Saturday, 28 February 2015

North Lanarkshire Update

My sources in North Lanarkshire tell me the Council is making arrangements next week to seek approval for the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which has to be agreed before there is any resolution of the long running equal pay dispute.

So, who knows?

If the North Lanarkshire dots all the i's, crosses all the t's and formally signs off on the MOU, then in the next few days we might be able to say that final agreement has been reached. 

In which case a brief joint statement will be issued to signal an end to hostilities and soon thereafter detailed letters of explanation will be sent out to all equal pay claimants.

Now I make a point of never counting chickens before they're hatched and as we've been here before it's definitely a case of 'fingers crossed'.

So watch this space.

Je Suis 75% Charlie

Peter Brookes cartoon

What's clear from the recent BBC/Comres survey is that Britain's Muslim community harbours a lot of abhorrent views which have the potential to fester and get worse, if the underlying issues are not challenged and brought out into the open. 

And while it's important to respect people's cultural and other differences there have to be some red lines about respecting fundamental human rights and values which cannot be set aside to satisfy a religious belief which owes its allegiance to some higher power.

So this Peter Brookes cartoon from The Times makes a valid point if you ask me, because when it comes to violence and fundamental freedoms you it's simply not possible to be a 'little bit pregnant'.

Religion of Peace? (26/02/15)

The BBC published an interesting opinion poll the other day on the attitude of British Muslims towards violence and Islamic extremism.

Now in some ways the results of the survey are good news since the great majority of Muslims in the UK oppose violence and support democratically decided, non-religious laws. 

But on some key issues there is a troubling level of support and empathy amongst British Muslims for extremist attitudes and behaviours, for example:   
  • 27% had some sympathy over the attacks in Paris
  • 11% feel sympathy for those who want to fight against western interests 
  • 20% thought western liberal society could never be compatible with Islam
  • 5% would not report to the police a fellow Muslim planning an act of violence
  • 8% know fellow Muslims who feel strongly sympathetic towards IS and al-Qaeda 
Now some of these figures are very significant indeed and there is clearly work to do in debating these issues and challenging attitudes within the Muslim community.

Because the reality is that substantial numbers of British Muslims appear to contradict the claim that Islam is a religion of peace.      

Most British Muslims 'oppose Muhammad cartoons reprisals' 

1,000 Muslims were surveyed across Britain from 26 January to 20 February

The majority of British Muslims oppose violence against people who publish images depicting the Prophet Muhammad, a poll for the BBC suggests.

The survey also indicates most have no sympathy with those who want to fight against Western interests.

But 27% of the 1,000 Muslims polled by ComRes said they had some sympathy for the motives behind the Paris attacks.

Almost 80% said they had found it deeply offensive when images depicting the Prophet were published.

Click here to get the full survey results.

Poll of British Muslims

  • 95% feel a loyalty to Britain
  • 93% say they should obey British laws
  • 46% feel prejudice against Islam makes it difficult being Muslim in Britain 
  • 78% are offended when images of the Prophet Muhammad are published 
  • 11% feel sympathy for people who want to fight against western interests  
ComRes poll for BBC 

Asked if acts of violence against those who publish images of the Prophet Muhammad can "never be justified", 68% agreed that such violence was never justifiable.

But 24% disagreed with the statement, while the rest replied "don't know" or refused to answer.

The poll, carried out between 26 January and 20 February, suggests 32% of British Muslims were not surprised by January's attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, which published depictions of the Prophet, and a kosher supermarket in Paris.

The poll also suggests that almost half of British Muslims believe they face discrimination because of their faith and that Britain is becoming less tolerant, while the same percentage feel prejudice against Islam makes it difficult being a Muslim in the UK.

Some 35% said they felt most British people did not trust Muslims, and a fifth said they thought Western liberal society could never be compatible with Islam.

Of those polled, 95% felt a loyalty to Britain, while 93% believed that Muslims in Britain should always obey British laws.

Nearly 20% of Muslim women questioned said they felt unsafe in Britain, compared with 10% of men.


By Sima Kotecha, Today reporter

Islam is a religion of peace and love - not violence: sentiments that have been expressed numerous times here in Bradford.

Out of the dozens of people I've spoken to, an overwhelming majority have said they're angry that their interpretation of Islam has been eclipsed by an extreme ideology that is too often projected in the media.

They say it's this that is fuelling prejudice, and it's leading to some in the community feeling ostracised from British society.

As one young man said: "We're all being branded as extremists in this country. I am British but sometimes it feels as if Britain is rejecting me because of my faith and that hurts."

One thousand Muslims were polled as part of our survey - a number statistically representative of the population of close to three million Muslims in Britain. 
'Stop alienation'

A student at Bradford College, Samaia Aslal, told the BBC that politicians and the media perpetuated a dehumanised image of Muslims, which opens them up to all forms of attack.

She said: "It is up to the rest of British society to stop looking at us as some kind of threat, to accept us.

"To not always ask us how British we feel, that's as stupid as asking 'how do you feel about your red hair today?'.

"To ask this whilst alienating us, spying on us, making us feel like we don't fit in."

But another student Mohammed Al Hakaroon said integration was the responsibility of both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Brothers Cherif (L) and Said Kouachi attacked Charlie Hebdo

"There is no Islamic regulation or law that prevents integration. Everyone should be treated as equal: Muslim, white, black, Asian, as the Prophet himself has said."

Musmil Afik, who also studies at Bradford College, said he was angry and frustrated, so he could understand why this drove one in four people to support the attacks in Paris.

He said: " But this is not what Islam is about. Islam is about peace, love and harmony."

Former Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi said the poll highlighted her view that the government's terrorism policy was not based on enough evidence.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme she said: "What is the evidence that shows us how people are being radicalised?

"What is the evidence that shows us the route to someone becoming a terrorist. We just don't have this.

"We don't have definitive data that we work to and that is why I think we get much of our policy wrong."

Twelve people died when an attack was launched on the office of Charlie Hebdo on 7 January.

The following day a policewoman was murdered by Amedy Coulibaly, who also held up a Jewish supermarket the next day, killing four people.

Coulibaly and the two Charlie Hebdo gunmen, Said and Cherif Kouachi, were shot dead by police in two separate sieges.

Miqdaad Versi of the Muslim Council of Britain says further research is needed

Selection of ComsRes questions 
  • If someone I knew from the Muslim community was planning an act of violence I would report them to the police - 94% agree
  • I know Muslims who feel strongly sympathetic towards people fighting for IS and al-Qaeda - 8% agree
  • Muslim clerics who preach that violence against the West can be justified are out of touch with mainstream opinion - 49% agree
  • I would like my children to go a Muslim state school if I had the choice - 31% agree
  • I would rather socialise with Muslims than non-Muslims - 13% agree
  • If I could I would leave Britain and go and live in another country - 14% agree

Je Suis Charlie (11/01/15)

Lots of people have had their say in the public debate which has followed the murderous attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, but here's a particularly interesting contribution by historian Tom Holland who made a serious TV programme on Islam yet was still met with a firestorm of death threats from religious extremists.

I missed the programme first time around so I must find out if 'Islam:The Untold Story' is still available on Channel 4; better still the schedulers should consider repeating the documentary because in the present climate there is every reason to have a serious discussion as to what Islam is all about instead of leaving the field clear for the fanatics to spread their poison. 

Viewpoint: The roots of the battle for free speech

Voltaire: Often quoted advocate of freedom of expression

Historian Tom Holland was one of those who tweeted Charlie Hebdo's cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in the wake of the deadly attack on the magazine's office. Here he explains the ramifications of defending free speech.

Religions are not alone in having their martyrs. On 1 July, 1766, in Abbeville in northern France, a young nobleman named Lefebvre de la Barre was found guilty of blasphemy. The charges against him were numerous - that he had defecated on a crucifix, spat on religious images, and refused to remove his hat as a Church procession went past.

These crimes, together with the vandalising of a wooden cross on the main bridge of Abbeville, were sufficient to see him sentenced to death. Once La Barre's tongue had been cut out and his head chopped off, his mortal remains were burned by the public executioner, and dumped into the river Somme. Mingled among the ashes were those of a book that had been found in La Barre's study, and consigned to the flames alongside his corpse - the Philosophical Dictionary of the notorious philosopher, Voltaire.

Voltaire himself, informed of his reader's fate, was appalled. "Superstition," he declared from his refuge in Switzerland, "sets the whole world in flames."

Two-and-a-half centuries on, and it is the notion that someone might be put to death for criticising a religious dogma that is likely to strike a majority of people in the West as the blasphemy. The values of free speech and toleration for which Voltaire campaigned all his life have become enshrined as the very embodiment of what Europeans, as a rule, most prize about their own civilisation.

Tom Holland

Tom Holland is a writer, broadcaster and historian. His latest book, In The Shadow of the Sword, is an account of the history of Islam.

He wrote and presented the documentary Islam: The Untold Story.

Voltaire, with his mocking smile, still serves as their patron saint. In France, where secular ideals are particularly treasured, he is regularly invoked by those who feel the legacy of the Enlightenment to be under threat.

When Philippe Val, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, published a book in 2008 defending the right of cartoonists to mock religious taboos, the title was telling. Reviens, Voltaire, Ils Sont Devenus Fous, he called it - Come Back, Voltaire, They Have Gone Insane. It was not Christians, though, whom Val was principally calling mad.

Between the 18th Century and the 21st, the religious complexion of France had radically altered. Not only had the power of the Catholic Church gone into precipitous retreat, but some six million immigrants belonging to a very different faith had arrived in the country.

Islam, unlike Catholicism, had inherited from the Jews a profound disapproval of figurative art. It also commemorated Muhammad - the prophet believed by his followers to have received God's ultimate revelation, the Koran - as the very model of human behaviour. Insults to him were traditionally held by Muslim jurists to be equivalent to disbelief - and disbelief was a crime that merited Hell.

Not that there was anything within the Koran itself that necessarily mandated it as a capital offence. "The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills, let him believe; and whoever wills, let him disbelieve." Nevertheless, a story preserved in the oldest surviving biography of Muhammad implied a rather more punitive take. So punitive, indeed, that some Muslim scholars - who are generally most reluctant to countenance the possibility that the earliest biography of their prophet might be unreliable - have gone so far as to question its veracity. 

Pens are laid in a pile in tribute to the victims of the Paris attack

The story relates the fate of Asma bint Marwan, a poet from the Prophet's home town of Mecca. After she had mocked Muhammad in her verses, he cried out, "Who will rid me of Marwan's daughter?" - and sure enough, that very night, she was killed by one of his followers in her own bed. The assassin, reporting back on what he had done, was thanked personally by the Prophet. "You have helped both God and His messenger!"

"Ecrasez l'infâme," Voltaire famously urged his admirers: "Crush what is infamous". Islam, too, makes the same demand. The point of difference, of course, is over how "l'infâme" is to be defined. To the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, who in 2011 published an edition with a swivel-eyed Muhammad on the cover, just as earlier they had portrayed Jesus as a contestant on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, and Pope Benedict holding aloft a condom at Mass, it is the pretensions of authority wherever they may be found - in politics quite as much as in religion.

To the gunmen who yesterday launched their murderous attack on the Charlie Hebdo office, it is the mockery of a prophet whom they feel should exist beyond even a hint of criticism. Between these two positions, when they are prosecuted with equal passion and conviction on both sides, there cannot possibly be any accommodation.

It was the Salman Rushdie affair that served as the first symptom of this. Since then, like a dull toothache given to periodic flare-ups, the problem has never gone away. I myself had first-hand experience of just how intractable it can be in 2012, with a film I made for Channel 4. Islam: The Untold Story explored the gathering consensus among historians that much of what Muslims have traditionally believed about the life of Muhammad is unlikely to be strict historical fact - and it provoked a firestorm of death threats.

Unlike Charlie Hebdo, I had not set out to give offence. I am no satirist, and I do not usually enjoy hurting people's feelings. Nevertheless, I too feel that some rights are worthy of being defended - and among them is the freedom of historians to question the origin myths of religions. That was why, when I heard the news from Paris yesterday, I chose to do something I would never otherwise have done, and tweet a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of Muhammad.

The BBC, by contrast, has decided not to reproduce the cartoon for this article. Many other media organisations - though not all - have done the same. I refuse to be bound by a de facto blasphemy taboo.

While under normal circumstances I am perfectly happy not to mock beliefs that other people hold dear, these are far from normal circumstances. As I tweeted yesterday, the right to draw Muhammad without being shot is quite as precious to many of us in the West as Islam presumably is to the Charlie Hebdo killers.

We too have our values - and if we are not willing to stand up for them, then they risk being lost to us. When it comes to defining l'infâme, I for one have no doubt whose side I am on.

Tom Holland is a writer, broadcaster and historian. His latest book, In The Shadow of the Sword, is an account of the history of Islam. He wrote and presented the documentary Islam: The Untold Story.

Je Suis Ahmed (10/01/15)

One of the great ironies about the attack on the Charlie Ebdo offices in Paris is that the Islamist killers who claimed to be acting in the name of their religion, murdered a Muslim police officer while he was on the ground injured, pleading for his life. 

Alongside ‘Je Suis Charlie,’ Slain Officer Inspires His Own Social Media Refrain

Several videos showing the gunmen outside the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper, have surfaced online. The footage includes scenes of graphic violence. Video by Natalia V. Osipova on Publish Date January 7, 2015. Photo by Jordi Mir, via Reuters.

PARIS — In an amateur video that was widely circulated online after the shooting Wednesday at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices in Paris, two gunmen could be seen killing a police officer as he lay wounded on the ground.

“We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad!” they shouted as they walked back to their getaway car parked nearby. “We have killed Charlie Hebdo!”

The officer, Ahmed Merabet, was the second police officer to be killed that day; another officer assigned to protect Charlie Hebdo’s editorial director was also killed. On Thursday, a third police officer was killed in a seemingly unrelated shooting south of Paris in another blow to the police forces here.

But the killing of Officer Merabet stood out: The #JeSuisAhmed hashtag — “I am Ahmed” in French — sprang up on social media alongside #JeSuisCharlie, as users of social media stood up for the slain officer.

Speculation that Officer Merabet was Muslim spread quickly on social media, where users praised him as a hero and, in some cases, a potent symbol in the debate about free speech and religious tolerance.

Photo - Ahmed Merabet

Some Twitter users wrote that Officer Merabet had died defending a newspaper that was accused of insulting his faith, and one user posted a quotation attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Other commenters online echoed the #notinmyname social media campaign against the Islamic State. “One mustn’t forget that Muslims are the first victims of terrorism,” said one Twitter post in French.

“He was killed in a cowardly way by people who had misinterpreted their sacred text,” said Christophe Crépin, a spokesman for one of France’s police unions. “Yet he himself was from an immigrant background.”

Officer Merabet, 40, was assigned to the police precinct in Paris’s 11th Arrondissement, according to Rocco Contento, an official with another police union, who knew Officer Merabet.

“He was a nice person, very likable, always with a smile and very professional,” Mr. Contento said. “His colleagues are all very shocked by what happened.”

Mr. Contento said Officer Merabet, whose parents were from North Africa, lived in a suburb north of Paris with a large immigrant community, was unmarried and had no children, but could not confirm whether he was a practicing Muslim.

“The family wishes to keep as much discretion as possible,” said Loïc Lecouplier, an official with another police union. Police officials at the Paris prefecture and the Interior Ministry declined to comment on the officers who were killed.

Je Suis Charlie (09/01/15)

The Independent's cartoonist Dave Brown captures the public mood of defiance in Paris and around the world in response to the cowardly attack on French journalists and freedom of speech by Islamist extremists.

Je Suis Charlie (08/01/15)

Image result for je suis charlie + images

Lots of inspiring words have been written in the wake of the murderous attack on the Charlie Ebdo offices in Paris, but this report by Matthew Holehouse in The Telegraph hits exactly the right note - of people's quiet determination not to be cowed by the barbaric acts of Islamist terrorists.  

Paris Charlie Hebdo attack: In London, silence, defiance and a lone violin

'It is an attack on our democracy, and on freedom of speech, and everything we fought for'

People raise pens and signs during a vigil to pay tribute to the victims of a shooting by gunmen at the offices of weekly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, at Trafalgar Square in London 

Photo: REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

By Matthew Holehouse - The Telegraph

The grim familiar cliché of a terrorist attack: meaningless, senseless, victims and by-standers left grasping for a motive and a response.

For the crowd in Trafalgar Square, no such doubts.

They stood in a near-perfect silence, perhaps more than 2000, and formed a near perfect circle around a small heap of pens assembled on the ground.

Perhaps more than half were French. With more than a quarter of a million expats, London would be France’s six largest city.

They had gathered within an hour, the word spread by social media. They spoke of grief and horror, a desire to show solidarity with friends at home, and for the comfort of strangers.

And, above all, a quiet, determined fury.

It was not a memorial, but a protest in defence of the values of a Republic that owed its birth some 230 years ago in part to the gutter press and its vicious, pornographic cartoons that slashed at the ankles of the king and his bishops.

The crowd clutched biros above their heads, and bunches of white flowers, and copies of Charlie Hebdo.

“If God exists, he does not kill for drawing,” read one poster.

“Keep Calm and Charlie On,” said another.

Behind the crowd stood two monuments to the entente; Nelson's Column, and Hahn/Cock, the giant jaunty blue cockerel.

Jean Cabut, the magazine’s chief cartoonist murdered in Paris, achieved fame on the 1970s children’s television show, Recre A2.

“I have known him all my life,” said Esteban Declercq, who works in the energy industry in London. “I feel like it is a nightmare. I cannot believe it is real. They have murdered a kid’s TV presenter.”

“The cartoon, it’s part of the French tradition,” he said.

“I know Muslim leaders in France are going to condemn the attack, but they must now say this: that we are free to mock religion.

“And if you are offended don’t buy the newspaper. We must not stop, or we will go back to the Dark Ages.”

He fears the attack will stoke the resurgent Front National. “It’s what they want.”

Vincent Minzer went to school around the corner from the Charlie Hebdo office, and recognised the route he had walked each morning as it flashed across news bulletins.

He stood with an English friend, a Tricolor draped across their backs.

“It’s a cartoon. Who is being harmed?” he said. “It has exposed the insecurity of the savages; they cannot take criticism at all.”

AC Grayling, the philosopher, arrived, like hundreds of others holding a poster reading “Je suis Charlie”.

He fears a new raft of terrorism legislation. “They can’t kill us all, and our ideas, but we can do it ourselves,” he says. “To be free is to take risks.”

Oliver Cardigan, a city worker clad in yellow cycling lycra who had broken off his commute home to join the protest, disagreed.

He had read Charlie Hebdo growing up in Belgium.

“It is an attack on our democracy, and on freedom of speech, and everything we fought for. It’s an attack on our fundamental rights," he said.

“We need to fight back, as we fought against the Nazis. They will lose, and their ideology will collapse, and we need to accelerate that process. We need to crack down as hard as possible with our police and our security services.”

Over the silent crowd, over the roar of double-decker busses, a violin strikes up La Marseillaise.

“I gave him a tenner and told him to start playing,” says Edward Lucas, a journalist and prominent critic of the Putin regime.

Bar Markovich, an Israeli busker, doesn’t know the tune, and reads off a score brought up on an iPhone held by a passing commuter.

The woman next to me wiped away a tear. To arms, citizens.