Back in November, I was delighted to take part in a fascinating day-long event in Brockley, the Brockley Festival of Ideas for Change, featuring 16 speakers from the local area discussing pressing issues of our time from a left-of-centre perspective. The day was divided into four sessions, and I’m pleased to note that recordings of the event are now online on the Brockley Society website as follows:
I took part in the third session, An Inclusive Society, and the recording of my talk, “Demonising ‘The Other’: Tackling the Rise of Racism and Xenophobia”, begins 14 minute into the recording, after the novelist Gabriel Gbadamosi, discussing “The Creative Community as a Condition of Multicultural Society.” Read the rest of this entry »
OK, I admit it: I’m thoroughly fed up with the Left in Britain, which largely supported the campaign to leave the EU, and is now facilitating Theresa May’s efforts to destroy our economy by following through on the outcome of the ludicrous referendum last June that saw the Leave campaign win by a small majority.
The referendum was not legally binding; its outcome was advisory, meaning that it should have been taken as the starting point for further discussion, not as an end in itself. In addition, a decision about something as seismically important as leaving the EU shouldn’t have been allowed to be dependent on a simple majority vote. Generally, a referendum on a topic this important would have required a majority to consist of over 50% of all those eligible to vote, or over two-thirds of those who voted, whereas in June’s referendum 27.9% of those eligible to vote (13m people) didn’t bother to vote, and the decision to leave was taken by 37.4% of eligible voters (17.4m people), with 34.7% (16.1m people) voting to stay in the EU.
What has particularly annoyed me today — and the reason I made the poster at the top of this article — is that the Stop the War Coalition today held a protest against Donald Trump’s recently imposed immigration ban and his proposed state visit to the UK — a worthwhile cause, certainly, but one that, noticeably, didn’t involve protesting against Theresa May, even though there is no reason to suppose that she is any less racist and Islamophobic than Donald Trump. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I took part in a fascinating event, the Brockley Festival of Ideas for Change, just a few minutes’ walk from my home in south east London, which was organised by two local organisations, the Brockley Society and the St. John’s Society. This was the talk I gave, which I wrote in a 90-minute burst of concentrated creative energy just beforehand. It distils my feelings about the current rise of racism and xenophobia in the UK, the narrow victory for leaving the EU in the referendum in June, and the terrible indifference to the current refugee crisis, which is taking place on a scale that is unprecedented in most of our lives, and I examine the dangers posed by an “us” and “them” mentality, laying the blame on cynical politicians and our largely corrupt corporate media, whilst also asking how and why, on an individual basis, people are becoming more and more insular, and what, if anything, can be done to counter these dangerous trends.
I was asked to join this event today because I’ve spent the last ten years — nearly eleven now — researching and writing about the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, telling the stories of the men held there and working to get the prison shut down, because it is, to be frank, a legal, moral and ethical abomination that should ever have existed.
Discussing Guantánamo here today wasn’t of particular relevance to most of the problems facing people in Britain right now, as the last British resident in Guantánamo — a rather lovely man named Shaker Aamer — was released over a year ago. I could have talked about Britain’s complicity in the existence of Guantánamo, and how we replicated part of its lawlessness here in the UK, holding foreign nationals without charge or trial, on the basis of secret evidence, and subjecting British nationals to a form of house arrest and/or internal exile, but I thought it would be useful to look at a key aspect of Guantánamo that has relevance to so many of the things happening in Britain today that are so deeply troubling to so many of us; namely, the rise of racism.
It doesn’t take a genius to look at Guantánamo and to realise that everyone held there since the prison opened in January 2002 is a Muslim. And because of all the disgraceful rhetoric about terrorists and the “worst of the worst,” Americans have been encouraged to accept that. But imagine if there was a prison run by the United States where people were held without charge or trial, and subjected to torture, and everyone held there was a Christian, or Jewish. There would be an unprecedented uproar. Read the rest of this entry »
This coming Sunday, November 20, I’ll be talking about “Demonising the ‘Other’: Tackling the rise of racism and xenophobia” at a fascinating one-day festival, the Festival of Ideas for Change, organised by the Brockley Society and the St. John’s Society. The festival is taking place in the Mural Hall at Prendergast Hilly Fields College in Brockley, London SE4 (the address is Adelaide Avenue, SE4 1LE, but the Mural Hall is actually in the main building at the top of Hilly Fields). Entrance is free, but you do need to book here, via TicketSource.
I’m one of 17 speakers during the day, and we’ll each be speaking for ten minutes in four different sessions — ‘Participation and democracy’ at 10.30am, ‘A fairer world’ at 12 noon, ‘An inclusive society’ at 2pm (at which I’ll be speaking), and ‘Building a new economy’ at 3.30pm, and there will be questions and discussion after each session.
This is something of a first for me, and I’m looking forward to it. Regular readers will know, of course, that for over ten years I have focused most of my work on Guantánamo and related issues, although I have always made room for involvement in and commentary about other issues, particularly involving the takeover of politics by largely interchangeable parties devoted only to the enrichment of the rich, and to putting the greed of banks and corporations above the needs of the people. Over the last six years, a major focus of my non-Guantánamo work has related to the cynical age of austerity implemented since 2010 by the Tories, targeting the unemployed, the disabled and immigrants. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday (September 17), a “Refugees Welcome Here” march and rally took place in London, following up on a massive march in support of refugees that took place in March, which I photographed and wrote about here. Organised by Solidarity with Refugees, the event (on Facebook here) had the support of dozens of organisations, including Action Aid, Amnesty International UK, Freedom From Torture, Friends of the Earth, Help Refugees UK (the main provider of support in Calais), Hope Not Hate, Oxfam and Stand Up to Racism.
There were many thousands of people on the march, which was colourful, noisy and positive, with numerous passionate and poignant handwritten placards and banners, as well as placards produced by some of the many organisations supporting the march.
However, it was impossible not to be disappointed that there were not many more people marching, as the largest humanitarian crisis in the lifetimes of anyone born after the Second World War continues. The statistics are sobering and horrific. As the Observer reported today, in an article entitled, “Why won’t the world tackle the refugee crisis?”: Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday evening, the cruelty of this government was, yet again, laid bare, when, by 294 votes to 276, MPs voted against an amendment to the Immigration Bill tabled by Lord Alf Dubs, who, as the BBC described it, “arrived in the UK in 1939 as a six-year-old refugee fleeing the persecution of Jews in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.”
The amendment, calling on the government to take in 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children, already in Europe, who have relatives in the UK, was defeated “after the Home Office persuaded most potential Tory rebels that it was doing enough to help child refugees in Syria and neighbouring countries,” as the Guardian described it.
Home Office minister James Brokenshire said during the debate that the government could not support a policy that would “inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children alone, ahead and in the hands of traffickers, putting their lives at risk by attempting treacherous sea crossings to Europe which would be the worst of all outcomes.”
However, Keir Starmer, the shadow immigration minister, disagreed, and voiced the concerns I and numerous other British citizens have. “What it boils down to,” Starmer stated, “is to say we must abandon these children to their fate, lest if we do anything, others may follow in their footsteps. I am not prepared to take that position.” Read the rest of this entry »
On March 19, 2016, the organisation Stand Up to Racism held a national demonstration, ‘Refugees Welcome’, to send out a hugely important message to the British government and to other EU governments that refugees are welcome in the UK and across Europe. I wasn’t able to make it to the march, which began at Portland Place, although I was determined to show my face, and made it to Trafalgar Square for the rally, where I took the photo set that I’ve just published on Flickr.
I understand that there were around 15,000 people on the march, which is commendable, of course, but I must mention, as I now do every time I discuss protests, that people opposed to the cruelty and indifference of the Tory government need to get out on the streets and make some noise to show their opposition, as there is no indication that sitting back and waiting until the next General Election in 2020 is a plausible course of action to take on a government that is in power despite securing just 24.9% of registered voters, who are also intent on redrawing electoral boundaries to keep them in power forever.
The timing for the demonstration could hardly have been more fortuitous, as the EU has just reached an agreement with Turkey, described by the Guardian as follows: “Refugees and migrants arriving in Europe will be sent back across the Aegean sea under the terms of a deal between the EU and Turkey that has been criticised by aid agencies as inhumane.” Read the rest of this entry »
For anyone not in thrall to a cruel and self-serving neo-liberal worldview, in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer until we return to some sort of feudal nightmare, yesterday was a truly inspirational day. In the morning, Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership campaign, with an astonishing 251,000 votes — 59.5% of the total, and 49% of the votes cast by full-time party members, rather than those like me who paid £3 to vote for him (and who didn’t get “purged”). Jeremy’s nearest rival, Andy Burnham, got just 19% of the vote, Yvette Cooper got 17% and Liz Kendall got just 4.5%. Read about Jeremy’s vision for the future of the Labour Party and of the UK in an exclusive article in the Observer today.
As I mentioned on Facebook just after the result was announced, “The people have spoken. It’s time for a renewed Labour Party — of the people for the people. This is the most hopeful moment for politics in the UK since before Thatcher’s baleful victory in May 1979. I’m honoured to have got to know Jeremy through his support of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, and look forward to doing whatever I can to support him and to take on and defeat this wretched Tory government.”
In May, before he entered the leadership race, Jeremy visited Washington D.C. as part of a delegation of MPs from the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, set up by his close friend and campaign manager John McDonnell MP last November, but working to close Guantánamo and to get Shaker Aamer released is just one of Jeremy’s — and John’s — many interests that have long coincided with my own views.
Jeremy entered the leadership race as an anti-austerity candidate, and a rank outsider, as he himself would have acknowledged, but it soon turned out that there was a huge appetite for an antidote not only to the Tory government, but also to its echo in the Labour Party, the right-wingers, or the centre-right that, to far too many people, is largely indistinguishable from the Tories. Read the rest of this entry »
Amazingly, it has gone from 27,000 signatures last night to over 112,000 signatures this morning, making it eligible for a Parliamentary debate. Please keep signing and sharing it, however, so that the government knows the depth of feeling in this country. UPDATE 4pm: It has now reached 200,000 signatures.
I’m not posting the photo above of the dead body of three-year old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi for sensationalist reasons, but simply because, when it went viral yesterday, it did so because millions of people identified with it, whether they were parents or not.
I am a parent. My son is 15 years old, but I remember vividly when he was three, and when I saw, yesterday, the photo of Aylan’s lifeless body washed up on Bodrum beach in Turkey, I felt his loss viscerally.
I was at that beach just two weeks ago, aware that refugees from Syria were trying to make their way to Europe via the Greek islands, and aware that some of them were dying in search of a new life. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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