Notes and Comment Blog

He has a point to make

Jan 10th, 2016 4:28 pm | By

Sky News hosts a discussion of cricketer Chris Gayle’s sexist “flirting” during a tv interview. Despite being between two blowhard men who constantly interrupt her, Kate Smurthwaite wins the debate.

Comedian and feminist activist Kate Smurthwaite and former lad mag editor Piers Hernu discuss cricketer Chris Gayle’s inappropriate behaviour during a TV interview. During the discussion Hernu decides it would be appropriate to try to stop Smurthwaite from talking by touching her arm. It does not end well for him.


Whether women’s experiences are being hijacked for political purposes

Jan 10th, 2016 1:12 pm | By

NPR ruminates on the Cologne New Year’s Eve issue.

Cologne police are currently investigating 379 criminal complaints, about 40 percent involving allegations of sexual abuse, the Associated Press reports. The wire service earlier noted two allegations of rape.

The Cologne police chief described the assailants as “Arab or North African” in appearance. As a result, the outcry over the attacks has not only centered on victims and perpetrators: it’s extended to a broader national debate over migrants, multiculturalism and Germany’s open-door policy to asylum seekers.

Rhetoric is running hot. The story currently dominates the German press, with headlines referencing the “New Year’s Horror” or “Night Of Shame.

Because there are reports that some or many or most of the attackers appeared “Arab or North African” and that some were asylum seekers.

But the fact that the majority of current suspects are asylum-seekers has been taken by many as confirmation of their fears, even though it seems very few of the total alleged assailants have been identified.

There’s an issue about whether or not the attacks were planned and coordinated, and an issue about why the police were so not there.

And why did it take days for the police to admit the scale of the crime and chaos? The police chief says victims were slow to file complaints, Soraya reported: but some victims, like Michelle, have accused the police of ignoring claims they filed.

And then there’s the issue of under-reporting.

In addition to the police being slow to disclose the events, one prominent German media outlet, public broadcaster ZDF, was slow to cover them.

That’s fueled both criticism and conspiracy theories, Der Spiegel reports: “In Germany, there is a stable minority that is convinced that the country’s broadcasters, newspapers and magazines are controlled by dark powers and have agreed to suppress bad news about foreigners so as not to endanger the political project of welcoming refugees.”

ZDF has apologized for the delay in reporting on the attacks.

I’ve seen a lot of ill-natured sniping about this on social media today, mostly (as usual) aimed at “The Feminists.” Why aren’t The Feminists talking about this?!!1 Well, one, some of us are, and two, it’s not evil to be worried about possible increased hostility to asylum seekers and immigrants as a result of this.

And then there’s also the question of popular response, and whether women’s experiences are being hijacked for political purposes.

[Anne] Wizorek started a campaign in 2013 to use the hashtag “#aufschrei,” or outcry, for women to share their experiences with stalking, harassment, assault and rape.

“Back then when #Aufschrei was big in the media and people talked about it … a lot of people also tried to downplay the problems. They were saying, ‘Well, but we’ve gotten so far and we have gender equity in Germany right now, we have a female chancellor, so what do you want?’ All that kind of argument was going on,” she told Michel.

“And those people are the ones who are now talking a lot about what has happened in Cologne. So they are using these stories and these experiences of the people who have been attacked in Cologne to only push forward with their racist agenda against migrants and refugees in Germany. And I think that’s a huge problem.”

In short this mess is a gift to racists and Nazis.

A protest Saturday by the far-right group PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, attracted 1,700 people in Cologne, and was broken up by riot police, Reuters says:

“Demonstrators, some of whom bore tattoos with far-right symbols such as a skull in a German soldier’s helmet, had chanted “Merkel must go” and “this is the march of the national resistance.” “Rapefugees not welcome,” one banner read.

Thanks but no thanks.

The rising tide of anti-immigrant feeling has some observers concerned. But others say that looking at groups like PEGIDA with fear is looking in the wrong direction.

Those 1,700 protesters were met by an equal number of police officers — a far stronger showing by police than was found on the streets of Cologne on New Year’s Eve.

A counter-protest, with about 1,300 people, protested both racism and violence against women.

Can we have that? No to racism and no to violence against women? Both? At once? That’s my request, at any rate.

“She’s part of what’s destroying America”

Jan 9th, 2016 5:53 pm | By

The Oregonian:

In taking control of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, militants occupying the site have also taken over the desks of the people who work at the site – their cubicles, their computers and, evidently, their personnel files.

Oregon Public Broadcasting visited the compound Friday and reported that militants appeared to be using federal computers inside the compound, machines that can be accessed only with employees’ ID badges. Lists of names and Social Security numbers were visible, alongside government ID cards.

They say no no, they haven’t done that, they haven’t touched anybody’s stuff. Right, because they’re so scrupulous that way.

Seventeen people work at the refuge headquarters, administering the 190,000-acre site. Their responsibilities include overseeing the refuge’s firefighting administration, removing invasive carp from Malheur Lake and working with volunteers to build paths and make other improvements to the site.

Reporters from Reuters spent a night inside the headquarters with the occupiers earlier this week. They reported a vivid scene, with armed militants vigilant against a federal raid, working in the office of a federal biologist. Working how? Ryan Bundy referred to her as the “Carp Lady,” according to the report.

“She’s not here working for the people,” he told Reuters. “She’s not benefiting America. She’s part of what’s destroying America.”

And he’s got access to her computer and her personnel file.

Just as offensive

Jan 9th, 2016 5:45 pm | By

Erik Wemple at the Washington Post:

One year ago, the Associated Press was among the outlets that censored certain cartoons of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after the murderous attacks on its Paris offices. “None of the images distributed by AP showed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. It’s been our policy for years that we refrain from moving deliberately provocative images,” said AP spokesman Paul Colford at the time, in a rationale that reflected the (less than courageous) thinking of many prominent U.S. news outlets.

So much for journalism – the AP doesn’t show images at the heart of important news stories, because it pretends to consider them “provocative.” So much for not letting violent bullies tell us all what we can read and see.

Now Charlie Hebdo has come out with an anniversary product that depicts God as a gun-carrying terrorist. “One year on: the killer is still at large,” says a line on the cover as a bearded, God-like figure scurries. The Vatican doesn’t like it, asserting that it doesn’t “acknowledge or … respect believers’ faith in God, regardless of the religion.”

It’s not supposed to. We don’t have to acknowledge or respect believers’ faith in God any time we want to say or draw something. We’re allowed to reject religion. We’re allowed to hate Bastard God. The Vatican is not the boss of us, and neither is the AP.

The Associated Press doesn’t much care for it, either: “We made a determination that showing a caricature of God in this context was just as offensive as showing a caricature of a prophet and hence decided to not to use the cover image,” said Santiago Lyon, AP’s vice president and director of photography, in a statement to the Erik Wemple Blog.

70 years ago they would have been rounding up the Jews because that nice Mr Hitler told them to.

Guest post: Let them call me whorephobic

Jan 9th, 2016 4:45 pm | By

Guest post by Magdalen Berns

I was first accused of being a “TERF” by a self-identifying gay M2T student at the University of Edinburgh (UoE) after I disagreed with Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) LGBT Liberation group’s statement of support for infamous drag ‘ban’ of Glasgow LGBT Pride 2015. He was offended by the suggestion that T ought to have sought a mandate from the rest of LGB before publishing under the LGBT banner. He also felt that “cis” women were irrelevant to a conversation about misogyny in drag. After being branded a TERF” due to my non-compliance, I was compelled to look up the Anti-Feminist Trans Activist (AFTA) war on feminist gender theory and the growing trend for no-platforming feminists.

A few weeks on, I learned of Amnesty’s decision to legitimise sexual exploitation of underprivileged women and girls by privileged first-world men, when they backed the full decriminalisation of “sex workers” and “third parties” including pimps, traffickers and men who pay for unwanted sex. Horrified at such a blatant assault on women’s human rights, I shared the relevant open letter from SPACE International in the EUSA Women’s Liberation Facebook group (and some related articles and video content), expecting other feminist students may share my position. At that time, I was unaware that EUSA had collaborated with full decriminalisation lobby group Scot-PEP, in proposing a motion banning “whorephobia” which silences criticism of the sex industry in EUSA “safe space”. So I was stunned by the level of hostility which my advocacy of the Nordic Model received when I was branded a SWERF with “whorephobic” views. Some members identified themselves as affiliates of Scot-PEP, others claimed to be “sex workers”; some of the mob went so far as to assert that sex trade survivor Rachel Moran is fabricating the child abuse and rape which she endured over 7 years as a prostituted victim of the sex trade in Dublin. According to the Women’s Liberation convenor at that time, I had to be banned to keep harmony in the group.

When I heard that the Women’s Liberation convenor who had excluded me was standing down, I took the opportunity to raise awareness of the issues by standing for the role in the October by-elections. After being publicly denounced as an “unsafe” candidate by several of my student peers from LGBT Society and Women’s Liberation I responded to an interview by the Feminist Society (FemSoc) to clarify students concerns about the content of my manifesto. FemSoc saw fit to apply trigger warnings for “cissexism” and “whorephobia” to my interview response and ultimately the compliant candidate won for her “strong stance against whorephobia” by majority of 75 votes to my total, 73. EUSA’s commitment to self-definition, which allows men to vote for their favourite candidate, combined with the low voter turnout (there are approximately 15,000 female students at UoE) were likely to have contributed to the result. Very few students are engaged by student politics and perhaps it is easy to see why that is.

Image credit: Edinburgh University Feminist Society “I’m a feminist because…” Campaign

Having avoided a no-confidence campaign (which would have inevitably ensued if I had actually won), the infamy I gained from the campaign gave me the opportunity to interact with students from across the UK who shared their own stories of being vilified for speaking out about feminism. I also received solidarity from sisters all around the world, many reporting similar experiences of being disinvited, silenced, harassed and defamed for vocal feminism too. Emboldened, I established a Fourth Wave Edinburgh Feminist Activists (EFA) group with other feminists so that we could campaign on local issues which are now taboo – like woman-centred feminism! EFA formed a Sexual Exploitation working group and submitted a response to the Prostitution Law Reform (Scotland) Bill which proposes repealing protections against coercion and implementing the failed New Zealand model in Scotland.

Although my experience of standing up to the patriarchy at EUSA was immensely stressful and threatening at times, it was an incredibly worthwhile exercise. I gained far more friends than enemies and above all, I learned to fully appreciate the true potential in female solidarity. If only a few splintered female voices are powerful enough to shake the foundations of male supremacist order, such that it aggressively seeks to silence us, think what more women can achieve, united.

The radar has not yet been invented that can detect

Jan 9th, 2016 11:37 am | By

Real? Or Poe?

I can’t tell. It seems very Poe-like, but then so do a lot of things that are all too sincere.

Trans male privilege

Every time you talk about trans men in social justice activism or discussions, you’re taking up time that could be spent talking about trans women. Activism that helps trans womyn by centering them will also help trans men, probably even faster and better than it helps trans womyn. Don’t allow blood on your hands by centering men.

There is virtually no need to talk about trans mens issues. Their issues are mix of AFAB issues and trans women issues, which are addressed by movements already. Talking about trans men is a redundant waste of time because there’s no special issues they face unlike trans women, cis women, and non-binary people.

@Trans Men

Stay. The. Fuck. Out. Of. Womyn’s. Shelters.

Womyn go there to ESCAPE from men. The last thing they need is a creepy dude lying about being a chick amongst them. Go to a co-ed shelter or find another way to work out your problem, but stay. away. from. womyn’s. shelters.

Every time one of you enters a womyn’s shelter you’re taking up a space that could go to a trans womyn in need who CAN’T because you’re reinforcing the very much wrong idea that female = presence of a natal front hole. It sucks men don’t have shelters, but that isn’t my problem. You T bros make more money than trans womyn ever will. Figure something out. If you can stick together to oppress trans women then you can stick together to keep each other housed.

TERFS need to stay out of womyn’s shelters too IMO. Most of them are “dysphoric lesbians” (AKA straight men) now a days it seems, but even if they aren’t they’re a danger to womyn, especially the rare trans womyn who might be let in because they blend as cis well enough. All trans women deserve to be in womyn’s shelters. That includes pretransition trans women as well. Doesn’t matter if she’s 6 feet tall with linebacker shoulders and a beard. She’s a womyn, and cis womyn have no reason to be uncomfortable with another womyn’s presence except for violent transmisogyny.

Poe? Serious? I really don’t know.

Its rulings can be enforced by the courts

Jan 9th, 2016 11:20 am | By

Andrew Gilligan at the Telegraph:

A crown court judge has been allowed to rule on sharia cases, in the first case of its kind.

District Judge Shamim Qureshi, who sits at Bristol Crown Court, received permission from the Judicial Office to double as “presiding judge” at the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT).

The MAT was established in 2007 by a hardline cleric, Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, who led an anti-Charlie Hebdo demonstration after 11 of the magazine’s staff were murdered by terrorists.

So the real law is getting mixed up with the unofficial, religious law?

Judge Qureshi has overseen MAT, which is based in Nuneaton, Warks, and has four other branches.

It states that it serves Muslims “seeking to resolve disputes in accordance with Islamic sacred law”.

Unlike most sharia councils and tribunals, MAT has legal status under the 1996 Arbitration Act and its rulings can be enforced by the courts.

So that’s a very bad thing then.

About four-fifths of its work is family and matrimonial disputes, where it has on occasions issued rulings that discriminate against women. In an inheritance dispute between three sisters and two brothers, the tribunal gave the men double their sisters’ inheritance.

MAT has handled cases of domestic violence in which female victimswere persuaded to withdraw complaints to the police and pursue “reconciliation” with their husbands instead. The men were only told to take anger management courses. It also offers Islamic divorces, but they are more difficult for women to obtain than for men.

And now a real judge is going to be a “presiding judge” there.

Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said: “I would be careful if I was a judge not to mix the two jobs. I don’t think an Islamic legal system is compatible with British law.”

A spokesman for the Judicial Office said Judge Qureshi had received permission for his sharia work, which was done on a voluntary basis. MAT could not be contacted for comment.

I think Khalid Mahmood has it right. A real judge shouldn’t be doing that, on a voluntary basis or not.

An atmosphere of intimidation

Jan 9th, 2016 10:51 am | By

Life in the AnomalUSA.

Licensed gun owners can now bring their firearms into Texas’ 10 state psychiatric hospitals.

Until this year, guns were banned at the state-run facilities, which house people with serious mental illnesses. No one — visitors, delivery people and the like — could bring firearms anywhere on the hospitals’ campuses. Even local law enforcement officers, who were allowed to bring their weapons into the facilities, regularly lock up their guns before entering Austin State Hospital out of an abundance of caution. That isn’t expected to change.

But. You can hear the “but” coming.

But state officials say two new laws made it clear to them that they can’t keep guns off the hospitals’ campuses. The open carry law allows gun license holders to openly carry their firearms. A second law fines state agencies for wrongly hanging “no guns” signs.

Hospitals are asking people not to, but asking is all they’re allowed to do. There’s only so much asking one wants to do with someone sporting a gun in a holster.

Terry Holcomb, founder and executive director of Texas Carry, joined other gun rights activists in saying that the state is wrong to blame the open carry law for allowing guns on the hospital campuses. The activists say even before that law, license holders were free to take their guns on those campuses and that the state’s ban at the psychiatric hospitals was an illegal infringement on gun owners’ rights.

The psychiatric hospital gun issue comes at a time when Texans are just beginning to use a new law allowing those with a gun license to carry firearms in a belt or a holster without concealing them. Supporters say it will enhance public safety, though studies they have cited fall short of proving that to be fact. Opponents maintain that it will create an atmosphere of intimidation.

But we know that nobody ever pulls a gun in a fit of rage, we know there are no impulsive murders committed when people are drunk or high or in a temper or power-crazed, we know we can trust absolutely everybody to be reasonable and ethical with the guns on their hips.

Hahahaha just kidding. No we don’t. We know the opposite. We know that people do flip out, and we know it’s not a good idea to make murder so easy that it can be committed before the flipped out person can stop to reflect.

But this is Amurrika, so we do the wrong thing anyway and call it “rights.”

Not as some act of solidarity or anything

Jan 8th, 2016 5:01 pm | By

This is infuriating to read – a smug, detached, sniffy review in the Globe and Mail of Charb’s book Open Letter: On Blasphemy, Islamophobia, and the True Enemies of Free Expression. The reviewer is John Semley, who wants us to know how little he cares.

The night of the Charlie Hebdo shooting, just over a year ago, I went to a comedy show. Not as some act of solidarity or anything. Just because some friends were putting together a comedy show.

That’s a shit beginning. Don’t go thinking he felt any solidarity with other writers, folks, because he didn’t.

Like, I think, most people on Jan. 7, 2015, I was shocked and saddened by the attacks. Yes, it was a shock and sadness that has become, these days, so rote as to feel almost banal. But nevertheless.

Excuse me? It’s not rote at all. I can’t begin to express how not rote it is. I have friends who could be targets of Islamist murderers. I know people who have been targets of Islamist murderers. I could be one myself for all I know. There’s nothing rote about it.

I learned about Charlie Hebdo in the days (and even hours) after the attacks. I soon found myself at odds with sentimental liberal acquaintances on the Internet, who hastily championed the Hebdo jokers as martyrs in some imagined war against freedom of expression.

Imagined? How dare he? The 11 dead at Charlie Hebdo weren’t imagined; Avijit Roy wasn’t imagined; Raif Badawi is not imagined; Taslima Nasreen is not imagined; Salman Rushdie is not imagined.

And there’s nothing “sentimental” about objecting to what happened at Charlie Hebdo. What a loathsome thing to say.

It became increasingly difficult to square the image of the slain Hebdo staffers as secular saints with their crude drawings depicting the Prophet Mohammed prostrated on his stomach, splayed anus pointed at the reader, or Jesus Christ having anal sex with God, drawings that began to strike me as inciting, offensive, sometimes racist and, more than anything, just stupid.

That suggests he knew nothing whatever about Charlie Hebdo, and didn’t bother to find out – but feels quite entitled to shit on them anyway.

This is not meant to diminish their deaths, or the tragedy of it. But making an overstated case for the political, social and satirical relevance of the kind of infantile scribblings that you might find on a White Power message board online strikes me as oversimplifying. That Charlie Hebdo was racist and idiotic doesn’t justify the murder of its staff. But it doesn’t justify their work, either.

He’s that ignorant, yet he felt comfortable reviewing this book without remedying his ignorance at all. It’s shocking.

Then he calls Charb’s book facile and opportunistic.

What might otherwise have been distributed as a tatty, Xeroxed pamphlet plunked on Parisian newsstands is packaged by Little, Brown in a slim, hardcover volume, and tacked with a forward by The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik (who apparently studied the history of cartooning and caricature in grad school). Even in presentation, it’s a garish artifact targeted at the same schmaltzy liberal simpletons who hailed the Hebdo shooting victims as sacrificial offerings in the West’s war against both Islam and free expression.

How stupid of us; we should have said they were terrible and deserved to be slaughtered.

Then he says Charb asks “moronically reductive questions” and then stops messing around and gets really abusive.

Charb drapes his racism and intellectual feebleness inside basic counterintuitive inversions of logic, as if he’s playing the role of Baby Žižek. The basic thrust of Open Letter is, “Well, are not the real Islamophobes the ones who automatically assume that all Muslims would be offended by our silly doodles?” Again: no.

The late Charb would likely brand me as one of the “terrorized intellectuals, moralizing old clowns and half-witted journalists” who rail against Charlie Hebdo. That’s fine. Freedom of speech and all that. But a dashed-off leaflet such as Open Letter proves to me that the real clowns, and the real Islamophobes, are the ones who stir sentiments of racism, xenophobia and religious persecution while hiding behind their constitutional protections and civil guarantees of freedom of expression like giggling cowards.

This is the most disgusting thing I’ve read in a long time – and I read a lot of disgusting writing, as you know, because I share it all. Cowards! They knew they were threatened, and they refused to be silenced by that.

I notice that John Semley runs no risk at all by writing this sneering dishonest piece of crap.

There is a very real danger that the women assaulted will disappear from view

Jan 8th, 2016 1:05 pm | By

At the New Statesman, Musa Okwonga has thoughts on how to deal with the New Year’s Eve assaults on women in Köln and Hamburg.

The volume of sexual violence against women worldwide is extraordinary: it is horrifying, heartbreaking, and finally it is enraging. Whether women are in public or in the supposed safety of their own homes, the offences committed against them are off the scale.

To quote the United NationsIt is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime“. (My italics.)

The Cologne assaults, then, did not occur in isolation, but as a particularly severe eruption of a situation which, in global terms, has always been volcanic.

He quotes from one account:

“When we came out of the station, we were very surprised by the group we met, which was made up only of foreign men…We walked through the group of men, there was a tunnel through them, we walked through…I was groped everywhere. It was a nightmare. Although we shouted and hit them, they men didn’t stop. I was horrified and I think I was touched around 100 times over the 200 metres.”

One investigator told the Kölner Express: “The female victims were so badly pushed about, they had heavy bruises on their breasts and behinds.”

Imagine how horrible that would be – being trapped, surrounded, pressed, and then groped and shoved by the people trapping you – as if you were a football, a load of laundry, a parcel of meat.

But then – the perps are not privileged people. What about that?

In the ensuing conversation, there is a very real danger that the women assaulted will disappear from view, quickly buried beneath a tug-of-words between the Right and the Left. In fact, it has already happening. So let us reiterate the facts. Scores of women were set upon by up to a thousand men in a public place. Ninety of them made complaints to police. There were also sexual assaults of a similar fashion in Hamburg on the same night. The level of entitlement that these men felt towards the bodies of their victims is appalling.

Germany, he goes on, is not particularly welcoming to people of Other races, nor does it have particularly high expectations of them.

So, what to do with all of this analysis? Well, it is actually simple. Let’s just keep sticking up for the women. As far as being a black man of African descent goes, the racists in Germany and elsewhere hate us anyway. They thought we were rapists and perverts and other assorted forms of sex attacker the second they set eyes on us. They don’t care about the women who were attacked in Cologne and Hamburg, except to prove the point that we are the animals that they always thought – or hoped – we were.

In return, I don’t care about them. Nor am I too bothered by the people who don’t want to sit next to me on the train. Fear of the unknown is a hard thing to unlearn. I am most concerned, by far, with the safety of the women who may now be more frightened than ever to enter public spaces. I don’t think that women have ever felt particularly comfortable walking through crowds of drunk and aggressive men at night, regardless of the race of those men. But groups of young men of North African and Arab origin, whatever their intentions, will most likely endure more trepidation from women than before.

So here’s what I propose we do. Why don’t we just start with the premise that it is a woman’s fundamental right, wherever she is in the world, to walk the streets and not be groped? And why don’t we see this as a perfect moment for men, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, to get genuinely angry about the treatment of women in public spaces: to reject with fury the suggestion that we are somehow conditioned by society forever to treat women as objects, condemned by our uncontrollable sexual desires to lunge at them as they walk past?

Let’s do our best to challenge the rampant misogyny that has gone on worldwide for far too long, and reject whatever lessons of sexist repression we may have been taught. Because women are tired of telling us about this, and exhausted of fighting a battle that for too long has gone overlooked.

Thank you.

This article was originally published on the author’s blog, You can find his poetry on his website too. He tweets at @Okwonga​.

Filial love

Jan 8th, 2016 12:28 pm | By

More news from ISIS: one of their soldiers has publicly murdered his own mother for “apostasy.”

The activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RIBSS) said 20-year-old jihadi Ali Saqr al-Qasem shot his mother Lena, 45, in the head with an assault rifle in front of a large crowd.

Lena al-Qasem is understood to have been accused of apostasy – a crime that usually means leaving one’s religion but in practise is used by Isis as a justification for murdering anybody who doesn’t support or speaks out against the terror group.

Naturally. There is The One True Group in Purity and Righteousness, and everyone else is an apostate. Such a view is efficient and, in the short term, good fun (assuming you love cruelty and death, as of course ISIS does).

The exact charge against Ms al-Qasem was “inciting her son to leave the Islamic State and escaping together to the outside of Raqqa”, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.

The UK-based conflict monitor said Ali Saqr al-Qasem had reported his mother to his Isis superiors, who then sentenced her to death and ordered him be the one to kill her.

Allahu akbar.

In other news, the pope is still a Catholic

Jan 8th, 2016 12:08 pm | By

Important news from the Independent:

Eddie Redmayne has criticised the prominent feminist Germaine Greer for claiming Caitlyn Jenner changed her gender in order to steal the limelight from her co-stars.

Ok. Who the fuck is Eddie Redmayne? Why should we care?

Redmayne, who plays transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl, said he disagreed with her provocative comments.

Oh, that’s who he is – the one who isn’t trans.

The 34-year-old London-born actor told British GQ: “I completely disagree with what she has to say about Caitlyn in relation to why she is making her show.

“It’s a shame to see an instance of feminism and trans issues diminishing each other. But also, it’s quite important that this is a singular instance, and most feminists ally with the transgender. But specifically, I just disagree with her.”

Well it’s always great to have a man explaining about feminism and what it needs to do to come up to his standards.

After the flood

Jan 8th, 2016 11:16 am | By

The Book Case in Hebden Bridge has news.

As most people reading this will know, The Book Case in Hebden Bridge was destroyed by the major flooding in the Calder Valley on Boxing Day. Despite flood resilience measures taken after the last flood in 2012 we were completely wiped out as the water came through at over 5ft, nearly 2ft over the highest we had planned for. Like nearly all businesses in the town we were uninsurable against flooding.

We have just had the fantastic news that we will be receiving a £5000 grant from the James Patterson fund. Our enormous thanks to Meryl Halls at the Booksellers Association for organising this for us, and to the grant fund who are arranging this to be paid speedily and with minimal paperwork. And of course to the great man, James Patterson himself!

We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received since Boxing Day from all sections of the book trade. In the first few days after the flood much of Hebden Bridge was left without phone signal, power or internet. While we felt cut off from the outside world, Kevin Duffy from independent publisher Bluemoose Books together with Calder Valley based writers, Stephen May, Ben Myers and Melvin Burgess (who also spent hours shovelling wet books for us on the first day) began to rally the book trade to our support.

Meanwhile Sarah Corbett (another wet book shoveller) who organised our Poetry Nights, contacted poets who head read at the shop for donations.

When Sam Missingham from Harper Collins and crime writing duo R C Bridgestock (Carol and Bob to their friends) heard about what had happened it made a huge difference. Despite not ever having had direct contact with them they turned their awe inspiring organisational talents to our rescue and used their contacts and position in the industry to get big name authors involved in a signed book auction to raise money for us.

And we have had so many wonderful personal messages of support from readers, writers, booksellers, publishers, in fact book lovers of all kinds! Here’s one lovely example – yesterday we received an anonymous package from Amazon containing 6 rolls of commercial absorbent paper towel, just addressed to ‘the people saving books at The Book Case’.

The fact that so many people, from all areas of the book trade, have rallied round to help us means so much. I admit that in the past, reading some of the articles in the Bookseller for example, I’ve not really felt connected to the more corporate world of publishing. In fact as a small northern bookseller I’ve sometimes felt invisible in the industry.

The last week it has felt genuinely felt that we are part of a real community, that publishers do care about independent bookshops and understand their value. We are important; to the book trade, to authors, readers and to the wider communities we exist in. The amazing support we have had is a huge reminder of this and made us even more determined to survive this.

Finally a list of publishers who have come to our support, apologies to anyone we have left off this list, there are still boxes to open and messages that may not have got through. Just remind me so I can add you x

Literary Gift Company
Harper Collins
Thames and Hudson
Rough Trade
Tangerine Press
Galley Beggar
David Fickling Books
Country Publications
Dean Street Press
Chicken House
Anderson Press
Longbarrow Press
Independent Alliance
River Ocean
Head of Zeus
Wrecking Ball Press
4th Estate

With our most heartfelt thanks
Kate Claughan and all at The Book Case

H/t Maureen Brian.

Snowy Owl in snowy landscape

Jan 7th, 2016 5:52 pm | By

Have a Snowy Owl, courtesy of the Quebec Minister of Transportation Robert Poëti. The photographer was a traffic camera.


In praise of blasphemy

Jan 7th, 2016 5:31 pm | By

Caroline Fourest on Charlie Hebdo.

She worked there from 2004 to 2009 – five particularly intense and fascinating years, she says.

The first time I met its audacious, fabled editorial team was as a young journalist, in 1997. Beloved by the radical left, Charlie is the last French paper to maintain a long tradition of trenchant caricatures of the religious, the sacred and the powerful, and to openly mock all forms of fanaticism. Its greatest covers, for many years, were devoted to poking fun at the Pope and the Catholic Church’s antiquated positions on abortion, sexuality and women’s rights.

But fewer people know that Charlie has always been the rallying paper of the anti-racist French left. Its legendary cartoonists — Cabu, Charb, Tignous, Wolinski, Honoré, Luz, Riss — were behind the emblematic illustrations of the “SOS Racisme” movement that gained momentum in the 1990s and pushed back against post-colonial anti-Arab discrimination. When the killers stormed the newsroom on January 7, the staff were in the middle of an argument — as they often were — on how to help the situation of the young victims of discrimination.

Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Ondaatje, Peter Carey, please note.

Charlie became a target for Islamists after it republished the controversial Danish caricatures of Muhammad that caused a worldwide controversy in 2006, an affair that fanatics and (more significantly) many journalists naively described as an Islamophobic provocation. This interpretation, as well as being false, placed a target on the cartoonists’ backs.

It got them killed, in other words.

In 2006, at the time of the Danish caricature affair, I worked at Charlie, and dealt with fanaticism (in all religions) and the extreme right. I heard of the Danish story through a friend, an Iranian refugee in Denmark, and explained to my colleagues the atmosphere of threats and intimidation in which Jyllands-Posten decided to publish the cartoons. Embassies in Iran and Syria were burning. Islamic radicals cried “Death to freedom of expression” in London.

We knew an illustrated magazine like ours couldn’t shy away from covering this instance of censorship and violence, the latest in a string of many others: Salmon Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, the death of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands and, of course, the murder of Algerian journalists during the “black years.” We decided to cover this incredible story, and to publish the drawings that had ignited it. For the cover, we chose a cartoon that captured the spirit of Charlie: Muhammad in despair, lamenting the fanatics who committed atrocities in his name.

We searched for the right image for a long time. We wanted something both funny and honest, representative of our editorial line: neutral on religion, but resolutely anti-racist.

We were going to fight to make that understood. And we did fight — relentlessly. As one of the few journalists at Charlie who spoke English, I gave countless interviews in publications around the world to explain that it was crucial not to give in to threats of violence, especially as an opinion newspaper. We understood the risks. We received countless threats, but also messages of support, from French Muslims who thanked us for believing that they too could have a sense of humor when faced with religious extremism.

They counted on their colleagues to stand by them, and many did, especially Turkish and Arabic ones.

Other publications, mostly English-language, stabbed us in the back: by lying about our intentions, refusing to explain the chronology of events and the context of our actions, and by echoing the same accusations we heard from fanatics themselves.

Reliving this same hell 10 years later, after the death of my colleagues, was deeply painful. The despicable accusation that Charlie was “Islamophobic” was not only wrong, it had killed and continued to put its survivors in danger.

But it made the accusers feel clean and righteous, no doubt.

Luz, one of the few cartoonists to survive the attack, drew the most poignant cartoon of his career in its aftermath: Muhammad, in tears, saying “Everything is forgiven.”

I have it right here next to me.

Still, this was “too much” — many called it blasphemy. As if the killers had been justified in their violence. Democrats, trembling with fear, asked us to respect the fact that the laws of the most fanatic and violent among us may become the laws that govern our independent publications and our secular democracies. After harassing us with requests to see Luz’s illustration, American and British channels subsequently censured it — all the better to criticize it, and without allowing viewers to make their own judgements. I was stopped when I tried to show it on live TV. It was a living nightmare.

Remember that? I remember it. It was gruesome.

Caroline was talking about the betrayal by journalists who refuse to show cartoons and she held up the Luz cover – and Sky News cut away to the presenter, who scolded Caroline and apologized to the viewers. It was a disgusting display of cowardice and brutality – brutality toward Caroline and toward everyone at CH and blasphemers in general – many of whom were bloodily hacked to death in the months after the slaughter at CH.

Our colleagues were losing their minds. Unwilling to acknowledge their crippling fear, they stopped defending the free press, they deformed the facts, and censured themselves. They lectured us on journalistic “responsibility.” And we still haven’t woken up from this nightmare: Today, Charlie’s cartoons are repeatedly taken out of context, their message utterly distorted. Most recently, this happened with the drawing of the little Syrian boy, Aylan, found dead at the foot of McDonald’s golden arches, an image that denounced Western indifference to the plight of the refugees.

But people pretended to think CH was insulting Aylan and mocking his death.

I wrote a book called “Éloge du blasphème” (“In praise of blasphemy”: Why Charlie Hebdo is not ‘Islamophobic’”) about Charlie to bridge the gap between us. I wanted to dispel the common misunderstandings that distance us from the crux of this fight against terrorism and religious extremism — a fight that by necessity involves us all. Writing gave me back the sleep that the January 7 attacks had robbed me of.

The book became a best-seller in France and Salman Rushdie, a man I admire infinitely, gave me his endorsement and support. But no American or British publisher was willing to publish the book. There’s no market for this kind of book, I was repeatedly told, in an attempt to justify their unwillingness to touch on something as explosive as the press’ right to blasphemy.


Thanks to the Internet and to this publication’s willingness to publish some pages below, I hope to touch a few readers. To renew a dialogue with those who “are not Charlie,” as a number of writers belonging to PEN International declared when the association decided to award Charlie with a prize. We all despaired. If they want to disassociate themselves from Charlie, then let them do so having truly made an effort to know and understand Charlie, and not on the basis of a cultural misunderstanding.

We tried to tell them.

The truth about Charlie

Jan 7th, 2016 12:33 pm | By

At Open Democracy: Karima Bennoune on the truth about Charlie.

Two French Islamist gunmen of Algerian descent entered a newspaper office in Paris a year ago today and gunned down a generation of Europe’s greatest political cartoonists – many from an anarchist, anti-racist tradition  – along with their co-workers and those protecting them, who also included people of Algerian descent.  In case anyone is confused about the politics of this – it was a far right attack on the left.

So many people are so very confused about the politics of this. So many are convinced it was an anti-racist attack on racists.

At first the world reacted with justified horror and a solidarity which is not always forthcoming for the frequently anonymous victims of Islamist slaughter, and which was not often experienced by the Charlie Hebdo staff in previous years when they endured threats and firebombs. However, the backlash began quickly.  The truth about Charlie was that many were shockingly equivocal in their reaction to these events.

There was the “I am not Charlie” campaign, promoted by Tariq Ramadan, grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The meaning of that was clear enough.  Those whose ideology helped pave the way for such killings were publicly admitting their lack of solidarity with the victims.

There were outright vilification campaigns suggesting that the cartoonists (or perhaps French people generally) were racists, “Islamophobic” or otherwise had it coming.  In California – which by year’s end became the site of another Islamist bloodbath – a number of people expressed such views to me, thinking that because I have a Muslim name I would agree.  Not long after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, I spoke at a U.S. university event on freedom of expression along with a self-appointed young American spokesperson for “the Muslim community” from the Council on American Islamic Relations – whom I must say I never elected to speak for me.  She reviled the 7 January victims to the point where I felt compelled to ask if she understood that they were actually dead.  She did not know as I did that just before their murders, the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were in a heated discussion about terrible socio-economic conditions in the Paris suburbs where much of the Muslim population lives – an injustice which mattered a great deal to them.

I saw a lot of that, even among people I knew. (I know far fewer of them now.)

On this anniversary, we must remember that those who killed Charlie also killed Ahmed and that saying “I am Charlie” is also a way of saying “I am Ahmed,” and vice versa. Indeed, opposing the Kouachis of the world is essential to saving those countless people of Muslim heritage and their fellow citizens in the Global South who have been dying in the tens of thousands at the hands of Muslim fundamentalist killers in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya and beyond. Ahmed is a synonym for Charlie, not an antonym. That was why so many people of North African descent stood with the 7 January victims.

For example, Ali Dilem, one of Algeria’s best political cartoonists joined the Charlie Hebdo team in February out of solidarity.  His bold cartoons have lampooned political figures and fundamentalist terrorists for years, earning him jail sentences and countless fatwas. On 7 January 2015, Dilem’s cartoon bore the heading: “God is Humour” (in French: “Dieu est humour,”a play on words derived from “Dieu est amour” – “God is Love”).  Another of Dilem’s cartoons after the 7 January attacks shows a dying figure writing in his own blood on a wall: “the idiots killed me.”

Bennoune saw a copy of that cartoon among the flowers left for the victims at the Bataclan in November.

I stood in the street where a pregnant woman had hung from a windowsill trying to escape the “Islamic State” offensive, and in front of the small club where 89 mainly young people lost their lives at the hands of another group of young Islamist assassins of North African descent.  I found my visit doubly poignant because I went with Samia Benkherroubi a former Algerian TV presenter whose own producer, the legendary Aziz Smati, had been shot in 1994 by the Armed Islamic Group, the forerunners of “Islamic State,” and is today a paraplegic, but continues his work from his wheelchair.

Outside the bullet-riddled Bataclan, Samia and I laid flowers and mourned together, lamenting that the fundamentalists we have been battling for years are still so much stronger than their civil society opponents.  She had written to me after the 13 November attacks to say how deeply saddened she was to see the fundamentalist violence she fled in 1990s Algeria reproducing itself elsewhere.  What was especially mystifying to her, was the way in which some on the left tried to use the history of French colonialism as the excuse (or so-called “explanation”) for these attacks. The same thing happened after 7 January. Samia wrote that “looking for explanations in colonial history is an injury to all victims of blind terrorism.” It also entirely overlooks that Algeria itself lost as many as 200,000 – including many veterans of the liberation struggle – to extremist terrorism in the 1990s, a fact often conveniently forgotten.

Some opponents of colonialism will be fascists. That happens. They’re not allies of people on the left.

All of this complexity seems to have been lost on the authors and signatories of the petition against the granting of the PEN Freedom of Expression Courage award to the Charlie Hebdo staff  signed by a group of mainly Western intellectuals in the name of anti-racism.  They wanted to make clear that they were not Charlie.  They claimed solidarity with Ahmed.  They presumed to know what the Ahmeds of the world think (and that they think alike) while overlookingthe contemporary politics of the Muslim majority regions of the world.  They regretted the killing, but clearly didn’t understand it.

The petition’s authors presumed a) that French Muslims were mostly devout, and b) that this meant they could not stomach satirical drawings – two huge and highly inaccurate presumptions. This was a recurring theme after 7 January – that all Muslims and all people of Muslim heritage were offended by the publication of cartoons (whether they liked the cartoons or not). It is not at all clear how assuming that 1.5 billion people have no sense of humor (and no politics) is anything other than patronizing.

Meanwhile, the campaign to support the presentation of the PEN award to Charlie Hebdo was led by Salman Rushdie, who is of Muslim heritage, and whose name is derived from a great 12th century Andalusian Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd who likely would not have been terribly troubled by provocative cartoons, and whose own books on philosophy and theology were burned by Muslim fundamentalists while his Christian followers were slain by the Inquisition.

So today, in memory of Charb, Cabu, Wolinksi, Tignous, Bernard Maris, Honoré, Elsa Cayat, Mustapha Ourad, Frédéric Boisseau, Michel Renaud, and the police officers Franck Brinsolaro and Ahmed Merabet who were killed exactly a year ago, and all those who died at the hands of Islamist terrorists in 2015, I say simply, “I am still Charlie.”  It is a battle cry in the ongoing campaign against fundamentalist violence and the ideas that motivate it, which is one of the defining human rights struggles of 2016.  That is perhaps the most important truth about Charlie.

They all remain Charlie

Jan 7th, 2016 12:03 pm | By


Sie alle bleiben Charlie:

Embedded image permalink

There’s Salman Rushdie in the last frame. On Instagram:


The word “gender” is not just a fancy word for your personality

Jan 7th, 2016 11:12 am | By

Another visit to Rebecca Reilly-Cooper’s post on “Gender is not a binary, it’s a spectrum” because there are so many lines I long to quote I can’t leave it at just one.

If you identify as pangender, is the claim that you represent every possible point on that spectrum? All at the same time? How might that be possible, since the extremes represent opposites of one another? Pure femininity is passivity, weakness and submission, while pure masculinity is aggression, strength and dominance. It is simply impossible to be all of these things at the same time. (If you don’t agree with me – if you’re angry right now about my “femmephobia”, because I’ve defined femininity as weakness and submission – feel free to give me alternative definitions of masculinity and femininity. Whatever you come up with, they’re going to represent opposites of one another.)

It’s true. You could define femininity as empathy, interpersonal understanding, intuition – but then if that’s femininity, you have to say that masculinity is callousness and mind-blindness. If you define any X as part of femininity, you’ve committed yourself to defining not-X as part of masculinity. Otherwise the X wouldn’t be part of femininity, it would just be something some people have more of and other people have less of.

If we do go with the idea that “gender is a spectrum” then how many possible genders are there?

The only consistent answer to this is: 7 billion, give or take. There are as many possible gender identities as there are humans on the planet. Your gender can be frost or the Sun or music or the sea or Jupiter or pure darkness. Your gender can be pizza.

But if this is so, it’s not clear how it makes sense, or adds anything to our understanding, to call any of this stuff “gender”, as opposed to just “human personality” or “stuff I like”. The word “gender” is not just a fancy word for your personality or your tastes and preferences, and it is not just a label to adopt so that you now have a way to convey just how large and multitudinous and interesting and misunderstood you are.

It’s not, or it shouldn’t be, but by god it certainly is being used that way, to terrible and nauseating effect. All those boring yet privileged cis people who are convinced there are only two dull genders, when the clever exciting breakthrough Young People are all special rainbows. They are the first people in history to be gender nonconforming; please give them all MacArthur grants immediately.

I want to quote the whole of the next bit too, but I won’t. Go read it if you haven’t already.

Fortunately, what is a spectrum is human personality, in all its variety and complexity. (Actually that’s not a spectrum either, because it is not simply one continuum between two extremes. It’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, humany-wumany stuff.) Gender is the value system that says there are two types of personality, determined by the reproductive organs you were born with. The first step to liberating people from the cage that is gender is to challenge established gender norms, and to play with and explore your gender expression and presentation.

So go for it; by all means. Define yourself however you want to. Have a blast.

A problem only emerges when you start making political claims on the basis of that label – when you start demanding that others call themselves cis, because you require there to be a bunch of boring binary cis people for you to define yourself in reference to; and when you insist that these cis women have structural advantage and political privilege over you, because they are socially read as the women they know themselves to be, while nobody really understands just how complex and interesting your gender identity is.

And there’s more, as good as that, and then there’s the knockout final paragraph. Go read it if you haven’t already. At More Radical With Age.

An unprecedented amount of opposition

Jan 6th, 2016 4:07 pm | By

Think Progress on the Supreme Court abortion case.

A looming Supreme Court case that could severely undermine the right to an abortion has attracted an unprecedented amount of opposition from across the country.

A slew of organizations and individuals filed 45 legal briefs in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, each brief examining the case through a unique lens and each coming to the same conclusion: State laws that restrict abortion access are unconstitutional.

The case will examine the validity of a Texas law, known as HB2, that places burdensome, unnecessary guidelines on the state’s dwindling abortion clinics. These regulations, while framed as improvements to safeguard “women’s health,” ultimately have nothing to do with patient safety — and were instead created by anti-abortion legislators to impose additional, costly red tape on clinic staff. So far, it’s been successful. HB2 has already forced half of the state’s clinics to close, thus cutting Texas’ abortion providers in half.

And if the court upholds the law – that will give the green light to every god damn state in the country to make abortion almost impossible to get.

Reproductive rights advocates have been outspoken since HB2 passed in 2013, but since the Supreme Court’s November decision to hear the case, the diversity of opponents has grown. The 45 briefs were filed by a variety of petitioners, including physicians, historians, religious leaders, military officers, scientists, members of Congress, civil rights advocates, law scholars, entire cities, and the United States federal government itself.

Among the briefs were voices of actual women who’ve been affected by the lack of abortion access in the past — a voice some say is forgotten in the high-level case.

“The Supreme Court justices need to hear the real effects of restrictive abortion laws on women like this one in Texas,” said Debra Hauser, the president of Advocates for Youth, a group helping young people access comprehensive sexual health education. Hauser shared her personal experience with abortion in her organization’s brief.

“What is missing from this issue are our personal stories. The reality is that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime.”

Why? Because women need to control if and when they get or remain pregnant.

Many of those women shared their stories in another brief submitted Tuesday, representing 110 law professionals who’ve had abortions. Some noted how they would have never had the chance to become a lawyer if they hadn’t had an abortion when they did.

“[Our] experiences demonstrate the real world effects of abortion access on the lives and careers of women attorneys, and underscore the truth of the court’s observation that reproductive choice facilitates women’s ability ‘to participate in the economic and social life of the nation,’” the brief reads.

A lot of religious boffins and organizations also submitted a brief.

A group of 40 prominent scientists also submitted a brief Tuesday, hoping to overrule the “flawed pseudoscience” that will be used in testimony to support the case.

“We hope the court is able to put abortion politics aside and focus on the illegitimacy of the medical claims propping up the restrictions,” said Robyn Blumner, president and CEO of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. “When science claims are used to infringe a constitutional right they had better be valid, but that’s not the case here.”

That brief was written by CFI’s legal director Nick Little.

A Tuesday press call drew a variety of opponents together, including Wendy Davis, the former Texas state senator who led an 11-hour filibuster in an attempt to defeat HB2, and Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, to further illustrate the severity of this case. Jessica González-Rojas, the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, also spoke on the call, representing the women already harmed the most by the current Texas law.

“For immigrants, mothers, low-wage workers, and Latinas who are all three, securing an abortion means navigating a state-created obstacle course,” she said. “Those unable to jump through these hoops will be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or take matters into their own hands.”

Since HB2 was enacted, at least 100,000 Texan women have tried to induce their own abortion, due to the cost driving to a distant abortion clinic, taking time off work to do so, and other frustrating roadblocks to make it difficult for them to legally end a pregnancy.

It makes me angry.

The inimitable dolce vita of the Arab world

Jan 6th, 2016 3:09 pm | By

For the hip trendy fashion-forward woman forced to wear a black tent from head to foot – Dolce and Gabbana has the latest thing!

Exclusive: The Dolce & Gabbana Abaya Collection Debut

Mind you – in actual Saudi Arabia as opposed to whatever fantasy version Dolce and Gabbana is working with, those shoes would get that woman arrested if she didn’t get beaten to death first. Also? Her bare face would too. But no matter, because at least the black shroud is pretty.

Storied Italian House Dolce & Gabbana has launched its very first abaya collection and makes its global reveal here on For the most part, the collection comes in neutral hues—luxe black and sandy beige—while a sprinkling of abayas capture the Sicilian spirit of the house (and make a nod to the Spring 2016 collection) with printed daisies, lemons, and lush red roses. The abayas and hijabs come in sheer georgette and satin weave charmeuse fabrics and include copious lace details along hems. They also appear to feature a lightweight and dramatic drape, which makes this debut collection rife with special occasion overlays to be worn to celebrate the inimitable dolce vita that is distinct to us in the Arab world.

Ah yes, the inimitable dolce vita of Saudi Arabia. Remind me how Raid Badawi and Hamza Kashgari are flourishing there?

New York magazine, absurdly, has swallowed the lies.

What stands out in particular about Dolce & Gabbana’s take is that it gives the lie to the idea that one can’t follow trends and have fun with fashion while also following a religious dress code. “Modest” doesn’t have to equate to dowdy, boring, or head-to-toe neutrals. It’s not just about lowering hemlines and extending sleeves, but preserving the runway aesthetic that got everyone so excited in the first place. Even if Dolce & Gabbana’s dramatic, Sicilian-influenced designs and playful prints aren’t your personal bag, how great would it be to see Moschino‘s kidult-oriented prints, Armani‘s power suiting, or Versace‘s logoriffic wordplay adorning abayas and hijabs?

Decorate your chains, slaves, and all will be well.