Happy St George’s Day!

Happy St. George’s Day! Today is the day when the English celebrate their patron saint, party and have fun.

Ha! Only joking… this is the English we’re talking about. Rather than enjoy themselves like most nations on their national day, this is the day for doing what the English do best: moaning. The atmosphere isn’t helped by the right-wing media (notably the Mail and the Express) and far-right provocateurs from the English Defence League (EDL) and British National Party (BNP) spreading lies and disinformation. “Patriotic” bloggers will predictably complain that flag-flying has been banned by some council or other (almost always based on false stories) or just whine that English people should be flying the flag, but aren’t.

Twitter has already seen many tweets like this:

The end result is that English morons spend the day complaining they’re not allowed to fly a flag of St. George (which of course they are) or some other piece of nonsense they read in the gutter press or on Twitter.

Part of the problem is that the flag of St. George has been seized by far-right racist groups; which is ironic, given that St. George wasn’t English (he was a Roman soldier from Palestine), and that he’s the patron saint of many countries and regions besides England (including Ethiopia, Serbia and Catalonia). Most horrific of all (at least from the viewpoint of the Muslim-hating EDL) is that St. George is celebrated as a Saint in early Islamic texts. Irony – don’t you just love it?

Aside from the irritating minority of “patriots”, England has much to be proud of: our tolerance, our sense of humour; our green and pleasant landscape; even some of our unfairly-maligned food. Despite our imperial transgressions, we led the world in abolishing slavery; and most of us believe in fairness for all.

So here’s the MoronWatch guide to enjoying St. George’s Day.

Do:

  • Celebrate everything good about England.
  • Fly the flag if you want to, or wear a badge or plastic hat with the flag on. Go on, it’s fine.
  • Have fun! Another thing the English are good at (besides moaning) is drinking. So go on, fill your boots!
  • Sing Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land loudly and out of tune outside the pub.

Don’t:

  • Say “Why aren’t you flying a flag you Paki bastard?” to your Brazilian neighbour.
  • Use your flagpole to assault someone when you’re drunk.
  • And for-fuck’s-sake DON’T MOAN!

Have a nice day now!

France’s Racist Burqa Ban

So France, flying the flag for secularism, equality and modernity, has bravely banned an item of clothing worn by an estimated 2,000 women – the veil properly known as the niqab, though often referred to as the burqa. Before we congratulate the French for this bold move, let’s explore some background.

Anecdote: A Mauritian friend, a light-skinned, mixed-race guy, was in Paris recently visiting family. Walking down the road with his blonde wife and their toddler, they passed a respectable-looking guy… who racially abused them and spat on their child.

Anecdote: A French friend of mine, “N”, grew up in the notorious estates (projects) in the Paris banlieues (suburbs). His mother was French, father was an Indian Muslim immigrant, and so in French terms, he’s foreign. He grew up along with other excluded sections of French society: Arabs, North Africans, Jews, Sub-Saharan Africans. Racial harassment from police was a daily part of life. He became a gifted graphic designer, but no company in Paris would hire him. He moved to London and quickly found a well-paid job. He still sees France as home, but without employment, couldn’t live there.

Anecdote: A French friend of mine lives in London. She’s white, “native” French. She visits family regularly. She tells me that racist talk is now openly accepted among white French people, with no shame or stigma attached.

Anecdote: The black British journalist Gary Younge studied for some time in Paris. He’s written of his experiences during that time, when he faced regular racial abuse and police harassment, to the point where he began to feel hatred for white people.

Anecdotes are interesting but don’t prove anything: But what about the UN report that advised on a “significant resurgence of racism” in France? The 1998 poll showing France to be the most racist country in Europe, where 38% of French people described themselves as racist? The 2005 uprisings by poor North Africans who had finally had enough? My friend N’s experience wasn’t unusual: in 2005, 5% of white graduates were unemployed, compared to 26.5% of graduates of North African origin.

Outside of football, non-white faces are barely seen in public French life. France applauded itself when its first black newsreader appeared on TV. In the 70s? 80s? 90s? Actually, it happened in 2006.

The picture at the top of this article is of a yellow Star Of David with Juif written on it (“Jew” in French). In Nazi Germany and occupied Poland, Jews were forced to wear stars saying Jude – “Jew” in German. But in Vichy France, the French carried out the persecution of Jews, and they did it the French way. While some European countries resisted German demands to hand over their Jewish citizens, France sent over 75,000 French Jews, Jewish refugees and other French citizens to the death camps. After World War 2, Germany was forced to live up to the horror of what it had perpetrated; but France was not. The willingness with which the French turned on their own Jewish population was buried, and the myth of the French Resistance was amplified instead, to present France as a heroic nation under occupation.

This is the France that banned niqabsyesterday. Europe’s most racist country, a segregated state that has never allowed equality or integration for its minorities, a country where people of Muslim origin have trouble finding employment or good housing, and face routine harassment and brutality from the police. Those who believed that this is about women’s rights or promoting secularism have been fooled – this is simply France doing what it does so well: bullying powerless minority groups that can’t hit back.

Benjamin Zephaniah and No2AV Lies

In a month’s time, the UK gets a rare opportunity to reform its voting system. We’re to be given a vote on whether to retain the existing First-Past-The-Post system (FPTP) or replace it with a somewhat more proportional system, the Alternative Vote (AV). I’m strongly in favour of changing the system – I’ll save the explanation for another post, but it’s clear that the existing power blocks are largely against changing the system, as of course you’d expect.

The No2AV campaign appears to be largely funded by the ruling Conservative party, and has regularly been accused of dishonesty and scare tactics; it is helped in disseminating these by the press, which is almost entirely opposed to AV. One of the No campaign’s smartest (and most dishonest) propaganda exercises came this week when it accused the Yes2AV of racism. The story was a well-orchestrated piece of spin: the No campaign had noticed that the Yes campaign was using an image of black poet Benjamin Zephaniah in London leaflets but not in others (see both leaflets below). The No campaign’s PR team then fabricated and issued a story that Zephaniah had been “air-brushed” from the Yes campaign’s leaflets in white areas.

The established media, which is almost entirely behind the No campaign, then amplified the story, adding embellishments – for example the Daily Mirror screamed about the fury behind the change (there was no fury to be seen other than perhaps in Britain’s newsrooms). The same Mirror article exposed the style of smear tactics being employed, with a No spokesman saying: The Yes ­campaign’s leaflet offers a chilling ­preview of politics under the Alternative Vote.

I first saw the story on Monday, and quickly tweeted as follows: Moron Paper of the day: Daily Mail for this pathetic attempt to call the campaign “racist”:

This propaganda was smart because liberal-minded Yes supporters will often be the ones most likely to believe and respond to unsupported accusations of racism. This was demonstrated in a reply to my tweet. A follower replied with: uh, no. I’m a yes supporter but that genuinely is really fkn racist. I disagreed and was quickly dragged into a discussion about “representation”.

Having finally been tracked down, Zephaniah has now stepped in to clarify matters, and as I’d originally guessed and tweeted, he confirmed that this was a non-story from the No campaign. He is quoted as saying: These allegations are preposterous. I am happy for the ‘Yes’ campaign to use my endorsement as they see fit. I am happy for them to use it in London, and as I understand it, in a nationwide letter. “Let’s talk about the real issue – how we renew our democracy. I want democratic change and that is why I am voting ‘yes’ on May 5

The original story made the prime news spot on Sunday morning, while the clarification comes on a Wednesday when it will be missed by many (assuming the press even tries to correct the misunderstanding). The No2AV campaign is making headway in confusing and weakening the issue, and is trying to rob us of our one chance to weaken the existing Tory/Labour duopoly. We have a month to fight back.

Japan vs New Orleans

Strange blog title, I know. But I was driven to write a quickie in response to a moronic tweet from @talkradiohost, who says his name is Eddie Burke and he’s a former Talk Radio host from Alaska.

Hi Eddie, you’re live on Radio Moron Watch. What would you like to say?

Well, Eddie tweeted the following: #katrina was bad- #japan worse. y R jpn ppl respectful 2 1another &ppl of kat rioted & killed, stole beat ea other? Then blam it on Gov.

OK, I think I know where you’re going with this… most of those trapped in New Orleans were of a darker complexion than the Japanese. Am I right? Let’s look at some of the OTHER differences between these situations.

  1. The Japanese united as a nation to help each other. But nobody came to help the (mostly black) people stranded in New Orleans. Instead, troops were sent in to maintain “order”. That’s right, people without food or water were treated as a “security issue”. Would Japan treat its own internal refugees like criminals? No. Would most countries? No.
  2. The US media quickly started reporting an epidemic of rape and murder in New Orleans. This turned out to be false – but it fed America’s racial stereotypes and ensured that the victims were treated like criminals, not refugees.
  3. The Japanese response to the earthquake/tsunami has been praised as excellent. Bush’s response on the other hand was so appalling it made headline news worldwide.
  4. People fleeing coastal zones in Japan were helped, taken to shelter and fed. People fleeing New Orleans were shot dead.
  5. Japan had well-built earthquake and tsunami defences, though none had predicted an event on this scale. The US Government had underfunded coastal defences, which had become unfit for purpose.
  6. Prediction: Japan’s rebuilding will be fast and fair to the residents. Bush’s rebuilding turned into a money-grabbing free-for-all by developers.

I’m sure people could add plenty more to this. Bottom line: Japan is more egalitarian, less segregated and less afraid of its own people. There’s a lesson here for you Eddie, if you wanted to think about it.

Perhaps you should educate yourself: watch Spike Lee’s jaw-dropping documentary When The Levees Broke.

Smiley Culture And Deaths In Police Custody

Today, we heard of the death of Smiley Culture (David Emmanuel), a London-born reggae artist. For anyone outside the UK, or anyone under thirty, his name will mean little, but Emmanuel had several chart hits during the 80s, in particular his 1984 hit, Police Officer, about the habit of police in unofficially “confiscating” his cannabis and letting him go rather than arresting him for possession.

His death reportedly happened during a police raid on his home, when he is said to have stabbed himself. Reaction to this explanation among the black community on Facebook and Twitter has been angry and skeptical; which is understandable, given the high incidence of black deaths in British police custody over the past few decades.

I saw an interesting suggestion that deaths in custody are more frequent under Conservative governments than Labour ones. It’s certainly true that Labour tends to demand more accountability over police behaviour, while the Tory message is that police should be “relieved of red tape” (in other words, not have to explain their behaviour towards the public).

I decided to test this theory, so I found a record of deaths in custody going back to 1993. I looked at the average annual death rate from 1993 to 1997 (Conservative administration) and from 1998 to 2010 (Labour). The results were more conclusive than I expected:

  • Average annual deaths under Labour: 38.31
  • Average annual deaths under Conservatives: 50.2

It’s also worth noting that there was a spike of deaths from 2002 to 2005, presumably related to increased police activity following 9/11, as the “war on terror” was in full swing. Without this spike, the difference between Tory and Labour administrations would be even more stark.

Whatever happened to Emmanuel, we will (or perhaps won’t) learn as time goes on.

As for deaths in police custody, let’s hope the correlation between these and the party in power proves to be purely coincidental; if not, the British people (especially ethnic minorities) are in a for a rough few years.

British Multiculturalism In Music

Yesterday, multi-millionaire posh-boy and British PM David Cameron spoke out on a subject that he clearly knows much about: multiculturalism. It doesn’t work, he says. Though silver-spoon from head to toe, apparently “Dave” also has his finger on the pulse of British culture beyond his fave Tapas bar in upmarket Notting Hill.

Unlike Dave, I wasn’t ‘lucky’ enough to be raised in a monocultural ghetto like Eton. Over 40 languages were spoken at my London state school, and white kids represented no more than 15% of the school population. London is probably the most mixed, diverse and racially harmonious city in the world. Immigrants make up a high percentage of the population, yet racist groups like the BNP and EDL find it impossible to establish a toe-hold within the city. The good people of London have been notoriously intolerant of intolerance, ever since they fought and beat the fascists of Oswald Mosley at the Battle of Cable Street in 1936.

But how do you measure culture? How do you decide if an idea like multiculturalism has worked? For me, one answer is given by music. Thanks to immigration, and the British tendency towards cultural mixing, Britain has become one of the most creative music producers in the world.

Below is a small selection of “multicultural” British music – illustrations of the cultural power created when multiple influences come together without segregation. Feel free to listen to one or two… or all… or just read my comments on each track.

Ghost Town – The Specials – 1981
The Specials, from Coventry, were the original “two-tone” band, blending white skinhead music with Jamaican reggae to create UK Ska, and bringing white and black kids to the same gigs for the first time. The creation of the two-tone movement coincided with the fall of far-right street racism.

Food For Thought – UB40 – 1980
This mixed reggae band from Birmingham are still going strong, though much of their best work was made 30+ years ago.



Smooth Operator – Sade – 1984

Sade (pronounced Sharday): 50% Nigerian, 50% English, 100% British Soul.



Back To Life – Soul II Soul – 1989

Though black artists were rising from the late-70s, their styles were borrowed from Jamaica and the US. London-based Soul II Soul are credited with creating a truly British black sound for the first time.

Chok There – Apache Indian – 1993

Real name Steven Kapur, a DJ of Indian origin from Birmingham; blending Indian music with Jamaican-influenced Ragga, a true creation of the British Empire!

21 Seconds – So Solid Crew – 2001

This collective from South London were part of the UK Garage movement: a uniquely London music style whose roots include UK dance music, Jamaican dancehall and Hip Hop.

Terrorist? – Lowkey – 2010

Lowkey is a London rapper of mixed English and Iraqi descent, known for his political lyrics against racism and war.

So Dave, if you want to understand race and culture in your home city, take a bus up the road and let me help you. If I want to know whether to drink Beaujolais with foie gras, I’ll be sure to drop you a line.

Michele Bachmann – A Special Kinda Moron

It’s been suggested that Sarah Palin gets too much attention, and maybe we should all be ignoring her a bit more. I (reluctantly) agree. But nobody said anything about Michele Bachmann, a congress member for Minnesota and Tea Party spokesperson, who makes Palin look like a smart, rational human being. Bachmann came to my attention this morning after giving the Tea Party’s response to Obama’s State Of The Union address – which was well received, except by right-wing crazies.

In her response, she did a good job of trying to appear sane and informed – at least compared to previous appearances. She had a chart with red and blue bars and stuff, showing how the national debt leapt up moments after Obama took office. She forgot to mention the part about the financial system collapsing just before he took office, which was possibly dishonest, or maybe she really didn’t know (after all, it was over two years ago, and who can remember things that happened even last week?)

Anyway, I don’t want to quibble about such minor oversights. Below are a few quotes and (for real Bachmann fans) a couple of informative and stimulating video clips.

  • “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?”
  • “During the last 100 days we have seen an orgy. It would make any local smorgasbord embarrassed … The government spent its wad by April 26.”
  • “Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn’t even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.” (See video below)
  • “There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design.”
  • “I don’t know where they’re going to get all this money because we’re running out of rich people in this country.”

You’re still here? You’re obviously a committed Bachmann fan. Some cute video clips for you…

Here, Michele points out that carbon dioxide is good for plants. This of course, is true. She doesn’t say what happens if atmospheric CO2 suddenly increases by 50% – but that’s probably not important anyway.

And here, Bachmann (who is clearly a worldly and well-travelled individual) talks about the riots of ethnic minorities in France. I thought this was about police violence towards non-whites and high youth unemployment, but apparently it’s because their welfare benefits need to increase. Oh, and she mentions that “Not all cultures are equal” – again, a reasoned, well thought-out argument.

(Not-scary-at-all Michele Bachmann photo taken from her Wikileaks page)