Friday, 19 September 2014

The times, they are a-cha-aangin'....

Earlier this morning, I was idly daydreaming about what the future may hold for me. I wrote a blog post two years ago agonising over what I would do "When I Grow Up", articulating my anxiety at what a career gap would do to my employment prospects and how I felt at odds with my role as a stay at home mother. It suddenly dawned on me that since joining the Green Party, that anxiety has vanished. 

The time I commit to the party now is entirely voluntary, but the experience I'm gaining and the skills I'm polishing have given me a sense of empowerment that I thought I'd lost. Politics is traditionally thought of as male-dominated territory - not just male, but white, upper class, able-bodied, public-school educated males. What could an ordinary working class* woman hope to achieve? 

*delusions of grandeur and a predilection for reading The Guardian notwithstanding!

Shahrar Ali's rousing speech at Green Party Conference earlier this month spoke of the "Politics of Imagination" and challenged us all to take ownership of ineqality within the party and outwards, in wider society.

 "You don't have to be a woman to fight patriarchy, to want to reassure a voter on the doorstep, no she doesn’t have to wait for her husband before talking politics with you. You only need to be Green.

You don't have to be black to want to rail against racial prejudice or persecution. You only need to be Green.

You don't have to be gay to want to march alongside PRIDE. You only need to be Green."

I know I don't speak for all women when I say this; I know that women with a disability, gay women, transgender women, and women of colour experience complex layers of intersecting oppression that I cannot claim to understand - but today I realised what an awesome sense of pride I feel in belonging to a political party in which my gender will never be a barrier to my ambition.

The Green Party's leader is a woman, as is our MP, our peer in the House of Lords, two of our three MEPs and one of our deputy leaders. Six amazing, inspirational women.

I am greatly encouraged that the Green Party is THE future of politics, and represents a truly progressive outlook where equality is the automatic starting point for all people, not just a dream. The people I have had the privilege of meeting and working with so far have restored my faith in humanity and shown that there is a chance for my generation to break away from the oppressive, nasty, divisive narrative that has pervaded politics so far. It is time for the government to stop being the playground for white privileged males and to become representative of our beautiful, colourful, diverse nation.

As today's news is dominated by Scotland's referendum decision to remain part of the United Kingdom, there is a fast-paced undercurrent that sees how people are beginning to reengage with politics and bring democracy home. It is time for us to harness that current and turn it into a tidal wave. It is time to rejuvenate British politics and I am exhilarated to play my part.

Yours truly with Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Old Hatred, New Victims: When recycling is a bad idea.

We've just passed the 13th anniversary of "9/11". I vividly remember September 11th, 2001. I was 17 years old and sitting in my A-level English Literature class on the second day of term. A friend's phone beeped with a text message saying there had been a nasty plane crash in New York and it was all over the news. The class soon finished and we idly made our ways home. I went to chat to my mum, who was watching the news in horror just as the second plane hit the towers and we remained fixated on the television for most of that afternoon as the events unfurled.

I felt something change that day. There was something in the air that was new and yet familiar at the same time. The suspicion, mistrust and, ultimately, hatred of a group of people sharing a religion - in this case Islam - that I'd so recently studied in its historical forms with regard to anti-Jewish propaganda in Nazi Germany. 

I'm not the first person to highlight parallels between modern Islamophobia and Nazi propaganda. This article "Same message, different minority" succinctly compares statements from self-titled "anti-jihad" writer, Robert Spencer, and Der Stürmer editor (1923 - 1945), Julius Streicher. Similarly, you may be surprised by the results of this quiz, which invites you to differentiate between anti-Semitic statements from Nazi Germany, and modern anti-Islam rhetoric.

The similarities are bloodcurdlingly abundant. The manipulation and misrepresentation of the truth is as pervasive today as it was 70 years ago, only this time it's directed at Muslims, not Jews. Then, it fed into pro-Aryan sentiment at a time when Germany was recovering from the First World War and national morale was bruised and vulnerable. Adolf Hiter exploited this and coaxed enough support for his heinous ambition to start a war with devastating consequences, not least for the 6 million Jews killed during the Holocaust. Today we see Islam conflated with extremism and terrorism, with degrading stereotypes flung around mainstream media with casual abandon, while far-right neo-fascist groups such as the "English Defence League", "Britain First", and the BNP declare themselves the line of defence against a perceived Islamic invasion of the UK.

I'm not a conspiracy-theorist. I'm satisfied that it's more likely than not that Neil Armstrong really did walk on the moon in 1969. I don't believe in chemtrails. I don't buy into theories that 9/11 was orchestrated by the American government. But if you ask me whether I believe that Islamophobia is a carefully constructed political agenda to justify the so-called "war on terror" that is systematically dismantling the Middle East in pursuit of its oil-rich land - then yes. Yes I believe this is true.

Do you remember the "45 minute" claim from the September 24th 2002 dossier used to strengthen the cause for invasion of Iraq? How we were urged to believe that Saddam Hussein had been stockpiling weapons of mass destruction which could target British soil in under an hour? Do you also remember that these alleged WMDs were never found, and that the UK government had to admit that the 45 minute claim was untrue; that there was no stockpile of weapons. That we invaded a country, killed over 400,000 people and left a legacy of chaos for which we should be eternally ashamed.

'Ahh, but Al Qaeda! Terrorists must be stopped!' What do you say to the revelation that there was NO evidence for an Al Qaeda presence in Iraq before 2003? Even more so, that the rise of the latest group, ISIS, can be directly traced back to the abominable bungling of the 2003 Iraq war by the UK and US governments? And for the cherry atop the proverbial cake, the allegations that the US government has in fact been arming and funding ISIS by supporting its allies in Syria, just as they aided Saddam Hussein in the 1980s.

Let's just take a step back from this mess for a moment, and come back to what this means for ordinary people at home. I remember studying anti-semitism in Nazi Germany during high school history lessons. I vividly recall everybody in the room feeling horrified and bewildered by the force of the propaganda that proliferated the era. We watched documentaries about Kristalnacht and the concentration camps that frequently reduced us to tears. And time and time again we asked HOW and WHY the ordinary people of 1930s Germany could have tolerated such vile besmirching of so many people just because they were Jewish. 

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established soon after the second world war, with the ultimate aim of ensuring that the atrocities visited upon the Jews could never be repeated, that we as a global community learn from the horrors of our history and commit ourselves to never allowing it to repeat.

And yet here we are. Western governments are demonstrably complicit in the rise of organisations such as ISIS, meanwhile the threat they pose is used to justify military action in the Middle East and domestic tension is aggravated by an undeniably Islamophobic mainstream media. In short, if you make people afraid, you make them malleable and open to manipulation. 

The surge in support for groups such as Britain First is symptomatic of a nation whipped up into fear, anger and hatred. There is nothing patriotic or defensive about these groups, despite what they claim. Islamophobic attacks are on the rise in the UK and US, with attacks against Muslims in America having increased 1700% in the year after 9/11, and British Muslims experiencing violence and abuse every single day. Political figures such as Lord Christopher Monkton, former deputy leader of UKIP, spout such diatribe as: “Nearly all acts of terrorism perpetrated throughout the world in the past quarter of a century were carried out by Muslims in the name of Allah”. and newspapers continue to publish exaggerated and plainly untrue stories to perpetuate the propaganda of hatred towards Islam. 

However, there is a beacon of light - something that didn't exist in Nazi Germany, or even in any useful form around the events of 9/11. Social media has burst onto the scene and given a platform to anyone who wishes to be heard. Whilst that has been exploited by far right hate groups, it also gives the oxygen of publicity to those who see past the red herring of Islamophobia and are frenetically urging the world to reject the scapegoating of Islam, to look beyond what the newspapers tell us to think, and to expose the corrupted workings of governments whose vested interests are in the financial gains to be made from war in the Middle East. 

There is SO much information out there, so many ways to scratch beneath the surface of the information endorsed by governments and to question their agendas. We have the opportunity now to stand strong and refuse to be manipulated, to stop history repeating itself. Education and respect are the antidote to bigotry and ignorance. For every misinformed, hate-filled piece of literature, there exists a counterpart. Let's make the most of the internet and keep looking for the truth. 

I urge you to look at the links in this post - especially the quiz about Nazi propaganda and modern Islamophobia. They're a starting point for understanding the role of Islamophobia in the UK today.