Remainland grieves over Brexit

A public meeting about Brexit in Keir Starmer’s constituency highlights the country’s polarisation

Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, Crown Prosecution Service, UK (8450776372)

This article was published on Backbench

St Pancras Church, consecrated in 1822, is renowned for its Greek Revival architecture, inspired by the Erechtheum and the Tower of the Winds, both on the Acropolis in Athens. The Tower of the Winds is said to be the first weather station in the world.

On Tuesday night it hosted people hoping for a different kind of European revival, which was an opportunity to gauge the political weather in this part of central London. Keir Starmer, MP for Holborn and St Pancras and Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, was holding a public meeting on Brexit. He was joined by Tulip Siddiq, MP for neighbouring constituency Hampstead and Kilburn, and Sarah Hayward, leader of Camden Council. Camden voted to stay by 75%: a Remain heartland. Continue reading Remainland grieves over Brexit

Book review: The Wellness Syndrome by Carl Cederström and André Spicer

wellness-955796_1920.jpgFor anyone who has ever harboured doubts about the benefit of wearing a Fitbit or adopting the Paleo diet (where you only eat food eaten by early humans) this is the book for you. Carl Cederström and André Spicer explore the ‘wellness syndrome’. It has become a moral obligation, they argue, to constantly strive towards wellbeing. It is a never-ending task, leading to “anxiety, self-blame and guilt”.

The underlying philosophy of wellness programmes is that the individual has the power to overcome obstacles in their personal and professional life through thinking and acting differently. As examples in the book demonstrate, this is presented as the solution for challenges ranging from dealing with cancer to becoming rich. Continue reading Book review: The Wellness Syndrome by Carl Cederström and André Spicer

What causes someone to become a terrorist? The French debate.

Paris Shootings - The day after (22593744177)

“France is at war,” declared François Hollande, after last November’s attacks in Paris. Since then, he has had to declare it several more times. It is a strange sort of war. France fights not against a coherent, well-defined enemy, but against a pervasive ideology. The front line is now not just the streets of Paris but provincial cities and even the French countryside. Continue reading What causes someone to become a terrorist? The French debate.

Book review: This is London by Ben Judah

UK Border, Heathrow

This article was published on Backbench

The arguments made in the media for and against low-skilled immigration normally come from the well-heeled opinion-forming professions, rather than from immigrants themselves. Thus there is a tendency to romanticise or demonise immigrants and their plight: the benefit scrounger, the job stealer, the self-made chaser of a British version of the American Dream. We rarely hear from those who constitute these supposed categories. The main strength of Ben Judah’s This is London is that it gives them a voice. Each chapter involves meeting one or more immigrant, from all over the world and in all sorts of jobs, from beggars to tube workers to carers. The point hammered home, from the title onwards, is that London is now a city of immigrants (the book tells us in the first few pages that at least 55% of Londoners are not ethnically British and that nearly 40% of Londoners were born abroad). Continue reading Book review: This is London by Ben Judah

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

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