So the family of nations of the UK will remain together. For now. We have been handed an opportunity to build a new, better UK – for all of us. Cameron’s offer of pseudo devo city regions should be ignored as a cynical attempt to silence calls for regional and national devolution under a federal government, with a model which will pit city against city, each competing for scraps from Westminster’s table.
Scotland has lead the way and the debate has shown there is a desire for a better, fairer and more representative democracy. This isn’t the end of Scottish independence, it should be seen as an opportunity for all the parts of the UK to campaign together for more local democratic self determination.
Despite the inevitable posturing over the result, Westminster is running scared. They know we have the power to make changes for the better. After yesterday, we know it too.
And that’s why we need to keep them worried.
In the 1998 scifi action film Soldier, Kurt Russell plays Sgt Todd, a soldier who has been trained from birth to be a ruthless and efficient killing machine. To illustrate Todd’s complete absence of empathy, there’s a scene at the beginning of the film where he is in a battle in Moscow, walking through blasted ruins mowing down enemy Russian soldiers with his machine gun. A Russian soldier takes a civilian woman hostage, and holds her in front of him as a shield. The ruthless Sgt Todd shoots the civilian and the soldier without blinking. Todd’s complete dedication to the mission is chilling. We know that he is wrong; we know that he is not a moral person.
Watching Soldier on the television the other night it struck me that this is what a ‘human shield’ looks like. A non combatant intentionally placed in the line of fire to stop the opposing side firing on troops and military assets. It’s a term we’ve been exposed to relentlessly in the past couple of weeks.
It’s been one of the criticisms levelled at Hamas – that they are using civilians as human shields. And this has been used extensively by apologists of the Israeli government to defend the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza. Make a comment critical of Israel’s military actions and it won’t be long before a pro-Israel astro turfer rolls out the human shield defence. The reasoning usually applied is one of the following:
– Hamas are using human shields, so Israel has no option but to kill those human shields in order to kill Hamas.
– Hamas are using human shields, so it’s inevitable that Israel will unintentionally kill those human shields whilst trying to kill Hamas.
Neither options can be considered moral. Both scenarios mean that civilians will die as a result of the Israeli government’s military actions, and that the Israeli government knows it.
There’s no doubt that Hamas is waging it’s war on Israel from the neighbourhoods of Gaza, and have been caught storing weaponry in empty schools. But Gaza is a city of over two million, and it quickly becomes clear that Hamas’ war is being waged from inside a heavily populated area, not behind the people of Gaza. To make it worse, the civilians of Gaza are pinned in place by Israel and Egypt with no place to run. They are trapped.
And yet, Israel continues to launch high explosive ordinance at that small patch of land packed with humans.
This is no defence of Hamas or its allies. I wouldn’t want anyone to live in a state run by religious extremists who ban freedom of speech, murder their political enemies and zealously execute sharia law with often deadly consequences.
The saying goes about the first victim of war being truth, and the Middle East is no different. Using the human shield claim as absolution for killing the innocent is staggeringly dishonest and cowardly.
This Thursday sees the end of the Government’s consultation on equal civil marriage. It seems bizarre that in the 21st Century UK we still have a marriage system where a part of society is banned from getting married. Just by nature of sexual orientation, LGBT couples are unable to enjoy the same ceremony as heterosexual couples. On the other hand, heterosexual couples are not permitted to have a civil partnership.
The proposals in the government’s consultation are a good step forward, but don’t go far enough. The proposals specifically include an opt-out for religious bodies. I’m not religious, but I can see that there will be some same-sex couples belonging to a religion who would like to hold their wedding in a place of worship, blessed and officiated by a member of the clergy, joined by all their friends. As religious bodies carry out marriages on behalf of the state, essentially a secular function, they should also be expected to carry out marriages of same-sex couples.
Religious bodies like the Church of England have gone into overdrive, even going so far as to claim that gay couples getting married would somehow undermine marriage. Such a position, defending the current marriage apartheid, comes from hate and bigotry, and should be resisted.
However, the Government’s consultation questionnaire is pretty good, and does include questions covering all aspects of the equal marriage debate, and also allows you to make a submission of up to about 200 words in support of your response.
You can submit your response to the consultation online at the Home Office’s equal civil marriage consultation page.
For more information, you can go to Peter Tatchell’s Equal Love page.
Here’s a copy of my submission’s supporting comment:
As a supporter of equal rights for everyone, I believe that it is only fair and reasonable for all people, irrespective of gender, should expect and enjoy the same rights to:
– civil marriage (for both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships);
– civil partnership (for both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships);
– religious same-sex marriage, carried out in a place of worship.
Civil and religious marriages, and civil partnerships, should be open and available to all couples, through a law that is blind to the sexual orientation of couples, whilst respecting them at the same time.
As marriage is a state secular mechanism, it should also be established that any organisation carrying out marriages on behalf of the state, including religious ones, should carry out same-sex marriages. Whilst I understand that this may be problematic in terms of the belief systems of some religions, religious organisations should be made to allow those of their clergy who want to perform same-sex marriages to do so, and on their premises or place of worship.
There is no rational or just argument against establishing a modern system of marriage which reflects society and treats every citizen fairly.
Many Tories like to model themselves as libertarians, but really under the surface they are simply authoritarian curtain-twitchers. They want to control every aspect of other people’s lives with much the same zeal as the Soviet. To control you have to know what people are doing, and thinking. Now David Cameron wants to snoop on every UK citizen, whether they’ve committed a crime or not, under plans announced today.
This changes all of us from being citizens, into potential perpetrators of whatever the government deems to be criminal. This is the authoritarian moral abyss of Judge Dredd, where everyone who is not guilty of something, will be sooner or later.
We can’t trust our security services with our information. Given the porous nature of the relationship between the police forces and the media, any person’s emails, texts or the details of which websites they visit, could be leaked to a press after blood. Be it a footballer or a union official, or maybe an ordinary person, like a former teacher suspected of murder. Every grain of their online existence will become grist for the mill in search of sales and advertising revenue.
Labour demonstrated the same drive to collect information on UK citizens during the Blair and Brown years, but failed. Now, instead of respecting every citizen’s right to privacy, David Cameron is resurrecting Labour’s plans to spy on us, and make the UK just like that other great shining example of liberal democracy, China.
Shaking the Tree with Peter Gabriel and Paula Coles.
The riots last week were an indicator of a society which has some things wrong with it. Not broken, as the Tories love to keep telling us, but there are some places where things could be a lot better.
Another indicator of our society’s dark heart can be found in the state’s response to the riots. Harsh and overly punitive sentencing handed out by the 21st Century equivalent of hanging judges seems to be designed to satisfy the blood lust we’ve seen in the media and on blogs. Even some self-proclaimed libertarians suspended their principles, making them subservient to impotent rage. This populist approach to the law will serve to further reduce the public’s faith in the judiciary and alienate further a section of society which feels it has already been poorly treated. A judiciary which follows the howls of the mob is not just and not fit for purpose in a liberal society.
Then there’s talk of the government suspending communications media in an attempt to hamper the organisation of looting sprees. That’s the kind of illiberal response we’d expect from China or the Yemen. If our government is taking tips from the cruellest regimes in the world then we should be worried.
Now Theresa May has announced that the coalition government is going to lavish the UK’s police forces with even more powers, including the right to declare curfews. If it goes ahead it represents a huge change and a terrifying shift of power to the police force. A government which came into power promising a great repeal of Labour’s illiberal laws has quickly got hooked back on the good old Tory addiction to authoritarian rule.
This isn’t a party political issue. If anything, the Labour opposition response has been little more than a water treading manoeuvre, allowing Labour front benchers media airtime without actually saying anything useful, or potentially risky. Despite Ed Miliband’s lacklustre and unconvincing appeal for a ‘tough on the causes of crime’ approach, if Labour had been in power and Jack Straw had been on that podium instead of Theresa May, I’m confident he would have talked in similarly tough terms and would have happily sacrificed more of our liberty for a half-baked notion of security. The Lib Dems, who consider themselves to be a moderating influence on government, are a failing to protect true liberal values, and just seem to be shoring up a Coalition where their influence is non-existent. They’re a pitiful joke.
At the minute, it looks like no-one in Parliament can be trusted with our liberty.
It seems like there are plenty of people who believe that their special interest should be respected as if it was a special need. Take midwife Hannah Adewole, who thinks that she should be excused the rules other medical staff have to follow because she’s a Christian.
Adewole thinks it’s disrespectful to expect her to wear scrub trousers because apparently, god told her so. Deuteronomy 22:5 says:
“A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.”
Deuteronomy is a lot of fun. As well as a gender dress code, the fashion advice extends to forcing you have tassels on your cloak and a ban on mixing wool with linen. What a style faux-pas. Add to that the Leviticus bans on piercing and tattoos, and looking fabulous whilst keeping the bible fashion police happy in iron-age Israel must have been a minefield of stonings.
The punishments in Deuteronomy are tough. There’s loads of purging of evil and stoning, but on the plus side, lots of helpful guidance on how to treat your slaves. However, women had to know their place. If a woman grabbed a man’s wedding tackle in a fight, her hand had to be chopped off. Less eye for an eye, more chop-off for a chopper.
Adewole is no lilly-livered liberal Christian. She is full on hardcore:
“I believe that the Bible is truth and that its words should be followed wholeheartedly.”
You’ve got to admire her dedication. But if I was her employer, I would be concerned about her wholehearted support for stoning and cutting limbs off. Even more worrying for a midwife is someone who believes in the truth of a book which contains a psalm praising the bashing-in of babies’ heads. Actually, there’s a bit of child murder and enslavement going on in that book.
But all of this theological nonsense isn’t what really matters. Most of the time when religion keeps to itself it’s harmless and doesn’t matter much to those who don’t believe. However, sometimes it overlaps into real life and we see the ‘respect’ vs reality battle end up being fought out in the courts. I consider the respect narrative used by some Christians to be phoney, especially when they use the worn out ‘you wouldn’t do that to Muslims’ argument. Using the courts to try and lever religion into areas it doesn’t belong whilst playing on a false sense of persecution seems to me incredibly dishonest. It’s almost as if some Christians want to be persecuted, whether it’s over their choice of dress or jewellery, or the services that they are expected to provide to others. The bottom line to me is that your religion is fine, as long as you keep it personal, and not try to force it on others, and in this case, through illiberal legal gambits.
What is worrying in this case is that someone in the medical profession thinks that their personal ideology based on ancient mythos trumps hygiene and safety rules; rules introduced to protect patients from infection. Should such a person be working in a hospital?