Category Archives: British Society

The Lord’s Prayer Meets Star Wars and I review Spectre

Our Darth Vadar which art in heaven, 

Anakin be thy name. 

Thy Emperor destroyed. 

The force be done on earth, as it is in a galaxy far far away. 

Give us this day our light sabre. 

And forgive us our impatience, as we forgive other Jedi. 

And lead us not into fear, which leads to hate, which leads to suffering, but deliver us from the dark side. 

In the name of the father, Luke Skywalker and the force, Amen

The Church of England wanted to run an advert before the new Star Wars Film: “The Force Awakens” which featured the Lord’s Prayer. Maybe as Dawkins says, you would need to be thin skinned finding that offensive. Though if you have been brought up in the apocalyptic Christian tradition you will know that “Thy Kingdom come” is not something to want lightly. Still, I can laugh about it now. 

At the time, I really thought 99% of us were going to die horribly, with all of us wishing we were not alive to see Armageddon. How the living will envy the dead – no wonder so many focus instead on other passages in the bible. I personally avoided using the Lord’s Prayer as a child, wanting as many spared as possible before Judgment Day.

Commercial decisions mean most cinemas will not show religious or political advertising here in the UK. The same rule applies to everybody. Still, some free publicity for the church and Richard Dawkins on your side is a result for the Church narrative that secularisation has run amok. Maybe they should watch more films at the cinema to realise that society is going to hell in a gore of CGI with no soul.

Admittedly Anglicanism is fluffy cuddly compared to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Except when they act like them, like banning Harry Potter at one of their schools, or even deciding to have shares in Arm manufactures to help fight the good fight. Bless them, it’s all for a good cause fixing the church roof, and if the dividend does not cover the costs they can always try and get unsuspecting homeowners to settle the tab through arcane laws.

Who pays for a cinema ticket then chooses to sit through advertising as though a captive audience? Presumably those that think saying a prayer absolves them from actually doing something. Myself, I use the time instead at the bar, preparing for something thrilling but idiotic. Like Bond. 

Spectre

I loathed the new Bond film Spectre – all it needed was Daniel Craig to wink to camera at the end to make it the modern “Never Say Never Again” of Bond films. It looked good, but was as convincing as a secret organisation suddenly trying to kill a secret agent on a crowded buffet car, a woman being knocked out twice in the ensuing fight but rather than needing medical attention afterwards makes passionate love to someone who, ten minutes earlier, they said epitomised what they despised in life. 

That whole scene on a train is in the film. You might call it a spoiler, but this is a warning. There are more that could be said.

Bond nicks a prototype Aston Martin that has been allocated to 009. In a chase, rather annoyingly Q branch have not loaded any ammo, but they have loaded 009’s music library which Bond accidentally plays.  

They may as well have said, move over Grandad you are passed it. If you cannot figure out the controls to a modern car, and have not worked out that a woman knocked out twice in the last ten minutes who had made clear beforehand she did not fancy you in the slightest, probably cannot consent from a legal standpoint. The only bed you should be putting her in is a hospital one. 

As for the Bond villain – Wile E coyote had more depth. Wasted opportunity. The money was on screen, but no one seems to have bothered with making the dialogue, story and characterisation reach what Casino Royale and Skyfall managed. Even Quantum of Solace was interesting in its plot. Spectre promised so much, but strip it of the action leaves the most unintelligent and muddled of the Daniel Craig Bond films. It joins the dots like a children’s colouring in book, but that will not make a movie masterpiece to remember.

I have a bad feeling about the new Star Wars film but, for my sins, I am an optimist so will still go to see it. Hopefully it’s more Epsiode IV than Episode I. 

May the force be with you.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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My interview: Adam Deen Joins Quilliam Foundation

  


Adam Deen has joined the Quilliam Foundation. I sat down with him at the Quilliam offices to discuss why he had joined and what he was hoping to achieve.

The narrative of changing your mind is not one with a single eureka style moment he tells me. About ten years ago Adam was a member of an Islamist extremist group Al-Muhajirou, a now illegal group that once had the infamous Anjem Choudhary heading it. Such a mindset takes time to shake off, even when you leave an extremist group. If there was an idea which never sat comfortably for Deen, even during his extremism years ago, it was death for apostasy. One reason he set up the Deen Institute was to have the debate and inquiry into what Islam is. As he mentions in his reasons for joining Quilliam:

“For me, the last few years in particular have brought to light a ‘religious’ minority of Muslims whose interpretation of Islam is anti-rationalistic and at odds with basic ethical principles. These protagonists have a disproportionate stronghold on the religious community and merely provide lip service to a rational Islam.”

He goes on to mention “a forgotten rationalist heritage of the Islamic tradition” and mentioned to me how he hopes to push this issue in debates with Islamists, but also in reaching out about Islam. To pin down where Islamism is going against the Koranic teaching, thus exposing the extremism which is often “hiding behind a dogma of unity” then trying to prevent discussion and critical inquiry by holding on to a victimhood mentality. One that seeks to pass the total blame on western foreign policy rather than an irrational view of Islamic theology.

The decision to join Quilliam followed months of discussions with Haras Rafiq, who is the Managing Director of the foundation. It seems atheists like myself tweeting Deen over the years really did not help in this move from extremism to a human rights model calling for “Islam’s own enlightenment” in countering extremism. I asked how his critics might have helped at the time. He replied asking him to examine, within Islam, counter-views to his own positions would have.

In making now the counter-extremist argument, Deen emphasised universities rather than Mosques as key. With Islamic Societies on campus, often having new staff members at least every three years, the main speakers on the circuit to invite are those that promote an Islamist view. Students lacking a theological understanding of Islam makes countering it from such seasoned speakers that much more challenging. They need the tools to do so.

There needs to be Muslims not just questioning such things as apostasy killings, but pinning down other Muslims who use a “rational double-talk” in debates to obfuscate what they would admit privately as their position. Rather than this being seen as “isalmophobic” or being a “house Muslim” this is about tackling the toxic theocratic ideology that underpins extremism.

Not everyone welcomes that. But Deen feels that is what Islam needs right now, and in countering extremism joining the Quilliam Foundation for him is part of that vital work.

Talking this all over with Deen, I could sense here was a man hungry to stop the extremist manipulation of a faith he cares passionately for. Someone who wants to bring heat and light to the discussion. I look forward to seeing him in action.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filibustered: Hospital Parking Charges (Exemption for Carers) Bill

Julie Cooper MP tried to help reduce the cost of parking at hospitals for carers. The bill was filibustered. This was her hope:

The Bill makes provision for carers who are entitled to carer’s allowance to park free of charge in hospital car parks in England. The duties in the Bill would also apply to walk-in centres, GP practices and private hospitals. The Bill, if passed, will require health authorities to put in place a strategy to exempt a broader range of carers from paying parking charges within one year of the Act coming into force.

You can read the full discussion, and how it was talked out, here.

Having read the Hansard transcript linked above, these were my thoughts on twitter, as someone that would have benefited if the bill had become law.

Worth noting how Carers UK responded, pointing out Department of Health guidance which may help carers to get concessions:

The Bill failed to win enough support in the House of Commons today to progress to its next stage, making it almost impossible for it to become law.

Despite the outcome of today’s debate on the Bill, carers were given hope when the Department of Health updated its guidance on hospital parking charges to specifically include carers – for the very first time – as a group for which concessions, such as free or reduced charges or caps, should be available. Whilst these are guidelines and not legal duties on hospitals, national membership charity Carers UK believes this is a step towards tackling the unfair burden hospital parking charges place on carers.

They also mention these facts and figures:

  • The UK’s 6.5 million carers save the state £119bn every year; close to the total amount spent annually on running the NHS
  • Hospitals charge anywhere between an average of £11-£131.50 per week in parking charges when their loved ones go in to hospital
  • The percentage of hospitals charging patients and visitors to park has doubled in a decade to 30% in 2014-15
  • Of NHS Trusts that charge patients and visitors for parking in England, almost two-thirds (63%) have increased their charges since last year

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Feminism is too important to be left to women

We can talk about quotas to stop women beating their heads against a glass ceiling in industry and politics, but that sounds like privilege when others are keeping their heads above water are told by such women to paddle faster. The sisterhood is not equal in the struggle for equality. The inequality of society cuts through gender increasingly.

After the fanfare at the launch of the Women’s Equality Party, it’s time to get real about inequality and social justice. That is the challenge facing the new political party if it wants to be taken seriously. Having joined, this for me has to be more than signalling a political identity. I want something different on the political agenda, because the main parties fail to address them.

No matter how hard some of the middle class try, the real issues of those lower down the pecking order slip under the radar. To illustrate: the co founder of the Women’s Equality Party, Catherine Mayer, stressed the importance of increasing the cost of processed food to be as expensive as fresh food. So the poor have to spend more to eat like the affluent middle class. There was no mention of the proposed reduction in tax credits that would decrease poorer family incomes for groceries.

Andrew Marr blinked in bemusement at her, on his show last weekend. Too much of a gentleman to ask how increasing the cost of food for the poor will help, at a time when more people go to food banks? The income inequality that reduces health outcomes between classes was being side stepped by the moral hazard of relatively poorer people buying cheap unhealthy food. Consumed not out of price incentive, but budget necessity.

[See update below for Catherine Mayer expanding her views via twitter]

Thank goodness for that bastion of the patriarchy, the House of Lords, halting working tax credit cuts which would have hit the poor, and especially women, hard. The Commons quickly stopped an outbreak of common sense by keeping the vagina tax on tampons. One contrarian female commentator compared the menstrual cycle to the tax on male shaving products saying it should remain. Frankly, any product that helps with bleeding should not be considered a luxury item for tax purposes.

If the WE Party are serious about feminism, then it has to be about the women who do not have high profiles or media careers. If oppression is how comedy panel shows treat you, then you might just need a broader grass roots base, keeping it real regarding the patriarchy.

In the WE policy document, was a bit on full time care givers. Not just ending the stigma of them being classed as “economically inactive” while they save the tax payer millions each year. It recognised the sexism directed at male care givers in society.
Not mentioned was putting pressure to improve the lot of full time caregivers living on Carer’s Allowance and income support of £106 per week. If we care about social justice we need more than words, and quotas. We need money not just principles.

Feminism is for everyone. It cannot just be an organised outrage social media mob to scream at Milo’s tweets. Feminism matters because of economic power – one the leader of the WE Party mentioned in her speech when comparing how much income men have in aggregate compared to women.

You will not achieve equality by a co founder suggesting a sugar tax hitting the poor. Raise your game, and raise people out of poverty – you want to eat better when you can afford it. The same way Diane Abbott felt about better schooling for her child when she had the income. This may be a man’s world, but money makes the world go round that much better.

It is early days yet for the party, but hopefully I am not alone in signing up. Feminism cannot be left to women. It is too important. It needs us all to join in.

WE can do better. Real equality requires nothing less than helping the weakest and most vulnerable in society. Do that, we will have a sweeter and healthier nation.

UPDATE 22:25

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Maryam Namazie Blocked From Speaking By Warwick Student Union

 

From Harry’s Place:

If you haven’t yet caught up with this story an excellent summary of Warwick Student Union’s disgraceful decision can be read on Student Rights. Briefly, Namazie had been invited to speak by Warwick’s Atheists Secularists and Humanists society [WASH] on 28 October, but her invitation has now been blocked by the SU on the grounds that ‘she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus’.

Although Warwick University is not a serial offender when it comes to extremist speakers, the SU’s position is clearly inconsistent. As Student Rights points out, Ken O’Keefe was given permission to speak earlier this year

(Read more of Sarah’s post here)

Nick Cohen has retweeted an article on Maryam he did some years back. As he says, liberals should be supporting her:

… Maryam Namazie’s obscurity remains baffling. She ought to be a liberal poster girl. Her life has been that of a feminist militant who fights the oppression of women wherever she finds it. She was born in Tehran, but had to flee with her family when the Iranian revolution brought the mullahs to power. After graduating in America, she went to work with the poor in the Sudan. When the Islamists seized control, she established an underground human rights network. Her cover was blown and she had to run once again. She’s been a full-time campaigner for the rights of the Iranian diaspora, helping refugees across the world and banging on to anyone who will listen about the vileness of its treatment of women.

There is a petition to sign, started by the WASH President Benjamin David. As he mentions, quoting George Benard Shaw:

Lest we forget: “censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently, the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship” (George Bernard Shaw)

It is absurd. Maryam has campaigned against theocracy and Islamism not least because it kills and oppresses so many Muslims; not just ex muslims or others. It is not a crime, nor an offence, to be an atheist. It seems being an outspoken one may insult others; yet that same quality makes a speaker appropriate for what WASH stands for. Question and challenge her if you disagree with her. 

Critics of theocracy are imprisoned and flogged.  A state executioner will behead, or an indoctrinated extremist will machete on the public street. This does not happen in the UK, where free speech and religious freedom walk hand in hand.

The Warwick Student Union are in danger of joining hands with the oppressors of free thinkers and religious minorities in other countries by suppressing an event one of their society has organised. 

It is not too late for them to support feminism, secularism and freedom – however laid bare and outspoken it might be. 

Update: latest response by WASH on what they comment is a misleading statement by the Student Union claiming only reviewing if Maryam can speak. 

They include screen shots from their correspondence with the Student Union, that a decision had been made to ban her.  

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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