thoughts on the Paris attacks

This article was published on Backbench and won IMPACT Article of the Month 

France starts a new week in a much more jittery state and darker mood than it started the last. It asks itself: why us? While Islamist terrorism is a much worse scourge in countries across Africa, the Middle East and Asia, in our Western bubble it is France that has suffered most: from Mohammed Merah’s murderous rampage in Toulouse and Montauban in 2012, to the Charlie Hebdo attacks at the beginning of this year, to Friday’s events. Continue reading thoughts on the Paris attacks

Bahar Mustafa is wrong, but should be allowed to speak

A version of this article was published on Palatinate

Bahar Mustafa, former welfare and diversity officer for Goldsmith University, has had charges against her dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service. She was going to appear in court on charges of “sending a threatening letter or communication or sending by public communication network an offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing message”. It relates to a hashtag she allegedly used – #killallwhitemen – although she has denied sending the tweet.

Mustafa hit the news earlier this year after a number of controversial statements. She asked men and white people not to attend an event – a protest against inequality and a celebration of racial unity – because it was to be a ‘safe space’ for women of colour. She also labelled someone “white trash” in an argument on Twitter. Continue reading Bahar Mustafa is wrong, but should be allowed to speak

Us and them

Catalonia Blanes Senyera
This short piece was published in SUR in English 

Catalonia has been plunged into uncertainty after last Sunday’s regional elections which gave the pro-independence groups a majority of seats but not votes. Plans to go ahead with the process of creating a new state have been complicated by the left-wing nationalist party CUP’s refusal to support Artur Mas as president. Meanwhile, the central government maintains that any independence bid or referendum is illegal. Under this reasoning, support for independence could be at 80%, 90% or even 100% and it would make no difference. Continue reading Us and them

Clashing of nationalisms

Estelada d'espelmes a la plaça Major de Vic 04

This article was published on Backbench

Catalonia is on the brink of pushing for separation from Spain. If the coalition of independence-supporting parties, Junts pel Sí (Together For Yes), wins a majority in regional elections on 27 September, they have promised to initiate a secession process. The reason nationalists are resorting to elections rather than using a referendum, like the one which took place in Scotland last year, is explained by the limitations imposed by the state. The Spanish Constitution, which was negotiated in the wake of Franco’s death at a time when modernists still feared the prospect of civil war should democratic demands go too far, makes it illegal for a referendum in Catalonia to be held. Instead, whether the region can become independent is supposedly a decision for all Spaniards to make. An attempt to hold a referendum was blocked last year; instead, last November there was a non-binding one, or, officially, a “citizen participation process on the political future of Catalonia”. It is also illegal, therefore, to do what the pro-independence parties promise to do should they win, so fireworks are expected. Continue reading Clashing of nationalisms

Unchartered water – tierra ignota

Diada per la Llengua 2014 (09)
Wearing a black t-shirt with the Catalan independence flag on it, Basque nationalist MP Sabino Cuadra addressed the Spanish parliament clutching a book of the Spanish Constitution on Wednesday night. Railing against the document’s limitations on regional self-determination, he tore out certain pages: “the solution is for this and this to disappear”. According to Catalan nationalists, if things go their way in a few weeks’ time, they will have a mandate to do in reality what Cuadra did symbolically, and break away from Spain for good. Continue reading Unchartered water – tierra ignota

Film review: Straight Outta Compton

Memorial Eazy-E made by streetartist LJvanT @ Leeuwarden the Netherlands
Straight Outta Compton is the story of Los Angeles rap group N.W.A’s rise and fall, particularly focusing on Eazy-E (real name Eric Wright, played by Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (real name Andre Young, played by Corey Hawkins) and Ice Cube (real name O’Shea Jackson, played by his son O’Shea Jackson, Jr). It starts with the stars-to-be as young men in Compton, CA, where gang-violence and drugs are banal everyday features of life. They are trying to develop their ‘reality rap’ against pressure to stop: from family wanting Dr. Dre to earn some proper money, to the owner of the nightclub where they play wanting a different style of music – less gritty and realist, more sexy – determined this is what the punters want. After Eazy-E finds success with the song Boyz-n-the-Hood, a music manager named Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) arranges to team up with N.W.A (Niggaz Wit Attitudes), and helps them rise to fame and infamy. Much of the film shows them on tour across the States, playing like rock stars in heaving, bouncing arenas. However, disagreements between Eazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Heller over the division of the profits lead to acrimonious public splits. The rappers have little understanding of the contracts, and are unable to agree on whether Heller is exploiting them. There is jealousy at Eazy-E’s status as leader, and his close links to the manager. The film ends after Eazy-E’s death from AIDS, at which point there had been a reconciliation between the music trio. Continue reading Film review: Straight Outta Compton

Book review: Trigger Warning by Mike Hume

Manifestation Charlie Hebdo Toulouse, 10 janvier 2015 (4)

A shortened version of this article appeared on Backbench

At universities in the States and the UK, those with opinions deemed offensive are banned from speaking, in the name of providing ‘safe spaces’. Language related to trauma has been appropriated by campaigners to police what topics cannot be raised. Instead of university being a place to explore taboos and debate in complete openness, speakers must avoid controversy. In an environment which is supposed to prepare for the real world, a world full of people with reactionary and offensive opinions, students are not taught to deal with attitudes they disagree with: instead they can shut them out.

The aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack represented another backlash against free speech: many implicitly blamed the magazine for bringing the attack upon itself, by publishing cartoons which some found offensive. Instead of championing the right to cause offence, or even using the same standards they would apply to Christianity or an ideology like nationalism, some liberals followed the reasoning of the extremists: that Muslims need to be protected from blasphemous images. In his book “The Fallout: How a Guilty Liberal Lost his Innocence” Andrew Anthony describes certain reactions to the 9/11 attacks. There was “the alternative analysis” for the event; the ‘it’s terrible, but…’ analysis in which the first three words are simply “the decorative part of the equation” before a condemnation of the USA. Fourteen years on, the reaction to the Paris attacks adopted a similar approach, with Western intervention in the Middle East/Islamophobia/Israel/the cartoons at fault. Continue reading Book review: Trigger Warning by Mike Hume