against Israel, and used as a platform by alleged conspiracy theorists.

In August, it published a controversial “open letter for the people of Gaza” that condemned Israel in the strongest possible terms, but strikingly made no mention of Hamas’ atrocities.

The five principal authors of the letter made it clear that they had “no competing interests”. However, all of them have campaigned vociferously for the Palestinian cause over many years.

In addition, a cache of emails openly available in Google groups show that two of the authors, Dr Paola Manduca and Dr Swee Ang, have sympathies with the views of David Duke, a white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard.
“It’s utterly irrelevant. It’s a smear campaign,” the editor of the Lancet, Dr Richard Horton, told the Daily Telegraph. “I don’t honestly see what all this has to do with the Gaza letter. I have no plans to retract the letter, and I would not retract the letter even if it was found to be substantiated.”

Dr Horton, who has in the past spoken at rallies organised by Stop The War Coalition, denied that the journal’s reputation would be damaged by giving a platform to people who appear to hold such views, and said that the Lancet is not intending to investigate the allegations.
“For many years, the Lancet has been consistently using its reputation to attack Israel,” says Professor David Katz, an expert in infection and immunity at University College London.

“The Lancet is supposed to be a politically neutral medical journal. The fact that they have given proven anti-Semites a platform and not rescinded it, even when confronted with the evidence, is appalling.

“They have allowed their hatred of Israel to blind them to the norms of medical science and the pursuit of reason.”

All of this has happened under the editorship of Dr. Horton. I’m not a physician or a scientist, but I have no doubt that the Lancet also publishes plenty of important and valid research. So why does Horton insist on undercutting the credibility of that research by publishing nonsense?

How many public embarrassments is Dr. Horton allowed before whoever is in charge of hiring and firing decides that the Lancet’s reputation is worth salvaging?