In Condemnation of Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s “policy proposal” to ban all Muslims from entering the USA is as ridiculous as it is frightening. This is a man with a great deal of privilege and power who is using his platform to preach idiotic intolerance towards the Muslim population in America and now also towards the Muslim population abroad.

As a dual-national with an American husband I watch Trump’s public remarks with varying degrees of incredulity and horror, but not with amusement because this is getting serious.

This man is apparently the front-runner for the Republican Presidential nomination, which means that if he wins the nomination and then enough people vote Republican, he will be the next President.

This is very scary. It is a very scary thought that a man who displays such ignorance and intolerance could be the “leader of the free world.” How free we will all be with him at the helm is anyone’s guess. I am not naive enough to think that this will all blow over. I remember before I had even lived in America, when no one really believed they would elect George Bush. Look how that turned out. They could very well elect Trump as well. [Note to self: register as overseas voter to vote against Trump].

Those of us who disagree with Trump, who believe in tolerance and in freedom over fear and hatred need to speak out. This sort of talk is not acceptable. We are not living in 1930s Germany. We are not living in 1950s America. This is the 21st Century and this sort of thing should be behind us (though of course it never is).

When I was studying US History, I learned about the “myth of the black beast rapist.” In popular and political discourse, if a white man committed a rape, it was viewed as an aberration – as the work of one deranged individual but not reflective on the general nature of white men. If a black man committed a rape however, it was “proof” that black men, by their very nature, were dangerous rapists.

We are seeing this again in different form in America at the moment. If an average-Joe (non-Muslim) American kills a lot of people using a semi-automatic weapon, it is seen (in one narrative) as a terrible tragedy, but no big deal really – no reason to tighten up the gun laws, just the work of a deranged individual and not reflective on “Americans” in general or on gun-owners in general. When an Islamic fundamentalist-inspired shooting occurs, it is reason for Donald Trump to advocate a summary ban on all Muslims everywhere coming to the USA for any reason whatsoever.

This is ridiculous and dangerous and must be condemned.

So here I am condemning it just for the record.

We really cannot allow this man to continue to have his platform when he is preaching hatred, fear and division. We must all condemn him and his remarks as having no place on the world political stage.

Thank you.

A Photo Speaks A Thousand Words

I am glad that more people are finally paying attention to the refugee crisis (and using the correct terminology). Even our PM has now been forced into saying that the UK will help.

As a historian, I view these events from the perspective of the present, but also from the perspective of the future and how they will be viewed looking back. The influx of refugees and migrants to the EU seems to be a watershed moment. It is also an example of how ordinary people can and do shape the course of history. The American Civil War was not initially fought to end slavery, but as hundreds and thousands of Southern slaves fled their plantations and presented themselves at Union camps, they forced the issue. So too, the thousands of people fleeing from war and poverty and washing up on the shores of Europe have forced the issue and have now forced European leaders (including our own) to deal with the situation.

None more so that poor little Aylan Kurdi, whose lifeless body is now everywhere on social and traditional media. My husband doesn’t even want to go on Facebook at the moment because of it. He told me “it’s not that I don’t care, but I don’t want to see that. I already cared about the situation I didn’t need that photo to make me care.”

I think that it is right that the photo be published. I was upset by the story of the children that suffocated in the lorry; I tried to imagine the horror because I think about things like that and I empathise. I wrote to the PM asking him to help.

The photo of Aylan Kurdi seems to have done for the world at large what the news stories alone did for me. The photo is something tangible and easily shareable and it certainly has been shared a lot in the past couple of days. But it is not just the original photo and news stories that have been shared. I have seen photos that have been Photoshopped to show his lifeless body with cartoon angel wings, and a cartoon with his body lying outside a world map cordoned off with barbed wire.

I haven’t posted links to these images because I don’t agree with them. What right do people have to take this image, edit it, and flood the internet with cartooney-versions of a little boy’s death, so that forever more when people search for his name these images come up? To me, photos of his dead body, edited and added to by complete strangers is an entirely inappropriate “memorial.” I do agree with the original publication of the image because sometimes an image burns into the collective imagination and can help to change the course of history. But I do not agree with people editing and changing the image, even in “tribute.”

Who are you to take such an image, of someone else’s precious child, a child you have never met, and Photoshop it into something else? The image itself is powerful enough. That poor kid does not need angel wings. He is not an angel, he is a victim of a heartless and unfair world.

I hate images of my children being put on the internet without my consent. Have some respect for this boy’s family and for the boy himself. By all means share the image to raise awareness but leave it as is. Unedited, it speaks a truth (but not the only truth). Aylan was not the only child who died that night and there are plenty more still in danger.

Above all, he was a little human being. A little individual with joys none of us but his grieving friends and family know. By all means we should raise awareness and help other refugees, but we should be careful not to turn the memorialisation of a little boy we have never met and didn’t care about until his lifeless body washed up on the beach AND was photographed (other children who died that night; do we even know their names?) into a collective conscience-salving.

If you edit a photo of little Aylan and share it on social media but don’t write to the PM or your MP, don’t donate to one of the charities helping the refugees, don’t speak up when people try to demonize these people, then you are not helping. You are just engaging in a ghoulish exercise in social media-fueled narcissism.

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We Need to Speak Out About Syria (and elsewhere)

This being a more suitable forum than Facebook (my FB Friends are no doubt reaching saturation point with my Syrian refugee posts), I am writing to express my sadness and disgust over the refugee crisis unfolding on the shores of Europe (I say unfolding, but it has been going on for a very long time now, it is just recently that the British newspapers have been waxing hysterical about the “migrants” at Calais and so only now that we seem to be paying attention en-mass).

I saw a petition shared on Facebook to get the BBC to use the term “refugees” and not “migrants.” I read the desperately sad story about the refugees (including three children and a baby) who suffocated in the back of a lorry.

I read a story about Lebanon that says the Lebanese government is in crisis with uncollected rubbish piling up in the streets. This article mentions that Lebanon, with a native population of 4 million people, has accepted 1 million Syrian refugees since the Syrian crisis began which is the equivalent of the UK accepting 13 millions refugees. Which of course we haven’t.

We live in one of the richest and safest countries in the world, and our national press and our government are whipping up a mountain out of a molehill over a few thousand people at Calais.

And they are people. Not a swarm. Not an inconvenience. Even if most of them are young men – a category that apparently elicits precious little sympathy. As a woman and a mother, my heart fills with sadness when I read about the plight of the refugee women and children, but as someone with four younger brothers and many younger male cousins (all of whom are fine, kind, and empathetic young men) I can see the humanity in these young men. They have probably been sent on because they are the most able. I imagine that old men, women and children often get left behind to face the worst of the atrocities when the journey to safety is so arduous.

I saw two things shared on Facebook that moved me. One, a video by Save the Children putting the plight of Syria’s children into perspective. The other, a poem by Warsan Shire that completely blew me away. From what I can tell, the actual version, is titled “Conversations About Home (At the Deportation Centre)” and is even more powerful.

My uncle also shared his own poem on the subject of the refugee crisis and one of my cousins was planning a trip to Calais to take supplies to the refugees in The Jungle. Our family at least (along with many other families of course) are immune to the idiotic analysis of much of the British press and to the dangerous apathy of the British government.

I also saw this article from The Guardian with “ten truths” about the refugee crisis. And this photo from Amnesty International.

I am going to write to the editors of the national newspapers and the BBC to express displeasure at some of the reporting on this crisis, and the use of the word “migrants” which is dangerously euphemistic. We need our leaders and our press to foster sensitivity and sensible solutions and not to pander to and perpetuate nationalistic ignorance and hatred.

England is not full. Our infrastructure is woefully inadequate but that doesn’t mean we can’t (and shouldn’t) improve it for our own population in any case and to help accommodate refugees from places like Syria as well.

I am also going to write to David Cameron for the record, not because I think that he will care or do anything significant, but because speaking out is the right thing to do.

Our water was brown this morning because the water went out in three postcodes in our town (luckily ours didn’t go out but my parents’ water was out for a few hours yesterday). My husband has gone to buy bottled water as I don’t want the kids to drink brown water (and I don’t want to drink it either).

My preference for clean water and my expectation that it will forever and always flow freely from my tap reveals my First-World privilege. We are all connected. We are all human. Those of us who are not refugees should show empathy towards those who are and if our government will not help we should speak out.

Please consider also writing to the Prime Minister, or to the newspapers, or writing on Facebook or Twitter or on a blog if you have one (and I know a lot of you already are because I have been sharing all of your posts!). We need voices to speak the truth and to speak for humanity over the scare-mongering hatred in the mainstream press and the foot-dragging in Westminster.

I wish I could do more. I don’t really know what to do. But I have this blog. And my voice. And that is better than sitting here in silent witness to these atrocities.

“Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

Please consider sharing this post (or writing your own) if you agree.

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What’s Wrong With Being Left-Wing?

Reading this article from a middle-aged, middle-class Corbyn supporter this morning while eating my breakfast got me on my imaginary soapbox in the shower again. This time I was ruminating on some of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies: The Independent has one of its handy charts showing some of Corbyn’s policies and others that it is suggesting he might have in the future (I cannot see these policies listed on Corbyn’s official website so I take them with a pinch of salt). But one of the Indy’s hypothetical Corbyn policies got me thinking – just what is so wrong with being left-wing? “Leftie” is a bit like “feminist” – no one wants to own the title for fear of seeming out of touch, too radical, idealistic, naive or downright dangerous(!?) I don’t mind owning both though and my answer to my own soapbox question is: nothing. There is nothing wrong with being left-wing. There is nothing wrong with wanting to re-frame the debate away from the right-wing capitalist politics that has a stranglehold on our society, our press, our environment, and our children’s futures.

Perhaps the fear is that the debate cannot be re-framed. Britain is currently right-wing, so the story seems to go. It is right-wing because the Tories won the election, so obviously no left-wing ideas will ever gain traction and no-one is going to win an election on a left-wing platform ever again so why bother?

What if previous generations had given up so easily? Can you imagine it: “the general public will never support votes for women so we may as well give up”; “the acceptance of homosexuality will never be mainstream so why bother continuing to argue for gay marriage?”; “most people don’t want to end slavery and most politicians see us as a lunatic fringe so lets just call it a day.” No. Neither can I. Just because something isn’t currently popular doesn’t mean it will never become the norm. Who now (aside from members of a lunatic fringe) would argue for taking the vote away from women or for re-enslaving black people? Exactly. The grounds of the debate in these areas has shifted so significantly that there is no longer any question of challenging the status quo – which in itself was once a challenge to the status quo. There are still outspoken opponents of gay marriage because this re-framing of the debate is more recent, but give it fifty years and it will be a similar story – people will look back in amazement that anyone ever stopped gay people from marrying in the first place.

That’s how our history goes: what is accepted now is not necessarily what will be accepted in the future. How do things change? By people talking and debating and protesting and calling for change and rallying support. Can Corbyn win? Possibly. Should we be afraid if he does? Of course not. Labour supporters seem to be afraid that if Corbyn wins then Labour will lose the election, which seems ridiculously defeatist. The Tories and their allies seem to be thinking along similar lines and want Corbyn to win so that Labour will lose, but why should Labour lose on a Corbyn ticket? Because he is too left-wing? Because the British voting public is not left-wing and will never vote for a left-wing agenda? That is the argument, but Labour will never win on a left-wing ticket if it doesn’t try; if it rolls over and goes along with what the Tories do to try to “fit in” with the national mood. Remember what your mother used to say: if all your friends jumped off a cliff would you do it too? Corbyn was the only one of the leadership candidates to vote against the Tories’ changes to Child Tax Credits – this from an opposition, left-wing party.

But back to the policy that got me on my imaginary soapbox. The Indy states that Corbyn is in favour of bringing back the 50% tax rate on earnings over £150,000 (which it says is about 1% of earners) and that the British public would possibly support a 75% tax rate on incomes over £1 million (and it is worth thinking that if only 1% of people earn above £150k then what percentage earn over £1 million?) Why is it that a government can take away money from poor working people (because Child Tax Credits are not only paid to scapegoated so-called “scoungers,” but to people who are actually working, at actual jobs, to try to put food on the table for their kids) who actually really need the money, but heaven forbid a government tries to take any (more) money away from people who already have more money than any sensible person would know what to do with.

I have never had a job that earned me more than £20k (so far – hey, I am as aspirational as the rest of Labour’s imaginary target audience: if I was offered a job earning above £150k I would jump at it, but I also wouldn’t cry foul about paying a higher rate of tax). In 2012-2013, the median income in the UK before tax across all age-ranges was £21k; the mean income was £29.6k before tax. That means that on average people in the UK are not far-off my own experience. Great, so maybe what I have to say below will resonate somewhat.

Imagine that you work hard for your money. Or maybe you don’t work all that hard, but you try to look like you are working hard. Maybe you work part-time and work harder than someone who works full-time? Maybe you work part-time and also look after your kids; maybe you work full-time and also look after your kids, maybe you don’t have any kids and you work full-time, or only part-time because you can’t find a full-time job, or because you want time to focus on your music. Whatever. You work. At a job. And you pay income tax if you earn over £10.6k a year. The experience of the rich and super-rich is not so different to us – they work, full-time, part-time, more or less hard than other people, and they pay tax on their earnings.

Think about what you pay for with your £20k of income? Rent, food, clothes, transportation, maybe the odd trip to the pub or takeaway pizza. The normal sort of stuff. Then think about how little your entire yearly salary means to someone who earns over £1 million a year. £20k is peanuts for some people. Not a lot of people. But for some people it really isn’t that much money in comparison to all of the other money that they have. If you and I can live on £20k then why do some people think that they need millions to live on and how-very-dare-you-suggest-that-I-can-spare-a-bit-for-the-treasury?

Hypothetically speaking (because the UK does not currently have a 50% tax rate on earning over £150k or of 75% on earnings over £1 million), why is it a terrible idea if people who earn a lot of money (which, remember is not most people – that’s not to say we should target people because they are a minority, but the idea that this will “hurt” everyone is right-wing propaganda) pay more tax.

Very rich people who pay higher rates of income tax are paying the same amount of tax as you and I on the amount of money they earn that is the same as the amount of money that you and I earn. So, for example, they would pay 20% on all income below £32k (currently); 40% on income between £32k and £150k; 50% (for comparison, currently 45%) on income between £150k and £1 million; and 75% on income over £1 million. So the only bit of their income they are being taxed more on is the bit over £1 million. The bit that the vast vast vast majority of us will never make in our wildest dreams. And we still manage (just about in some cases) to eat, buy stuff, send our kids to school, live, breathe, laugh, all that good stuff. Why do the super-rich need their money more than we need good schools, hospitals, roads, a future for our planet etc? What are they doing with it that is so important it outweighs the public good?

Ah, you say knowingly, but the super-rich need to keep their money so they can invest it in things. Right. So are they investing in things that make the world a better place or in things that make themselves richer? Um… well… they invest in things that create jobs. No. No they don’t. Not generally speaking. And why is it that we only think of “investment” as something that makes money for the person putting up the money in the first place? Why can’t taxes be seen as an investment in public services; public services without which the world would be a much shittier place? Why can’t we apply the old adage “a penny saved is a penny earned” to things like building council houses so that in years to come Local Authorities do not have to spend thousands on housing benefit payments to buy-to-let private landlords? Why is it that we only apply this gem of money-saving wisdom when it comes to snatching Child Tax Credit payments away from all those scroungy single-mums out there?

Why? Because it is easy to attack the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable, to attack people too wrapped up in their day-to-day struggles to survive to notice politics and people who don’t really understand (because the education system has failed them) what it is that they are (not) voting for. It is not very easy to attack the rich or even to sensibly suggest that it is not in society’s best interests for them to keep getting richer and hoarding money like Smaug. It is not very easy to argue that, because the people who have a lot of money can use that money to buy power. Not in the actual sense of buying votes because we are, after all, still a democracy, but money buys influence and money helps shape the debate, so that an opposition Labour Party thinks it has no choice but to abstain on a bill that will hurt the very working families it is supposed to represent.

There is nothing wrong with being left-wing. Those with money and power and influence will use that money and power and influence to make us think that being left-wing is too retro, too naive, too far-out, or too dangerous to be in with a serious chance of changing anything. But look at Scotland and the SNP. How many young (and not so young) acquaintances of mine expressed the desire to be Scottish during the general election so that they could vote for something that they actually believed in, rather than having to vote for Ed Milliband and his endless carefully-choreographed soundbites?

There is nothing wrong with being left-wing. Take a deep breath and say it again. Repeat it like a mantra. The public sector is vilified by the right-wing but where would this country be without its teachers, social workers, police officers, nurses etc? The rich will be okay with their private hospitals, schools and care-homes, but what about the rest of us? People who work for other people are not the enemy. Why not re-nationalise the railways? Maybe then my husband would get to work on time on occasion and while we’re at it we could do with some investment in the railways to stop our reliance on cars – have you tried to go anywhere during rush hour (or any other time of day) lately, it is madness and very bad for the environment. What is wrong with wanting a world-class education for all our kids and then allowing the best and brightest of them to attend university without crippling debt? Why do we think £1 million really isn’t a lot of money when it really is a lot of money? Is it because we know that you can’t buy much in London for £1 million these days? Whose fault is that then? Not the teachers and nurses and shop-workers and small-business owners whose salaries would have bought them a comfortable family home in decades past but now won’t stretch to much more than a two-bed flat in most of the South East.

If the system is broken don’t blame those at the bottom who did not break it. Find someone (or lots of people) who will speak truth to power and try to re-frame the debate. Is Jeremy Corbyn that person? Who knows. But I do know that just because he is “left-wing” is not a reason to run for the hills.

A Light in the Darkness (or why I am taking the kids on an anti-austerity march)

I am taking the kids on a local anti-austerity march today. I was just thinking that the governing classes demonize the poor to gain acceptance for these cuts and I was pondering how I would respond to the challenge that my views demonize the rich. It is a fair point, if a hypothetical one. I was on my imaginary soapbox in the shower and no one was asking me anything.

Here is the analogy I came up with for how opposing austerity and welfare cuts is neither supporting the feckless nor demonizing the rich.

The very rich were mostly born that way. They receive a privilege of birth that most of us do not and it is ridiculous for those of them that are in government to impose austerity on the rest of us and even pretend that they understand (or care about) the effects of what they are doing.

But what about those people who are always trotted out in response to left-wing arguments about the common social good and fairness? What about the self-made men and women who came from nothing and built good lives for themselves? Don’t they deserve to pass on the fruits of their achievements to their children without having their hard-earned cash siphoned away to those who are either too lazy or too stupid to similarly pull themselves out of poverty? Fair point, you might think.

But consider this analogy if you will. Imagine living in a deep, dark pit. Do you want to get out of the pit? Of course you do, up there is sunshine and fresh air. You want to get out. But what do you need to be able to get out?

You need something to climb out with – a ladder, or materials to build a ladder with – and a light to see where the ladder is.

The light represents determination, intelligence or smarts, drive and ambition and hope. The ladder/materials represent opportunity, luck, and chance. Even the most determined of grafters would not make it out of poverty if all they had was a light; you need a ladder too.

I would argue that all self-made men and women had at least some opportunities or luck, or were in the right place at the right time at some point in their lives. They had the light and they found the ladder. It is commendable that they searched for the ladder and then climbed it, but that is not the whole story.

Imagine 1000 people all in a deep, dark pit. All with lights, searching for a ladder or materials from which to build a ladder. One of the people finds the only ladder in the pit and climbs out. Once out of the pit they breathe in the fresh air and bask in the sunshine and think how lucky and clever they are to have climbed out of that horrible pit.

Then they pull the ladder up behind them and tell the other 999 people with flashlights to keep searching and find another ladder. They themselves found a ladder; if they can do it so can the others. Anyone who cannot similarly find a ladder is a feckless wastrel who is obviously not looking hard enough.

But there are no more ladders.

Determination, hard-work and ambition are not always enough if you are born in a pit and there are no ladders. Even hope sometimes dies in the dark. If hope dies, you might just sit down and turn your light off and stop looking for ladders. Or you might keep your light on but remain seated out of exhaustion and miss out on any far-away ladders (which in any case everyone else is also looking for).

Austerity measures pull the ladders up from thousands of deprived communities and make it harder for even the most determined to make a good life.

You cannot with the best will in the world, build a good and stable life for your family if there are not enough stable and well-paid jobs in your area and if rents are sky-high.

As well as (or instead of) capping benefits, why not raise wages and cap rents – actually help working people and people looking for work rather than further hurting them?

And of course, some people do not have flashlights to look for the ladders in the first place. Some people are not capable of holding down a job for whatever reason. Physical disability tends to elicit sympathy, but mental illness and addiction (a category of mental illness) are not moral failings.

Some people cannot work. Some people deserve compassion and empathy, even if many in our society would rather they didn’t exist at all. Some people need the welfare state. We all need the welfare state. For there but for the grace of god, am I.

Some people have no lights because they come from generations of people with no lights. Perhaps once they looked for ladders, but now they sit in the dark and make the best of the world around them.

We should not be pulling up ladders. We should be investing in more ladders, and in more lights.

And that is why the kids and I (and my husband) are going on the anti-austerity march.

We Are All Human

I just saw a story on BBC news about “migrants” (a term that I can’t be alone in finding hideously inaccurate and offensive). They talked to a girl from Myanmar who had been held in a migrant camp and raped by so many men that she didn’t know who her baby’s father was. She is now in Thailand and is being given no assistance from any government or organisation. She was sitting with her 6-month old baby girl on a bridge begging for money.

I am sitting at home with my 7-month old baby boy, amazed at my good fortune to have been born in the UK. My little boys are some of the luckiest kids in the world, because they have food, and shelter, and love, and family, and safety, and a future. Because they too had the good fortune to have been born in the UK. To all those who think that the UK is something special and that its borders should be protected against anyone seeking a better life, please don’t forget your incredible good fortune to have been born with a claim to a country that for all its faults is lawful, and in peacetime, and free. Please don’t have the complacency to think that all that could not change; have the empathy to imagine how you would feel and what you would do if you woke up one day and the UK was none of those things and you had a family and children to protect.

We are all human. I read the news and watch the news with disbelief. Do we really think we are so far removed from these so-called “migrants” (a term I object to because it implies agency and choice and while leaving their homelands is a choice and they have shown agency in leaving, surely they are refugees and should be treated as such?) that we don’t need to help?

I don’t know how to help, but I do know that the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon unless we all start thinking globally and realise that we cannot continue to ignore the most impoverished, war-torn, and corrupt societies among us. We cannot continue to dehumanise our human brethren who flee from the desperate situations in these countries. We need to speak out in any way we can. So I am speaking out to whoever is reading.

I have no answers, but I just think about how I would feel sitting on that bridge and find that I cannot even imagine being in a place with no hope and no way to provide for my precious child. It makes my heart hurt: woman to woman; mother to mother; human to human.

We are all human. We would do well to remember that.

Women in Politics

I just watched the 7-way leaders’ debate on ITV. I am holding L and my arm has gone dead so this post will be a short one (my husband is asking if I am blogging to say he drank too much wine or if the people in this commercial would never be able to afford a house…)

Just to say that I think the three women, Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett, and Leanne Wood, did well and were a refreshing change from the Oxbridge educated men standing for the main parties (I would add “white,” but then the women are all white too).

Interesting to note that the Greens were also the only party to mention the unfairness of the current UK immigration law re: non-EU family members and the income restriction.

L is now screaming for milk. We need more women (and diversity in general) in politics.

That is all.