Wednesday, 28 April 2010
The Bible is a complicated text. Regardless of whether you consider it to be a work of fiction or non-fiction, it is fairly undeniable that within its many pages there are themes that in terms of genre could be variously described as romance, drama, thriller, murder-mystery, horror and fantasy. There is love and hate, war and peace, slayings, rapes and supernatural beings – but one thing there is not much of is comedy.
This perhaps goes some way to explaining why when an internal foreign office memo – leaked to the press last week – jokingly suggested that the Pope should launch his own brand of condoms, open an abortion clinic and perform forward rolls with children during his scheduled visit the UK in September, the humour was lost on large sections of the Christian community – who branded it among other things “appalling”, “vile” and “disgusting”.
There were fears that the memo might even have resulted in the Pope cancelling his visit. Vatican officials went as far as to call it a product of ‘Dark Forces’ lurking within the Foreign Office, and Foreign Secretary David Miliband was forced to offer what was described as a “groveling apology” to the Pope.
The core of the offence it would seem, stems from a ‘victim-complex’ that exists in the minds of some Christians, who feel persecuted by anyone who dares to criticise the tenets of their faith. “Minorities are axiomatically to be respected while Christianity is treated with contempt” cried the myopic Daily Mail columnist and overt homophobe Melanie Philips – the same commentator who proclaimed “free expression lies at the core of a free society” in the wake of Islamic protest over a series of controversial Prophet Mohammed cartoons, published by a Danish newspaper in 2005.
But hypocrisy aside, what was most striking about the prevalent reaction to the memo was the instant dismissal of its suggestions. Scottish Secretary of State Jim Murphy, himself a Roman Catholic, said they were “absolutely despicable” and “insulting” – however given the chronic situation with regard to the AIDS/HIV epidemic for example, it is difficult to identify precisely what is despicable about the suggestion that the Catholic church reverse its policy on the use (or rather non-use) of condoms – and what better a way to do so than by launching a brand of rubbers approved by the Holy man himself?
It is true that many of the suggestions might be far from sensitive, but nor are they unreasonable. If the Catholic Church wants to prolong its existence as opposed to accelerate its own extinction, it needs to catapult itself from the stagnancy of the Dark Ages into the 21st century. It can start by learning to appreciate good humour.
R.J. Gallagher - 27.04.10
A version of this article appears at: http://www.theskinny.co.uk/blog/2-the-skinny-blog/408-a-skinny-take-condoms-and-catholicism
Friday, 16 April 2010
After only two hours of debate, a new Act was passed in parliament last week that will grant the government powers to suspend internet connections and block websites associated with activity that infringes copyright. The Digital Economy Act, which was sponsored by Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills Lord Mandelson, was rubber-stamped in the House of Commons by a majority vote of 189 to 47 even after more than 20,000 letters of objection were submitted to MPs by constituents participating in a nationwide campaign run by the website 38degrees.
The Act will allow copyright holders such as record labels and film distributors to, having identified a user allegedly sharing files illegally, send a “copyright infringement report” to that user’s Internet Service Provider (such as Virgin, BT, TalkTalk). The provider will then be obligated by law to send a notice – which may in some cases include a fine – within a month to the user, “providing evidence and information about appeals and legal advice.”
Problematically, however, there are more holes in the Act than there are in Swiss cheese. As according to Andrew Heaney, the director of regulation at TalkTalk “copyright holders can link piracy to IP addresses, and these can be matched to a household's internet account. But there could be tens of people using an IP address – members of your family, visitors, neighbours, or somebody more unscrupulous."
Having been rushed through in the so-called “wash-up” period after the General Election was announced, the Act – which has potential consequences for every one of the 18.3m households in the UK with access to the internet – required long, rigorous and national debate. But instead, pandering to the will of corporate elites, our democratically elected representatives behaved with a dumbfounding lack of regard for the basic principles of democracy, providing us with yet another example of what the Italian philosopher Vilfredo Pareto described more than 100 years ago as the façade of democracy.
We should have seen it coming. In August last year Lord Mandelson was captured on camera in Corfu with record executive, multi-billionaire and vocal anti-piracy campaigner David Geffen. The two dined with members of the Rothschild banking dynasty at the family’s holiday villa, and days later Mandelson announced a crackdown on filesharing in the Digital Britain report. This is surely more than mere coincidence.
The general election looms but democracy crumbles, as it is money, not votes that sways government agendas. The will of the majority no longer prevails – and it is tragic that the problem with the current predicament is that, come May 6th, no matter who you vote for, the government will still get in.
A version of this article appears at: http://www.theskinny.co.uk/blog/2-the-skinny-blog/403-a-skinny-take-the-digital-economy-act
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
It has been almost eight years and seven months since September 11 2001, the fateful day that 19 hijackers changed the landscape of global politics in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty – the void that was left in the Manhattan skyline as those iconic towers collapsed to the ground symbolising the dawning of a dark new chapter in modern history: the "war on terror" had begun. Less than one month later, on 7 October 2001, the first bombs started to fall – on Kabul, Kandahar and Herat – and since then it has been estimated by some that the war has claimed in excess of 1 million lives, as the conflict has continued to rage through cities and across borders.
But while the worst of the conflict has taken place in Afghanistan and Iraq, the "war on terror" – with the exception of the attacks on London in July 2007 – has adopted a role on British and American soil that is far less explicit and graphic. Rather, its climate has now become such an integral part of our everyday lives, so ubiquitous, that it is easy to take its existence for granted, to forget it is even there. Announcements at train and bus stations reminding us to "report unattended bags, luggage or suspicious activity" are now just part of the background noise; stringent rules in airports about the carriage of everything from shaving foam and water to wrapped presents on flights mere minor irritations that we accept as part and parcel of the flying experience.
The changes are creeping, rarely drastic – except on the occasion where there is space for knee-jerk responses, as the rapid introduction of full-body scanners in the wake of the Christmas Day "underpants bomber", Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, evidenced – but in many ways it is the creeping changes that are the most frightening. Listening to adverts produced by the Metropolitan Police as part of their latest drive to promote the anti-terrorist hotline provides one such chilling illustration of this; a stark reminder how far we've come since September 2001.
"The man at the end of the street doesn't like his neighbours much," one of the advertorials broadcast on TalkSport radio begins. "He pays with cash because he doesn't have a bank card, and he keeps his curtains closed because his house is on a bus route." It goes on: "This may mean nothing, but it could all add up to you having suspicions. We all have a role to play in combating terrorism. If you see anything suspicious, call the anti-terrorist hotline …"
The implications need little explanation – if everything is suspicious, then everyone is a suspect – every movement, every word, every action viewed with paranoid caution. "The man two desks down from you at work looks at online aerial photos, because he's thinking of moving house," begins another of the advertorials, before it then goes on to suggest that anyone who pays for a holiday in cash, or who rents lock-ups to store their possessions, is potentially a terrorist preparing to commit a heinous act of unfathomable brutality against fellow human beings – "if you suspect it, report it" repeats the catchline.
The adverts have not been without controversy. The chair of the Lancashire Council of Mosques openly branded them "crazy" while the campaign has provoked a strong reaction across the internet. "Are you shy? Then you're probably a terrorist," joked one website; "Call 0800 1984," parodied another. But some took a more serious tone: "Even in the dark days of the IRA bombing we didn't get this sort of thing thrust upon us" posted a user named "thedrewser" on the popular Digital Spy forums.
But according to the Met, the campaign is worthwhile. Now in its fourth successive year, its intention is to "raise public awareness" – even though statistics produced by the Met in relation to a previous campaign in February 2008 showed that only 36% of the respondents interviewed articulated they were aware of the hotline; and this despite the fact that the media campaign, which was funded by the Association of Chief Police Officers, had a budget of £900,000 according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The terrorist hotline has, however, been receiving calls – and plenty of them. It received a total of 62,871 between April 2002 and March 2009, which is an average of approximately 40 a day. But while the Met refuses to divulge the number of these calls that have resulted in convictions of "terrorists" on the grounds that it could "undermine national security", if we consider that since September 2001 there have been 230 persons convicted in the UK of "terrorism related offences", even if all 230 convictions resulted from calls made to the hotline, that would still only mean that roughly 0.36% of the calls made yielded any results.
It is, therefore, important to question why the Home Office continue to watch as the Association of Chief Police Officers, together with the Met, plough millions of pounds (£3.25m between 2006-2009) into a service that is not only of dubious worth, but that fosters a culture of suspicion among communities already fragmented and strained by a web of social policy that nurtures the cherished neo-liberal values of individualism and self-help – values that result in isolation and detachment – and that, ironically enough, cause people to close their curtains.
Although Bush and Blair might be gone, it is clear that we have been left with the wreckage of their legacy. As while the bombs continue to fall on foreign soil, the culture of paranoia, fear and anxiety that has come to define the political climate of the post 9/11 world is embodied in the spirit of the terrorist hotline; where the enemy is invisible, and the threat, we are told, is omnipresent. "If you suspect it, report it", the mantra again repeats – the enemy is everywhere.
This article appeared originally at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/apr/09/police-anti-terrorist-hotline