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Image: The Niqab - A genuine 'concern' or political fodder?

17/08/2018

This week Marian Pallister, Vice chair of Justice and Peace Scotland, reflects on Boris Johnson's recent offensive comments about women in muslim dress. 


Movies for kids are not my territory, but I couldn’t help noticing publicity for Batwoman, following the announcement that actor Ruby Rose is to play the character in the next movie. Posters show a young woman thrusting through the air dressed only in what seems to be spray-on paint and an eye mask that covers most of her neck and face. Only red lips and a pair of nostrils are revealed – even the character’s eyes are a blank.
 
Here is a character we are supposed to celebrate, for a whole raft of reasons, and presumably that we are to encourage our girls to follow.  Batwoman is a wealthy heiress inspired by the superhero Batman to use her wealth and resources to fight crime as a masked vigilante in Gotham City.
 
It would be interesting to hear Boris Johnson’s take on Batwoman. Does that mask threaten his emotional stability? Would he demand that she remove it as she speeds through the Gotham City night to battle with evil forces? Does her uncovered and glistening letterbox red mouth pose a threat or a promise? Would he mistake her for a bank robber instead of a crime buster?
 
Why is it acceptable in our society for a woman to reveal every feature of her body (whether in the costume of a comic character or in the supermarket during a heatwave) but deemed threatening to dress modestly?
 
The insulting language of Boris Johnson and the alarming support of his apologists makes me far more afraid for our society than seeing women wearing the niqab on our streets.
 
In her criticism of Johnson, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson compared the wearing of the niqab to wearing a Crucifix. I may be very wrong, but my understanding of the veil adopted by some Muslim women is that it is worn for modesty, even for protection, and not as a symbol of religion.
 
I would be willing to bet two free tickets to the premiere of the next Batwoman movie that Boris Johnson has only one agenda when it comes to expressing ‘concern’ about women wearing burqas and niqabs – and Sayeeda Warsi expressed that perfectly in The Guardian in the wake of his extraordinary column in The Telegraph – ‘…what really disgusts me in this whole episode is that Muslim women are simply political fodder’.  In other words, Boris wants a shot at the Tory leadership and he will exploit any ‘populist’ idea to achieve that.
 
I’m privileged to represent Justice and Peace Scotland on the Scottish Bishops’ Conference Committee on Interreligious Dialogue. The work done by that committee brings together people of all faiths in Scotland. Talking, respecting, sharing – that’s how communities integrate and become as one.
 
Last year in Cairo, Pope Francis asked Christian and Muslim religious leaders to join in building ‘a new civilization of peace’ by rejecting ‘every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion and in the name of God’. I hope we can close our ears to Boris’s plotting nonsense and follow Pope Francis’ advice.


Image: Glasgow Arms Fair

10/08/2018

Activist Brian Quail offers a personal reflection on the recent arms fair in Glasgow and his involvement in a nuclear weapons protest in London.
 


UDT - these unfamiliar letters stand for Undersea Defence Technology, the name given to the huge arms fair that was held in Glasgow from June 26 to 28. This event promoted Trident, the Israeli military, and companies that sell to human rights-abusing regimes in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Babcock and BAE are leading the Trident renewal. They were also the lead sponsors for the UDT event.
 
BAE Systems, UDT’s lead sponsor, is the UK’s biggest seller of arms to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime is currently leading bombing runs on Yemen. The UN says Yemen is the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.
 
UDT exhibitors Lockheed Martin are “proud of the significant role” they play in the Israeli armed force. They are a major supplier of fighter jets. The current Israeli government has been repeatedly accused of human rights violations.
 
Israeli arms firm DSIT Solutions Ltd was also exhibiting and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) linked media outlet, Israel Defence, is a UDT partner. Several of DSIT’s directors are ex-Israeli military.
 
The aerospace company Leonardo also sponsored UDT. Leonardo supplies the same kind of jets to Turkey that were used to bomb the formerly peaceful Kurdish region of Afrin in northern Syria. Tens of thousands were forced to flee their homes and hundreds died as a result of the attacks.
 
Sustained pressure from campaigners led Glasgow City Council to drop the logo ‘People Make Glasgow’ from this arms fair, although it continued to give practical support.
 
So much for the technical details.
 
I found it difficult to focus on this event as I was concentrating on another action I was involved in. This was on June 20, when along with some 50 Trident Ploughshares supporters I chained myself to the railing round the Westminster Parliament. We did this in protest at the UK government’s refusal to support the international treaty to ban nuclear weapons signed by 122 states on July 7 last year at the UN in New York.
 
Normally, this sort of action would be an arrestable offence, so I went to London expecting to be detained there as a guest of her majesty.  Never having been arrested in London before, I was unhappy about the prospect of having to return there for the consequent trial.
 
As it happens, the Met adopted a “softly softly” approach and simply stood by while we chained ourselves to the railings, like the Suffragettes of 100 years ago. So I was able to return to Scotland a free man, ready to concentrate on action against the UDT extravaganza. But it did mean we missed a chance to raise the illegality of Trident in an English court.
 
What particularly incensed me about the UDT event was that the SNP/Green controlled Council was supporting this arms fair. Both parties have a strong anti-Trident position and a powerful anti-military record. Indeed, Glasgow is a city with a proud history of standing up against war and militarism.
 
It seems that the mouth-watering prospect of lots of lovely money coming into the city swayed their judgement. This shame will endure for long after the junketing is over.
 
 


Image: Dangers of a Hostile Environment

03/08/2018

Sarah Teather, former MP and Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service UK since January 2016, made a passionate presentation about the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees at the recent Justice and Peace England & Wales conference (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfJOPCsoZPU&list=PL5UUtVasGFc86xfJa4vp-uhh6jSE3bhq5&index=5 ). Justice & Peace Scotland’s vice chair, Marian Pallister, was there and reflects on the dangers of a ‘hostile environment’.


A powerful resignation letter dated July 16 2018 has been shared on social media.
 
It is signed by Elizabeth Holtzman and addressed to Kirstjen Nielson, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Washington DC. Elizabeth Holtzman was co-author, with Senator Robert Kennedy, of the US Refugee Act of 1980. She tells Nielson that she and President Trump have violated that Act by their treatment of refugees and that it should be Nielson who resigns.
 
That Act enabled impressive numbers of refugees to be welcomed to the US from Cuba and Vietnam, and 100,000 Jews fleeing the Soviet Union.
 
Holtzman accuses the Trump administration of ‘making war on immigrants and refugees’ through the ‘ethnically and religiously motivated travel ban’ and the mass deportation of ‘undocumented aliens’. She describes as ‘the final straw’ the separation of children from their parents.
 
Where does this slippery slope lead?
 
Scrolling further through my news feed on Facebook, I saw a photograph of a protester whose banner read: ‘The people who hid Anne Frank were breaking the law. The people who killed her were following it.’ The Jewish schoolgirl, and the millions of men, women and children who died with her during the Holocaust, were innocent of any crime other than her religion.
 
But is all this just someone else’s dirty linen? Chillingly – no.
 
The Westminster government is deliberately and cynically creating what politicians admit is a ‘hostile environment’ for refugees and asylum seekers. Follow the link above to Sarah Teather’s speech and see just how hostile.
 
Sajid Javid may be considering ending indefinite immigration detention, but the hostility faced by those seeking asylum in the UK is ugly.
 
Yet Pope Francis said earlier this year that it isn’t a sin to fear newcomers to our countries. ‘The sin,’ he said, ‘is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection.’ He added, ‘The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbour, when this is in fact a privileged opportunity to encounter the Lord.’
 
Teather says that when official interviewers encounter ‘the other’, they are required to prove that they are fabricating, merely seeking a better life in the UK. They must discredit someone who claims they have been tortured, fought on the ‘wrong’ side of a war, or been subjected to unspeakable discrimination in their home country – and would indubitably die if returned there.
 
Teather’s disturbing disclosure that interviewers are offered Marks and Spencer’s vouchers to ‘lose’ the evidence presented by asylum applicants is stomach-turning. Who issued that order? ‘Give them M & S vouchers to slip those files in the back of a drawer.’ Who dishes them out? ‘Here you are, lads – get the wife a bottle of wine and a meal for two on your way home on Friday. And there’s the shredder, nod, nod, wink, wink.’ And can you imagine strolling round M & S with those vouchers in your wallet, considering which of the array of goodies you can enjoy on the back of someone’s deportation and possible violent death? I can’t.
 



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