Everyone’s a little bit racist (and sexist)

The witless Rozanne Duncan, expelled from UKIP for having a problem with Negroes, and Telegraph columnist @emmabarnett have both been accused of being racist and both have issued strenuous denials, Emma Barnett’s being slightly more convincing. But not convincing enough. Yes, Emma, you are racist and you need to check your privilege. So am I and so do I.

I’ve spent most of my life trying not to be racist, trying to judge people by what they do rather than what they look like. But I still have some prejudices.  They’re fed by my experiences, by what I read in the press and online and partly by my own fears. I’m from a highly-privileged background, white, male, middle-aged, middle-class. I need constantly to check my own privilege, and make sure that I’m being fair. I don’t have a problem with Negroes; the problem – such as it is – is with me.

I don’t think anyone can say that they are absolutely “not racist”. I try my level best not to make racist (or sexist) assumptions but I would  lie if I said that race or gender had no  effect at all on  the way I react to people. And I expect it works in reverse.  As a customer in a shop, I react differently to a pretty girl serving me than to a callow youth or a middle-aged man. I try to smile at everyone, but – well – a smile comes more naturally when it’s focused on a pretty girl. This is just the way the world works; I am sure the pretty girls I smile at think, oh god not another middle-aged perv – but a smile is a wonderful thing, it’s infectious, if you smile at someone, they’re more than likely to smile back. Pretty girls will even smile back at middle-aged pervs like me.  So will the callow youth and the middle-aged man by the way, and I try to smile at them too as I say my pleases and thankyous as they serve me.

Racism: how meaning changes

I’m using “racism” in its modern usage, as a short form of “racially-prejudiced”. We all have some prejudices,  in fact we couldn’t operate without them. But we do have to be aware of them.   Usually, though, the -ist and -ism suffices  indicate a belief or an ideology.  Subtly different to a prejudice. The Nazis were racist;  their whole ideology was based on the superiority of the Aryan “race”.  Apartheid South Africa was racist; Governor Wallace of Alabama was racist but later recanted. The BNP and National Front parties in the UK are specifically racist parties; but racism as a conscious ideology has been almost entirely discredited in the West. Unfortunately it is not yet completely dead.  However, racial prejudice is alive and well, and that’s how we now use the words  “racist” and “racism”.

Check your prejudice – and your privilege

Because we’re all racist, we all have to watch for our prejudices. People are people, old or young, gay or straight, pretty or plain, pink or brown.  It’s an obligation we take on as part of living in a diverse society. In a diverse world.  Organisations have to do so even more, because if a group of people share the same prejudices, the organisation can start to behave in a prejudiced way. The police, in particular, have a big responsibility which they have often failed.  Racism has a way of creeping up when we stop looking out for it, and in particular when we deny it exists in ourselves or in our organisations.

In Britain, racism affects darker people most. We know that and most of us are trying to change things. It doesn’t help if we deny that racism exists or that we are even a little bit racist; but often, we get called out for saying or doing things that seem racist but absolutely aren’t. In particular, it is racist to say that only people of one colour are entitled to comment on things that affect people of another colour – and a lot of Emma Barnett’s critics have implied that, since she’s white, she’s not entitled to comment on the so-called jihadi brides.  What I, as a pale-pink person, can’t do is describe how a darker person feels or is affected – because I don’t have that experience. But I’m quite entitled to comment on – issues of the day affecting people of any colour.  You don’t have to listen to or agree with what I say.  It would be inaccurate, and racist, were I to say that jihadi brides are vulnerable because they are brown. They are vulnerable because they are young; teenagers of all colours have always rebelled, run away to join the circus, to go to sea, to annoy their families, to have an adventure.  It is not racist to say that what has happened is a tragedy for them and for their families and that we as a nation (and Turkish Airlines) should have done more.  We have failed them as we have also failed the victims in Rotherham.

Racism is certainly not confined to white or pink or pale-brown people; it’s just that when the privileged group acts in a racist way, it affects the less-privileged worse. In the UK, white-on-brown racism is worse than the reverse, because white people hold most of the positions of authority. Brown-on-white racism exists but isn’t yet a problem.  However, it could quickly become one, because it isn’t checked or recognised. “I’m black so I can’t be racist, so I don’t have to check my privilege”.  Yes, my sister, you can be racist. If you just judged me because I am white, you made a racist judgement. Right now, not a problem. But not right, either. So everyone, check your privilege. And white, middle-class men like me, check it more because we have more privileges.

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Kashmir and the King to come

Prince Charles asks why do some young Muslim youth turn to extremism – which has no place, or very little place, in Islamic doctrine.

There are lots of answers. In the UK, it’s the feeling that if you’re a bit brown, your life opportunities are worse than for paler people.  That’s a fact, and while it’s not as bad as some places, in fact racism is probably less of a problem in the UK than anywhere else, the only places that claim to have less racism are places like Japan where there’s no diversity and anyway, you just ask Koreans in Japan how they are treated – but it doesn’t matter if it’s better than anywhere else, racism is wrong. We all agree it is wrong. But it’s deep within each of us and particularly in our societies.  As it happens, I’m proud of the way Britain is working it out. Our best answer to the problem of racism is, “love one another”; and we British, more than any other nation, do that – we have the highest rate of interfaith and interracial relationships and marriage in the world.

And another reason that Muslim youth is drawn to extremism is that Muslim people seem to get a raw deal around the world. The most obvious place is Palestine. I won’t go into that in this post (see this one) – because I want to talk about Kashmir. It’s part of India. Well, it’s part of the Indian sub-continent, and India thinks that it’s part of India. Actually, it’s divided, there’s Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, and Indian-controlled Kashmir.  Disputes about Kashmir have been at the root of every conflict between India and Pakistan.  Most of Kashmir’s people are Muslim, so Pakistan thinks they should be part of Pakistan.  India doesn’t.  At the time of Partition, the question of Kashmir was unresolved, so the UN Security Council said there should be a plebiscite as soon as practical. That was in 1950; Kashmiris are still waiting, and Muslims continue to get a raw deal in India. Particularly in Kashmir. Even worse under their new BJP administration. Most Kashmiris want an independent Kashmir including both the Pakistani and Indian administered regions, but Pakistan thinks that the whole of Kashmir should be part of Pakistan – after all, they are all Muslim.  Kashmiris would probably prefer to be part of Pakistan than part of India… but without a plebiscite, how can we tell?

What do I think?

I don’t know. I’ve never been to Kashmir. I’m just surprised that it isn’t higher up the profile of international injustices.  It’s a festering sore, one of many that helps drive young people towards extremism.  The plebiscite should take place.  Probably. But then what about the Punjab? Most Punjabis are Sikh. If Old-India’s Muslims got Pakistan, and its Hindus New-India, shouldn’t the Sikhs have their own country too?  Err, actually no.

Basing countries on religion is a catastrophic mistake. Religion is a personal thing, it should have nothing to do with nationality.  The partition of India in 1947 was a terrible mistake. The creation of the Jewish State another one, we are living with the problems of both mistakes today.  India should have been created into a single, secular federation, with a secular constitution guaranteeing religious freedom across the subcontinent, from Sri Lanka to the North-West Frontier. Actually, the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wanted it to be a secular country – because he feared  Hindu persecution. He did his fellow Muslims no favours, he should have kept their numbers in a single secular India. Pakistan is a terrible mess because it can’t decide whether it wants secular or sharia law.  And it’s got one foot in bed with America and another with the Taleban.  And they are all corrupt, corrupt like all governments are corrupt.

And Kashmir? Well, Kashmiris should decide. Obviously.  The UN said so, sixty-five years ago. Only India is stopping it happening.

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I am much too wimpy ever to have played a minute’s more rugby football than I was compelled to at school. But I do like watching it on television.

However, whereas it’s free, open and running rugby that people go on about, I’m not that bothered. I mean, that Barbarians try… yes, it was good. But for spectacle?

Scotland-Australia 2009. Scotland won 9-8 having spend most of the match on their own five-metre line. Heroic defending gradually wearing Australia down. I don’t think I’ve seen a better match. The 2003 World Cup final, won by England in the last minutes of extra time with a drop goal from Jonny Wilkinson was a classic which could have been scripted in Hollywood, the tension high right to the end – one of the greatest games of football in any code, ever – but that Murrayfield match pips it for me.

Rugby is about the scrum, and it’s a shame that in the modern game it’s lost its drive. Nothing is more exciting than watching a rampant pack, confident and cocky enough to turn down a kick at goal in favour of another scrum, wearing down and demoralising the defence. And the defence throwing every last ounce of energy back at it, pushing against hope for turnover ball and a clearance to touch but just to stop the pushover.

The tension of those five-metre-line scraps I don’t think is equalled in any other spectator sport. The fact that there’s always the possibility of a break-away try… or a drop goal… That mayhem of muscle that’s so fierce and so physical but so disciplined – the slightest error gives away a penalty, game over…

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A feminist reformation for Islam?

It is sometimes said that the problem with Islam is that it hasn’t had its Reformation.

This, I would respectfully suggest, is cobblers. Actually, it’s worse, it’s ignorant, racist islamophobic cobblers.

Now I’m not sure what the “problem” with Islam is. Islam has a whole host of problems at the moment, from Islamophobia in the west to reactionary bigoted mullahs running its holy places, and getting round to emulating something that the Christians screwed up with isn’t one of them. Not to mention ignorant kuffars like me trying to tell them how to do things themselves. Islam isn’t one thing, except for the fact that Oneness is at its centre. That Oneness is the thing that I find most appealing – the Oneness of God reflected in the Oneness of the World. As Bob Marley said, even though he wasn’t a Muslim. One Love. I know many Muslims – I’m a Londoner – and I follow plenty more on Twitter. Their Islam isn’t the same Islam as Jihadi John’s Islam. Except it is.

Anyway,  it does seem to me that there are some clear parallels between things happening in Islam and things that happened during the Christian Reformation in Europe, and they’re highly relevant to current events.  The Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam in particular has a lot in common with some extreme Puritan Christianity.  It’s iconoclastic and ascetic,  and involved in a brutal civil war.   During the Reformation, brutal civil wars were fought across Europe, not least  in England, over the interpretation of religion. Shrines and idols were destroyed. People were brutally murdered. Women were oppressed.  Pleasures of all sorts were outlawed.  The Scriptures were elevated above all else. I get a little bit annoyed when the media implies that there’s something uniquely evil about the way Daesh are destroying artefacts in Nineveh, or the the Taleban destroyed the Bhuddas of Bamiyan – in the seventeenth century,  British religious fundamentalists destroyed a lot of beautiful ancient religious art on our own doorsteps.  The word is “iconoclasm”. And, if you will forgive this kuffar for teaching his Muslim grandmother to suck eggs, the sin in Islam isn’t making statues and images, it’s worshipping them. Shirk is worshipping as God that which is not God.

Puritan Christians went on to establish theocracies, particularly in the New World. Can we compare the Massachusetts Colony to Afghanistan under the Taleban?  Certainly.  Can we argue over degree? Not productively. Both were bad, brutal regimes, as theocracies tend to be.  In fact the parallels between modern Wahhabism and Puritan Christianity are very strong, and as an objective historian, it is not unreasonable to claim that Islam is in the throes of its own Reformation.

Comparisons are useful for understanding the differences as much as the   similarities and there are  many differences. One  notable one is that there is no Muslim equivalent of the papacy – the established Catholic church, led by the Pope, was the focus of the Puritans’ anger.  The nearest thing might have been the Ottoman caliphate. The early years of Wahhabi influence in the Arabian peninsula were characterised by resistance to Ottoman hegemony in much the same way that Puritanism was associated with political resistance to Catholic monarchies.   And the path of the Reformation coincided with the “discovery” of the “New” world.  Many Puritans crossed the Atlantic with the hope of establishing their own New Jerusalems, whereas their Islamic counterparts are hoping to establish a new Caliphate right where they are – in which hope, I think, they are just as misguided as the Puritan settlers of North America. Today, however, the Muslim equivalent of the papacy, in terms of the way it enforces doctrinal orthodoxy, might be the Sunni schools in Saudi Arabia.

I think the real hope for Islam, taking its own reformation beyond the barbarous phase is to find its own Enlightenment – which is not necessarily the same as adopting the values of the Western one. Islamic thinkers have  What goes around, comes around. Our Western, secular Enlightenment grew out of the Renaissance, which was influenced by Islamic scholarship. That doesn’t mean the devaluation of essential Muslim values, at all; rather, it means rediscovering their truths and setting them in the context of a modern, plural, technological society.  I think there’s a lot that Islam can once again bring to the West; and both will be the stronger for it. Not fighting each other, but loving each other. It’s almost always a better strategy.

Now I’m going to tread into areas where I almost certainly shouldn’t. I’m a white, male kuffar, so this is not for me to say. But say it I will (after all, hardly anyone reads this blog).

I think I can see that Enlightenment about to happen, here in Europe.  I think I can see where it might go, and I hope I can see who might be leading it.  Surprise, surprise, they’re mostly women.  I’m aware of more and more Muslim feminists. According to the media, such a thing can’t be possible – after all, Islam is all about oppressing women, isn’t it? But any society that ignores or oppresses its women misses out on the brilliance of half of its population.   People, regardless of their genitalia, are the power (reflecting God’s glory).  Despite the fact that the media is getting its knickers in a twist about the sad story of three London teenagers,  I am absolutely sure that it is women who will be – who are – the force capable of turning Islam away from war and violence and towards Love.  Men tend to be handicapped by a bit too much testosterone.

Women can and will lead new understandings of the Holy Qur’an, recognising – for example – that the Medinan surahs may need to be approached more flexibly than the more spiritual Meccan ones, because all of them need to be viewed with  prayerful spirituality through the prism of today.  With such an approach, it should become possible to argue that real  equality is the way for today. Muhammad, peace be unto him, was revolutionary in his time for the respect and autonomy he gave to women.   Perhaps there could be a new school of shariah law, to develop an enlightened fiqh that would better reflect modern society than some salafist interpretations coming from the men in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps, for example, this might argue that since animal welfare is why halal slaughter prescribes cutting the throat, any slaughter that causes unnecessary suffering to the animal is haram. This could be extended to argue that it is haram to cause animals suffering while they are alive, and that therefore only free-range meat is halal.  (You see what I did there? In two sentences I’ve managed to solve one of the most pressing first world liberal problems! Waitrose woo-hoo!)

Perhaps, for example, the new fiqh could argue that since shirk is the worship as God of that which is not God,  that therefore today consumerism, the cult of celebrity, the worship of money and designer brands is far more egregious a shirk than making a statue.  Definitely shirk to wear Armani under your hijab.  OK, that could annoy a few people.

Oh dear I’m doing it again. Mansplaining. White middle-aged kuffar telling the pretty little Muslim ladies what to do and how to think.  No, I want you to think for yourselves. You already are? Fantastic. Yes, I am listening.

Actually, there is one particular and very important  area where I think that new Islamic thinking, building on old Islamic traditions, could really help the West, and that’s finance. You may or may not have noticed, but we’ve screwed finance up pretty badly. Islamic finance based on sharing profits could revolutionise our western finance.  But from the grassroots.  Big Western banks paying corrupt ulema to devise workarounds to the letter  but not the spirit of sharia finance, so they can open branches in Qatar and Dubai and get their hands on the princelings oil money? They run courses in Sharia finance to do this, and they look wrong to me.  My guess is that the real revolution will come when Muslim feminists tie up with the women revolutionising banking in Iceland, to make something that is genuinely cooperative.

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Call me an Anti-Semite….

Names mean nothing.

I like and dislike Jewish people as much as I like or dislike people of any other faith or ethnicity.  Some of them are pretty unpleasant.

I disagree with many of the tenets of fundamentalist Orthodox Judaism,  some of which are almost as extreme as the tenets of Wahabi Islam.  I respect the right of people to hold such views; but that right does not extend to imposing restrictions on the behaviour of others.

I do not think that the State of Israel should exist in its present form.  This is because I disagree with the jus sanguine theory of nationality.  Everyone is entitled to a nationality; but nationality should never depend on either ethnicity or faith. No state should ever grant superior privileges to citizens of one faith or ethnicity over another. This we now know, although we didn’t before.  Our own country granted special privileges to communicants of the Church of England and against Roman Catholics until Catholic emancipation.  Germany, too, after the war, granted automatic citizenship to ethnic Germans, but not to its Turkish immigrants. Within my lifetime, the United States allowed discrimination and segregation of its African-American citizens; and most of my early political activism was directed against the evils of apartheid. Now, generally, Western liberal opinion regards racism of any sort as beyond the pale. So do I.

Anti-semitism is at its most virulent and institutionalised in the State of Israel itself. It is directed not against Jewish people, but by them against their fellow semites, their Arab neighbours.  Anti-Arab racism is pervasive in Israeli society.

I deplore discrimination on the grounds of race or faith, wherever it occurs, and particularly when it is institutionalised in a state’s Constitution.

There should be no Jewish State. The State of Israel should not exist.

We learned the wrong lesson from the Holocaust. And yes, I can deny the right of Israel to exist without denying the Holocaust. It happened; it was genocide. The lesson of the Holocaust  was not, as we thought at the time, that Jews and Gentiles (particularly German gentiles) could not live harmoniously together in a diverse and tolerant society; but that we must. And I am proud that here in London we are managing to show the world how it should be done.

Not that we cannot, but that we must. 


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My Next Phone (1) – I wish!

The ridiculous trend for thin-ness in smartphones continues. The iPhone 6 is now too thin for its camera. Not to mention that it bends. Other manufacturers are intent on bringing out even thinner – and in the absence of major advances in materials science, more fragile – phones.  Stop this madness now, please!

Stronger, Please

Time for someone to bring out a phone that as well as being lighter – faster – smarter etc is also Stronger.

So, built around a titanium (stainless or carbon fibre) chassis, supporting from the inside two sheets of high-strength glass laminate, in a sandwich sealed with silicone round the edges. The package is designed to withstand the 2m hard-floor drop test and ideally the BFA test.

No holes in the case. Charging and data transfer are both carried out by inductive coupling; data transfer using established NFC, Bluetooth, WiFi and cellular technologies.  Thus the phone passes the washing-machine test.

(Note: Sony’s Xperia range already includes a 3.5mm audio jack that is IP58 secure without a flimsy cover).

Twin displays

Face 1 incorporates a high-resolution LCD or AmoLed colour touch screen, perhaps 3D.

Face 2 incorporates an eInk monochrome screen.  We’ll come on to why in a minute.

Phone has two batteries and software to manage charge control in each of them. The system is divided into two: high current systems (essentially the colour display, also some high demand radio functions such as GPS and WiFi); and low-current systems (monochrome screen etc).  The high-current systems draw only on the primary battery; the low-current systems can also draw on the secondary battery.  The primary battery gives the standard smartphone battery life of one good working day; the secondary battery ensures that the phone is still usable – data is accessible, calls can be made, the phone can be located if lost – for up to one month.  Bricking from lack of charge happens only after a month, not a couple of days as with most phones at present.

3D display

Pedantically, the word is stereographic. 3D needs holography, which might need to wait for my phone-after-next.

Twin viewer-facing cameras triangulate the position of the viewer’s eyes using smart image-analysis software. This data is used to maniplate the display to provide a stereographic image without the need for special glasses.

Eight cameras

The phone has a camera in each corner of each face. These are used to take stereographic photographs and films in either portrait or landscape orientation, with redundancy to provide for the fact that the user will almost certainly cover one of the cameras with his or her thumb. Software will allow the cameras to be used for other purposes, e.g. high resolution document scans using 2, 3 or 4 cameras additively.


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Genetically-Modified Moss: MossCote

This is a product that has not yet been developed. Someone should be working on it.

MossCote is a genetically-modified moss designed to grow on the exterior, particularly north-facing  walls of houses to improve their thermal properties.

Surfaces to bear MossCote are first treated with a suitable MossPrime priming solution; MossCote will only adhere to primed surfaces, which ensures that it does not penetrate where it is not desired.  There are different MossPrime formulations for different substrates – soft brick, hard (engineering) brick, cement render, lime plaster etc.

When the MossPrime has dried, (12-72 hrs depending on conditions), a single coat of MossCote liquid containing MossCote spores in suspension is applied. The liquid also contains appropriate nutrients to help the MossCote spores establish and to prevent unwanted mosses from doing so.

MossCote should start to turn green within about three weeks, depending on weather conditions. For the first six months, MossCote should be sprayed with water during dry conditions, after which the capillary network should have become established. Thereafter MossCote draws water and nutrients from the base channel by capillary action. This water is carried up only in the sub-surface layer, which is constantly being regenerated.

Photosynthesis in MossCote’s surface layer converts water in the capillary channel and carbon dioxide in the air to sugars which are then polymerised into lignin and cellulose fibres.

Depending on the level of insolation, MossCote should lay down approximately 10mm of thickness in a year. This has an R-value of about 0.6 and over a ten-year period will substantially increase the thermal insulation of your home.

MossCote needs over 12 hrs of daylight in 24 to be active. It will not photosynthesise or draw capillary water during the winter months, thus minimising evaporative heat loss.

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