Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Tuesday 23 July 2002

Will the Pope’s visit to Toronto be crowned with universal success?

This report from Gay Wired about action planned by LGBT and AIDS activists to coincide with World Youth Day indicates that there will at least be SOME sanity during the Holy Father’s visit to Eastern Canada. As one Catholic teacher has commented: “The Catholic Church is also going to use the hype surrounding this event to reinforce sexism within the church and to promote unhealthy, even life-threatening, policies for adolescent sexual health," says Joanna Manning, also a writer and a member of the ‘Challenge the Church: For A Just World Youth Day’ group. The recent revelations of outrages involving Catholic priests in North America, Europe and elsewhere, and the Catholic Church’s reaction to these, all need to be challenged. Naturally, at the same time, one wishes that those devout Catholics hoping to see the Pontiff will enjoy His visit, too.

Slimy Platell gripes from the sidelines

Amanda Platell is at her slimy worst in her Evening Standard article today, commenting on the replacement as Conservative Party Chairman of David Davis by Theresa May.

Some of what she writes is, on the surface, correct – the Conservatives are still no nearer to re-connecting with the vast bulk of the British population – she attributes this to a classic trap set for Iain Duncan Smith by Conservatives ‘left-wingers’ – her continuing obsession with Portillo, and her dislike of him, seems to indicate how unhinged this woman is; I doubt very much if Portillo himself was in any way involved in what she describes as a ‘smear’ campaign against Davis, although no doubt some of his former supporters were – Francis Maude and Archie Norman are perhaps the two most likely. In any case, they are quite correct – the Conservative Party will never deserve re-election until the right-wingers like Davis (and Iain Duncan Smith, of course) are prepared genuinely to accept change in the Party. Does she really imagine that the way forward for the Conservative Party is not to embrace change?

I heard Archie Norman speaking very positively about Duncan Smith on the radio a day or so back, and was rather surprised – perhaps Duncan Smith is genuinely trying to change the Party, but if so it must be solely within the ‘Westminster village’, because none of it is credible in the wider country. The only positive explanation I can find is that, perhaps, Duncan Smith’s maneouvres are designed to bring about change without alarming the Conservative Party in the Shires – well, I think the Conservative party won’t change until most of those folks die off (and with the average age of the Party membership so high, perhaps that won’t be so long). People like snake-Platell, however, a bitter youngish woman, will unfortunately be around to peddle their venom for many years to come.

The Daily Telegraph reports the same change, but rather more level-headedly, even if I don’t agree with their basic right-wing standpoint – but at least they report reasonably-fairly.

Monday 22 July 2002

More propaganda about the so-called “Gay Rights Agenda”

Here is a link I have seen to a website called WorldNet Daily, which talks about a magazine called "Whistleblower" in whose June 25 issue is a sensationalist article about what it contends is the 'truth' about the 'gay rights agenda' - it refers to a number of 'studies' (naturally, no sources are quoted) which purportedly support its view that America's children are being 'recruited' into homosexuality - seems like complete nonsense to me, but knowing a little about how the Christian far-right operates in the US, I expect it will be swallowed whole by many of their adherents.

Of course they also talk about subjects such as "Christian-persecution in Arafat-land" – some of Andrew Sullivan’s (see link at right) recent articles about " 'Islamist' Terrorism" seem to strike a chord with that particular strand. As I've lived in a number of Arab Moslem countries I know that the practise of Christianity in some of these countries is not exactly easy (quite apart from proselytisation, which I think is a different subject completely), but it so happens that Arafat himself is a Christian and the Palestinians as a whole contain a significant percentage of Christians, curiously enough. Anyway, that's rather off the point - the link, though, is of course that life in the Middle East is rather more complex than some in the US would have us believe (and I would include, regrettably, Andrew Sullivan in this group - although I've written about him before in this context), just as the 'truth' about homosexuality is rather more nuanced than some of the US-based Christian Right would have us believe.

Friday 19 July 2002

Two boys, 12 and 13, claiming to be Afghans, denied asylum at British Consulate-General in Melbourne

The two were amongst 35 detainees who had escaped on 27th June from the Australian government’s Woomera detention centre for asylum-seekers in the South Australian desert, where they had been held since January 2001. The basis of the denial is the UN Convention on Refugees which requires claims for refugee status to be considered in the first ‘safe’ country reached – Australia, despite the somewhat draconian policies adopted by that country’s government, clearly qualifies on that score. The boys’ mother and three children (including the two boys) have already had their applications for asylum as refugees rejected on four separate occasions, according to Philip Ruddock, Australian Immigration Minister. The father, who had been granted a temporary visa and now lives in Sydney, is also likely to be removed from Australia, it seems, because the Immigration Department has concluded that the family is in fact of Pakistani, not Afghan, origin.

Quite how the two boys were able to reach the British Consulate-General in Melbourne, a distance of roughly 600 miles from the Woomera detention centre (where there have been frequent riots, hunger strikes and suicide attempts), is unclear; it is also not entirely clear why they chose to seek refuge at a British diplomatic post, rather than that of another western country. One wonders whether it has something to do with the announcement last week by the British Government (by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, if memory serves, or perhaps by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary) that as Afghanistan is now free of Taliban rule, it is safe for Afghans abroad to return home. The boys’ lawyer (Eric Vadarlis, a high-profile human rights lawyer) claims the boys wept over the prospect of being returned to what he described as ‘jail’; the whole incident seems decidedly murky.

The difficulty in assessing whether those claiming asylum as refugees do in fact meet the criteria laid down in the UN Convention, or whether they are ‘economic migrants’, is acute and no doubt in some cases it is hard to resolve claims equitably. It seems clear, though, that the attempt to involve the UK in this particular incident suggests that the motives of the boys’ lawyer, and perhaps the Australian authorities (although I tend to doubt the latter), are open to question.

Summer of discontent 2002 / Winter of discontent 1978 - Labour's Achilles heel

Public service unions held their first national strike Wednesday 17th since the last major bout of strikes, dubbed the 'winter of discontent' almost 24 years ago, the strikes which led the following year to the last Labour government being turfed out of office in May 1979. They blame the government for holding down council pay. Half a million council workers obeyed the call for a one-day strike. Thursday 18th was the turn of transport - the strike yesterday by RMT resulted in the cancellation of 90% of Tube services in London and virtually gridlocked the capital's road network. More strikes are likely. Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, apologised to the public for the disruption, but said more stoppages were likely: "I can't see any other way. We are out because London Underground has taken no notice of our concerns." P&O tanker drivers are scheduled to begin a 3-day strike today, according to a union spokesman; this is over an 8% pay claim which compares with the 4.5% offered by P&O and rejected by the union; petrol distribution is likely to be hit.

Saturday 13 July 2002

Flying a Flag – a gesture or an ‘insult’?

A couple of months ago, the wife of the President of the European Central Bank (Wim Duisenberg), both of whom it so happens are Dutch, was heavily criticised by some of her fellow citizens because she chose to hang from a prominent window in their Dutch home the flag of the Palestinian Authority; Jewish groups in Holland categorised this as ‘anti-Semitic’ and an ‘insult’ to Israel. It seems her husband wasn’t exactly over the moon about her gesture, either, saying that in his position as President of the ECB it was preferable to be ‘low key’.

There are lots of things to say here – from what I can gather Mrs Duisenberg was breaking no Dutch law (whatever other considerations of ‘poor taste’ might be advanced, legitimately or not), the flag being flown was that of an internationally recognised entity (even, in theory, by Israel). She apparently told her husband, until eventually she relented and took the flag down, that his position as President of the ECB was not her affair and that she could not be bound by his need to be ‘low key’ as a Dutch citizen in her own right.

Personally, whilst I do not exactly share her viewpoint in its entirety, I have considerable respect for Mrs Duisenberg in making her ‘statement’ by flying this flag – by no stretch of the imagination, in my view, is it legitimate for her gesture to be classified as ‘anti-Semitic’ or an ‘insult’ to Israel, and attempts so to do must be repudiated for the nonsense they are, unless genuine evidence can be provided in support of the claim. It is quite unacceptable for commentary criticising policies of the current Israeli government immediately to be categorised, in an hysterical manner, as anti-Semitic. It is perfectly possible, no doubt, that some criticism of Israel may be motivated by what are in fact at least partially ‘anti-Semitic’ sentiments, but it is quite outrageous, in my view, immediately to categorise all criticism of Israel as such. It seems to me that ‘smearing’ all criticism of Israel as ‘anti-Semitic’ is simply a cover for attempts at denial of free speech.

As it so happens, some weeks later (and a few weeks ago now), an Egyptian long-term resident of Los Angeles apparently took great exception to some of his neighbours flying the US flag (the ‘Stars and Stripes’) in the wake of the terrorist outrage of last September 11 – in the wake of the atrocity he himself carried out at Los Angeles International Airport against people at an EL Al counter there, on what was both his own birthday and US Independence Day (in ‘rebellion’ from the country of which I am a proud ‘citizen’ and ‘subject’ – the latter term does not offend me in any way of course, and the US is now our greatest and longest-standing ally), it seems he had voiced the view to his neighbours that they were ‘rubbing his face’ in it (whatever ‘it’ was) by flying the Stars and Stripes. My gut reaction to this is that this is absolute rot – it comes to something when citizens of a country can’t fly their own flag. It seems clear his actions were motivated by anti-Israeli sentiments (even if it is not entirely clear they were 'anti-Jewish' per se). As a British person, it has often struck me, when visiting the US, how ‘strange’ it is (to a Briton, where the gesture is much less frequent) to see the US flag flown so often, not just outside public or commercial office buildings, but outside private residences, too. This may not be our ‘style’ here in the UK (in some ways, more’s the pity), but it certainly is in the United States and indeed in many other countries – just to mention a few, Switzerland, Norway and Thailand immediately spring to mind – and I have personally always found the ‘Stars and Stripes’, at the most banal level, to be pleasant to look at, quite apart from the fact that it symbolises a pretty noble outlook on the world (unless you espouse the view that the US is ‘the great Satan’, which I most certainly do not!). So the outrage in Los Angeles against people who would with a high degree of probability be Jewish, if not necessarily Israeli, can never be justified. And his neighbours are, I hope, still flying their flags if they wish to do so.

Finally, it so happens that I have a number of small flags on display in my own study (being something of an amateur vexillologist), including the Union Flag of the United Kingdom (naturally!), but in addition flags of various countries – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, and the United States (plus a view historic variants of the current US flag). If anyone wants to send me, or to tell me where I can obtain, small pennant flags of Israel or the Palestinian Authority, I will gladly find a spot in my study to display them, too.

And if I occasionally write or voice criticism of Israel, or the Palestinian Authority, under their respective current leaderships, please don’t bore me by asserting that I’m anti-Israeli or anti-Palestinian or indeed anti-Semitic.

On that note, lunch beckons.