HOPE not hate


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What anti-fascists should do in Rotherham

posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Saturday, 30 August 2014, 16:24

Following my blog yesterday where I said that a simple counter-demonstration against the far right marching in Rotherham could prove counter-productive, one of our supporters emailed me and asked what I suggested in its place.

It was a genuine question and needs answering. So, I've come up with a few things I think we should do in Rotherham, some of which can be done directly by anti-fascists but the others, at the very least, should be supported vocally.

It is only by demonstrating that we genuinely care about the issue and have some ideas as to how it can be addressed, that we can hope to keep people away from the far right.

So here are my ten suggestions for what anti-fascists need to do in Rotherham:

1. We need to demonstrate that we understand and share the anger of local people. Too much of what is written is said gives only passing condemnation for what has happened before moving on to justify, qualify or refute key allegations or the way the issue has been reported or the issue generally. We need to show genuine empathy with the 1,400 young people who have been abused, to say nothing of the literally thousands of brothers, sisters, parents, friends and family of these survivors. I really don’t think the empathy is there at the moment and until it is we have no chance of connecting with most local people.

2. We need to be unequivocal in our condemnation of the perpetrators. Whatever we think of the causes, and I have been quite clear in saying that I think it is more about misogyny and culture than race or religion, we are talking about paedophilia here and it is disgusting and inexcusable. All too often the young people who have been abused are forgotten.

3. We should call for the fullest prosecution possible for the perpetrators. Only a handful of people have so far been prosecuted, which is pathetic. A renewed police investigation needs to go over old case files and seek to bring the guilty to justice. Given the low confidence local people have towards South Yorkshire Police, this new enquiry needs to be overseen, or at least monitored by an outside force.

4. Those in authority who overlooked the scale of the problem or refused to take action when it was brought to their attention need to be sacked or disciplined.

5. We need community leaders, of all communities, to speak out on this issue, both in condemnation but also to encourage people to shop perpetrators. We need greater support for young people to come forward and speak out, in both the white and Muslim communities. There is a lot of under-reporting of sexual abuse within the Muslim community and this needs to be overcome. Community leaders and teachers need to work with young people and parents. This needs to include addressing misogyny and the attitudes of some men towards women.

6. Cuts to social services, education and youth services have clearly played a part, albeit a secondary role. We both need to explain how this has only made the situation worse, whilst also leading a campaign to get increase funding for services that are there to protect young people at risk of abuse.

7. A new national police task force needs to be established to investigate what is clearly a network of abusers around the country. Rotherham is only the latest example of young girls being moved around the country by abusers. We cannot leave it to individual police forces to deal with any longer.

8. One of the problems in Rotherham was that local authorities from other parts of the country were placing vulnerable young people in cheap rented accommodation in the town without informing Rotherham social services. These young people, who were already marginalised and vunerable, were left isolated and without any immediate support. This needs to change and, at the very least, local authorities need to be informed and extra support put in place.

9. The far right offer no answers to the problem and certainly no protection to the young people abused. We need to bring communities together to reject the message of hate from the far right, which will only lead to further division and polarisation, but this will be hollow without making people confident that abuse is being properly dealt with.

10. Finally, throughout all of this, we must put the interests of young people first. Their interests have to be front, centre and back of any campaigning we do. They are not an afterthought, they are not a political football with which to attack our political opponents and any concern over race or cultural sensitives need to be secondary.

 Posted: 30 Aug 2014 | There are 10 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Which side are we on?

posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Friday, 29 August 2014, 15:25

In a little over a fortnight, an assortment of far right and fascist groups plan to descend on Rotherham for a demonstration against grooming. How anti-fascists respond could have a long-term impact on the future politics of the area.

There will be some who will be tempted to organise a counter-protest, which will amount to little more than standing behind a line of police chanting 'Nazi scum off our street'.

While I understand the desire to show opposition to the EDL, I believe that this approach is futile and counter-productive.

In the autumn of 2012, an EDL demo against grooming attracted a coach load of people (mainly men) from the former pit village of Maltby. These people weren't fascists and most weren't racist; in fact many were decent union men who had stood loyally with their union during the year-long miners’ strike and, more recently, had even leafleted with us against the BNP.

What they were, however, was angry.

They were angry because some of their daughters had been sexually abused and they were angry because the Labour Party - for so long their party – had, at best, ignored the problem or, at worst, connived to keep it under wraps. The EDL, on the other hand, gave them an outlet for their anger.

But as they filed through Rotherham town centre that day they were genuinely horrified to be called racists and fascists by those protesting against the march and rather than dissuade them against joining up with the EDL this name-calling only pushed them closer into the pack.

Counter-demos might make us feel good but they risk polarising a situation, or in this case a community. When posed with one group marching against paedophilia and another group saying nothing on the subject, should we really be surprised with the side local people choose?

Whatever one’s theory about what is behind this grooming, it is quite clear that ignoring the problem will only make things worse. We found this out, to our cost, in Bradford and Keighley in 2004, when there was a consensus to dismiss BNP claims of grooming in Keighley as racist propaganda. The BNP won four council seats and just missed out in several more.

Grooming was occurring in Keighley and everyone there knew it. In fact, nine Muslim men were sent to prison and as many as 65 young girls were believed to have been abused.

Nick Griffin decided to contest the parliamentary seat in the general election the following year but by this time we had changed our position and took the issue of Grooming head on. We joined forces with Angela Sinfield, a mother of one of the abused girls, and shone a light on this criminal activity whilst also condemning the BNP for attempting to exploit it for its own racial ends. This approach took the sting out of the issue and showed that we were genuine in our concern. Griffin polled an embarrassingly low 9% of the vote.

I have no doubt that people from Maltby, like other areas of Rotherham, will join the far right march on 13 September, such is the anger and disgust many people feel towards the perpetrators, politicians and police. But rather than shouting from the sidelines anti-fascists need to demonstrate to local people that we are on their side. We need to have something tangible and meaningful to say about Grooming; we need to be genuine in our condemnation of this evil and, fundamentally, we need to have some answers to prevent it happening again.

The people of Rotherham have every right to be angry about what has happened but unless we intervene in a constructive way then we become complicit – through our actions or our silence – in pushing them into the hands of right wing groups.

Those people from Maltby are our people, let’s not abandon them too.

 Posted: 29 Aug 2014 | There are 2 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Shining a light on abuse

posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Wednesday, 27 August 2014, 14:53

The publication of a report into child sexual abuse in Rotherham is harrowing reading, both in the scale of the horrendous abuse and the appalling errors and cover-up by senior staff, local politicians and the police.

Even more depressing is the fact that none of this comes as a complete surprise. Similar failings were highlighted in previous reports, such as Rochdale, and we will undoubtedly see more reports like these in the future. Young people have been let down by the system for far too long.

What the perpetrators did was truly awful and the subsequent errors and cover-up by those in the council and police are inexcusable and criminal. More of those who were involved must be brought to justice and those in authority held accountable, starting with South Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner, Shaun Wright, who should resign after failing to act on three reports on the widespread nature of the abuse during his time as Cabinet Minister responsible for Children and Young People’s services on Rotherham council.

The report details a combination of factors behind the failure of Rotherham Council to understand the scale of the problem, including disbelieving both the victims and the social workers who raised the issue, concern over being considered racist for highlighting the problem and a mood of denial amongst prominent Muslim councillors about the scale of the problem within the local Muslim communities.

Sadly, these are all problems we have heard before.

HOPE not hate was vocal in its criticism of how local authorities were dealing with on-street grooming from as far back as 2005, when we joined forces with Angela Sinfield, a mother of one girl who had been abused, and the then Keighley MP Ann Cryer. We stressed the need to push aside any racial or religious sensitivities when child protection is at stake and we supported changes to the law, which were being championed by Ann. More recently, last year, we came together with a number of other organisations and individuals to call for greater awareness about the threat of on-street grooming by gangs and encouraging communities to shop perpetrators.

As with have seen with the Jimmy Savile affair and with the long history of abuse within the Catholic Church, young people are sexually abused by people of all colours and religions, but let us not pretend that there is not a specific problem with some men within the British Pakistani/Kashmiri communities around on-street grooming by gangs. Rotherham is sadly just the latest in a long, and growing, list of British towns and cities which has experienced grooming by Pakistani/Kashmiri gangs. So, if it is right to call on public institutions like the BBC and the NHS to review procedures and the Catholic Church to address abuse by its clergy, we should not shy away from dealing with the problem within specific communities.

Back in 2012 I wrote a piece entitled: Grooming – an issue we cannot ignore, which explored the problem and highlighted the background of a growing number of the perpetrators. Unsurprisingly, I came under attack from certain quarters but, if anything, I underestimated the scale of the problem.

“Unfortunately, too many people have remained silent for too long,” I wrote at the time. “Police and local authorities have been slow to protect these young girls. Leading figures in local Muslim communities have often been too slow in speaking out on this issue, and in some cases simply dismissed it as Far Right propaganda. They have been joined in this by some on the left, who have been too quick to silence any discussion.

“While the perpetrators of on-street grooming obviously have a low opinion of the white girls they abuse, they have a similarly poor opinion of all females. Grooming has more to do with misogyny rather than specifically religion/race.”

The article also quoted Sara Khan, from the women’s human rights group, Inspire. “As a Bradford-born and raised Muslim woman from the Kashmiri/Mirpuri community, I understand the cultural complexities. Let’s be clear: it’s not just white women that are viewed as inferior – many from these Pakistani rural villages believe all women are second class citizens. The culture of conservative Kashmiri/Mirpuri community has at its root a deep-seated misogyny with the aim of controlling every aspect of a woman’s life and reducing her into subservience.”

I attacked the BNP and EDL for having us believe that grooming was a consequence of Islam as a religion as the facts simply do not back this up. The vast majority of perpetrators are from one specific community, rather than spread across all Muslim communities, so it is here we have to address the problem.

Misogyny and sexual abuse cuts across all communities but this fact should not allow us to turn a blind eye to a particular manifestation of this problem. The Rotherham report highlights the need for the police to investigate child sexual abuse vigorously wherever it appears and more work needs to be done within the British Pakistani/Kashmiri communities to raise awareness of the issue, challenge behaviour and report and prosecute perpetrators.

We are all angry, but we cannot allow this to become an opportunity for racists to whip up anti-Muslim hatred, but at the same time neither can we allow a fear of a backlash to silence us from speaking out and, more importantly, addressing the problem. Anything less will be betraying the young people who are being targeted.

 Posted: 27 Aug 2014 | There are 4 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Tackling Islamist extremism must be an issue for the British Left

posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Wednesday, 20 August 2014, 22:43

The awful murder of photojournalist James Foley, supposedly at the hands of a British jihadist, is just the latest outrage from a group that is seeking to impose its Islamist extremism on all around them.

While ISIS is currently operating just in the Middle East, the ideology that underpins it is found throughout the world and so must be combated wherever it raises its head.

Our opposition to ISIS, and its supporters in the UK, is not down to the terrorist threat they pose but of a rejection of their politics of hate and a worldview that we do not share. They want to impose a system that is totally at odds with one that respects human rights, diversity and equality and we have to oppose it.

It is no surprise to find Anjem Choudary and his al-Muhajiroun network cheerleading for ISIS. For too long he and his group have been dismissed for their clownish antics but the society they want to impose on us is the same as what is being carried out in the supposed 'Islamic State'.

The al-Muhajiroun network is unquestionably the single largest recruiter for ISIS in this country and, as recent videos have made abundantly clear, many of their activists have been involved in some of the worst atrocities being carried out by the group.

For too long, much of the British left has remained silent on the threat from Islamist extremism, partly out of ignorance but also because fear that opposing it will stoke Islamophobia. This has to change. Islamist extremism stands in opposition to our belief in equality, fairness and tolerance and it is in fact the left's unwillingness to confront this threat that leaves a vacuum for Islamophobes and racists to spread their poison.

ISIS represent the most terrifying force in the world today. It is not good enough to shake our head and deplore their actions abroad whilst staying silent on its supporters in the UK.

Above all, the failure to develop a progressive opposition to Islamist extremism, that is based on our values and principles, is letting down the very people and communities that are now under attack.

 Posted: 20 Aug 2014 | There are 10 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Let's help Abu Rumaysah live out his dream

posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Monday, 18 August 2014, 11:52

Poor old Abu Rumaysah. Last Friday he sadly told Channel 4 News that he would like nothing more than to go and live in the so-called Islamic State but was prevented from doing so by the British security services. He even offered to renounce his citizenship if that would help facilitate his move to the caliphate.

For those who have not heard of Abu Rumaysah before, he is a leading follower of Anjem Choudary, a key figure in the l Muhajiroun network and the front man for the now banned 'Shariah Project'.

Now, despite his protestations, I really don't believe Abu Rumaysah has tried very hard to get to the caliphate. Given that 5-700 others have made the trip to Syria without much hassle it is hard to see how a man with his links to such a network could not make it.

But let's take Rumaysah at his word and believe that he really does want to go, I think it would be really bad of us to prevent him from living out his dream. I, for one, would be willing to write to the authorities pleading with them to make an exception for this man and his friends. After all, our communities would be a safer place without him so everyone is a winner.

 Posted: 18 Aug 2014 | There are 8 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Tilbury tragedy highlights the persecution of Sikhs in Afghanistan

posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Monday, 18 August 2014, 09:44

The death of one man and the rescue of 30 others from a container at Tilbury Docks is a personal and political tragedy, which highlights the growing persecution of the small Sikh community in Afghanistan. While much of the media has focused on the human trafficking aspect of this story what is not covered is why these people were fleeing Afghanistan (and Northern Pakistan) in the first place.

As recently as 1992 Afghanistan had a vibrant and strong Sikh community with numbers estimated at 75,000. Now this is down to just 4,000. The declining numbers have been the result of systematic persecution by the mujahideen and Taleban which, if anything, has increased in recent years. According to the Sikh Council UK, the Afghan Sikh community has had property and businesses forcibly taken over, been prey to kidnappings and ransoms, had a special tax imposed on them and other non-Muslims and several have been killed, including some by beheadings.

Spokesperson for the Sikh Council UK, Kulwant Singh Dhesi said, "The suffering being experienced by Sikhs in this part of the world is extremely distressing and appears to have led to these refugees taking desperate measures to seek safety. We would urge the authorities to treat them sensitively following the trauma they have experienced. We would also urge the British Government to use its influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan to try and protect the very vulnerable Sikh minority community that remains there.”

He added, “The plight of these Sikhs led to them taking desperate measures to seek safety and has resulted in the death of one person. Those who are involved in people trafficking would have known of the risks and danger involved in transporting people in a shipping container. They have taken advantage of the desperate situation of these vulnerable people and the authorities should do everything in their power to bring them to justice.”

While there is considerable media and political attention of the treatment of Christians and Yazidi communities at the hand of ISIS in Iraq, let us not forget that religious persecution is occurring in many different parts of the world.

 Posted: 18 Aug 2014 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics

posted by: Guest blog by Joelle Chess | on: Monday, 11 August 2014, 10:22

As political parties like UKIP become more popular there is more pressure to control immigration. This is part of an effort to define the country’s identity. It suggests that immigrants remain foreign once they arrive, that there is a limit to how British they can be.

This month marks 78 years since the 1936 Olympics and the story of Jesse Owens describes a similar identity crisis that occurred in America and shows how sport can help us define who we consider to be British.

Jesse Owens was a black American athlete. He was born in Alabama but spent most of his life in Ohio.

In the 1936 Summer Olympic Games Jesse Owens won four gold medals: the 100m and 200m dash, the 400m relay and long jump.

The Olympics were being held in Berlin, Germany soon after the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, came to power. Hitler wanted to use the Olympics to show the world how powerful and successful Germany was under his rule. He also wanted to promote the idea that Aryans, white Germans, were superior to other races.

By winning the gold medals Jesse Owens countered Hitler’s intended message. He showed that black people can be as successful as white people.

Hitler’s response to Owen’s success was: “People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive… their physiques were stronger than those of civilised whites and hence should be excluded from future games”.

Owens’ success highlighted how ridiculous Hitler’s claims about race were. But this is the not the only message his story sends. Owens also suffered discrimination in his home country, the USA.

In the 1930s, black people in the USA were not treated as equals. Black people were segregated by law. In many areas they could not vote. They could not sit in the same parts of restaurants or buses as white people. And in many areas, black people were not permitted to walk in the front door of buildings.

The economic situation in the USA in the 1930s added to this discrimination. The USA was suffering from an economic recession called the Great Depression. As levels of unemployment increased drastically, racial violence became more common, especially in the south of the country. Groups of white people attacked blacks as they felt they threated the security of their jobs.

Owens suffered from this discrimination when he returned to the USA from Berlin. Even though he had made history by being the first American to win four gold medals in an Olympic Games, Owens was ignored by the political establishment. President Franklin D Roosevelt did not contact him to congratulate him on his success.

The separation of black people from whites continued until the mid-1950s. At this time services such as schools began to become integrated. But it wasn’t until 1964 that the Civil Rights act was passed in the USA. This banned any discrimination based on race, colour, religion or national origin. Owens’ success was finally credited in 1955 when President Eisenhower named him “Ambassador of Sports”.

Modern day USA embraces black citizens as being part of the country’s success. In 1976, Owens was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. After his death, in 1990 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bush.

The USA is very different to how it was in the 1930s. Considering how Jesse Owens was treated only 78 years ago there has been an extraordinary transformation, just ask President Barack Obama!

The world has changed beyond recognition and we need only to look at the heroes of the 2012 London Olympics, from Jessica Ennis to Bradley Wiggins & Chris Hoy!

But Mo Farah is the embodiment of the change in sport and in society more generally. After he won his two gold medals at the 2012 Olympics. A reporter asked Mo Farah if his medal would have meant more is he had won it for his country of birth, Somalia. He replied: “Not at all, mate. This is my country since I was eight years old this is where I grew up. This is where I started life. This is where I went to Uni. This is where the people I know are, this is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I’m proud, very proud, that it’s my country”.

Mo Farah embodies the new reality that “British” should not be defined by how long someone has lived here. Identity is chosen by the individual and how they feel about where they live and their experiences.

From Jessie Owens to Mo Farah in less than a lifetime shows how far we have come. We now embrace our national identity as being varied and colourful and something to celebrate. Questioning how British someone is based on the colour of their skin and how long they have resided here is not progress but reminiscent of a past we need to make sure is long forgotten!

 Posted: 11 Aug 2014 | There are 2 comments | make a comment/view comments