Tuesday, March 28, 2006

March for Free Expression...2

A quick but crucial update on last Saturday's March for Free Expression here. Something I neglected to mention in any great detail during my last post on the topic was the fate of Reza Moradi. About halfway into the demo, Moradi - who is a member of the Iranian Workers' Party - as taken to one side by police due to a placard he was carrying which depicted some of the Jyllands-Posten cartoons, as a member of the crowd told police they felt "threatened" by the depictions.

Apparently, Moradi has since been charged (what with, no one really knows for sure) and will be prosecuted for carrying the placard, despite th fact that he was far from the only one there who was displaying the pictures, and despite the fact that, er, he was one of several hundred people taking part in a PEACEFUL, NON-VIOLENT show of solidarity. Harry's Place has more on Reza Moradi's plight. Don't the police have better things to do with their time? Disgraceful.

Another one bites the dust

Quick! Somebody go buy Morgan Spurlock a (low-cal organic) beer, because Supersize Me has just claimed its latest victim: the McDonalds opposite Farringdon tube station is no more! I'm not sure if this particular closure was one of the planned 25 announced late last month by the fast-food giant or whether it's in addition to that - either way, it's a sight for sore eyes. I particularly like their tactic of leaving a sign on the door saying that they've "moved" to another location nearby. Er, NO, that other branch was there all along, you're still failing. Nice try, though!

Monday, March 27, 2006

March for Free Expression

This Saturday's March for Free Expression has been hailed as a success by those who organised it, and rightly so. While attendance was comparatively small by Trafalgar Square standards (organiser Peter Risdon estimates 600 people), it was all the more impressive due to the fact that the only publicity it had received beforehand was through word-of-blog. That the internet can be a force for good was definitely in evidence.

Speakers at the event included Peter Tatchell from OutRage!, Lib Dem Evan Harris MP, and Keith Porteous Wood from the National Secular Society, but none summed up the feeling of the demonstration quite so well as broadcaster and human rights campaigner Maryam Namazie, who was the first to speak. You can read her speech in its entirety here. I quite liked this bit:

"Whilst we may all be sometimes offended by some things, it is religion and the religious that are offended all of the time. They alone seem to
have a monopoly on being offended, saying their beliefs are a no go area, and silencing all those who offend."

"It is interesting how the political Islamic movement kills, it maims, it
humiliates - with Islam as its banner - and we are not even allowed to ridicule and criticise it."

The rally was about much more than just cartoons, and its importance was made all the more obvious by the knowledge that in 30 other cities across the UK, the Muslim Action Committee was organising 'Global Civility' demonstrations that essentially served as proof of Namazie's second statement above.

Much has been made of the fact that the rally's organisers told attendees at the last minute to refrain from bringing the cartoons with them on placards in order to avoid appearing intimidating or purposefully spiteful against Muslims, with many people saying the decision undermined the whole concept of free speech and made a mockery of the demonstration. While this is a valid point, surely the decision must be seen in greater context?

The first line of defence is that the cartoons have already been broadcast, repeatedly, over a wide range of media. Their message has already been transmitted, the point already made. The counterpoint to this is that true freedom of expression implies the right to show the cartoons again and again, as and when people choose. This is also true. However, given the negative publicity that had threatened to overshadow the march (the demo was accused of being anti-Muslim, there was talk of the BNP showing up, etc), broadcasting images of angry white people brandishing huge pictures that are infamous for having alienated and offended a group of people would have been grossly counterproductive.

The issue here isn't about not being allowed to show the cartoons - I saw many people at the rally who had printouts of the drawings taped to Danish flags - it's about not rubbing salt on the wound. Of course people had the right to turn up with a picture of Mohammad with a bomb on his head; it's their right, many excercised it, and good on them. But showing up en masse with huge posters of the cartoons and waving them in everybody's face, to me, seems more to do with triumphant "I'm 18 and I'll do what I want"-style tribalism than rational debate and enlightened behaviour. Which is what the protest was meant to be about... right?

* * * * *

On a lighter note, here are EC1 Cruise Control's picks for...

Best posters: "Stop Toonophobia (Please don't behead me!)"

and "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy!"

Best moment: Maryam Namazie urging people in the crowd to pass a particular banner from person to person after its original owner was taken aside by police for reportedly causing someone offence. "They cannot arrest all of us!" she bellowed, passionately putting theory into practice.


'Comedy terrorist' Aaron Barschak, dressed as a bizarre cross between a bullfighter and an Orthodox priest, interrupting the speaker from the Freedom Association by waving a red flag and shouting "Stop the bull of terrorism!"

Friday, March 24, 2006


After a week of consuming nothing but salmon, mackerel and three-bean stew as sources of protein, I am extremely annoyed to find out that oily fish rich in Omega-3 have apparently got none of the bountiful health-preserving benefits that scientists have ascribed to them for decades. None!

I normally don't write about this kind of thing, but I'm just a little ticked off after the past month, which has seen me move in with a vegetarian flatmate who immediately chastised my 'overeating' of meat (one lamb supper, one chicken, in the space of a week), informing me that I could get cancer if I continued in the same vein. Of course, being a spineless sheep, I didn't tell her to mind her own business, but instead agreed to cut down on meat and focus more on fish and "pulses" (yuck); a dastardly combination that can play havoc with the innards of the unsuspecting newcomer.

Well no more, dammit! Tonight I fully intend to consume the bloodiest, meatiest thing I can find at the local Tesco's, and not feel guilty about it even for a second. I might even buy some of that Danish bacon that's become so fashionable with right-on free-speech advocates everywhere. Support free speech! March on Trafalgar Square! There you are, see: still a nice person even though I eat dead animals. :)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

ETA Ceasefire

I'm all in favour of a permanent ETA ceasefire, and look forward to seeing an achievement of Basque nationalist goals through strictly non-violent means. But when the declaration of peace is coming from people in get-ups like these...

...can you blame the Spanish for being a wee bit sceptical?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A sudden case of religious sensitivity

Isaac Hayes has quit South Park after nine years as the voice of randy "Chef". The decision was made in reaction to a recent episode (in which Hayes did not take part) that poked fun at Scientology, of which Hayes is a staunch supporter. See here for an investigative piece on Scientology courtesy of New Humanist, but as for Hayes' decision, I think that South Park co-creator Matt Stone sums it up best: "In 10 years and over 150 episodes of South Park, Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslims, Mormons or Jews. He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show."

So farewell then, Res Publica

Anyone with the slightest bit of interest in following developments in the north of Ireland should head over to Res Publica at http://phoblacht.blogspot.com and make your case for its author, Deaglan, to keep it up on a regular basis, and NOT, as he is currently threatening, to abandon it and remove it from the web completely.

The Northern Ireland conflict is one of the areas where by and large, the British media tend to fall flat on their faces. I suppose that's understandable to a certain extent, given the complexity of the situation, but with a few notable exceptions (take a bow, Angelique Chrisafis), any in-depth analysis and comment on what's going on can be frustratingly difficult to come by, for those of us living outside of the six counties themselves.

The blogosphere has started to change this, with the likes of Slugger O'Toole opening up a much-needed forum for public debate. Res Publica, started just under a year ago on Saint Patrick's Day, quickly gained its own readership and provoked heated debates on anything from Ulster-Scots to dodgy Dublin hurling tactics (and yes, the occasional political piece as well). Newton Emerson of The Portadown News referred to the author of RP as "Northern Ireland's only reasonable republican", an accolade that soon became the blog's unofficial slogan.

Deep down, I'm pretty sure that RP won't be back any time soon. Being of the "better to burn out than fade away" school of thought, Deaglan likely feels that the blog has run its course. A shame, I think, as his recent move back to the north would have given a fresh new angle to future postings. If you think so too, let him know. Many of you already have.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Do gin and codeine mix?

Am in the mood to get seriously f____d tonight, but as cocktail happy hour beckons, I'm not sure whether the painkillers I've been taking today will have an unwanted effect. I'm thinking what the hell. What are you thinking?

English Devolution?

The recent parliamentary skirmish over whether England-only legislation should be voted through by English MPs alone has brought a surprisingly new dimension to the devolution debate, and raises interesting questions on English identity.

As it stands now, most if not all legislation uniquely concerning Scotland or Wales is debated and passed exclusively via the Scottish Parliament or National Assembly for Wales, respectively. However, Scottish and Welsh MPs at Westminster still retain the right to vote through bills that will only affect people living in England. There is now a group which wants to create a separate English Parliament, and a growing number of MPs are apparently now in favour. Not so Lord Falconer, however, who has rejected the idea out of hand.

I am far from an expert on the subject, and I find myself wishing now that I had paid more attention in Structure of Government during the halcyon days of City University. But given the history of English warfare and pillaging and interference in Scotland, Wales and Ireland over the past 800 years or so, my first reaction is to say, Suck it up, people. You have to be able to take what you dish out. This what a truly "united" kingdom is meant to be like, after all. But of course, the devolution reforms of the 1990s have thankfully changed all that. As such, should the progressive devolutionary stance be at the very least to allow English MPs to be the ones who decide what's best for England? Even if the English make up some 80% of the UK, thereby making largely redundant the need for the same protection afforded to Scotland and Wales via their independent parliaments?

And isn't it a bit rich to be talking of English devolution when another - often ignored - part of the UK has been making a far more pressing case for a devolved government for the past 30 years?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

IWD - who knew?

It's International Women's Day today - although you'd never know it from the dearth of coverage in the mainstream British press (the Independent, as always, being a notable exception) and indeed, across much of the blogosphere. Even Google, if only in simple marketing terms, seems to have abandoned its policy of jazzing up its logo to reflect important dates and holidays when it comes to IWD, despite having done it last year.

As Hak Mao pointed out a few days ago, however, the Worker-Communist Party of Iran (WPI) has organised a march today from 12 to 2 outside Parliament Square, promoting "getting rid of the Islamic veil and smashing the rules of sexual apartheid" in Iran. While I'm growing a bit jaded as to what these marches actually achieve, the cause itself is extremely important, especially with the intensifying international focus on Iran at the moment, so the more solidarity shown the better.

Here in the UK, it has been found that women in full-time employment earn 17% less than men on average, while those with part-time jobs earn an average of 42% less than their male counterparts. I am not an expert on the subject, but I would hazard a guess that this is more to do with how high up the corporate ladder most women can get, with many stuck in low-paying sectors like retail, manufacturing or cleaning. I just found out yesterday that my downstairs neighbour from Poland is being paid the pitiful sum of £3.50 an hour for her drudgery, which has resulted in the number of people living in that one-bedroom flat increasing to at least five in order to help pay the rent. But with the proportion of women acting as CEOs of corporations in the EU currently in the low single-digits, she's hardly the only one to suffer such unsympathetic treatment at the hands of her employer.

It is frustrating to think that any concrete work on tackling this issue is likely to be delayed and overlooked in the face of the current media furore surrounding Tessa Jowell, who had been appointed to champion an action plan.