For generations, one issue has united countries across the Muslim world: Palestinian Liberation. But as Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US find a shared priority in battling Iran, the Gulf is losing interest – and Palestinians are left out the in the cold, with nowhere to turn but Tehran.
Kat Heathcote is not a nationalist. In fact, she’s not even Scottish – she’s a Labour-voting Welsh woman whose publishing business exports mainly to Singapore. But in Thursday’s referendum, she’s voting yes.
“Directly, it doesn’t affect my business,” she says, “[but] a country that has 60% of Europe’s oil and 20% of the world’s fish stocks should be a wealthy and successful country.”
Ariane Sherine’s article in Tuesday’s Guardian, Why I Ditched God for Good was a clear, open call to action: whether you’re an atheist or a believer of any faith, what matters most is that you are kind.
So far, so uncontroversial. But, with such a provocative title, it is perhaps unsurprising that her message was rapidly quagmired in religious debate. 819 comments were posted in the article’s first six hours online, the most incendiary of which questioned the motivations of kindness in a godless world. Continue reading →
You only have to skim through a few choice passages of Beowulf, Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, or Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde to discover that the Medieval woman was a salacious beast. Lustful, insatiable and morally incontinent, she frequently needed to be locked up for her own good, and for the good of the bewildered, pure -hearted men she made her victims.
At least, that’s how the theory went. And for a long time, went unchallenged, because women’s ineptitude for all things ethical and intellectual meant that they were rarely consulted on this near panliterary condemnation of their carnal desires. Then came the Enlightenment and, for the first time, female writers began not only to find their way to an audience but to make the incendiary suggestion that, actually, they were frequently on the receiving end of uninvited molestation – and that men as a whole were rather more sex-obsessed than anyone could previously have imagined.
From here, it took an astonishingly small leap for the Victorians to conclude that male sexual appetite was normal and natural, whilst women’s inherent passivity made a penchant for anything other than chastity an abomination. Now, ‘decent’ women still had to be locked up, not because they were dangerous, but because they were soft and fragile and needed to be protected from corruption by all those predatory, but nonetheless healthy and virile men. Men that were now justified in turning in their droves to a burgeoning prostitute underclass in order to satisfy that same outpouring of healthy virility. Patriarchy had never been so fun.
So argued Faramerz Dabhoiwala last night at LSE, introducing his ambitiously sweeping history of sexual attitudes in the British Isles: The Origins of Sex. According to Dabhoiwala, a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, he began thinking about writing the book in the late ‘80s, and the result – a surprisingly slender, but closely packed volume – is the culmination of more than 20 years of research and investigation. Whether this research has been of a purely academic nature, one can only speculate. Dabhoiwala, after all, grew up in Amsterdam.
There is something about witnessing an esteemed fellow of the Royal Historical Society talking for two hours about sex that transforms a roomful of seemingly sensible adults into a mass of sniggering schoolchildren. Perhaps anticipating this, Dabhoiwala’s lecture steered clear of rigorous analysis, instead giving an anecdotal account of 16th century sentences for ‘illicit’ sex (whipping, banishment and occasionally death) and then, with evident relish, tales of the Enlightenment: celebrity scandals, sexed-up memoirs, pornographic snuff boxes and media-savvy courtesans whose breathtakingly tactical self-interest make Kim Kardashian’s exploits look like old hat.
Whilst the result made for an interesting evening, it also felt lacking in real depth or insight, belying the serious scholarship behind Dabhoiwala’s work. Presumably, this was because the author would rather we bought his book (which was on sale at the event), but was nonetheless frustrating in the context of a self-contained lecture. There was little analysis of how the ‘first sexual revolution’ related to wider social or cultural changes; aspects such as the influence of travel, trade and empire, medical and psychiatric study and the role of classical texts in the debate on sex were briefly touched on in the final questions but not explored.
Nonetheless, Dabhiowala is a charming and witty speaker, and I suspect his book (which I now intend to read) will make for a fascinating overview of the past half millennium of sexual politics. Appreciating the origins and history of our sexual beliefs is, of course, essential to understanding contemporary cultural views on sex, gender and identity – and, crucially, the fluidity and manipulation of these beliefs. Moreover, the book has already sparked comparisons between Britain’s dark history of sexual repression and similar practices that continue elsewhere. With any luck, this will contribute to ongoing debate over the necessary conditions for increased liberation and equality around the world.
 Incidentally, ‘old hat’ is listed in a 1785 dictionary as meaning ‘a woman’s privities: because frequently felt’.
 This, however, was largely the fault of the audience, who had by this stage lowered expectations with an overwhelmingly banal line of questioning, centred almost exclusively around revealing their pornographic preferences and vomiting up the name of Michel Foucault over and over again for the sole purpose of telling everyone what bona fide intellectuals they were for knowing how to pronounce ‘Foucault’.
Channel 4’s shockingly biased documentary and the collapse of the News of the World amount to the same thing: the shameless moral arrogance of a self-serving media machine.
In 2009, after nearly three decades of conflict, the Sri Lankan civil war was brought to an end. There has been intense speculation as to what took place in those final months, with both the Sri Lankan government and the insurgent LTTE accused of war crimes by the international community. To make matters worse, Sri Lanka’s prevention of overseas journalists from entering the war zone and ongoing suspicion of the Western Media means that there are no independent accounts of the these events.
This, as multitudes of journalists have been keen to point out, does not exactly help the Sri Lankan government when it claims adamantly that it has nothing to hide. However, making an extraordinary bad PR move is not the same as being automatically guilty of all crimes levied or invented, as Channel 4’s documentary Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, aired on the 14th June, would have us believe.
Armed with the unexamined testament of a handful of unidentified people claiming to be witnesses and some deeply distressing but largely unattributed (and in some cases doctored) footage, Channel 4 declared that they had absolute and unequivocal proof that the Sri Lankan government had launched a full blown genocide upon the Tamil population in the LTTE occupied North and East of the country.
No explanation was offered as to how this footage came to be in the hands of the producers. No attempt was made to incorporate the accounts of Sri Lankan army or government representatives, or even civilians who may have had a slightly different take on events. Allegations sourced through hearsay about government policy were recycled without bothering to provide sources, evidence or any attempt at analysis; facts were instead replaced with highly emotive but largely irrelevant horror stories about botched operations on children in refugee camps and lingering, voyeuristic images of naked female corpses. Bizarrely, for a programme seeking to ‘expose the truth’, the documentary also heavily insinuated that President Rajapaksa is an autocratic dictator, when in fact his democratically elected leadership of the country has never been contested.
As investigative journalism by the BBC and Al Jazeera, has shown, it is likely that the combined actions of the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE brought about a far greater number of civilian deaths than has so far been admitted. It has also been revealed that, having initially denied bombing in ‘no-fire zone’, the army has now conceded that it did shell within this area, leading to damage to a Red Cross Hospital and resulting deaths, on the grounds that the LTTE was deliberately firing from, and keeping heavy artillery in, this location. Tamil witnesses have reported that shelling came from both sides, leaving them trapped in the firing line, whilst the UN has concluded that at various stages during the war the LTTE deliberately used Tamil civilians as a ‘human shield’.
The acts of the LTTE do not excuse those of the Sri Lankan government, but they do substantially change any attempts to get to the truth of the matter. It is very possible that the Sri Lankan army pursued its course with excessive aggression at the cost of innocent lives. If this is the case, it must, of course be investigated. However, labeling insufficient regard – even criminally insufficient regard – for human collateral as conscious race-related genocide is incredibly dangerous, sensationalist, self-serving behaviour. It may boost ratings, but it does so by manipulating and misleading viewers and, far more importantly, it validates Sri Lanka’s apprehension of Western intervention and threatens rehabilitation efforts in Sri Lanka by reigniting the race hatred, resentment and distrust which inspired the terrorist organization LTTE and brought about the war in the first place.
Moreover, despite calling for a full investigation into the videos it displays on the programme, despite repeated requests and evidence to suggest that the perpetrators could, in fact, have been the LTTE, Channel 4 has so far refused to hand over copies to either the Sri Lankan government or the United Nations. In short, it attempts to take the moral high ground by parasitically propagandizing the troubles of a war torn nation for its own commercial ends, whilst ultimately risking the safety of the very victims it claims to champion. This, it is suffice to say, is hardly responsible, honest journalism.
Of course, Channel 4’s self-interested ‘moral outrage’ is only the tip of the iceberg. Over the past week, the British public’s faith in the integrity of the press has been shaken to an unprecedented degree. Accusations of telephone hacking and bribery, which were widely and repeatedly dismissed by the police force, the press and the government (notably Mayor Boris Johnson, who called this “codswallop”) have not only resurfaced, but have been shown to be far more extensive, and far more sinister, than even the whistleblowers themselves had thought possible.
The result, a spate of arrests and the sudden closure of the News of the World, one of the UK’s longest running and most influential newspapers, stunned the nation. More importantly, a gulf is rapidly forming between popular fury and the reluctance of many politicians, the Prime Minister included, to investigate the accused.
Cameron’s “friendships” with Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson have been well documented, as has the reverence shown to Rupert Murdoch, not only by Cameron but by predecessors such as Tony Blair. However, it is only now that the full extent of his hold over UK politics has been revealed. Despite admitting bribing police, Rebekah Brooks reportedly told senior officials that if they proceeded with her arrest, their private lives would be publicly torn to shreds. In a Newsnight interview on the 8th June, the day after the closure of News of the World was announced, Labour politician Harriet Harman claimed that the last government cowed to the “menacing presence” of the Murdoch empire, altering its own stance and permitting illegal activity to continue, because it was afraid of its power to control public opinion. Meanwhile, on the same programme, NOtW journalist Paul McMullan maintained that those in the public eye, whether consensually or otherwise are not entitled to any degree of privacy – even that guaranteed by law – and that regularly breaking the law in order to gain a scoop on anything that ‘the media’ decides is newsworthy is entirely fair game, and represents a free press. If people have ‘nothing to hide’ he claimed, with breathtaking KGB-style reductionism, they would not mind being spied upon.
Cameron’s refusal to condemn the role of Brooks, Coulson and, crucially, Murdoch, despite this furore and the criminal behaviour that has been repeatedly admitted to, indicates that fear of the media giant still resonates, even in the most powerful circles.
And, of course, it is not just in the UK that Murdoch holds sway. News Corporation has succeeded in building a global empire of ‘thought leadership’ channels spanning print and television in some of the most powerful nations in the world. An empire which has grown, unchecked, because – ironically – those in a position to challenge this blatant monopolisation of opinion and self-serving news are too frightened that they might become the next victim of Murdoch propaganda, should they intervene.
Revelations of government-media power imbalance and effects on the democratic process and – crucially – the way this is used to control and further business interests has bewildered a public that that proved overwhelmingly credulous when faced with a media machine claiming to be acting in its interests. With influential media figures such as Jon Gaunt still pushing for a more lackadaisical approach to TV regulations that will, he expressly states, allow openly party-biased news reporting (i.e. state-sponsored propaganda) to flourish, it is more important than ever that we as a nation learn to read between the lines, and to question the truth, the motives and the methods behind the journalism we allow to influence, and to inspire, our politics.
Last night I discovered a UKIP “Political Communication” in my kitchen. I do not know how this traumatizing incident came about; presumably the leaflet had been inadvertently intercepted on its journey from letterbox to recycling bin. After initially dropping it faster than an anthrax-saturated hot potato, I found myself seized by the desire to tear it into tiny little pieces, and to send those tiny little pieces back to the lamentable individual who had seen fit to post them to me in the first place. Which, having succeeded in salvaging the relevant address from the remaining scraps, I have now done.
The following is a transcript of the accompanying letter, sent off this afternoon with considerable glee:
Dear Mr. Micklethwait,
I write to confirm receipt of your “political communication”, which I am returning to you, enclosed. I had initially supposed that this would be sufficient to illustrate my feelings towards your party, but it now occurs to me that, given your membership of UKIP, further clarification may be required.
Firstly, as a rational and reasonably intelligent human being, I intend to reserve my vote for a party with the collective mental capacity to (1) comprehend basic environmental concepts, particularly rergarding climate change, and (2) think up a few half-useful policies that are rooted in something other than regressive, xenophobic paranoia.
Secondly, the fact of my having been born in Britain really is little more than geographical fact and a lucky accident – hardly something to base an entire sociopolitical ideology on. One of nicer things about living in this country is that a person’s right to think, act and develop along their own lines is (largely) legally enshrined rather than sidelined in favour of a contrived, idealised monoculture hacked out of nostalgia and senseless nationalism.
Moreover, being from a family whose members include indivduals of New Zealand, Jamaican, Indonesian, Trinidadian, Grenadan and Irish descent, I find your racist, blinkered and frankly pathetic analysis of what is “British” enough to be valuable not only prescriptive but insulting. I recommend that you get out of Surrey, and find a real job. Preferably, one which does not involve wasting public money on whingeing about the millions of British citizens who do not consider a roast potato to represent the dizzy heights of man’s achievement. Perhaps then you will begin to understand what a sad, silly little party you insist upon championing – although I strongly suspect you lack the intellectual rigour for such self-critique.
In the meantime, please refrain from distributing any more of your vile and unwelcome material to my family’s door.
Well, now I feel better. If anyone else feels the urge to forward their views (or, indeed, bodily excretions) to Mr. Micklethwait, his address is: UK Independence Party, Runnymede Weybridge and Spelthorne Branch, Hamilton House, Lyne, Surrey KT16 0AN.
Now I just have to decide who I am going to vote for…