“In India, China and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls. The United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing in the world today because of this so-called “gendercide”.
This documentary film tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughters’ lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son. Global experts and grassroots activists put the stories in context and advocate different paths towards change, while collectively lamenting the lack of any truly effective action against this injustice.” — “It’s A Girl!” (trailer)
And it’s not just happening in the so-called “third world”. It’s happening even in the West. There’s been evidence of same sex abortion happening right here, so it’s not a phenomenon to which we’re somehow ‘immune’. Research produced by Oxford University has shown that at least one hundred girls go “missing” from Indian families in the UK each year; information wasn’t taken from other communities.
Societal effects from selective sex abortion are devastating. Gender bias can broadly affect a society and lead to implications such as lower family rates, simply because there are less women to marry with whom to have children. It can also worsen attitudes towards women and lead to a growing resentment of women. A situation where there is surplus males and an increased mobility of females leads to unmarried men who are prone to violence; the areas within China and India with the highest sex selection rates have experienced crime waves like they have never seen before.
Reasons for this gendercide are varied. Cultural preference and different views of gender play into it hugely, a phenomenon known as ‘son preference’. Son preference is an Indian (and Chinese) patriarchal social model; it is also a self-fulfilling prophecy. Men are seen to be the sole breadwinners and have the responsibility to go with it: looking after parents, providing for the family and carrying on the family name. But dictating that only men can be breadwinners allows for a society as a whole to be inherently male-dominated and closed off to any women who do try to enter the workplace. By having a son, you ensure that you are looked after into old age – an important thing to consider, when India has no social security system. Conversely, when a daughter is born, she will marry out of the family and take a dowry with her – a dowry that not all families can afford.
Some argue, therefore, that eliminating poverty would take care of the gendercide, such as the woman in the trailer above who nervously laughs that she strangled eight of her daughters shortly after birth. Not really: the worst offenders have been shown to be the more affluent middle and upper classes because these people are the ones that have the access to ultrasounds and abortion. Gendercide doesn’t stop because of wealth; it just becomes a whole lot easier. Aborting a child because of its sex is a lot cleaner than killing your daughters at birth, but morally they’re just as bad as each other. Wealth doesn’t stop gendercide.
The Chinese cultural bias towards male children is similar to the Indian bias, but it is exacerbated much more by the One Child Policy than by a traditional culture.
200 million women have been killed because of their gender; and as these nations grow into superpowers, we can only expect for gender inequality to grow and the consequences to be even larger than we ever anticipated unless we act now. Steps have already been introduced in India that makes revealing the sex of the child illegal, but wide-scale corruption in India allows for this information to get out. If the dowry for marriage (which has become illegal in India, without much real effect) is high now, imagine the its going rate in fifteen or twenty years’ time. In the late nineties in China the government allowed for a second child in rural areas where anti-female sentiment was the highest, but this doesn’t account for the fifty million missing girls in China today, an estimate given by the World Health Organisation.
So far, no solution has worked. Combating gendercide takes more than anti-dowry laws; society and culture itself must change to save its daughters.
Gendercide is a crime against girls committed by women because of patriarchal society, anti-female culture and poverty. In India, the biggest factor is the cultural aspect; in China it is poverty. A society has to change innately in order to combat its anti-female bias, from its workplace to its education. Poverty must be lessened and education increased along with widened access for women to the same opportunities offered to men.
We marched from Bristo Square to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, where a rally took place. Not all of our supporters marched: as we snaked our way down the Royal Mile, people hung out of their windows to watch, and to wave, and to cheer us on. This march was, I feel, a Good Thing.
It was good to see MPs talking sense, bringing up the arguments of the opposition and defeating them instead of prevaricating, because this is actually what they did. The crowds were asked, Have you ever heard a strong argument against the legalisation of same-sex marriage? Silence. That, we were told, is because there aren’t any. The arguments from our opposition are made of straw.
Marriage is about family our opposition says: this is not true, because it is neither necessary for a successful marriage that it results in having children, nor necessary for the success of parenthood that the parents be married; further, even were this true, we heard and we cheered for, the sexuality of the parents has no bearing on the children. This we know, this we have known for years, but this has yet to be reflected in the law.
Allowing same-sex marriage will redefine marriage: of course it will, but not for the worse. Just as the introduction of laws allowing women to own their own property following marriage redefined marriage for the better. Marriage needs to be redefined to reflect the society within which it takes place, or we’d still have child-brides. It has not had one uniform definition over time, and certainly in the UK it has moved from a contract joining two families for mutual benefits to one joining two lovers, any two lovers. We should allow the sex of those lovers to be no more barrier than we do the lack of financial gain in some arrangements. This we know, this we have known for years, but this too has yet to be reflected in the law.
It was good to see a religious representative (Marilyn Jackson, of the Humanist Society of Scotland) stand up and argue for her right, for the right of all religions, to perform marriage ceremonies, not just blessings, for religious same-sex couples. If this is something that churches want to do, then who is benefitted by outlawing it? And certainly there is something wrong in a nation where two atheists can stand up in a church and swear to love one another in front of a God who they don’t believe in, when two people who love each other just as much, and who believe in that God, are unable to do so. Or even in a country where an atheist same-sex couple doesn’t have the same right to stand up in church as an atheist straight couple.
It was good to see over a thousand people who care enough about equality of marriage to show it, to make an effort for it, to act for it. Because this is important, and the fact that it is important is something that needs to be shown, needs to have efforts made for it, needs to be acted for. We have to make it clear that we have no intention of giving up, whether it takes months or years for same-sex couples to be given equal rights.
We need to show our opposition that this is no fad, this is no whim, this is not some phase we as a nation are going through. This is something that we know is right, and something we will not stop fighting for.
We will continue to fight for equality with more marches, more petitions, more letters to our politicians, and with more votes for those who will support us instead of take steps and leaps backwards. We will continue to speak up and we will never give up.
Marriage equality has the support of the majority of the Scottish people. It has the support of MSPs and at least some support from religious believers who want the power to carry out the ceremonies. We will find out this spring if it has the support of the Scottish government. But of course, this doesn’t end there.
We have come a long way since 1967, when homosexuality was decriminalised in the United Kingdom, to the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005. Let’s add more dates to this path, let’s add more victories, just as over the years we have added more and more support to the fight. And let’s give our support to those fighting in the rest of the UK, and outside it, to the countries where homosexuality is still outlawed, to the countries where relationships are not recognised by the law, to the countries where discrimination is permitted or encouraged.
So, it might be a few days late, but still: happy Valentine’s Day, Scotland, and happy Valentine’s Day, Britain, and happy Valentine’s Day world, if you’re reading. This year, join this fight, and do something for love that will last.
The Ukrainian authorities must launch a fresh investigation into the death in custody of a student, Amnesty International said after two police officers suspected of responsibility for his death yesterday walked free following a court hearing in Kiev.
A 20th birthday celebration becomes sour.
Ihor Indilo was arrested on 16 May 2010 after a disagreement with a security guard at the dormitory where he lived about a missing ID card. He had been out celebrating on the eve of his 20th birthday.
Police said he was drunk and aggressive when detained, although the security guard has since testified that he was neither.
Off-duty officer Sergei Prihodko detained Ihor Indilo at about 8.15pm and drove him and a friend to Shevchenkivsky police station, where he was interrogated by Prihodko and another officer, Sergei Kovalenko, in the presence of the friend.
Minutes later, an ambulance was called to the interview room because Ihor Indilo was unconscious, although he was not thoroughly examined.
CCTV footage at 9.49pm shows Sergei Prihodko dragging Ihor Indilo into a cell and leaving him on the floor, the ambulance crew having left.
The footage shows the student’s condition deteriorating through the night; he staggers and falls in the prison cell, until he ceases moving at around 3am.
Autopsy points to alleged police brutality.
Police left him unattended in the cell until they discovered his body at 4.51am. Officers claim they checked his pulse and breathing and that he was still alive, but the CCTV footage shows an officer simply discovering his body, dragging him and then rolling him over.
The following morning Ihor Indilo’s parents were told that he had choked to death but when they saw his body they noticed numerous bruises. The autopsy also found blood in his stomach, which may have been caused by a blow to the abdomen.
Officers tried on ‘minor’ negligence charges over the death of a 19-year-old.
Police then claimed Ihor Indilo died as a result of falling from a 50 cm bench in the cell because he was drunk. Indilo does not appear drunk in CCTV footage of him entering the police station.
Sergei Prihodko was charged with “abuse of power that results in pain or denigrates a person’s dignity,” in relation to having dragged Indilo across the floor.
Sergei Kovalenko was charged with “neglect of official duty without grave consequences”, in relation to allowing Sergei Prihodko to carry out these actions.
Both officers were only tried on minor negligence charges over the death of 19-year-old Ihor Indilo. One of them, Sergei Prihodko, was given a five-year suspended sentence, while the other, Sergei Kovalenko, was granted amnesty by the court.
Ihor Indilo died from a fractured skull and internal bleeding in May 2010 after being arrested and interrogated by the two officers in Kyiv. His family suspect Sergei Prihodko inflicted the fatal injury.
Amnesty UK: this is a litmus test for the Ukrainian justice system.
John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, said:
“Charging the two police officers with minor negligence when there is strong evidence to suggest that their behaviour resulted in Ihor Indilo’s death shows a shocking disregard for human life.
The Ukrainian authorities must conduct a thorough investigation and bring charges against the two men that would allow the court to consider whether the officers were, through their actions or failure to act, responsible for Indilo’s death.
If so, they must be sentenced appropriately.
This case has become a litmus test for the Ukrainian justice system’s ability to seriously deal with allegations of police abuse. Its failure to do so highlights the need for systemic reform.”
Students took to the streets after yesterday’s verdict to protest against police abuse and the Ukrainian authorities’ continued reluctance to deal with it.
In October, President Viktor Yanukovych called on the Prosecutor General to personally review the case after extensive media coverage of the case.
The Prosecutor General publicly criticised the Kiev prosecutor’s office’s handling of the case but did not intervene to ensure the officers were tried under the appropriate charges.
Source: Amnesty International UK.
Lawrence, born in September of 1974, was brutally killed – in a racially-motivated murder – while waiting for a bus in south-east London, in April of 1993. He was just eighteen years old.
He was killed by a gang of young, white, racist men who stabbed him in a wholly unprovoked attack. The last word he heard before dying was “nigger”.
The murder sparked a national outcry; even right-wing newspaper the Daily Mail published a picture of four of the alleged gang, claiming that they were Lawrence’s murderers. If they were wrong, they invited the aforementioned men to sue them.
The men never sued.
Eighteen years on, two of those men – Gary Dobson and David Norris – were convicted of murder. This means that Stephen Lawrence’s parents had to lobby and raise awareness of his case for longer than he was alive.
The first case failed owing to problems within the Metropolitan Police, which was deemed “institutionally racist” by an inquiry. Institutional racism isn’t a new term; it was coined by a Black Power activist, Stokley Carmichael, in the 1970s.
The man who led the inquiry after Lawrence’s murder was called Lord Macpherson, and his explanation of the institutional racism to which Stephen Lawrence’s case was subjected is more or less identical to Carmichael’s interpretation of institutional racism. The similarities are uncanny; it’s testament to how little things have changed.
It doesn’t stop there. We’ve had our own experiences of racism within the police force rearing their ugly head in Wales. Think of the Lynette White case.
Lynette White was a white woman who was brutally stabbed. She died in her flat. Those interviewed for statements were seen to be “vulnerable” members of society; one man named Stephen Miller, White’s boyfriend and pimp, would eventually confess – after being worn down by nineteen hours of questioning. He had a mental age of an eleven year old. He was denied access to a lawyer during this time.
His confession wasn’t taken seriously. When it was presented at the appeal, the overseeing lord, Lord Taylor, said that the police had ‘bullied and hectored’ Miller. No DNA evidence from him was found on the scene which might have tied him to the murder.
Mark Grommek, a man who went on record to make a statement, said he knew nothing of the murder. Yet later that afternoon, he gave a detailed statement. His friend, Paul Atkins, told the police that Grommek killed White, but later changed it to say that he himself was the killer. His statement contained four different accounts of the murder, and, again, was subsequently not taken seriously. No DNA from these men was found at the scene, despite their falsified confessions.
A statement was taken from a woman who was put under hypnotherapy and later used in evidence. Another statement taken and used was from a different woman, deemed to have mild mental retardation, with an IQ of fifty-five. She too was considered to have been ‘bullied’ into making a statement.
The police were given a clear description of a man apparently observed leaving the scene by witnesses – a white man. But they decided to arrest nine men, all of whom were black. Then it was whittled down to five, and then three men – who were still all black.
Despite no physical evidence tying these three men of colour to the scene, in 1989 they were jailed for life. Three years later, the appeal headed by Lord Taylor declared their convictions ‘unsafe and unsatisfactory’, and they were released. The real killer was eventually brought to justice through DNA evidence.
This resulted in four of the witnesses going on trial a few years later. All – apart from Paul Atkins, who was deemed unfit to stand trial – were found guilty of perjury. Two further witnesses were also found guilty of perjury during a later case.
When all of these things came to light the police were put on trial for the framing of three men (known as the Cardiff Three) in 2009. It was called the biggest police anti-corruption trial in British history, and the biggest police trial in British history.
It fell through.
The police never gave an apology for ruining the lives of the Cardiff Three, for falsifying evidence, or for bullying vulnerable people into making false statements which later helped to convict them.
But this was not the first time the police framed black men for a murder they did not commit. In the 1920s, a Somali sailor named Hussein Mattan was framed for murder. He was hanged. The police issued an apology to his wife and revoked the conviction – in 1998.
These are specifically Welsh cases; they happened here. Just because the Metropolitan Police have been called out on their racism doesn’t mean that other police forces walk free. There are dozens of other cases involving miscarriages of justice, but they just aren’t reported. It’s simply testament to the tireless campaigning of Stephen Lawrence’s family that the Metropolitan Police did not manage to get away with their racism.
People of colour in the UK are more likely to be stopped and searched under the Stop and Search law; in fact, it’s over 70% more likely that they will be stopped than their white counterparts. They’re over-policed as perpetrators and under-policed as victims. According to statistics, they are also more likely to be jailed for offences where Caucasian people would be let off.
Of course the UK police system is institutionally racist. In fact, it’s just one of a number of racist institutions. You’re more than three times more likely to be expelled from school if you’re black. You’re also much less likely to be put in the top streams for your GCSEs – resulting in ethnic minorities being less likely to achieve 5 A*-Cs at GCSE level.
The bringing to justice of Stephen Lawrence’s killers was a victory for us all. But there are many victories in every sector of society yet to be won when it comes to the insidious institutionalisation of racism.
In his recent ‘Fuel Poverty Review’, professor John Hills predicts that by the end of 2011, around 4.1 million homes in Britain will be considered to be living in ‘fuel poverty’. This situation, the review has noted, could directly contribute to the deaths of just under 3,000 people over the coming winter; a toll higher than the average seasonal number of fatalities in road-accidents.
Students across the UK are attempting to save money at the expense of their own health. Government statistics on fuel poverty indicate that students living in affordable yet energy-inefficient accommodation make up a large percentage of those recognised to be living in ‘fuel poverty’ by the ‘Living in Wales’ report, 2008. Swansea students in private accommodation are being let down by prepayment meters which charge a higher rate for energy than other types of meters, inefficient appliances, and poorly insulated housing. All of these things mean a situation in which keeping warm is an artificially expensive dream for students. There is no doubt that living in fuel poverty is devastating for both physical and mental health.
There are clear problems with expecting the solution to come from conventional energy-sources. Recent years have seen attempts by many energy companies to repackage old fossil-fuel solutions; i.e. E.ON’s support for ‘New Coal’. However, the appalling efficiency rating of just 45% for these new coal-powered units highlights the urgency with which we need a more sustainable solution.
To be able to bring about the changes needed to make greener energy solutions, such as the 100% renewable energy tariff provided by the company Ecotricity, more available to financially strained students, what is needed is a strong, eco-conscious current within the students movement. Past and on-going initiatives such Climate Camp, and NUS campaigns such ‘Student Switch Off’, and ‘Green Impact’ demonstrate to us an existing willingness to fight for such changes. It is now necessary, more than ever, for environmentally conscious students to show the rest of the student movement that the commitment to future generations as embodied in the anti-cuts movement should be linked to the commitment to protect the environment we share.
I am British. My parents are British. I have lived in Great Britain for my entire twenty-one years – indeed, I have never been beyond the borders. Moreover, I am fairly well-educated – I’m in my final year at university (studying English Literature, nonetheless), with a set of exemplary A-Levels that include an A in British History, and ten GCSEs with which I am modestly pleased. On my passport I am proudly a citizen of the United Kingdom; it has never occurred to me to be anything else.
Which is why it’s a bit disquieting that today I took an online citizenship test and failed.
Once I’d finished worrying that I was just totally lacking in basic knowledge, though, and started looking at the test itself, it was obvious why I hadn’t managed to achieve the necessary 75%. The questions range from the fairly practical – what is the speed limit for cars on a single carriageway (though as a non-driver, I did have to think twice even about this one) – to the downright esoteric. Does it really matter if you can name the number of parliamentary constituencies, or if you know the year in which women were first granted the right to file for divorce? Are these things likely to be a barrier in every-day life? Is it just me, or is there something very wrong here?
I understand the need for some form of control to ensure people moving to the country are going to have the ability to contribute to the society. I don’t think our immigration policy is by any means perfect; indeed, I disagree with much of it, but that’s a different debate altogether, really. The question here is whether or not this test, this ‘Life in the UK’ test, this test which measures whether or not people ought to be granted the rights of British citizenship, this test which has an often-vital role to play…the question is whether or not it is doing its job. And I am not the only British person that fell short by any means: the number of sympathetic tweets I received when I complained about my failure online suggest it’s actually quite a common problem. So no. No, the ‘Life in the UK’ test is not doing its job.
I can understand, perhaps, the need for a practical test on life in the UK. If you are serious about becoming a British citizen, then maybe there ought to be a way to check that you know your pound coins from your twopence pieces or can cope in a supermarket or understand some of the vagaries of the postal system (let’s face it, that last one’s a lifelong study on its own). Even a set of questions about the names of the major political parties and the current Prime Minister and the major newspapers would reveal whether or not the taker understood modern Britain.
But that’s not what the ‘Life in the UK’ test does. It doesn’t test practical, every-day knowledge; it tests arcane trivia and, by extension, memory. And by doing so it makes some interesting value judgements about what is considered important.
The problem with suggesting a test to measure people’s level of ‘Britishness’ ought, by now, to be obvious. ‘Britishness’ is not like height, or weight, or even IQ; it is a nebulous, abstract concept which even the most determined of us struggles to define. The whole idea of having a test for this, as though it were syphilis or diabetes, is preposterous, and the problems are manifold.
Does knowing the number of children and young people in the UK make you a more involved citizen than, say, knowing who wrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’? Is it more important to know the date on which the Battle of the Somme began, or to know the definition of a by-election? Do any of these things have intrinsic value?
And if you’re British and you don’t know these things – as so many people obviously don’t – does this make you worth less as a citizen? Does scoring a fairly miserable 58% mean that I have not assimilated my own culture? Ought I to be first against the wall when the revolution comes?
Of course not – at least, I should hope that won’t be the case. But in that case, we are left with the question: is this really an important test? Does failing this test genuinely mean that you are unworthy to be a British citizen? And if – as seems the case – this is untrue, what ought to replace it?
This article may have descended into questions, but I think I proved indubitably earlier today that when it comes to citizenship, I certainly don’t have all the answers – or even the requisite three quarters. So, I end with a question to you: do you believe that the ‘Life in the UK’ test is the best way to ascertain citizenship status? And if not, what is?
– You can access a practice copy of the test on the UK Citizenship website.
There is a certain something about activism that makes me want to read books out loud to grown strangers on the Docklands Light Railway early in the morning. Admittedly, I’m usually one of your average eye-contact avoiding Londoners; the sort you might spy-out on the Northern Line during rush hour, periodically switching gaze between the advertising, tube map, and ground. However, once every so often, things that happen in this city give reason for some of us to break down a few barriers. Of course, sometimes the reason in question may not seem so straight forward. Let this never detract from the importance of the cause, or of the way in which you may come to meet one of us enraged folk.
Recently, the band ‘Star F***ing Hipsters’ spat the words “for every innocent that gets murdered in the fray, we’ll fight 3,000 miles away” in to the ears of alienated ‘crust-punks’ everywhere. Upon hearing these lyrics, I came to a revelation; I had just found the most conveniently crass quote possible to insert into this article. For it just so happens that roughly 3,000 miles away from the ‘Defence and Security Equipment international’ (DSEi) arms-trade fair in east London is the less-than-liberal kingdom of Bahrain.
The ‘Arab Spring’ which broke out earlier this year left a profound mark on Bahrain, a country many human rights groups deem an ‘authoritarian regime’. Unfortunately, the immediate history of this young popular movement follows a similar line to other recent movements in the region. The Sunni-dominated elite of Bahrain have overseen the bloodshed of mostly Shia peaceful protestors. In light of this fact, how does the British government respond? Well, it seems that concerns regarding Bahrain among the top level defence authorities in this country do not concern the protesters, but the weapons being turned on them. The list of dodgy delegations invited by the British government to the DSEi fair does not end at Bahrain; among others, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, Iraq, Pakistan, and Kazakhstan were all in attendance. The British government, behaving like a naughty kid confessing to a cookie-jar robbery, only released the list of invitees the day before the DSEi exhibition was due to open after pressure for information from national newspapers. The message of this action by the government is loud and clear; our hugely subsidised arms industry is more important than the subsequent risk put to hundreds, if not thousands of lives.
Big money is sacred. The holiness of the billions of dollars in the pockets of the visiting delegations to the DSEi arms fair is part of the same unfortunate situation which keeps the public from being allowed access to the highly guarded fortresses in which these moguls operate. Indeed, sound investment requires the prerequisite of lack of dissent. Fortunately, as long as the description ‘being difficult’ exists, there shall be those to fit it. At 9.30 am on the 13th September, I was sat amongst a sea of glum faces on the Docklands Light Railway. These were not necessarily unhappy people I was sitting with, they were relatively well-off businessmen making a killing in a subsidised trade. These people were merely being humbled with some facts about the by-products of their business; they especially seemed to like the story of how a couple of activists and a school group managed to purchase banned equipment commonly used for torture from a giant arms-producer! We parted ways at Custom House station. They bound for an extravagant reception; I bound for the pavement outside the station. Luckily, the Critical Mass bloc (cyclist activists) had arrived, with an obnoxiously loud sound system in tow. After the initial round of ‘murdering scum’ a sense of dissatisfaction set in. The culprits were where they have always been, just beyond the reach of justice.
Until we finally reached the vehicle entrance to the Excel Centre, our miniature roaming protest carnival navigated the residential streets of Newham. The locals not already outraged by the localised gun-running orgy stopped to ask carefully worded questions. Discreetly, so as to hide my intentions from the pursuing police Forward Information Team (FIT), I begun to prepare my ultimate revenge. The front gates of the exhibition fell clearly into view; I was patiently biding my time. Blockading the road failed, the group was forced back onto the pavement. My ultimate retribution suddenly gained new meaning. In the pocket of my hoody, my hand fell on the trigger. In a moment of sheer justice-inspired rage, I turned my weapon on a nearby policeman. The jet of clear, crisp water fell just short of his regulation boots, the policeman was slightly bemused. As I examined my pistol for faults, I heard a roughened, yet polite voice boom ‘let us see that, please sir’. Apparently, the government had heeded the protest’s demands and the police were beginning the crackdown on all forms of firearms. As if! In fact, my 99p brightly coloured plastic water gun had been deemed a security threat; “we can’t be sure of what’s inside it, sir!” Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of the Russian delegation’s convoy leaving the conference; they were there to market a new brand of Kalashnikov.
Police officers were already present and waiting when, ‘affinity group’ by ‘affinity group’, the roaming protest arrived at the headquarters of the flagship corporation of the international arms-trade: BAE Systems. By 5 o’clock, around 60 activists – armed with the knowledge of BAE System’s disregard for US trading regulations, the economies of African countries, and human life world-wide – had coated themselves in red paint and ‘played dead’ on an otherwise quiet Westminster road. The few clouds in a mostly clear blue sky rolled past, the trees in BAE Systems HQ’s personal roof garden were caught by a gentle breeze. I was awoken about half an hour later by a fellow protestor informing me that we were moving on; rule number one, for the sake of objective, never fall asleep mid-direct action. The Forward Information Team (FIT) was snapping away, capturing my incriminating tiredness; “we’ve caught you mildly relaxed, sir!”
The arms industry is an industry not exactly new to appearing behind innocent façades. Sometimes, the link can appear fairly indirect, e.g. research funding for universities. Sometimes, very occasionally, the innocent façade comes in the form of a large, famous physical destination. As the protest dispersed and reconvened outside the National Gallery by Trafalgar Square, the confused inquisitions of the public at large were slightly overwhelming. Fortunately, the task of appealing to the rich tapestry of people that can be found in central London on any given afternoon is a task that most activists, young and old, are well familiar with. The protesters begun their loud-mouthed rants, engaged startled tourists, confronted the arriving guests of BAE System’s luxurious gallery banquet; before too long, the square was covered in leaflets proclaiming ‘THIS IS NOT OK!’
“A Dialogue on Israel-Palestine” That is the title of a motion proposed to the NEC (click here to download, page 38). Reading through this motion you may think that it is harmless and doesn’t actually do more than shape the dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately this motion actively ignores the issues on the ground and promotes an ideal that is literally impossible to implement.
The motion completely ignores the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land (post 1967 armistice line) and Israel’s constant violation of the basic human rights of Palestinians and then goes on to promote peace under a two state solution. A two state solution that is impossible to implement. Israeli settlements in the West Bank, with the help of the separation barrier, have divided it into separate cantons. The “borders” of these cantons are fully controlled by Israel.
These are not areas where we can pretend that freedom of movement exists.
This separation is not like separating England from Wales with a physical border. This is more like separating the different cities that make up greater London into different sections and giving each section different access privileges that are constantly changing. This violates the freedom of movement and directly impacts Palestinian access to healthcare, access to education (which the motion touches on as a vital issue) and access to water (Israel controls most of the water supply even within the Palestinian territory).
This division means that the implementation of a two state solution would not create two separate and contiguous states but would instead create one Israeli state which has control over the most valuable natural resources and a highly divided and fragmented Palestinian state. This is the solution that would be produced from a two state agreement without taking into account other issues like refugees, borders, or air space. Israel, using it’s barrier and settlements, has currently engulfed many natural resources including most of the water supply and much of the fertile land. To create a two state solution based on the 1967 armistice line, Israel would have to relocate the settler population of over 300 thousand and move the barrier back to the armistice line.
The motion acknowledges the existence of different narratives and Israel’s occupation of post 1967 Palestinian territory can be considered to fall under the Palestinian narrative. Many people would debate that Israel only reclaimed the land from Jordan and Egypt who were the original occupiers. Even if we take these different arguments into account we cannot deny Israel’s current actions against the Palestinian people.
Israel’s actions are regarded to be as those of an occupier, a coloniser or even an apartheid state.
When the debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is shaped we can almost always see that the Palestinians and Israeli’s are put on an equal footing. As if to say that the entire conflict is actually between two equally powerful states and revolves around an uninhabited piece of land. This is not the case, the Palestinians are not on an equal footing with Israel and the conflict is most definitely not about an uninhabited piece of land. If anything the piece of land that it could be about (and it isn’t, this is an oversimplification) is overcrowded and has become increasingly divided.
How can NUS campaign for children’s right to education when these same children can be held in prison indefinitely without a fair trial or any trial at all?
My main issue with this motion is its support for a two state solution. Although this solution is the one spoken about the most in the media, it remains impossible to implement because of current Israeli practices which this motion completely ignores. Not only does this motion support an unreasonable solution but it also does not set a basis for this solution (eg. the 1967 armistice line) or demand that human rights be upheld in the area. The motion touches on the right to education but still misses the point, how can NUS campaign for children’s right to education when these same children can be held in prison indefinitely without a fair trial or any trial at all? There is no room to pick and choose which issues should be supported, many of the issues impacting Palestinians are related to each other and campaigning to resolve only part of them will not solve the cause of these problems.
Yousef Cisco is a Palestinian who grew up in Palestine and lived there for over 14 years under an Israeli occupation, soldiers have raided his house (three times) with guns pointed at him and has been in the line of fire – he says ‘I know for a fact that most Palestinians have had it worse than me. My family still lives in Ramallah.’ Yousef is currently a student at Bangor University and is part of the NUS Wales Black Students’ Campaign Committee.
When people get too rowdy at a bar, kick off or become abusive, they’re thrown out and get banned. In any good city, if a cretin gets banned from one place, it usually means a ban from other pubs and clubs too. It protects the rest of us from those who’d otherwise ruin excellent nights out by starting on one of our mates or by generally being an offensive nuisance. This same principle is also used in the NUS and Student Unions across the UK to stop racist thugs who make direct threats on student communities – it’s called the no platform policy.
For most of us, when we see racism, we don’t see it as ‘banter’ – we challenge it. University campuses are a hub of cultural diversity, they’re a melting pot of different people from different backgrounds coming together and coexisting in an exciting dynamic. It results in a safe community feel, something most of us take for granted. It’s like helping up someone that slipped or putting your housemate to bed after they’ve abused #sambucatime on a night out – It’s just something we do because it’s right. Unfortunately, the reality outside University isn’t as fab. People dont always help each other up and more often than not, people certainly don’t challenge racism on the streets.
By no means is everything picture perfect on campuses – a recent NUS report showed us that almost 1 in 6 BME students say they face racism on campus and a further 1 in 3 don’t have the confidence in their institution to report this sort of hate crime. There is no question in that we can certainly do better, however, one great facet of campus life is that political driving factors that contribute to uneasy racial climates are often not allowed to have a platform at Student Union events.
However, in wider society, racism has been mainstreamed by political parties like the BNP. I’m sure we’ve all seen how this kind of politics has had an impact on attitudes and behaviour at our institutions; in some parts of the UK that I’ve visited, calling me a ‘paki’ might be fine becaubeen that’s what I call my other brown friend’ and ‘blacking up isnt doing anyone harm’ because ‘its just for a fun a night out’ – and when you challenge that behaviour, it suddenly becomes ‘political correctness gone mad’ – that isn’t right. It’s excusing racism. Many argue that there is a legitimate debate around immigration and ‘top down equality’ but surely we all agree that the direction if any discourse doesn’t resolve at the continuation of blatent racism?
Students who suffer racism don’t care about tribalist politics, who is right or wrong or who has the last word; they just want it to stop.
The issue of mainstreamed racism delves deeper and directly attacks the work done on attitudes towards race. For example, where this kind of behaviour is seen as acceptable, it has consequences on people’s professional lives and keeps an entire group of people from reaching their potential because of their skin colour. A study in 2009 by the Department of Work and Pensions found that name discrimination is a huge problem in the UK . This is not the society any of us want to live in where we’re screened for a job just as someone reads your name.
Far worse than this culture of mainstreamed racism is something more dangerous; the English Defence League. Largely a group of drunk football ‘casuals’, they have very little to say or add to any debate. Time and time again, they’ve shown that their chosen method of discourse is violent confrontation. I recently attended an anti EDL demo in Tower Hamlets – it was clear that the EDL didn’t want to talk about the issues but instead they drove to the heart of multicultural London to shout racist abuse and attack youths outside a mosque in Mile End. That isnt breaking down barriers and it certainly isn’t dialog – it’s blatant hooliganism.
For us at the lovely Welsh coastal University of Swansea, inviting that sort of group onto campus is incompatible with the type of atmosphere we have on our campus. Its grates against our values on community and more importantly, it denies students a safe environment to be who we want to be. So when people say ‘err, no platform infringes on freedom of speech’ I make no apology for standing by the policy and instead ask; are the negatives of taking away a political platform for violent extremists more important than the right to life? The right to dignity? More often than not, the answer is a resounding no.
Like most bearded students, somewhere on some bag or winter coat I too have a bright yellow Amnesty International candle badge pinned. The logo represents Human Rights that affect us all and the role Amnesty plays in fighting injustice, it’s also a lovely colour. But I am more than some mere stylish badge wearer; I am an activist and Amnesty is the reason why I am sat here writing this as a sabb-elect of University of Leicester Student Union.
Activism is such an important part of my life, getting up in the morning for a 9am lecture is one thing, but staying up all night making card shackles for a Burma protest is certainly another. Passing the sign in sheet for a mandatory seminar is dull but asking someone to sign a petition for gay rights in Uganda is rousing. Performing an oral presentation in front of a lecture room full of students is nerve racking, delivering a presentation on forced evictions in Kenya is gripping. Being an Amnesty activist doesn’t end at attending that meeting on a Tuesday evening but for many like me; it actually defines one of the best parts of being a student – collective action.
It was a cold November morning at Amnesty Student Conference 09 – I was eagerly sat at a session on Amnesty’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign where Olivia Bailey (NUS Women’s Officer) mentioned a survey on sexual harassment for female students on college and university campus’. I was naturally intrigued about this survey, as a feminist it doesn’t take much for me to talk about inequality; I spoke to Olivia after the session, got added to the NUS Women’s mailing list and enjoyed the rest of the conference (there was a cheap bar and an underground nightclub where I busted out some shapes. It was excellent.)
Many moons later, a report came out based on the survey. It was called hidden marks; the repor
t uncovered various shocking statics. I was so taken back at results that I felt something needed to be done about this. However, my time as a student was coming to a close – I was at the end of my 3rd year. I worried if anyone would do anything serious about violence against female students on campus.
The Incumbent in my position was also leaving at the end of the year and I thought to myself about how this work would get carried out. I thought I’d pass some motions, and even go to the election debates making sexual harassment the issue – but what if I walked away from the debate not satisfied with the answers? It was that moment where I actually looked at seriously running. Putting an end to violence against female students on campus was what I was passionate about and I was going to do something about it.
So there I was, a bearded student, proudly wearing an amnesty badge talking to other students about issues which affected them and what I thought we should do about it. Hopefully now, after winning, I can get up at 9am every morning and make a bigger difference with students, still proudly wearing that amnesty badge that I started with.
Thomas French, Campaigns & Involvement Officer-elect.