Rumy Hasan's blog posts

Tower Hamlets and the Dangers of Communal Politics‏

Nov

17

Last week, the accountancy firm PwC, in its audit of Tower Hamlets Council and its Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, catalogued very serious failings. The case sheds light on a troubling phenomenon: communal politics. We are well aware of the divisive, sectarian politics of Northern Ireland where voting on the basis of religious identity is the accepted norm and no mainstream party wishes to see it replicated in mainland Britain. However, with the embedding in of multiculturalism and its variant multifaithism, communal, sectarian politics are also becoming prevalent in many towns and cities with significant religious-ethnic minority communities. In other words, many candidates now seek votes from those of, and people vote on the basis of, their religion, ethnicity, and country of origin, rather than on political ideology.

This is precisely what has come to pass in Tower Hamlets. The bedrock of Mayor Lutfur Rahman's support comes from his fellow Muslim Bangladeshis who comprise about a third of the population of Tower Hamlets but about two-thirds of those who turned out to vote in the mayoral election were from his own Bangladeshi community, resulting in his victory. In accordance with the communal nature of his politics, all members of his cabinet have also been Bangladeshis. What he proceeded to do is a classic case of what Americans term 'pork barrel politics' where government funds are allocated to certain favoured sections of society in exchange for political support; which means that unfavoured groups lose out. It is a form of political corruption.

BBC Panorama's investigation (confirmed by the PwC audit) showed that council officers had proposed that Bangladeshi and Somali (likewise Sunni Muslim) groups receive £1.5m but its review of 362 grants approved by the mayor found that he increased funding to these groups by nearly two-and-a-half times - to £3.6m. The additional £2.1m came from the council's reserves in combination with a 25 per cent reduction in grants to other organisations; a clear instance of communal, pork barrel politics. It transpires that £3m was granted for 'faith heritage', mostly to mosques. Whereas the previous Labour administration funded religious groups for social services - itself problematic - Mr Rahman makes no such demands. A grave consequence of such communal politics is that non-religious groups that cater for all sections of the borough are starved of funds or crowded out. This is quite contrary to the goal of achieving 'One Tower Hamlets', Mayor Rahman's slogan.

Lutfur Rahman's is indeed an egregious case but the phenomenon of pork barrel politics afflicts the major parties also. The embrace of 'multiculturalism' launched a divisive dynamic, particularly in local communities, whereby many urban councils began to channel funds and resources to various ethnic, national and, more recently, faith communities in return for votes. A by-product of this is the accentuation of tensions between different communities who increasingly identify themselves in terms of faith. Indeed both the present and previous governments have recognised communal strains, and all are agreed on the importance of 'community cohesion' yet they have increasingly allocated funds to various 'faith communities'; a natural corollary given their belief that Britain is a multi-faith society. But, by so doing, they are adding to the problem of 'divisive community politics' highlighted by Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, with respect to Tower Hamlets.

Given the rising proportion of religious-ethnic minorities, and the high levels of segregation along communal lines in neighbourhoods of many towns and cities, the results of many parliamentary seats are now determined by the communal vote. There is, then, naturally the temptation on the part of the major political parties to appeal to groups on the basis of their ethnicity or religion. But this would be a grave mistake as it would pull the country even more down the spiral of communal politics and against the goal of social cohesion.

The 'Trojan Horse' plot in Birmingham - where a number of schools have been targeted for takeover by Islamic extremists - is yet another instance of the problems now arsing. But is this really surprising given the governments' stress of Britain being a multifaith society (with the imprimatur of a Minister for Faith and Communities) and its green light to more faith schools, and religious free schools? The very same Eric Pickles who is rightly concerned by divisive community politics in Tower Hamlets supports these deeply divisive and damaging schools and, moreover, continuously rails against secularism, the one principle that can forge together commonalities among disparate groups. As one Bangladeshi ex-Labour councillor Helal Rahman in the Panorama programme correctly stated, rather than uniting, faith divides people; especially so where identities based on faith trump all others.

This is a lesson that Mr Pickles and his government, as well as the opposition, needs to grasp with alacrity and start to work together to undo the harm that has already been done. Otherwise, we can expect communal, pork barrel politics to increasingly become the norm and so more of the likes of Luftur Rahman running councils and unwelcome Trojan Horses appearing in schools and elsewhere.

First published in Huffington Post on 17th November 2014

Political correctness and child sexual exploitation

Nov

11

The just published report on child sexual exploitation in Rochdale, Greater Manchester by Ann Coffey MP follows a similar report by Prof Alexis Jay about the Yorkshire town of Rotherham, released in August.  It carries more accounts of teenage girls describing how they had been abused, and how the police had ignored their pleas for protection. Between January and September this year, Ms. Coffey's report reveals, Manchester police had compiled 9,789 reports on "missing children", of which 4,520 concerned "children looked after by the local authority". The 'grooming' of girls that leads to child sexual exploitation appears to be widespread as evidenced by cases in recent years in other towns and cities, for example, Derby, Oldham, Oxford, Telford, and Peterborough.

So why has there been such a monumental dereliction of duty on the part of the authorities?

The evidence shows three recurring themes: that the perpetrators are overwhelmingly men from a Pakistani Muslim background; that the victims are overwhelmingly vulnerable white girls (invariably under-16 years of age); and that the authorities had adopted the stance of 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil'. Even though thousands of girls have been identified as victims, this might still be the tip of the iceberg. Indeed Ms Coffey considers this appalling phenomenon to have become a 'social norm' in Greater Manchester.

A report on child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was submitted as far back as 2002 yet no action was taken. The 2014 Jay report states: 'Had this [2002 draft] report been treated with the seriousness it merited at the time by both the police and the council, the children involved then and later would have been better protected and abusers brought to justice.'

Critics put this inaction by the various authorities down to 'political correctness', that is, the fear of the charge of racism. The former Labour MP for Rotherham Denis McShane admitted as much in an interview on BBC Radio in August 2014. He said: 'I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat…. Perhaps yes, as a true Guardian reader and liberal leftie, I suppose I didn't want to raise that [issue] too hard'. Mr. McShane's comments are a classic case of the 'political correctness' and self-censorship that may have led the authorities to criminal neglect. Now imagine if the perpetrators had been white men and the victims Pakistani Muslim girls. Make no mistake there would have been a vociferous outcry from across the political spectrum with the charge that these horrific crimes were a blatant manifestation of racism and Islamophobia.

So what explains this political correctness and the resultant gross dereliction of duty? I would argue that it has much to do with 'white liberal post-colonial guilt' that has long afflicted wide layers of the majority white-British society. It is political thinking from the 1970s and 1980s and stems from the fact that many non-white migrants were from former colonies and were often subjected to racism and discrimination. Accordingly, they needed solidarity and protection. This led to the evolution of a form of 'reverse racism', that is to say, an attitude of closing one's eyes to criminal acts and wrongdoings by ethnic minorities. In other words, non-whites are forever treated as perpetual victims. Silence or apologetics are offered in their support. And, for their part, ethnic minorities have become adept at playing this new version of the 'race card'. For instance, Islamic organisations such as Tell MAMA robustly argue that dwelling on Muslim involvement in phenomena such as child sexual exploitation, the murder of the soldier Lee Rigby on the streets of London, and the barbarism of Islamic State, is adding to 'Islamophobia' and racism, and aiding the far right. Though evidence for this is dubious at best, the message is clear: cast a blind eye as to what our people do, don't criticise, and 'don't rock the multicultural community boat'.

It is this reasoning that leads to the silence on the part of self-styled progressives and feminists with respect to other nefarious phenomena that are peculiar to some ethnic minorities. They include forced marriage, honour killings, the veiling of women, and (until recently) female genital mutilation. Indeed, when Ann Cryer, the former MP for Bradford and Keighley, began to raise the issue of forced marriage in British-Asian communities in 1999, she was denounced as a racist. But if there is widespread silence and self-censorship over such phenomena, then don't be surprised that they carry on. What we now have with the child sexual exploitation scandals is a case of the 'chickens coming home to roost'.

Britain's political parties, keen to maintain their support among the growing Asian Muslim communities have a history of accommodating the demands made by its 'leaders', and indeed of leaders of other ethnic minority communities. The blunt truth is that they do not wish risking the loss of this substantial vote bank. However, this is not an excuse for the dereliction of duty by the social workers and police. An important lesson is surely that if the horrors of Rotherham and Rochdale are not to recur, these institutions charged with protecting the vulnerable should be guided by the law and compassion, not wrongly understood "political correctness".

First published in Sputnik.com 11th November

Britain Now Has a Four-Party System: Explaining UKIP's Appeal

Oct

15

There is little doubt that Britain now has a 4 party political system as UKIP continues to notch up electoral successes. It topped the polls in the May elections for the EU parliament and has just won its first elected parliamentary seat in the Clacton by-election on Thursday; and narrowly came second behind Labour in the by-election held in Heywood and Middleton. Both the Conservative and Labour parties are rightly fearful of its threat in next May's general election. For a number of years, polls show that immigration (along with the economy) is the issue that concerns voters most. This is a fact that even Labour is now coming to terms with as it recognises that UKIP's clarion call for a firm control of immigration is chiming in well with a very significant percentage of its core voters, and is the key reason for its rising popularity.

UKIP reminds one of someone with a clear sense of direction but prone to periodic crashes along the way. It is clear that those who are voting for the party are none too concerned about the accident-prone nature of many of its members but find the direction they are heading very appealing. In coming to terms with UKIP's rise, the political establishment has to recognise that it has not properly considered the concerns of the indigenous white working class British population, including the often sudden change to their communities and neighbourhoods from a rapid influx of migrants. As Gordon Brown acknowledged in 2010 and Ed Miliband last week, such legitimate concerns cannot be simply caste off as those of racists and bigots. This contrasts with the considerable recognition and accommodation of the culture and religion of ethnic minority groups which are, in many respects, very different to those obtaining in a largely secular Europe. I would argue that it is this neglected but stark reality that lies at the heart of UKIP's appeal.

There is some evidence for this view in research conducted in 2010 by ICM Research for the Equality and Human Rights Council: Understanding the Rise of the Far Right: Focus Group Results. The aim of this research was to identify the reasons for the rise in support of far right groups in three localities (Blackburn and Darwen in Lancashire; and in North West Leicestershire) all with high levels of deprivation, high unemployment, and few life chances. The focus group survey found three 'threats' to the lives of respondents: economic decline and migrant workers taking what they saw as "British" jobs; the disintegration and segregation of communities that were previously ethnically mixed; and white British people reportedly receiving a raw deal in the provision of jobs and services. The report highlighted that 'There is the perceived failure of the main political parties to represent white British social and economic interests, or even to speak in defence of the British way of life. Some think that the Labour party has deserted its working class roots; others that the main parties never really represented them in the first place. In the resulting vacuum, they are looking for a political alternative'. Thankfully, the far right alternative that was on offer in previous years, the British National Party, has now pretty much imploded but the desire for a political alternative that addresses these concerns, remains. Into this political vacuum has entered UKIP.

The reference to the 'erosion of church' as a cause of concern to ordinary people is odd given the precipitous decline in the espousing and practising of Christian belief and concomitant decline in church attendance. One explanation may be that whereas the church was important to previous generations, and gave a sense of community, the fact that this is no longer the case contrasts with ethnic minority settlers for whom religion is of immense importance to their sense of self-identity. An increasingly secular white population therefore finds this discomfiting and acknowledges that identities powerfully based on religion can be a driver of separation and self-segregation. Accordingly, in reaction to this, there appears to be an assertion of Christian cultural identity without adherence to the beliefs and rituals.
It is striking that UKIP's support in London is generally much less than elsewhere. But this ought not to be too surprising given that the white British population of London fell from 58 per cent in 2001 to 45 per cent in 2011. So whilst there was an influx of non-white settlers into the capital city, there was also 'white flight' as 620,000 white Londoners left the city; the sorts of people who are now UKIP supporters.

The sense of unease in this societal shift is provided by David Goodhart in his book The British Dream. He gives an example of the London suburb of Merton which has, in recent years, become 'super diverse', that is, attracted an array of sizeable migrant communities from around the world, including that of Ahmadi Muslims. The latter group, after a long battle over planning permission, has built a large mosque; in similar vein, a large traditional pub has been replaced by a Sunni Islamic centre. Goodhart points out that 'the Ahmadis are model immigrants in many ways. They preach an ecumenical form of Islam and are grateful to be given refuge in this country. But to many locals that's not the point. As one man described as White Heritage Elder Male in the jargon of race relations said: "We've lost this place to other cultures ... it's not English anymore"'. This is something Nigel Farage honed in on in his speech at the UKIP spring conference on 28th February when he argued that migration has made parts of the UK 'unrecognisable'.

In light of UKIP's success, attention must turn with much vigour on the part of national and local governments to the task of integrating well the large numbers of immigrants who have settled in the country. If this is done properly, there is every reason to hope that the issue of immigration, which now elicits so much concern across classes and ethnicities, will subside in importance to the levels obtaining in the early 1990s, and Britain will be the better for it.

First published in Huffington Post on 15th October 2014

Sectarianism and Other Concerns over Scottish Independence‏

Sep

16

As someone part of whose upbringing was in Scotland, I have kept a keen eye on the issues surrounding the independence referendum, much more so than the southern folk among whom I live. Part of my schooling was in a state primary school in Lanarkshire (quite near Glasgow) geared for Protestant children - there was a school for Catholic children not too far away. When I asked my father why all my classmates supported Rangers Football Club, and were most hostile to Celtic, their great rivals in Glasgow, he simply told me that this was because Rangers was the club for Protestants whilst Celtic was supported by Catholics.

Even though I hailed from a Sunni Muslim background with its condescending attitude towards the Shia and other smaller sects, this was my first encounter with sectarianism and I did not like it. Wind the clock forward to the present day and I do worry whether in an independent Scotland sectarianism might be intensified. Whilst it is true that its origins lie in Northern Ireland (a reminder of this was the march by Unionists in Edinburgh last Saturday) Scotland has not managed to root this ill out completely - even though, just as in the rest of Britain, the role of religion for most people is rapidly fading. Yet the Scottish government, like its Westminster counterpart, still accords privileges to religions, especially in education, thereby retaining a fertile ground for sectarian tensions. This profoundly important issue has been neglected in the Referendum campaign by both sides but remains an elephant in the room. Unintended and unexpected consequences can follow major changes.

When our family moved to England, we felt that we had changed home within the same country, moving across the borderless border: there were no cultural, linguistic and climatic shocks, just a change in the accents of the local people; though it became tiresome when Lanarkshire was constantly being confused with Lancashire! Bearing this in mind, I wonder if the push for independence is not a case of what Freud termed 'the narcissism of small differences'. This would certainly be the view of many people around the world for whom the key impact of the peoples of this small island is summed up in three words: 'The British Empire'. For the colonised, it made not the slightest difference whether the colonial master was from Aberdeen, Birmingham, or Cardiff. And few would dispute that a union now over 300 years old has not only been one of the oldest but also one of the most successful in history.

Of course, supporters of the 'Yes' campaign would point out to examples where the differences are anything but small, such as no prescription charges, much lower student tuition fees, and much less private sector involvement in the NHS in Scotland; and these are indeed crucial reasons as to why they may well win. The SNP, often derided as the 'Tartan Tories' in the past, has adhered to social democratic policies with admirable conviction leading to a public school-educated octogenarian friend of mine to quip that East Sussex should also join up in a devolved or independent Scotland; the moral of which is that differences which have arisen post-devolution are not desired by a good many people even in the relatively prosperous South East of England.

Whilst an independent Scotland will resolve the 'West Lothian question', by removing the social-democratically minded Labour and Lib Dem MPs from Westminster, it also increases the likelihood of an entrenched Tory majority which cements the differences. Even though this potential political fall-out has been discussed in the media, it seems that, as yet, people south of the border have not given it much thought. Not that they can do much about it given that the vote in the referendum does not extend to them.

The same thinking applies to illegal wars of aggression: Alex Salmond leader has consistently railed against the war-mongers in Westminster to great effect. The late, marvellous novelist, Iain Banks had argued that he 'would vote for independence purely never to be part of any more unnecessary illegal, immoral wars'. On the face of it, a most principled stance. But the wars launched by the Blair government against Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 were supported by key Scottish members of his cabinet including Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and John Reid and, lest one forgets, Blair himself has strong Scottish connections. So the wars were about politics, not 'Scottishness' versus 'Englishness' or 'Britishness'. Moreover, to his credit, another Scot, Robin Cook, resigned from the cabinet after the vote for war against Iraq was passed. Cook would doubtless have been a leading light in the 'Better Together' camp and attempted to convince the likes of Iain Banks that his reasoning was rather too emotional and not based on reason and facts.

It is also a shame that Banks was not alive to witness lessons being learned when parliament voted against the war on Syria a year ago. Again, remove the Labour and Lib Dem MPs from Scotland, with their anti-war proclivities, and you risk the likelihood of Westminster voting yes to future 'illegal, immoral wars'. Perhaps these reservations will not be of much concern to many in the 'Yes' camp, but as is now widely acknowledged, independence will have profound implications in all parts of the UK - some of which may well be distinctly problematic. Whilst independence almost certainly does not risk turning Scotland into another Ireland or Iceland there is, however, no denying that in many crucial respects, it will result in its weakening.

Published in Huffington Post 16th September 2014

Interview with Voice of Russia on the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham

Aug

28

Schools and the Failure of Multiculturalism and Multifaithism

Jun

17

The spat between Michael Gove and Theresa May focuses on the failure to tackle Islamic extremism in Birmingham's schools. Whether such failure can be attributed to one party or the other is, in fact, a moot point. The real problem has deeper roots: it resides in the failure of multiculturalism and multifaithism. Given that both the previous and present governments describe Britain as being a multi-faith society, it is entirely to be expected that leaders of those groups for whom their faith trumps all other indicators of identity, will seek robustly to instil the imprimatur of the values and practices of their religion. In this context, recent statements made by Prime Minister David Cameron and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles that Britain is essentially a Christian country, are most unhelpful in that they provoke many within the faith minorities to emphatically say 'no we are not', and to assert their own non-Christian faith identity with even greater vigour.

This fundamental truth has not well been understood by the political establishment. Rather, like the previous government, the present Coalition government's concern has been on tackling Islamist terrorism following 9/11 and especially since the 7th July 2005 bombings. It is precisely this thinking that led Michael Gove to appoint Peter Clark, former National Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism, to review the evidence of the Trojan Horse plot. This detracts from core of the problem of heightened faith identities that are facilitated by high levels of segregation in communities and in schools.

Indeed, concerns about segregated schooling go back decades. As far back as 1985, the Swann Report on education highlighted the dangers of 'separate schools' for ethnic minorities. Two decades later, Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, warned in 2005: 'Do we want a ghettoised education system? ... Schools play a crucial role in integrating different communities and the growth of faith schools poses a real threat to this. These things need to be thought through very carefully before they are implemented'. In a similar vein, in 2007, Commission for Racial Equality Policy Director Nick Johnson cautioned that Britain risks becoming a 'mini America' dominated by racially and religiously determined schools, and warned: 'If a Muslim child is educated in a school where the vast majority of other children are also Muslim, how can we expect him to work, live and interact with people from other cultures when he leaves school? This is a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode'. Given that practically nothing has been done to tackle the roots of the problems, that is, to tackle the very high levels of segregation and promote genuine integration, such a proverbial 'time bomb' has indeed exploded in Birmingham, and will doubtless do so in many other towns and cities.

This reasoning and warning is absolutely correct. A natural consequence of residential segregation is that schools in inner cities have also become segregated: in the 21 Birmingham schools that were inspected by Ofsted, children of Muslim parents comprise over 90 per cent. Channel 4 News reported that in one school, only one child was non Muslim; the white mother of the child thought that though a secular, state, school, it felt like a Muslim faith school. Indeed, this is precisely what has been happening: parents and governors of these schools are attempting to convert them into de facto Muslim faith schools. And here is something that has not been remarked upon: what is giving cause for concern re attempts by Islamists to take over state schools in Birmingham is precisely what has been made lawful in Free schools and faith schools. Abandoning children to such schools, which are plainly not fit for purpose for modern Europe, is nothing short of a dereliction of duty.

The rising level of segregation is not only a phenomenon of 'white flight' but also the flight of those from other religious-ethnic minorities. Polite society may not notice, but the stark reality is that Hindu and Sikh parents do not wish to send their schools where there is preponderance of Muslim children and vice versa. So what have arisen are 'mono-faith' neighbourhoods and schools. Given the enormous importance of the formative years in life, this phenomenon can have a highly significant and lasting effect on how children from different backgrounds relate to each other. Put bluntly, there is likely to be a deleterious impact on integration and cohesion from heightened levels of segregation of children and this surely does not at all augur well for the goal of a socially cohesive society. If segregation of communities is not a desirable outcome and is an obstacle to improving social cohesion, then it is certainly also true for children in schools.

Michael Gove's call that school children must be taught 'British values' is inadequate given that there is simply no agreed definition of what these values are. Rather, it is imperative that a child's accident of birth should not preclude a broad, critical, tolerant education; this must necessarily be secular. Moreover, this needs to be combined with children from minority communities mixing with others, especially with those from the majority white society. These enormously important lessons need to be learned and acted upon by both the government and the opposition.

 

First published in Huffington Post 13th June 2014

Interview on BBC Radio 4's 'Thinking Allowed' on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism‏

May

23

I come in after about 13 mins:
 
Interview with Laurie Taylor on BBC Radio 4, 21st May 2014

Trojan horse: The responsibility for the situation in Birmingham's schools lies ultimately with mistaken government policies

Apr

18

thetimes.co.uk
April 17, 2014 Thursday 12:01 AM GMT
Trojan horse;
The responsibility for the situation in Birmingham's schools lies ultimately with mistaken government policies


SECTION: LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

LENGTH: 229 words

Sir, The alleged "trojan horse" plot in Birmingham is an instance of the problems arising from Britain being a multifaith society and attendant high levels of segregation by religion across the country ("More schools are investigated over claims of Islamic takeover", Apr 15).

Claims include the segregation of girls from boys, the withdrawal of girls from sex education, PE and music lessons, the treatment of female staff and bullying of non-Muslim staff. That Mark Rogers, the city council's chief executive, seems unworried by these phenomena - because they do not demonstrate "radicalisation" - is worrying.

These phenomena are already present in faith schools, and religious free schools, such as Al Madinah Free School, Derby, and Madani High School, Leicester, (where an advert for a science teacher stated that only men need apply).

The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, stressing that "we are a Christian nation", only invites faith groups to retort "We are most definitely not". For these religious-ethnic minorities, faith is by far the most important determinant of identity, and "leaders" of these groups do everything they can to ensure their flock remains wedded to beliefs and customs of their religion and culture. So, the "trojan horses" in Birmingham schools are no surprise - they flow from misguided government policies.

 

Published in The Times 17th April 2014

‘Trojan Horses’ in Birmingham Schools should come as no surprise

Apr

16

The 'Trojan Horse' plot in Birmingham - where some 25 schools have apparently been targeted for takeover by Islamic extremists - is yet another instance of the problems now rising as a consequence of Britain supposedly being a multifaith society; a view shared by all the three main political parties. Accordingly, a green light has been given to more faith schools, religious Free Schools and academies, which are allowed to run on the basis of a religious ethos. A laissez faire approach to culture and religion has contributed to significant levels of self-segregation, isolation, and lack of integration among some religious-ethnic minorities, not least Muslims. This is highlighted by the fact the Muslim population in which these 25 schools are located is more than 90 per cent. It is worrying that it took a maverick politician such as Nigel Farage to point out the reality when he described parts of Britain as being 'unrecognisable'; a view that most of the population would agree with.

Since the 'Trojan Horse' letter came to light, some 200 reports have been received by Birmingham City Council, including claims that boys and girls are being segregated in classrooms and assemblies, pressure on girls to cover their hair, sex education being banned, the prevention of the teaching of non-Islamic faiths in religious education classes, and non-Muslim staff being bullied. Yet all this is precisely what has been happening in Free Schools such as Al Madinah in Derby (which Education Minister Lord Nash found dysfunctional) and the Madani faith school in Leicester. But none of this should be surprising: on the contrary, it is entirely to be expected that leaders of faith communities wish to impose values and practices in schools in their neighbourhoods that are in accordance with their religion. The reason for this is that the emphasis on a multifaith society facilitates the primary identity of some minorities being on the basis of their faith.

In Birmingham, and elsewhere, community leaders and parents with strong religious identities seek to 'protect' their children - especially girls - from Western secular influences which, quite frankly, they find immoral. Such protection is indeed likely to be on offer as schools in segregated communities and faith-based schools vigorously police the behaviour of pupils strictly in line with their religious doctrines and cultural mores. An inescapable outcome is the accentuation of divisions along religious lines, so that there is a plethora of 'monofaith' neighbourhoods. This is not only profoundly harmful to schoolchildren who are seen as no more than properties of their parents, but flies in the face of the stated goal of increasing integration and social cohesion.

A pointer to the dangers ahead was provided a decade ago at the Muslim Islamia School, one of the first to be granted voluntary aided status. In regard to the teaching of evolution, the school's view was 'we approach Darwinism theory [sic] in a phenomenological way. We say, 'there is a theory believed by some, that we are descended from apes. It's just one idea among many'. In regard to the teaching of other faiths, the head teacher stated 'we can practice any religion we like. We pray five times a day, we learn the Koran in the traditional manner ... One thing we never do is celebrate Christmas'. The oft-quoted quip 'schools are for teaching and not for preaching' is inverted - indeed preaching and brazen indoctrination is the order of the day - with values that are widely at variance with those obtaining in modern Europe.

The push to expand faith schools and religious free schools and academies in Britain is particularly odd for it suggests wilful neglect or disregard of the sobering example of Northern Ireland where state schools are divided on the basis of faith; as such they are sectarian in character and have long been a powerful incubator of the schism between Catholics and Protestants. An educational policy whose aim is cohesion and inclusion would take serious note of this tragic, divisive phenomenon, learn the lessons, and ensure that it is not repeated in any other part of the country. But evidence shows that the lessons have sadly not been learned.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has appointed Peter Clark to review the evidence of the Trojan Horse plot. But, as has rightfully been pointed out by key people in Birmingham, Mr Clark is the wrong candidate given his earlier role as National Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism. This highlights a key problem with government thinking: their only real concern is the potential for Islamist terrorism but little regard for the damage to schoolchildren and for community cohesion from those serious about ensuring that members of their communities rigidly adhere to their faith. Bob Jones, the elected West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, is correct to state that 'My main concern is that the Secretary of State is attempting to divert attention away from the governance and diversity issues that might be embarrassing to his policies and approach to school governance'. Indeed they should be embarrassing and it really is high time that the both the government and the opposition grasped the nettle that a firm commitment to a rounded secular education is what is needed for the benefit of children and for society at large, and act accordingly.

Published in Huffington Post 16th April 2014

Review of Deconstructing Zionism: A Critique of Political Metaphysics by Gianni Vattimo and Michael Marder (eds)

Apr

15

Whilst the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the interminable ‘peace process’ is never long out of the news, the political underpinning of Israel – the self-proclaimed ‘Jewish state’ – is rarely discussed in the mainstream media and political circles in the west. It has long been thought axiomatic, indeed plain common sense, that a homeland for global Jewry is right and proper hence obviating the need for the interrogation of the basis for such a state. This presumption is set aside in this collection of papers (of varying relevance and quality) as an array of philosophers subject the ideological basis of Israel – Zionism – to a sustained examination and critique.

In their introduction, the editors Gianni Vattimo (an MEP and philosopher at the University of Turin) and Michael Marder (a research professor of philosophy at the University of the Basque Country) make clear the aims of this book (p. xii):

At the bottom of mutually incompatible land claims simmers the desire to erase the trace of the Other, along with the traces of this very erasure. The Israeli Occupation endeavours to reduce the Palestinian trace to a pure absence, while claiming for itself the honor of strong and undisputed historical origins, the genuine (biblical) rootedness in the Land of Israel. Indeed, in the mindset of Zionism, the two things are inseparable: the presence of Jewish origins and the absence of Palestinian traces are two sides of the same counterfeit coin … Although they both work with limit concepts, deconstruction and weak thought are not satisfied with “sitting on the fence” (or, in this case, on the wall). Far from purely academic exercises, their forays are practical and political interventions, responding to the singular demands of justice. Derrida once said that deconstruction is the possibility of justice. He had in mind deconstruction’s extreme sensitivity to the context of its engagements, as much as to the subtle forms which violence can assume, for instance, in the name of universality. To deconstruct Zionism is, therefore, to demand justice for its victims – not only the Palestinians who are suffering from it, but also for the anti-Zionist Jews, “erased” from the officially consecrated account of Zionist history.

Unfortunately, the first chapter that follows the robust and stimulating introduction, by Slavoj Zizek, is confused and displays little understanding of the issues at hand. He begins with a non sequitur: a discussion of the far right Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik and his cold-blooded killing of nearly 100 people (mainly youths) in 2011 – and does not recover from this false start. There is pontification on issues such as multiculturalism, immigration, and Islamism with little understanding of these profoundly important and contentious issues in the western context. Indeed this short chapter has little to do with the subject matter at hand: the deconstruction of Zionism.

Mercifully, after Zizek’s incoherent ramblings, Gianni Vattimo returns to provide a pithy and coruscating critique. He asserts:

‘[t]he Nakba was the archetype for all Israeli politics since 1948; moreover, it was understandable given the proposal to preserve the Jewishness of the state and therefore to close off every possibility of return for the refugees and also to foreclose every demographic or social expansion of the Arab population. Doesn’t this mean that what makes Israel “unacceptable” as a state is its racist-colonialist-anti-egalitarian original sin?’

Indeed it does and there is now a plethora of incontrovertible evidence to show that Israel is not only racist-colonialist, but also, de facto, an apartheid state (the 80th session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, held in February-March 2012, found Israel in violation of the crime of apartheid in the treatment of its Palestinian citizens inside Israel by determining that many state policies within Israel violate the prohibition on apartheid as enshrined in Article 3 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination).

The longest chapter (‘Is Judaism Zionism?’) by Judith Butler helpfully utilizes the writings of Hannah Arendt on critiquing not only Zionism but the nation state, especially from the perspective of the stateless. She makes the key point that ‘Jewish history comes to bear on Palestinian history through the impositions and exploitations of a project of settler colonialism’. In various insightful quotes of Arendt’s, this is perhaps the most prophetic:

‘even if the Jews were to win the war [of 1948], its end would find the … achievements of Zionism destroyed … The “victorious” Jews would live surrounded by an entirely hostile Arab population, secluded inside ever-threatened borders, absorbed with physical self-defense to a degree that would submerge all other interests and activities’.

Israelis and Zionists around the world would vehemently disagree, arguing that far from Zionism being destroyed, it is thriving as evidenced by Israel’s achievements. Moreover, the militarized nature of the state is a price worth paying for to have the prize of a Jewish state. But this begs the question: how long can this laager-like state last?

Walter Mignolo continues the theme of Judith Butler in ‘decolonizing the nation state’ and argues that while Israel offered a solution to the Jewish people, it also became a problem for the Palestinians – and makes the contentious argument that to solve the conflict would require more than peace agreements – it would require decolonizing the form of the modern European nation-state. Whilst Israel was/is indeed a life-threatening problem for the Palestinians, it did not provide a solution to all Jewish people as evidenced by the fact that most Jews do not live in Israel. Furthermore, about a third of Jewish Israelis have dual citizenship, and large numbers have, in recent years, availed themselves of their second passport by undergoing a reverse aliyah to North America or Western Europe.

Artemy Magun focuses on the similarities between Karl Marx and Hannah Arendt on the ‘Jewish Question’, and their overarching critique of religion per se. Interesting as this is, it does not get to grips with the subject matter at hand.

Marc Ellis, in a fascinating chapter ‘Notes on the prophetic instability of Zionism’, argues that ‘in the framework of deconstructing Zionism, solidarity here means a critical embrace of Jewish history and contemporary Jews with the hope that the end of the violence of the Jewish state will bring Jews back to an ethical path’. He elaborates upon this in the concluding section with a laudable wish:

‘[b]y hollowing out the Jewish claim to Palestinian land, eventually Jews in Israel and around the world will acknowledge the wrong done to the Palestinian people. Then, Jews will embark with Palestinians in creating Israel/Palestine where both live together in equality, justice, and peace’.

Christopher Wise discusses Jacques Derrida’s concept of spirit/specter and its indebtedness to the Hebraic notion of ruah and forcefully concludes that peace and security can be achieved on the basis of international law, notwithstanding its flaws, rather than on regressive theologies of ‘blood election’.

Ranjana Khanna’s chapter ‘Rex, or the negation of wandering’ is little more than observations of various authors and has little of substance to say about Zionism. In contrast, Santiago Zabala in ‘The hermeneutical stance’, defends the ideas of Heidegger – despite his affinities with the Nazi regime – to argue that,‘political Zionism does not only represent the “massive dispossessions of Palestinians in 1948, the appropriation of land in 1967, and the recurrent confiscations of Palestinian lands that continues now with the building of the wall and the expansion of settlements” but also the discharge of Being. If Being must remain discharged from the standpoint of Zionist nationalists who can then proceed with their programs of occupations and segregation, then philosophy has the obligation to retrieve its remainders’.

In the penultimate chapter, Michael Marder returns to the theme of ‘trace’ elaborated upon in the introduction but rather than utilizing deconstruction, uses the device of synecdoche to make the case that the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes is the consequence of ‘the exclusionary synecdoche that effaces and destroys much more than it reveals and constructs. This is not to say that Zionism was “blind to the presence of Arabs in Palestine”; rather, it was (transcendentally) blind to the justification of and the right to their presence’.

The final chapter by Luce Irigaray does not deal with Zionism so, along with the papers by Zizek, Magun, and Khanna, sits oddly in this collection. She does pose the question as to whether the feminine practice of hospitality represents a value to be considered and extended outside the family and asks: ‘[w]ould current conflicts, in particular the Arab-Israeli conflict, be possible if feminine hospitality would spread into and shape civil life? And does not a world culture require such an evolution’? These are plainly difficult questions to satisfactorily answer but even if the answer is yes, there is no agreement as to how a feminine hospitality can be realized.

Though of uneven quality, this collection of papers is, nevertheless, a welcome addition to the critique of Zionism. There is, however, a serious lacuna: an absence of the voice of a Palestinian or Arab given that, apart from Jews, the greatest impact of Zionism has been on Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular – the example of Nur Masalha who has written extensively on Zionism and the Palestine Nakba readily comes to mind. Setting aside this reservation, there is likely to be consensus among Arabs (especially among Palestinians) that perhaps the best deconstruction of Zionism – at least of the dominant political variety – was by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, during a conversation with the Zionist leader Nahum Goldmann, a few years after the creation of Israel:

Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? They may perhaps forget in one or two generations’ time, but for the moment there is no chance. So it’s simple: we have to stay strong and maintain a powerful army. Our whole policy is there. Otherwise the Arabs will wipe us out (cited in Nahum Goldmann, The Jewish Paradox, 1978, p. 99).

But one ought to be cognisant of the fact that for Palestinians the priority is not only the deconstruction of Zionism but of its dismantling – so that, to paraphrase Marc Ellis, all who presently reside in Israel/Palestine, together with refugees who have the right to return, live together in equality, justice, and peace. One hopes that such a sobering and hopeful thought will be readily accepted by the contributors of this volume.

Published in E-International Relations 14th April 2014

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