Jeremy Corbyn fails at Labour Friends of Israel fringe meeting – David Hirsh

A thoughtful and in no way alarmist analysis of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to Labour Friends of Israel yesterday.

Engage

Labour leaders usually address both Labour Friends of Palestine and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) fringe meetings at Conference.  Corbyn had a particular job to do at LFI: he needed to reassure the Jewish community and antiracists that he understands what it is about his record that is so concerning:

He has presented a show on Press TV, Iran’s propaganda channel.  Iran wants Israel wiped off the map and has a public policy of Holocaust Denial.

Corbyn is a Patron of the “Palestine Solidarity Campaign” whose main business is to fight for a boycott of Israel.  Corbyn has reaffirmed his support for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel as recently as August 2015.

Corbyn has referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” and he said that they are dedicated to the good of the Palestinian people and to social and political justice in the Middle East.

Corbyn…

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On 50 Shades of Grey

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Children see the world in black and white. They either love their food or hate it; they are ecstatic or in floods of tears; cartoons are battles between goodies or baddies.

As humans mature, we learn that things are rarely that simple. That there are two sides to almost every argument, and that nobody (not even a saint or a prophet) is 100% good or entirely evil.

There are some circumstances in which this dualist attitude persists – and can be positively desirable.

Moral certainty (e.g. the belief that murder, theft and rape are Bad Things) is generally not something we want to lose (although we recognise that there are ocassions when a killer, a thief and even in extremis a rapist may be worthy of some sympathy).

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Murderer or victim?

Tribalism in sport can generate atmosphere and add to the spectators’ enjoyment (it’s fun, and relatively harmless, to make fun of Spurs fans).

But in most aspects of life, adults ought to acknowledge the complexities of the world and that the real world is coloured in 50 shades of grey (as opposed to a hugely selling book).

Crucially, we also learn that some actions or characteristics may be acceptable or even admirable in some circumstances while abhorrent in others.

Thus, we can howl with outrage when the Chinese eat dogs and retweet pictures of cute lambs whilst cheerfully frequenting a butcher whose shop is festooned with the carcasses of dozens of creatures.

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Delicious or disgusting? 

(Yes, you guessed it, I am a vegetarian!)

But there is a disturbing tendency amongst both individuals and the groups we call “society” to throw off the mantle of maturity and to feel compelled to take sides.


Thus, if you are not a Corbynista, you are necessarily a Tory (or worse still, a Blairite traitor).

If you are in any way critical of the actions of Hamas, you are an Islamophobic ZioNazi (or, if you are in any way sympathetic with Palestinians, you must be antisemitic).

You can only be a member of the WOBs (Wenger out brigade) or a WKB (Wenger knows best).

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Which is the hero and which the villain?

If you want to allow Syrian refugees into your country, you are a self-hater (or if you say there has to be some control on immigration, you are a closet racist).

These are just four examples – I am sure you can add your own.


All nuance and subtlety is lost in such debates.

Whatever the cause for such a simplistic, childish view of the World, I do not hesitate to suggest that the more it persists in any given society, the poorer that society is.

This is very clearly demonstrated in those places with the misfortune to be under the sway of militant Islamists, where the division between “believer” and “heretic” or “apostate” is stark and leaves no room for compassion or any middle ground.

Recent world history abounds with similar examples.

It seems to me that the dogmatic, insular, “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” attitude is increasingly creeping into everyday discourse in Western society.

I, for one, find this trend profoundly disturbing.

Just as excessive tribalism in sport can (and does) lead to street battles between rival “firms” of hooligans and racist chanting by thousands, so over-simplification of political, ethnic and socio-economic phenomena can (and does) lead to hatred, persecution and (at worst) genocide.

It is often hard, in the world of social media and low attention spans, to elucidate a subtle shade of grey, but it is definitely worth the effort.

Speak soon.

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

On Dead Terrorists

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Green Party parliamentarians Caoline Lucas and Jenny Jones, together with the pressure group “Reprieve” are attempting to persuade the UK courts to entertain a Judicial Review of the decision to attack two British men who were in Syria fighting for the so-called “Islamic State”.

As a lawyer, and until last week a civil servant, I genuinely understand the importance of proper procedure, lawfulness of policy and so on.

And I know just how damned complicated a legal question can be when it involves domestic and international law, national security and parliamentary procedure.

But as a British citizen and, perhaps more pertinently, a human being, my main concern about this story is really very simple.

The point of the law (in this context) is to ensure the government does not abuse its power. That is clearly a Good Thing. Nobody wants a government that can decide on a whim to send drones against anyone they don’t like.

But I would suggest that nobody (other than those who wish us ill) wants a government so paralysed by fear of legal action that it fails to take reasonable action to prevent loss of innocent life.

Now it may be that in making this particular decision, David Cameron failed to follow a pre-published policy, consult with all the appropriate bodies or have the necessary pre-authorisation of the two houses of Parliament after a fully-informed debate.

I am really not trying to minimise the importance of any of that. In an ideal world, every decision made would fully tick all those boxes.

But we do not live in an ideal world. And it doesn’t seem that Cameron has just given the OK on a whim or on the word of some bloke from MI5 who winked at him in the corridor of No 10.

The truth appears to be that he took what reasonable steps were possible in the limited time frame available to ensure that these were valid targets, that the decision was as lawful as it could be in the circumstances and that the risk of collateral damage was small, and on that basis, he gave the go-ahead.

To me, and I believe to the vast majority of the people in Britain (to whom he is ultimately accountable after all), the crucial point is this.

Nobody seems to have cast any doubt at all on the allegations that:

1. These two men were indeed Islamic State fighters and

2. they would, if left unchecked, probably have carried out or facilitated some sort of terrorist act against British civilians.

Until someone does cast such doubt, I am completely happy to say “Well done Mr Cameron” for making the right decision, and that I can sleep more soundly in the knowledge that we have a Prime Minister who is willing to make such hard choices to protect me, whether or not all the procedural boxes were ticked.

I am also quite happy to say to Ms Lucas, Ms Jones and Reprieve that I absolutely support their right to demand an explanation of how this decision was reached – Mr Cameron MUST fully account for it to Parliament (if he has not already done so) – but that to ensnare the government with a long, complicated and expensive legal challenge is both disproportionate and unnecessary.

I suggest to them that in this dangerous and fractured world, their limited resources – and most certainly those of the government and judicial system – would be better employed elsewhere.

Speak soon.

Labenal (@GoonerEll)

N.B. Image of Achmed The Dead Terrorist is a hilarious creation of Jeff Dunham. Look him up!

On depression

I’m depressed. I’m pretty sure I’ve suffered from depression at various points throughout my life and I can tell you, it’s not a good place to be. Screenshot_2015-09-10-17-24-17-1

I know the media, the government and various bodies have made something of an effort to normalise mental health and to bring it “out of the closet” but I still think there is an awfully long way to go, so I have decided to do my bit.

I have wanted to write this post for some time, but have never known how. This afternoon an idea came into my head – rather than generalise (which is always difficult because my mood changes from one day to the next), I will just describe to you what’s going on in what passes for my brain right now.

I am in bed. I got into bed at 2 in the morning (having spent a couple of hours watching rubbish on the TV). I then spent an hour or so playing a game on my phone and trying to do a su doku, stopping only when I found myself falling asleep.

This is a typical routine for me. I rarely get to sleep before 3 am. Today, I woke up around noon. I spent the next couple of hours looking at Twitter and Facebook and reading those pathetically pointless lists they publish on the net – 15 amazingly timed photos; the 20 worst tattoos ever.

The phone rang around 2 but I didn’t answer it – I had no desire to talk to anyone at all. In case you were wondering, I’m still in bed.

By that time, I’d realised it’s Thursday and my heart sank. I have a cleaner who comes on Thursday afternoons. I now have a dilemma. My kitchen/TV room are always in a bit of a state by Thursday, as I have no reason to keep them tidy once the boys have gone to their Mum’s on Monday.

But I hate for the cleaner to see what a slob I am. Now I have a dilemma. Do I get up so I can tidy up before she gets here? But I run the risk of seeing her (which is definitely the last thing I want today). By the time I’ve mulled that over (and been distracted by another thread about antisemites demonstrating outside Downing Street) it’s too late. I can hear she’s arrived.

So now I’ve no choice. I’m getting a bit hungry, but I can’t get out of bed now. She’ll hear me. On the other hand, I want to make just enough noise so she does hear me. The very last thing I want is for her to come into my bedroom!

So I’m lying here, embarrassed at the shit she sees in my kitchen (mostly empty crisp packets and coke cans), fretting that she will realise I’m here (what will she think?) and that she won’t realise I’m here (please no) and worst of all that I’ll have to make conversation with her (she’ll ask me how I am and I’ll smile and say “fine! How are you?”)

The one saving grace is that her English is appalling so even though she also cleans my Mum’s flat, I know she won’t be able to tell her what a state I’m living in.

Now comes the worst bit. She’s done the noisy bits. She finishes with the silent tasks of washing the hall and kitchen floor. I’m half deaf anyway, so I can never tell when she’s gone. I’d really like to get up and have something to eat and drink, but I can’t until I’m sure she’s gone. I’ll probably wait til it’s dark.

In the meantime, all of this mindless activity (the surfing and the worrying about the cleaner) has helped me avoid thinking about what really matters.

I’m probably about to lose my job. I’ve got a great job. It’s perfect really, but I’ve thrown it away because I can’t get myself out of this funk.

I need to get to the post office today as I have two cards to post to America that need to be there by Monday.

My boys are here for the weekend so I need to go shopping for food – thank G-d Tesco is open all night so I can go at about midnight. That way I won’t see anyone.

I had a panic attack in Tesco a few weeks ago. At peak time. That was a blast and a half I can tell you!

It’s Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) on Monday and Tuesday.  My Mum and Sister are coming to stay which is great but I’ve got to think about cooking too. And rearranging the beds. Where will they sleep?

Normally, I really look forward to the High Holy Days. I’m a committed Jew and I find the services spiritually uplifting. Not this year. This year I anticipate them with dread. All those people. All that hypocrisy  (not least from me).

Like everything else, I’ve been avoiding shul (synagogue) over the past year or so. At this time of year we Jews are meant to evaluate the year just ending and repent for our sins. And let me tell you, I’ve got a tonne of crap to repent.

In this last year, I have

  • been a shit friend. I’ve had friends who have had hard times and simply not been there. I’ve wallowed in my own misery rather than reach out to them.
  • Been a shit son and brother. My Mum and Sister are wonderful and have done all they can to be there for me. I’ve repaid them by being surly, moody, mean and failing in the simplest things. I don’t think I bought either of them a birthday present this year.
  • Being a shit Jew. As I say, I’ve avoided going to shul this year. Shabbat has ended in my home. I barely even light the candles any more. I just see it as a day when I have an excuse not to leave the house (driving is forbidden) or answer the phone (use of electronic devices is forbidden, although of course my strict application of that law falls aside when it comes to use of the TV or laptops!)
  • Been a dreadful parent. I won’t go into it here, just trust me. I have. My boys are fantastic but that’s really despite me. Also see “being a shit Jew” above.
  • Been an appalling employee. I don’t know how many days of productive work I’ve put in this year, but doubt it’s more than 30. I’m amazed it’s taken this long for them to get rid of me.
  • Made absolutely no progress at finding a way out of the hole I’m in. Oh I’ve done what I can. I’ve seen psychiatrists, therapists, attended group sessions at the Priory, taken the meds… but I haven’t got anywhere at all.
  • Been extremely mean to myself. I’ve put on about 2 stone in weight, done zero exercise and it shows.
  • Er… that’s it.

Now having attended all those sessions, I know that one of the things about depression is that one is excessively critical of oneself. So maybe I’m giving myself too much of a bad report here, but I also pride myself on my logical mind and frankly I don’t really see anything in that list that is exaggerated at all.

In the meantime, I tell myself I need companionship and intimacy. And yes, I do. I miss that dreadfully, especially whenever I see a happy couple or a romantic scene on TV. But there’s a catch and I see no way out.

I feel (and look) awful. I have been depressed for practically 3 years. I’m about to become unemployed. Not much of a profile for JDate or match.com, is it?

So. There you go.

I haven’t sugared any pills. I’ve told you what’s going through my head right now.

Please note this is NOT a cry for help. I don’t expect people to “rally round” and I definitely don’t want anyone to feel in any way guilty. People (some friends, my boys, my ex and my family) have been more than supportive and I am grateful to them for not simply forgetting my existence as I have forgotten theirs.

But if someone reads this and gains a slightly clearer understanding of what it’s like inside the head of a depressed person, then I’m glad I wrote this post.

It’s 17.38 and I haven’t heard the cleaner for a while. I might sneak downstairs and have breakfast.

Speak soon

Labenal

@GoonerEll

On Jeremy Corbyn

Before I address Mr Corbyn, let me lay my cards on the table. As I said in my On Prejudice post, I admit I am prejudiced, and these prejudices make me dislike Jeremy Corbyn and desperately hope he fails to win the Labour leadership.


I am a lifelong Labour voter who has lived in a succession of safe Tory seats. My parents are/were firm Tories but not in the least politically active. I grew up during the boom and bust 80s, with riots in Toxteth and Brixton, the miners’ strike, alternative comedy, The Young Ones, The Red Wedge and Spitting Image and was a student at the height of the Thatcher Out movement that saw the Poll Tax riots.

I was lobbying in the House of Commons as the news broke that Thatcher had resigned (the coach ride back to Liverpool that day was a very happy one!) And I went to Berlin in 1990 and hacked a piece off the Wall with my own hands. Good times.

I joined the Labour Party, Amnesty International and the Anti Apartheid Movement, demonstrated outside the South African embassy (and outside the Chinese after Tiananmen Square), cried when Mandela was released and again when he was elected president. 1 May 1997 was one of the best nights of my life. The whole world seemed to smell better the next day.

So my creds are OK.


At the same time as all this, my “other” identity, as a proud Zionist Jew, was also developing. I remember Begin and Sadat shaking hands in 79. I saw the campaign of hijackings and bombings carried out by the PLO and looking back, most people were pretty sympathetic with Israel back then. There certainly wasn’t any conflict between being a “progressive” and being pro-Israel.

My first experience of antisemitism was having pennies thrown at my feet by the kids at the Catholic School opposite my home. This was a regular occurrence through my childhood.

There was ribbing (these days you’d call it banter) at school, but since half the pupils were Jewish, I took no real notice (other than the time when a bully forced a ham sandwich down my throat). Teens being teens, we made fun of everyone and used every insult in the book – we definitely hadn’t heard of political correctness back then.

We studied the Arab/Israeli conflict for ‘O’ Level history, using a text book written by our teacher. With my then half-baked ideas, I remember it being rabidly anti-Israel and our lessons tended to be arguments between him and me. When I got my A (they didn’t do A*s back then, my first thought was “Ha. That’ll show you, Mr X.”

But it was at University that I first encountered what has become a pervasive problem – progressive antisemitism. The first intifada was in full swing and you’d have to have your nose buried very deeply in your books not to notice that left wing groups such as the Socialist Workers Party were firmly on the side of the Palestinians.

I was active in the Students’ Union and in the Jewish Society and only opened a book the night before deadline, so the atmosphere of “right on” anti-Zionism was right in my face.

I was told to my face that the Holocaust was a hoax, spat at, shouted down, told to leave open meetings on campus – even when I said nothing. I was simply a well-known advocate on Jewish and Israeli matters. If I had not been so stubborn, it might have got me down. As it is, it simply spurred me on.

For avoidance of doubt, all this came from so-called “progressives” (there was no noticeable far right presence on a Liverpool campus at that time). I (along with anyone else who dared to be anything other than 100% anti-Israel) was accused of being a fascist and no amount of moderation on my part could convince them of any less.

Of course, the majority of the student body couldn’t have cared less either way – I successfully stood for election to the Student Union executive.


So, where does Jeremy Corbyn come into this?

Jeremy Corbyn has been an MP for as long as I remember (I do remember things before 1983 obviously but not the names of backbench MPs).

When I became politically active in the late 80s, his name cropped up from time to time as one of those on the Labour left who were more allied with Tony Benn than Neil Kinnock, but I paid him little attention.

Remember, this was long before the days of 24-hour rolling ubiquitous news and the revolution brought about by social media, so a backbench MP had to do or say some things pretty unusual to come to an ordinary person’s notice.

As the 90s moved on, however, his name became more and more associated with the growing campaign to delegitimise Israel and to demonise its government and all its actions.

In 1996, as has recently come to light, he campaigned against the conviction of two people who bombed the offices of a Jewish charity (and the Israeli embassy). I don’t need to repeat here the long history he has of closeness to some violent, racist and outright reactionary people and groups. I am not saying he is antisemitic but he is certainly mates with people who very definitely are.

Suffice to say, to anyone involved or interested in the Middle East, the concerns about him long pre-dated his decision to stand as leader. When he announced his candidacy, I wasn’t concerned. I thought he was too extreme, that he would be noisy but a marginal figure, that his policies woukd be seen as the idealist fantasies they are, that he would finish a distant last in the election.

How wrong I was.

Like almost everyone else, I have been taken unawares by Corbymania and by the tide of Corbynistas flooding to register for the vote. I think the system being used is ridiculous (regardless of Corbyn) and that only people who were members at the time Milliband stood down should be able to vote, but it is what it is.

Now I get why people like him. He is not bland, he is not tarred by association with Tony Blair or the Iraq war (though it is deeply puzzling why these are so obsessed about – but that for another time), he has not changed his views despite the changing times and he delivers a message very different to that heard from any mainstream party leader for at least 20 years.

But here’s the rub. There are two things I simply don’t understand.

First – Why is Anti-Zionism seen as a progressive cause?

And second – How can any progressive support a man who is clearly an apologist for racists and terrorists?


Yes, Israel has done Bad Things (but so has nearly every country in the world). Yes, ordinary Palestinians are suffering and Israel has (at least in part) been the cause of that suffering. But a cold-eyed view of the opposing parties paints a stark picture.

In Israel, discrimination exists, but it is illegal. People of all faiths and none are free to worship as they please and to own land, to study, be involved in politics, the judiciary etc or any profession they choose. There are few friendlier places for LGBT people, women are in every sense equal, there is a vibrant free press and a judiciary that goes out of its way to demonstrate its independence from government. The democracy is, if anything, too vibrant, with dozens of political parties representing every conceivable group. There is a state religion, but the majority of the people (and their elected leaders) are staunchly secular.

In short, Israel is one of the most liberal places on Earth.

Compare this with the situation in Palestinian-run areas of the West Bank and Gaza and you see the absolute opposite of everything I have said about Israel. Hamas and Fatah are, without a shadow of a doubt, reactionary regimes that are closer to fascist dictatorships than the socialist paradigm.

Even if you have sympathy with the Palestinian desire for a state of their own (which many Zionists do), how can you fail to notice that their leaders (and those of the neighbouring Arab states) have utterly failed their people and have contrived to do nothing but make their own people’s lot far worse at almost every turn.

I stress – this is not about the rights of Israel and/or Palestine to exist. Not about whether one side has done wrong to the other (both clearly have). It’s just an objective analysis of the societies that each has built.


Second, I don’t care how “fresh” Corbyn’s message is. I don’t even care if his economic, social and domestic policies are good and fair and right  and, most importantly, workable (which is certainly a dubious proposition).

If the most likeable person in the World stood for a position of political influence with the most endearing set of policies ever devised, I would still campaign against him (or her) if he is an apologist for terrorists and racists.

That failing is not just a weakness (nobody’s perfect) it’s a fundamental flaw that surely outweighs any positives.

Let me put it this way*. If a brilliant Catholic theologian, speaker and thinker, who knows the Bible inside out and has a record of being the kindest person who is endlessly generous with his time applies to be the Pope with just one flaw – he’s married – how many Cardinals would vote for him?

So please. If you have a vote in this election and have not cast it yet, please do NOT vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Speak soon

Labenal

* It’s not a perfect analogy, I know.

On Refugees

You would have to be extremely hard-hearted not to be moved by the images and stories emerging in recent weeks about the huge number of people drowning in the Mediterranean, suffocating in lorries and living in unimaginable conditions in ad hoc refugee camps around the edges of Europe.  Much has been said and written about this … this word is terribly overused, but is surely appropriate … crisis, so I am going to set out my view.

What’s Going On?

Whenever there is conflict, there are refugees.  This, as far as it goes, isn’t new.  It’s no secret that large parts of the Middle East and North Africa are in turmoil.  But what we are seeing now is not similar to any of the previous refugee problems witnessed in the modern era.  What makes it different?  Let me explain.

First, the nature of warfare has changed. In the 20th century, war was (largely) an international business. One country went to war against or invaded another and the allies of each joined in.  On the whole, that is not what is happening now (with some exceptions, such as Russia/Ukraine).  Instead, we are seeing intranational conflict – sectarians battling each other for control over territory that doesn’t respect international borders.  This brings about many new issues.

  • The rules of war that the international community set out in response to the carnage of the World Wars (such as the Geneva Convention) do not apply to this new paradigm. The participants don’t care about them and can’t be held accountable.  Thus, we see dreadful atrocities such as those committed (and proudly recorded) by ISIS, some of which match the worst excesses of the dictatorships of the 20th century*.

“Syria and Iraq are as dead as Monty Python’s parrot”

  • While foreign national governments are of course involved, it is generally at arm’s length, protecting them from being held accountable. Rather than invade, they finance, arm and train a group or groups, as Iran does with Hezbollah in Lebanon/Syria.
  • There are no “front lines” where battles take place, and no safe areas behind the front lines where people can find refuge. Instead, there are constantly shifting zones of influence and battles are never won or lost, just re-fought over and over (the Syrian town of Azaz has changed hands 4 times in 3 years and the “battle of Aleppo” has been raging since July 2012).
  • War is no longer fought by two or more opposing armies with uniforms and clear chains of command, but by loose alliances of militias and barely trained civilians.
  • It is therefore much harder to
    • conduct diplomacy – who do you talk to?
    • destroy an enemy by targeting the leaders – note the lack of impact the killing of Osama bin Laden had on Al Queda;
    • destroy an enemy at all – given the fact that they are dispersed widely and intermingled with civilians; and
    • distinguish civilian from combatant – you can’t target them militarily and, if you can’t tell whether an individual is a genuine refugee or a terrorist, the temptation is to assume all strangers are a threat.
  • War is regional, which makes finding a safe haven much harder. When Iran and Iraq were fighting their bloody 8-year war in the 1980s, the refugees could at least be relatively sure that the conflict would not follow them outside those countries. The current chaos pays no attention to international boundaries, spreading almost seamlessly from Turkey to Yemen, Lebanon to Afghanistan, Lybia to Nigeria and Kenya and (nearly) everywhere in between.
  • In fact, it seems more and more the case that the 20th century post-imperial nation state has ceased to have any real meaning in those parts of the world.  Large parts of Nigeria are entirely out of Abuja’s control and the states known as Syria and Iraq are, to all intents and purposes, as dead as Monty Python’s parrot, and no amount of nailing them to their perches is likely to resuscitate them.
  • The conflicts are driven by extremist nihilists, which means that ordinary people simply can’t just keep their heads down. In Nazi occupied Europe, you could get by even if you weren’t a Nazi (as long as you weren’t Jewish, gay, gypsy, communist etc). If you kept your head down, the soldiers didn’t generally bother you. ISIS are not so generous. Unless you demonstrate total conversion to their particular brand of Islam, you are vulnerable to being sold as a sex slave, being burned alive, beheaded and worse.

With all this, it is hardly surprising that hundreds of thousands of people are making desperate journeys across continents and oceans to find refuge in a peaceful Europe where you can live without having to fear for your life from day to day.

So what’s to be done?  Europe

In one way, it’s remarkably simple. All nations not suffering from a national crisis should agree to take in a fair share of the migrants.  Currently, Angela Merkel is right. Germany is by far the EU country who have made the biggest effort to welcome and provide for this tide of humanity.

And that is a disgrace.

In my country, the UK, we have just been through a general election where “immigration” was the most talked about topic – yes, even more than the huge budget deficit.  The tone of this debate was clear (and none of the major parties dissented): Immigration is not well controlled, there is “too much” of it, and immigrants are a burden on society, negatively affecting the welfare system, the housing and employment markets and so on.

“Britain MUST take more – it is the responsible and moral thing to do.”

In this climate, it takes a brave politician to stand up and say that we will welcome tens of thousands of desperate, poor people – especially as they are (clears throat and looks over shoulder) brown and look like the people who attacked London on 7/7.  Indeed, as recently as June, David Cameron magnanimously committed to expand the number of Syrian refugees Britain would accept – to 500 by the end of 2017!

But that is exactly what we should do.  It is the responsible, moral and right thing to do.  Yes, we CAN afford it – certainly more so than the countries currently bearing the brunt as they are nearest to the areas of conflict – Greece, Italy and Hungary.

Frankly, if “ordinary working families” (that hackneyed phrase rolled out by British politicians ad nauseam) have to suffer a slight drop in living standards so that 10,000 or more people can make new homes and lives for themselves – well, that seems like a trade worth making to me.

So what’s to be done? Middle East

So wealthy, comfortable Europe is morally bound to do its bit, but we should not have to take on the whole burden alone.  What else can be done?

The obvious long-term solution is to stop the conflicts that create the refugees. Now that is a problem to which I don’t have the solution – and I would suggest nobody else does either, otherwise it would have been implemented.  So, given that the conflicts are happening and will, for the time being, continue…

The countries close to the conflict zones should be pressured into helping – and, if necessary, provided with assistance to keep the refugees local. While I have acknowledged that these conflicts transcend nationality, there ARE countries both close geographically and culturally to those in turmoil.  Saudi Arabia is one very obvious example.

I know that these countries have difficulties of their own, and large numbers of refugees from other conflicts.  But 1 in 4 of the 20 richest (per capita) countries in the World – including 3 of the top 5 – are Arab/Muslim.  Perhaps those Muslim/Arab countries not directly affected (such as Singapore and Brunei) could either volunteer to take some refugees on or at least support those countries who are currently bearing the burden.

I know it’s easy for me, sitting behind my keyboard in cosy Hertfordshire, to preach, but I know that, should life in the UK become dangerous to me and my family, I would much rather seek refuge in a place where the language and culture are not too dissimilar from the one I am used to.

There are many Muslim countries – it just seems obvious to me that Muslim refugees may prefer to be accommodated in Muslim countries, and Arabs (of whatever faith) in Arab countries.  This will also make it far easier for them to return home should it become possible and practical in future which is surely the best outcome for all concerned.

So what’s to be done? Rest of the World

There are wealthy countries outside Europe who could and should step in to help.

The US has, to date, taken shockingly tiny numbers of Syrian refugees – according to the Guardian, only 141 were admitted between October 2012 and October 2014 – and, in today’s small world where travel is cheap and ubiquitous, there is no reason why some of those currently beating down Europe’s doors could not be re-directed across the Atlantic.

“The total number of Syrian refugees make up less than 1 in 200

of the populations of the EU, US and Japan alone.”

Only tiny numbers of refugees from the Syrian conflict have made their way to South America, and Japan, despite being one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, has to date closed its doors entirely.

There are an estimated 4 million Syrian refugees at the moment. That sounds like (and is) a huge number, but that is less than 0.5% (1 in 200) people in the EU, the US and Japan alone.  That doesn’t sound quite as daunting.

If all these countries – and more – perhaps through the medium of the UN, were to take this matter seriously, it is not beyond possiblity that scenes of dead babies washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean can be banished to the memory.

Speak soon

Labenal

* Yes – I do include Nazi Germany in that statement. The evil of ISIS is not quite as systematic as the wholesale destruction of European Jewry or Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, or the Rwanda genocide, but it is no less sick.

On prejudice

When you read that title, I bet you thought about racism, sexism, homophobia or any one of the other envies and bigotries that curse human society.

Sorry to disappoint you, but this post, while touching on all those areas, is far more general.

Let me pose a question. Take a look at this picture and, without reading further, think about what you see.

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What did you come up with?

  • The literalist might say “a platform at a North London train station with a car park in the background”.
  • A petrol head may say “a 2012 1.2 litre Ford Plonko”
  • A car thief might say “a promising place to stop off later. Some decent cars there.”
  • A Hendonite might say “Home”
  • A Marxist might say “a borgeouis display of material wealth in a fascist state where even the means of transport are in the hands of greedy fat cats. Nationalise rail today!”
  • A frustrated commuter might say “an empty Thameslink platform? Never seen that before!”

You get the idea. This is a facile example, but the point – that you see the same thing differently depending on your prejudices – is brought home time and again on social media and the blogsphere.

For example, the other day I saw this tweet on my timeline (remember I am @GoonerEll):

Screenshot_2015-09-01-16-08-33-1

These facts may tell the Bad Doctor all he needs to know, but what it tells him remains a mystery. Does it tell him human society is racist (a white woman earns more than a more highly skilled black woman)? Image-obsessed or shallow (a skinny woman earns more than a curvy woman)? Hates America (a Russian woman earns more than an American)? Generally unfair (a person should earn what they deserve through their professional efforts)? Or perhaps, generally fair (a person can make money by working hard and taking advantage of the opportunities life presents, even if other are more naturally talented in their field)?

To me, this tweet is evidence that users of social media have a pathological tendency to over-simplify complex issues and to use a sample size of 2 to confirm their own preconceptions about the world!

I am perhaps labouring the point. But it’s an important point worth labouring.

Like all humans, I make subconscious and conscious assumptions about everything I see and hear and many of these will become obvious as my blog grows. I don’t apologise for that, and I don’t expect that readers will necessarily share them. All I ask is that you have an open mind.

Speak soon

Labenal.