Archive for September, 2010

Don’t Apologise For Passion, Anger, Derision

September 29, 2010

At the risk of repeating myself…

There is a very important role that anger, ridicule and passion play in any social movement. While intellectual understanding is key to a movement that is well-grounded, it is the primary emotions that provide the impetus for social organization… It is even more easy to forget the role that anger, ridicule and passion have played in creating this global community of freethinkers. Without the ‘new atheists’, secular humanism would have remained irrelevant in the public sphere.

It is a false assumption that to convince a believer about the validity of atheism (or rather, the absurdity of religion) one needs to be gentle and defensive… Most people who have become atheists have done so because at some point they began to question their own beliefs. Contrary to the general assumption, this sort of questioning does not come naturally to everyone. It does not come simply because we present logical arguments defending atheism. It often comes because at some point, someone else questioned their ridiculous religious beliefs. Often because someone ridiculed those beliefs. Throughout history, this is how revolutionary ideas have dispersed through culture. Society does not work on the same principles of science, in that evidence and proof do not determine what the majority will believe. Ideas die in a culture when it becomes embarrassing to hold on to them.

From an excellent piece by Ajita Kamal and via Ophelia, who adds:

It’s also true that there are obvious dangers – self-righteousness, verbal or literal violence, confirmation bias, groupthink, tribalism, all sorts. But…we need the movement, and we need the passion. We should relentlessly self-monitor for self-righteousness and the rest of it, but we shouldn’t cool down.

The Feel of a City

September 29, 2010

– I got to ask you. If every time Snotboogie would grab the money and run away, why’d you even let him in the game?

– What?

– If Snotboogie always stole the money, why’d you let him play?

(…)

– Got to. This America, man.

A noise like an indrawn rush of breath and then it begins: a sixty-hour odyssey through the contemporary American city. The drug corners. The dying shipyards. The prisons. The schools. The bars. The Baltimore Sun. From City Hall to West Fayette. Omar in his trenchcoat, carrying a shotgun, whistling across dormant but unsleeping streets: a ‘pitiless stalker of the pitiless’. ‘You can’t get everything in,’ Gus Haynes’s boss at the Sun tells him. But you can. You can capture it. The feel of a city. The hope and reach and sweep of a city.

The moral ambiguity of The Wire is overstated by its fans. Show it to your kids, and they’re more likely to grow up wanting to be the cops than the villains. BPD detectives, if they are very unlucky, will get fired or take a bullet. Most of the West Baltimore gangsters end up dead or serving a natural life sentence.

Yet in his focus on the low end of two opposing institutions David Simon did make us rethink our ideas of practical good and evil. The show is full of men like Frank Sobotka, a stevedore boss who lets gangsters run drugs and trafficked women through his port to save the working American, doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. Detective Jimmy McNulty is a troubled idealist railing against the tyranny of Jay Landsman’s board, with its red and black names: symbol of a police department that is more interested in quarterly stats and administrative detections than investigations that take time and money but ultimately make the streets safer. (The Wire is perhaps the first cop drama to incorporate the paralysis of bureaucracy: an entire episode is dedicated to the wrangling of different law enforcement agencies over who should take responsibility for thirteen dead bodies at the docks.) We’ve seen drunken, womanising, tortured cops before, but never so well realised: when his boss expresses concern for McNulty’s mental health, the renegade answers: ‘I think I can do this and keep myself away from myself.’ He can’t.

His opposite number D’Angelo Barksdale, a midlevel dealer in his uncle’s drug empire, sets out the city in microcosm when he teaches the other hoppers how to play chess: ‘See, the king stay the king, a’ight? Everything stay who he is. Except for the pawns… they get capped quick. They be out the game early.’ These last two lines are both a confirmation of the status and an eerie portent of the fates of all three characters in this scene.

Here’s The Wire creator David Simon:

The Sopranos and Deadwood—two shows that I do admire—offer a good deal of Macbeth or Richard III or Hamlet in their focus on the angst and machinations of the central characters (Tony Soprano, Al Swearengen). Much of our modern theater seems rooted in the Shakespearean discovery of the modern mind. We’re stealing instead from an earlier, less-traveled construct—the Greeks—lifting our thematic stance wholesale from Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides to create doomed and fated protagonists who confront a rigged game and their own mortality.

Many of The Wire’s most emotional moments are almost swallowed by end of season montage – I’m thinking of Wee Bey hugging his son across a prison visiting room table, Bubbles climbing up the basement stairs to enjoy a family meal. At the end of series one, we zoom in on Stringer Bell, number two in the Barksdale drug gang, counting piles of money. As the camera pulls in he closes his eyes, and there’s a look of total despair on his face. Save me. Get me out of here. Bell’s fierce intelligence and strong work ethic would have made him a successful businessman had he been born at a higher station in life. When his boss and partner Avon Barksdale is locked up, Stringer begins investing in property, wearing a suit, and running his meets as if they were corporate AGMs (‘Adjourn yo’ asses’). Still, he can’t escape – witness how easily he is conned by canny senator Clay Davis: ‘He saw yo’ ghetto ass comin a mile away,’ Avon mocks. In the end Stringer succumbs despite everything to the murderous soap opera of the corner.

Simon is a tireless critic of drug prohibition, which he argues has turned the war on drugs into a war on America’s underclass. During series three a rebellious major with only months until his pension turns a couple of dead streets into undisturbed drug markets, with the caveat that anyone selling anything anywhere else will feel the full force of police brutality. It has its problems (Simon is a realist as well as an idealist) but it’s better than the status quo. Naturally this experiment is shut down by the major’s bosses. Prohibition has become an article of faith and a major public sector growth industry. Like Vietnam in the early 1970s, everyone sane knows the war is pointless and destructive but they carry on wading through blood regardless.

Another point hammered into the fabric of the series was that the greatest divide is not race, but class. In a city that is two thirds black, many of The Wire‘s politicians carry a deck full of race cards. There’s a shot where City Council president Nerese Campbell waits a stoplight where Bubbles, now clean and straight, is selling papers. There are a few physical yards at best between these two African-Americans, yet the true distance is vast, a chasm of tumbling scree and reverberating echoes.

Critics of the contemporary novel tend to say that the only good writing is TV writing – The Sopranos, The Thick of It, Mad Men. But The Wire is written by great American crime novelists – Lehane, Price, Pelecanos – who are ‘writing in their literary work about second-tier East Coast rust-belt places like Jersey City, northeast Washington, or Dorchester, rather than Manhattan, Georgetown, or Back Bay Boston… the other America or the America that has been left behind in the postindustrial age.’ The Wire isn’t the death of prose fiction. It’s the ultimate victory.

(The Omar quote in the first para is from screenwriter Rafael Alvarez in his book The Wire: Truth Be Told.)

‘You can hold back from the suffering of the world. You have free permission to do so and it is in accordance with your nature. But perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could have avoided.’

– Kafka

‘It is a real ‘downer”

September 27, 2010

Silliest censorship ever – MobyLives has a list of books that have been banned from American schools and libraries, ranked in order of the stupidity of the justifications:

1. ‘Encourages children to break dishes so they won’t have to dry them.’ (A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstien)

2. ‘It caused a wave of rapes.’ (Arabian Nights, or One Thousand and One Nights)

3. ‘If there is a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it?’ (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown)

4. ‘Tarzan was ‘living in sin’ with Jane.’ (Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs)

5. ‘It is a real ‘downer.’; (Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank)

6. ‘The basket carried by Little Red Riding Hood contained a bottle of wine, which condones the use of alcohol.’ (Little Red Riding Hood, by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm K. Grimm)

7. ‘One bunny is white and the other is black and this ‘brainwashes’ readers into accepting miscegenation.’ (The Rabbit’s Wedding, by Garth Williams)

8. ‘It is a religious book and public funds should not be used to purchase religious books.’ (Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, by Walter A. Elwell, ed.)

9. ‘A female dog is called a bitch’ (My Friend Flicka, by Mary O’Hara)

10. ‘An unofficial version of the story of Noah’s Ark will confuse children.’ (Many Waters, by Madeleine C. L’Engle)

I would love to see a UK version of such a list. (Via Book2Book)

State of the Race: Yes, It’s Ed Miligeddon!

September 27, 2010

Reasons why the Ed Miliband victory is not the disaster everyone says it is:

1) David and Ed are actually very similar in terms of policy. The media have exaggerated what differences there are to bring life into what has been a dull and protracted contest.

2) In any case, there is strong public support for redistributive and leftwing policies that the Westminister village doesn’t see.

Michael White brings a little perspective:

As I noted yesterday, [Ed] Miliband keeps protesting that ‘there’s nothing very leftwing’ about attacking investment bankers’ bonuses or the terms of the coalition’s timetable for deficit cuts – on which the coalition is likely to have to retreat, I suspect.

Opposing free schools? Many sensible people opposed them and Michael Gove’s claim that he would release huge pent-up demand has (so far) proved illusory. A graduate tax? Ditto, though I happen to think he’s got it wrong (so far).

Defence of universal benefits from bus passes to child benefit? Ditto again. A higher minimum wage and a high pay commission to address rising levels of inequality? Sounds good to me. More unequal societies tend to be unhappier ones.

Behind all this lies what Polly Toynbee rightly calls the imaginary ‘middle class’ routinely presented by the Mail, Telegraph and Express as earning much more than it does. Articles repeatedly suggest incomes and lifestyles far above what folk actually earn.

In real life, the median income is around £25,000, the median household income £36,000. In the mid-market Tory papers readers can often be forgiven for thinking it is at least double those figures.

It matters because it leads to an over-emphasis on, for instance, the 40% rate of income tax – which most people don’t pay. As Robin Cook once reminded his Today programme tormentor – John Humphreys, I suspect – that ‘more of your listeners are interested in the rate of benefits than in the top tax rate’.

Still, the Daily Mail gets to the heart of the matter: Ed Miliband is having sex with a woman to whom he is not married.

The Two-Sided Man

September 25, 2010

Stephen Fry is that rare creature, a popular British intellectual. The popularity rests, I think, on his predilection to exaggerate rather than downplay his upper middle class background. This lack of artifice is refreshing in an age of prolier-than-thou bullshit.

I also sympathise with his words on the gulf between the public and private self. The outer man is urbane, at ease, gregarious and yet detached, self-deprecating (but not too self-deprecating) full of charm and dissemblance, and with considerable powers of being pleasant. The heart within is a roil of fear, paranoia and self-loathing. As Fry puts it:

I am English. Tweedy. Pukka. Confident. Establishment. Self-assured. In charge. That is how people like to see me, be the truth never so at variance… It may be the case that my afflictions of mood and temperament cause me to be occasionally suicidal in outlook and can frequently leave me in despair and eaten up with self-hatred and self-disgust. It may be the case that I am chronically overmastered by a sense of failure, underachievement and a terrible knowledge that I have betrayed, abused or neglected the talents that nature bestowed upon me. It may be the case that I doubt I will ever have the capacity to be happy. It may be the case that I fear for my sanity, my moral centre and my very future. All these cases may be protested, and I can assert their truth as often as I like, but the repetition will not alter my ‘image’ by one pixel. It is the same image I had before I was a known public figure. The image that caused a delegation of college first-year contemporaries to visit me in my rooms and demand to know my ‘secret’… Like many masks this smiling, placid one has become so tight a fit that it might be said to have rewritten the features of whatever true face once screamed beneath it[.]

This passage reminded me of a Kipling poem I came across called ‘The Two-Sided Man’:

I would go without shirt or shoe
Friend, tobacco or bread
Sooner than lose for a minute the two
Separate sides to my head!

Fry’s recent autobiography also has a great passage on upper-class Cambridge student life:

Revising finalists under chestnut trees, books and notes spread out on the grass as they smoke, drink, chatter, flirt, kiss and read. Garden parties on every lawn in every college for the first two weeks in June that are perversely designated May Week. Dining clubs and societies, dons, clubs and rich individuals serving punch and Pimm’s, beer and sangria, cocktails and champagne. Blazers and flannels, self-conscious little snobberies and affectations, flushed youth, pampered youth, privileged youth, happy youth. Don’t be too hard on them. Suppress the thought that they are all ghastly tosspots who don’t know they’re born, insufferable posers in need of a kick and a slap. Have some pity and understanding. They will get that kick and that slap soon enough. After all, look at them now. They are all in their fifties. Some of them are on their third, fourth or fifth marriage. Their children despise them. They are alcoholics or recovering alcoholics. Drug addicts or recovering drug addicts…. Their lives have been a ruin and a waste. All that bright promise never quite matured into anything that can be looked back on with pride or pleasure.

Fry is also one of the few people who can say something interesting about celebrity. He writes about the story of Aaron, partying with his golden calf, enjoying the revels and idolatory, until Moses gatecrashes with his stone tablets, destroys the golden calf and ‘slays 3,000 men before hauling his vengeful arse back up Mount Sinai to get a second batch of commandments.’

‘I think we can celebrate,’ Fry says, ‘the fact that we now live in a culture, flawed or not, that instantly sees that, while Aaron may be a weak voluptuary, his brother is a dangerous fanatic… We humans are naturally disposed to worship gods and heroes, to build our pantheons and valhallas. I would rather see that impulse directed into the adoration of daft singers, thicko footballers and air-headed screen actors than into the veneration of dogmatic zealots, fanatical preachers, militant politicians and rabid cultural commentators.’

Breaking Broken Britain

September 25, 2010

If Britain has an official narrative it’s of the Great Decline. This once great nation degenerated into a Third World country where the good are paralysed by political correctness and the lazy and evil live high on the sweat of the few remaining working men. The story of how we went from the spirit of the Blitz to a selfish, hedonistic wasteland has captivated highbrow conservatives, policy units and libertarian bloggers alike. In some ways this miserable romance has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It has hardwired self-pity, parochialism and resentment into the UK’s political discourse. It’s a climate where mainstream newspapers publish the most fantastical conspiracy theories and incitements to racial hatred while clerics make high-profile pronouncements about the End Times like doomsayers wailing in the street.

A key part of the Great Decline narrative is immigration. The hatred for immigrants in our culture has now become a national pathology. Migrants in reality tend to be dispossessed and vulnerable yet they are somehow responsible for taking both our jobs and our benefits, depressing wages, and destroying social cohesion. If they come from Islamic countries they are said to be imposing their native culture upon this small island. It’s this last point that Edmund Standing focuses on in his report ‘Debunking the ‘Islamisation’ Myth‘. ‘Are we now to seriously believe,’ he asks, ‘that Britain is finished because a religious minority, many of whom are poor and powerless, and very few of whom are found at the heart of our economy and our political process, has arrived on our shores?’

Standing begins by putting the Great Decline narrative in historical context, tracing it from Melanie Phillips back to earlier apocalyptics like Spengler and the Nazi theorist Max Nordeau. He then goes on to knock down the conspiracy theories of the contemporary British right. Standing takes apart the demographic basis for the Eurabia idea, and could have pointed out that it rests on the sinister fallacy that future generations will believe exactly the same things that their parents did, as if belief and culture were hammered into the genetic code.

Standing’s an atheist and considers Islam itself to be harmful and stupid. A lot of people will object to his report for these reasons alone, but for my money it’s a stronger, finer attack on the current bigotry against British Muslims than anything produced by the far left.

(Image via John Rentoul)

‘Now abideth beauty, truth, and intensity’

September 23, 2010

The thing about Michel Houellebecq is that while no author is better known for misanthropy and bitterness (which is certainly saying something) there are also none who can write such realistic depictions of human happiness. Two thirds of Platform is descriptions of a happy and loving couple. Hallucinatory flashes of tranquillity and fulfillment dance across the stories – think Bruno’s island fantasies at the end of Atomised, deranged but ultimately benign. In The Possibility of an Island, which is basically Atomised ramped up to eleven, Houellebecq expands on this with a lengthy description of an installation piece in a huge basement. ‘I am God in my basement,’ the artist says. ‘I have chosen to create a small, easy world where you only encounter happiness.’

Again it went dark, and I followed a more indistinct path, as if trekking through woods, I was surrounded by green-and-gold rustlings. Dogs were frolicking in the clearing of the angels, they were rolling around in the sun. Later, the dogs were with their masters, protecting them with loving looks, and later still they were dead, and little stelae sprouted up in the clearing to commemorate love, walks in the sunshine, and shared joy. No little dog was forgotten: their embossed photos decorated the stelae at the foot of which the masters had left their favourite toys. It was a joyful monument, from which all tears were absent.

In the distance, as if suspended from trembling curtains, some words in gilded letters took shape. There was the word ‘LOVE’, the word ‘GOODNESS’, the word ‘TENDERNESS’, the word ‘FIDELITY’, the word ‘HAPPINESS’. Coming out of the total darkness, they evolved, from nuances of matt gold through to blinding luminosity; then they fell back alternately into the night, but at the same time following one another in their rise towards the light, in such a way that they seemed, somehow, to create one another. I continued my path across the cellar, guided by the light that shone sequentially on all the corners of the room. There were other scenes, other visions, so many that I gradually lost any notion of time, and only recovered full consciousness once I had gone back upstairs, and was seated on a wicker garden bench in what could once have been a terrace or a winter garden. Night was falling on the waste-ground landscape; Vincent had lit a big lamp.

I was reminded of this while reading the Paris Review‘s indepth Art of Fiction interview. It’s well worth reading, as the whole series is. It’s full of Houellebecq’s weird insights, his absurd gender opinions and twisted and somehow Gallic stoicism. There’s good stuff on the origins of Atomised, apparently inspired by Alain Aspect’s experiments in 1982. This is interesting because it belies the title: the novel is driven by ideas of connection rather than isolation.

[The experiments] demonstrated the EPR paradox: that when particles interact, their destinies become linked. When you act on one, the effect spreads instantly to the other, even if they are great distances apart. That really struck me, to think that if two things are connected once, they will be forever. It marks a fundamental philosophical shift.

It touches on the epilogue to Possibility, one of the most devastating pieces of writing I’ve encountered: you feel after reading it that you’ve been blasted by a glimpse of what lies in the spaces between the stars. (As Don Draper says in Mad Men: ‘There is no system. The universe is indifferent.’) Yet Houellebecq describes himself as a romantic: ‘someone who believes in unlimited happiness, which is eternal and possible right away. Belief in love. Also belief in the soul, which is strangely persistent in me, even though I never stop saying the opposite.’

And then there’s this:

INTERVIEWER

What do you think is the appeal of your work, in spite of its brutality?

HOUELLEBECQ

There are too many answers. The first is that it’s well written. Another is that you sense obscurely that it’s the truth. Then there’s a third one, which is my favorite: because it’s intense. There is a need for intensity. From time to time, you have to forsake harmony. You even have to forsake truth. You have to, when you need to, energetically embrace excessive things. Now I sound like Saint Paul.

INTERVIEWER

What do you mean?

HOUELLEBECQ

‘Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.’ For me the sentence would be ‘Now abideth beauty, truth, and intensity; but the greatest of these is intensity.’

Update: I’ve reviewed Houellebecq’s latest poetry collection at 3:AM.

In Defence of Aggression

September 22, 2010

Contrary to what you’ve been told, many London-based mediaratists and bloggers supported the papal visit, or at least opposed the opposition to it. Intellectuals are increasingly concerned with positioning and self-regard rather than what’s actually going on in the world: as David Thompson wrote, ‘In many arts subjects, especially those tethered only loosely to evidence, logic or practical verification, there’s often pressure to avoid the obvious and prosaic, even when the obvious and prosaic is true.’ The dominant tone is ironic detachment. The sin is to shout and rant. Passion in debate is seen as vulgar, strident and distasteful – even offensive. Ophelia reminds us that what’s more offensive is this tut-tutting and beard-stroking in the face of oppression.

And Barbara Blaine speaks; she is a survivor of priestly sexual abuse. She said this:

When we were children, and the priests were raping us, and sodomizing us, and sexually abusing us, we thought we were all alone – and we felt very alone, guilty, and ashamed. And over these past years, and even more recently over these past months, many of us as victims have found each other, and we have learned that we’re not alone. And I must tell each and every one of you: thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all the victims, because today we recognize that you too care about the victims.

That’s why the protest was not mere grandstanding, or a party, or piling on, or any of that over-fastidious bullshit. It was, among other things, a yell of rage about what the Catholic church and its priests have been doing to people – including children – for its entire history, and in particular within the living memory of millions of people. That yell of rage is music to the victims. What do you think its absence sounds like? It sounds like indifference, or worse, endorsement. It sounds like the apathetic or enthusiastic agreement of the whole society that it’s perfectly all right for priests to prey upon and torment children, and get away with it. Imagine how that adds to the misery of the whole thing. Imagine what a relief it is to know that a lot of people don’t agree and don’t endorse.

Next to that fact, finicky objections to groupthink or the joy of protest just look callous at best, and revoltingly self-indulgent at worst. Someone at Facebook (SIWOTI!) made a comment in that vein:

People are having way too much fun laying into the Pope. It’s like a party, which is parasitic on the sins of the Catholic Church. People just love the frisson of protest, and I find that rather distasteful, given that it tends to be parasitic upon the suffering of other people (precisely the sorts of people one is supposed to be protesting on behalf of).

Barbara Blaine didn’t see it that way. She saw it the opposite way. No doubt people do just love the frisson of protest, but so the fuck what? If what they are protesting needs protesting, then so the fuck what? Why is that more important than, you know, saying this evil is an evil?

That’s my considered view.

There are worse things than aggression.

There is indifference.

Manchester writer faces deportation

September 19, 2010

The guys at the Didsbury Arts Festival are campaigning for Sayed Sadat, Manchester writer and asylum seeker:

Help us fight the forced removal of Manchester-based writer Sayed Sadat to Afghanistan, where his fiance and many members of his family were murdered. Sayed was detained last weekend and is due to be deported to Afghanistan this coming Wednesday 22nd September on an Afghan Airlines charter flight.

His life is in danger if he is forced to return to Afghanistan, and it is likely that he would take his own life rather than wait to be killed.

Sayed fled Afghanistan in 2006, when he was 16 years old. His life was threatened by a former Mujahedeen commander when it was discovered he was secretly meeting with the commander’s daughter. They had planned on marrying. The commander killed his daughter, and since Sayed left Afghanistan most of his family have also been killed as revenge for protecting him.

He first went to his uncle’s home in Pakistan, then when men were sent to Pakistan to kill him, he was forced to flee. Despite evidence including newspaper reports on the murders, the Home Office have decided that it is safe for Sayed to return to Afghanistan.

He has not been given the chance to launch an appeal against the decision as he was taken into custody at a routine appointment last weekend.

Please help us to stop this imminent deportation so that a proper appeal can be launched.

You can help by printing and signing the letter below, faxed (or posted first class on Saturday if fax not possible) to Home Secretary Theresa May at

Fax: 020 7035 4745

Address: Rt. Hon Theresa May, MP
Secretary of State for the Home Department,
2 Marsham St
London SW1 4DF

or copy into EMAIL: mayt@parliament.uk

Please copy and paste the letter into Word or equivalent to fax – – I can’t figure out how to attach a doc in facebook and we don’t have much time.

Thank you for your help.

************************

Rt. Hon Theresa May, MP
Secretary of State for the Home Department,
2 Marsham St
London SW1 4DF
Fax: 020 7035 4745

Dear Home Secretary,

Re: Sayed Nijab Sadat. Home Office Ref: S1350408

Sayed Nijab Sadat is 20 years old and is currently being detained at Harmondsworth. Sayed has removal directions to Kabul, Afghanistan for the 22 September 2010 on flight PVT800 at 04:00. His appeal for asylum has been refused. After looking at Sayed’s case it is clear his life would be endangered if he is forcibly removed. I urge you to look more closely at his case and to grant him sanctuary in the UK.

Sayed fled Afghanistan in 2006, when he was 16 years old. His life was threatened by a former Mujahedeen commander when it was discovered he was secretly meeting with the commander’s daughter. Since Sayed left Afghanistan most of his family have been killed as revenge for protecting him.

Sayed’s family were farmers, he and the commander’s daughter wanted to marry but the difference in their status meant this was not possible as it would have been seen as a great insult. Despite this they continued to meet. When their relationship was discovered the commander executed his daughter in an ‘honour killing’ and demanded that Sayed’s father hand him over so that he could be executed as well. Sayed’s family chose instead to protect him, sending him to his uncle in Pakistan. Because of the extensive networks that cross Afghanistan and continue into Pakistan his family could not keep his whereabouts secret, and after men were sent to Pakistan in order to kill him Sayed was forced to flee.

The commander’s murder of his daughter was reported to the police, but as a former Mujahedeen commander he is above the law and no charges were brought. Without the protection of the police, and with the Afghan government unable to curb the power of former military commanders, Sayed had no choice other than to leave.

Sayed made his claim for asylum once he arrived in the UK. Despite evidence including newspaper reports his claim was refused and he was told that while it might be unsafe for him to return to the area he came from he would be safe in the capital, Kabul. This is not true. He was found in Pakistan and he will be found in Kabul. The Afghan government is unwilling and unable to protect Sayed. Many of his family have been killed for refusing to hand him over and no action has been taken by the authorities. Like many former Mujahedeen commanders the man seeking his life is powerful and has friends in government and amongst the factions fighting to take control of the country.

Since coming to the UK Sayed has struggled with mental health problems as a result of his experiences and the subsequent murder of his father and other family members. For the last two years he has been in the care of Manchester’s Early Intervention in Psychosis team. Even with all these problems Sayed has settled in the UK and has support and care from friends and services which is unavailable in Afghanistan. It is likely that if he is forcibly removed then he would take his own life rather than wait to be found and killed.

We, Sayed’s campaigners, friends and fellow community members are urging you as Home Secretary to cancel his removal proceedings and to support him in his fight to remain safe in the United Kingdom.

Yours sincerely,

Name: Address:

City: Date:

Update from the campaign

Thank you everyone for your support. Sayed’s removal has been stayed. This means that he is not being deported on Wednesday but he could still be deported at a future date.

Several other people due to be deported on the same charter flight have had their removals stayed following successful campaigns and/or last ditch efforts by their solicitors. Not everyone had support though and it seems as if several will still be deported.

Sayed can now apply for bail. If he’s successful he will be released and can return to Manchester. Otherwise he could remain in detention, which could last several months before they release him or attempt to deport him again.

Sayed has had his application for asylum turned down. He was detained and served with a removal notice before he or his solicitor had been informed that his appeal had also been turned down. He, like many others, was therefore denied due process.

Pressure on the Home Secretary helps. The UK Border Agency is aware of who has support. Often it does act with impunity but it can still be held to account, with individual cases and hopefully through a broader campaign. Hundreds of letters were sent to the Home Secretary in support of Sayed and other people due to be deported on the same flight. There is no doubt this influenced the immediate outcome and if support is able to continue there is good chance that Sayed, and others, will at last receive a fair hearing.

Sayed has asked me to thank everyone on his behalf. I’m not sure I can imagine how alone he must have felt at the prospect of being forcibly removed to a place where his life is in danger and most of his family have been killed. I hope he doesn’t feel quite as alone now.

Betrayal, Conspiracies, Sacrilege, Heresies

September 19, 2010

Just a couple of thoughts on the Pope visit:

1) The Catholic Church and fascism

There’s a piece by the smug, moon-faced idiot who edits CiF Belief, in which he attempts to close down debate while stampeding for the moral high ground. Contra Brown, it is entirely appropriate to raise the Church’s relationship with Nazism, because Pope Benedict gave a speech on it, in which he failed to acknowledge either the religious and spiritual aspects of the Third Reich or the role of his church in railroading war criminals to safety.

The speech itself reads like a CiF column. The fact is that, despite having the evidence, we atheists have lost the argument on this one. People will always believe that Nazism and Stalinism are atheist ideologies and atheist crimes. Sam Harris writes that ‘[t]he romantic thesis lurking here is that reason itself has a ‘shadow side’ and is therefore no place to turn for the safeguarding of human happiness.’ Against sentiment such evidence is useless. But it’s also worth repeating, whenever this lie is broadcast, Pascal Bruckner’s point that Nazism and communism were both overthrown by the secular, reason-based democracies of Enlightened Europe and America.

2) Celebrating the Geopolitical Epicentre of the Culture of Death

The visit kicked off with a comment from the Pope’s right hand man to the effect that multiculturalism had turned the UK into a third world country. Any American or European politician, making this Powellite slur on our country, would be condemned rightly as a racist. But Kasper’s words stirred no reaction from the pro-faith left, which will forgive and forget just about anything. Benedict’s Edinburgh speech was along the same lines with lots of pissing and moaning about multiculturalism, the marginalisation of faith, and the degenerate state of the UK. The British taxpayer is in the surreal position of paying to be insulted.

Recently there have been more and more clerics hectoring the nation about its deterioration into sexual permissiveness and metropolitan pretensions. Earlier in the month we had the archbishop of Westminster complaining that the passage of gay rights law had turned the UK into a ‘selfish, hedonistic wasteland’ and London into ‘the geopolitical epicentre of the culture of death’. What’s worse is that his condemnation of liberal, cosmopolitan Britain is being listened to with sage nods and serious expressions because the rest of us also, by some tragic perversity, love to denigrate this aspect of contemporary life in the UK.

The point is that if you condemn the Vatican’s reactionary statements on this you also have to condemn the intellectuals and cultural commenters who refuse to stand up for the UK’s diverse and urban way of life. Hedonism, intoxication, irreverence and sexual freedom should be celebrated and valued, and in time they may have to be fought for.

Read Laurie Penny in the NS:

But why on earth shouldn’t we congratulate ourselves? We are one of the most tolerant cultures on the planet, taking a stand, in the midst of domestic turmoil, against global religious oppression. Can’t we feel just a little bit proud?

If it is anti-Catholic to believe that child-rape ought to be eliminated, that stopping the spread of AIDs in Africa trumps religious squeamishness about condom use, and that human happiness is more important than dogmatic adherence to cobweb-crusted notions of purity and morality, then I for one am proud to be part of the geopolitical culture of death.