Saturday, August 25, 2007


They are pro-Muslim to the point of absurdity

How did the Crown Prosecution Service and West Midlands Police come to refer Channel 4's Dispatches programme, Undercover Mosque, to Ofcom? It is one of the most bizarre decisions taken by public authorities in recent times. Having decided that they could not or would not prosecute the purveyors of Wahhabite hate speech portrayed in the film - mostly from the Green Lane mosque in Birmingham - they instead turned round on the documentary-makers and investigated them for allegedly stirring up racial hatred.

This controversy will run and run. Tomorrow the Edinburgh International Television Festival hosts a seminar, Don't Mention Islam, at which one of the star turns will be the man at the heart of the fuss, Kevin Sutcliffe, deputy head of news and current affairs at Channel 4.

Paul Goodman, MP, the Shadow Communities Minister, yesterday piled on the pressure, writing to the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. Effectively, he inquired whether the Saudi Government and its proxies - which are desperately sensitive about the role of Saudi religious institutions portrayed in the documentary - have made representations about Undercover Mosque (shown on Channel 4 in January) to the Government or to other national and local agencies. And how, he asked, have civil servants, acting officially or unofficially, responded to these complaints?

In a packed seminar at Policy Exchange last week, speaker after speaker denounced West Midlands Police for shooting the messenger and for appeasing some of the most sectarian elements in their force area. Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West, who courageously led the fight against the proposed religious hatred Bill, charged that this constabulary has "form" over defending certain liberties: it apparently equated the Sikh protesters who sought the cancellation of the allegedly blasphemous play Behzti at Birmingham's Repertory Theatre in 2004 with those seeking to maintain theatrical freedom.

So once again, it was the poor "Old Bill" that got it in the neck, rather than the CPS - which was at least an equal partner in the process. This is no doubt unfair. But it does illustrate how damaging it is for police forces, perhaps more than any other public bodies, to blunder into such controversies.

The peculiarity here is that the senior officers of West Midlands Police are not exactly dedicated followers of political fashion. Thus, Sir Paul Scott-Lee, the Chief Constable, has been known to tell a home secretary where to go when that department sought to push him beyond his remit as a police officer. Indeed, Sir Paul is so much his own man that the Director-General of the Security Service, Jonathan Evans, went to see him not long ago to urge him to reorder his force priorities - and devote more resources to the "sexier" topic of counter-terrorism. The Assistant Chief Constable who led this investigation, Anil Patani, is a cautious fellow with no apparent ideological agenda. Indeed, when West Midlands Police suspect a real threat, they can act quickly and efficiently - as I have seen myself in the case of one Muslim associate in Birmingham who was endangered recently.

But it is in the area of "soft power" that West Midlands Police, like so many other forces, is at its weakest. According to Whitehall reports, the broader Midlands region has seen some of the most dramatic recent "spikes" in radicalisation of Muslims anywhere in the country. West Midlands Police is desperate to get to grips with that trend through intensified "community engagement". As part of that, it has selected what it deems to be "credible" Muslim "partners" who can help to "deliver" young Muslims - youths who might otherwise take a walk on the wild side. The trouble is that policemen are too often insufficiently discerning in their choice of "partners". They are not best equipped to "pick winners" - often plumping for the loudest voices. Thus, the West Midlands Police website lists the Birmingham Central Mosque as its official partner - whose chairman, Mohammed Naseem, believes in all sorts of dottinesses, such as the claim that Muslims were not responsible for 9/11 and 7/7 (though he condemned terrorism against innocents).

Much the same official mindset was on offer at a Wilton Park conference sponsored by the Foreign Office and the Department of Communities and Local Government late last February, Countering Terrorism in Europe and North America: How Can a Community-Based Approach be Developed? According to one official, officers from West Midlands commended to the gathering the efforts of two Muslims whom they stated were from the Green Lane mosque.

Neither man appears in the Dispatches programme; perhaps they were horrified by what some of their co-religionists said there. If so, they appear not to have stated it publicly. When these officers from West Midlands gave them such favourable references at the Wilton Park conference, was the force already investigating some of those elements at the mosque for alleged hate speech? What balance of forces was West Midlands Police - in conjunction with other elements of government - seeking to foster in the mosque? Has Channel 4 been an inadvertent casualty of that? Whose poor advice did the force take before stepping on this landmine?

West Midlands Police, like another force or security agency, will obviously do everything it can to stop bombs going off. Sometimes that means supping with some people who don't necessarily come up to the antiracist, antihomophobic standards of postMacpherson policing. But rubbing shoulders with such elements in back alleys is not the same as according them public recognition. By referring this matter to Ofcom, West Midlands Police showed that its preferred associates in the Muslim community are Wahhabites and assorted radical Islamists rather than the nonsectarian Muslim mainstream. It is a choice that is profoundly demoralising for genuine moderates and will ultimately undermine, rather than strengthen the very community cohesion that the force seeks.

Above all, the referral caters to the sense of "victim culture" peddled by the Muslim Council of Britain and others: that our current discontents are caused as much by media sensationalism and "Islamophobia" as by Islamist ideology itself. It will reinforce that strain of opinion within the MCB that holds that mosques and other institutions don't need to clean up their act. It is often said that war is too important to be left to the generals. The case of Channel 4's Undercover Mosque surely proves that community cohesion is far too important to be left to the CPS and the police.


Don't have a stroke in Britain

Patients who suffer strokes receive worse treatment in Britain than anywhere else in Western Europe. More die and more are left disabled, a leading expert says in this week's British Medical Journal, even though Britain spends as much as, if not more than, other countries on stroke care. The gap is wide, according to Hugh Markus, of St George's University of London medical school. One study showed that 15 to 30 per cent more stroke patients were left dead or disabled in Britain than in other countries.

Professor Markus identifies several possible reasons for the failure. European countries with better results tend to focus more on the care of patients immediately after a stroke, while in Britain the vast majority of money is spent on nursing and hospital overheads, and little on investigations or treatments. Stroke care is a "Cinderella subject" in Britain, falling between neurology and general and geriatric medicine, he says, whereas elsewhere it is an integral part of neurology. This lack of interest may have led to underinvestment and, therefore, poor outcomes.

New treatments that can help patients to recover from a stroke make the failings even more significant. In strokes caused by clots blocking the blood supply to the brain (ischaemic strokes) the use of clot-busting drugs is effective, but patients must first be scanned to determine what sort of stroke they have suffered. All hospitals have scanners, but struggle to scan stroke patients within 24 hours. For a patient to be treated with clot-busting drugs, the scan must be performed within three hours.

In many countries in Europe, and in North America and Australia, 20 to 30 per cent of patients get these drugs. In Britain the figure is less than 1 per cent. Britain also treats fewer patients in dedicated stroke units than other countries, though setting up such units costs nothing and there is abundant evidence that they improve outcomes.

The audit by the Royal College of Physicians found that fewer than two thirds of stroke patients were treated in stroke units, and only a little more than half spent more than half of their stay in such a unit. The benefits include early rehabilitation, access to physiotherapy and staff experienced in stroke care.

Jim Whyte, who had a stroke ten years ago at the age of 55, spent 27 weeks in hospital - only the last five in a specialist unit. Mr Whyte, from Enfield, North London, was treated at Chase Farm Hospital. "Once I got into the specialist unit I had physiotherapy twice a day, speech therapy and training on how to manage for myself." The best help he gets these days, he says, comes from a local stroke club, whose members help one another with advice. He said: "That's something the NHS didn't think of. When I left hospital I was given nothing in the way of information, about how to avoid a second stroke, that sort of thing. Things may have got better since, but we've still got a long way to go."

A significant challenge, Professor Markus says, is to change the perception of stroke among doctors and the public. Scanning units should be available 24 hours a day, and to achieve this regional specialist centres may be needed. Such changes have been achieved for heart care, so it is not impossible, he says, but it calls for commitment and a reorganisation of services, which have so far been lacking.

Joe Korner, director of communications at the Stroke Association, said that the present situation was unacceptable. "For many years the Stroke Association has been concerned about the UK's poor record in stroke care compared to other countries," he said. "That is why we have been campaigning hard to try to improve stroke services. "The Government, with a new stroke strategy in development, has shown a commitment to improving the future of stroke care across the UK. But it is vital that stroke gets the priority and investment it needs. "Without investment hundreds will die needlessly. Public awareness of stroke also needs to be increased so that people can recognise the warning signs."

Dawn Primarolo, the Health Minister, said: "In the last ten years the treatment of stroke in the NHS has progressed rapidly - more patients than ever before are being seen by stroke specialists, numbers of stroke deaths are falling and advancing medical understanding gives every prospect for a real revolution in stroke treatment over the next few years. "The National Stroke Strategy - setting out proposals for modernising stroke prevention, treatment and care - is currently out to consultation. "It was developed with the Stroke Association and stroke survivors and carers, and was debated by Parliament. It follows 20 million pounds invested in improved research into stroke and additional tools and support for hospitals on stroke prevention. "Although we have more improvement to make to the numbers of people given clot-busting thrombo-lytic drugs, there are hospitals, such as King's College, that are matching the best in the world."


Childish Greenie "protesters"

Hard as it may seem to believe, I was a Direct Action Man in my time. In the 1980s I went on many a march, protest, picket line, blockade and occupation - in support of striking miners, nurses and students, against wars, invasions and police brutality, in defence of abortion rights, immigrants and free speech. And I would not apologise for any of it. Anybody with an idealistic bone in his youthful body ought to have taken some direct action, along with the drugs. However, at the risk of sounding like a grey talking head on the "Grumpy Old Marxists" show, I feel obliged to point out that young eco-protester puppies today don't know they are born, are degrading the good name of direct action, and would not know a police state if they found one in their muesli.

The news has been full of spokespersons from the Camp for Climate Action at Heathrow comparing their campaign of direct action with noble struggles of the past. One summed up the camp's aims as being "to show it's possible and pleasurable to live sustainably" (the joys of the composting toilet), and "to show that non-violent direct action works. Civil disobedience has in the past led to things like black people getting the vote."

Grow up and get an education. The campaign against Heathrow expansion bears no comparison to those that led to "things like black people getting the vote". Direct action is neither good nor bad in principle. It is just a tactic, used by all manner of protest movements. What matters most are the political aims and outlook informing the protests. In the past, direct action was employed by people fighting to defend their own interests - working people struggling for jobs and better pay, women demanding the vote, black people seeking civil rights. The pursuit of self-interest was the driving force for political change. Others such as we on the Left supported their struggles, but we acted in solidarity, not as self-appointed substitutes for the miners or disadvantaged minorities.

Today, by contrast, to take political action in your own interests seems frowned upon as greedy, even sleazy. Instead, the Heathrow protesters insist that they are acting altruistically "on behalf of" others, speaking for the "voiceless" - the poor of the developing world, unborn generations, or simply the planet. A picture from the weekend captures the essence of this direct-action-by-indirect-proxy. It shows a group of white, apparently well-heeled protesters, beneath a banner declaring "We are armed . . . only with peer-reviewed science" (we went armed with political arguments), while they carry huge posters of the supposed victims of climate change on whose behalf they are protesting - mostly impoverished-looking Africans and Asians.

Call me an old cynic, but these protesters look like the ones cynically exploiting the plight of the poor in the developing world, dragging them symbolically in front of the cameras to act as a stage army justifying their march through a field in suburban England. Because, of course, you don't really give the "voiceless" a voice - you speak and act for them, whether they want you to do so or not. Exactly how many of the impoverished global masses have been consulted about the Heathrow camp set up on their behalf? Did those whose placards boldly declared "You Fly - They Die" ask the millions of Africans and Asians who are dying to fly? And can we be certain that the hungry-looking people depicted in those posters really agree with one camp spokeswoman that "we have had enough of the prioritisation of economic growth over the future of the planet"?

Once, when I debated these issues with George Monbiot, a leading green writer, he declared that they had to take action for the sake of "the unborn". I pointed out that this apparently democratic mandate amounted to signing themselves a blank cheque to do as they see fit, since the unborn were hardly in a position to disagree or vote them down from the moral high ground.

The "grassroots" protest movement at Heathrow turns out to be an egotistical posture from self-appointed saviours who imagine that they are floating above the ignorant masses, acting for the planet. It might seem odd that such high-profile protests take place at a time of low-level interest in politics. In fact they are two sides of the same coin. Gestures of disengaged direct action, such as occupying the BAA car park in the middle of the night, are not trying to win an argument with anybody. They are media stunts designed to demonstrate that the protesters are parked on the side of the angels, armed with the (self) righteous sword of "peer-reviewed science" to smite anybody in their path.

This apparent taste for the dictatorship of an expert elite over the great unaware might be rather sinister if we took them seriously. But despite the high-minded declarations, these protesters are only playing at politics. There were not many clown outfits in evidence among the Sunday-best suits on the 1963 March on Washington.

Yet such are the rising levels of self-deluded preciousness among the protesters that some seem to believe they were subjected to historic levels of police oppression, because some officers "acted aggressively". They might care to look at what happened in the past when protests challenged the Establishment - the direct action did not remain nonviolent for long once the riot police started swinging. By contrast, eco-protests are now so mainstream and respectable that they are treated with kid gloves rather than the old iron fist. The only ones to receive that treatment in recent years were the pro-hunting protesters outside Parliament - they were the "wrong" sort of conservationists.

The last time there was real direct action at Heathrow was exactly two years ago, when the in-flight catering firm Gate Gourmet sacked 670 mostly Asian women workers, and baggage handlers and other ground staff walked out to support them. The activists who now march behind pictures of hard-pressed Asian women were nowhere to be seen. But the logic of their protests is that all such self-interested airport workers should be sacked. Such is the difference between direct action taken in solidarity, and that staged out of sanctimony.


It's official: the British masses are not gullible

A new British government survey suggests that lots of us have an agnostic or atheist attitude to the cult of environmentalism

In spring 2007, researchers commissioned by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) interviewed 3,600 English people for an average of 51 minutes each about green issues (1).

As ever with market surveys, the content and style of questions asked, and the claims made in response to them, should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Still, the researchers' findings, which were published yesterday, are very revealing. Despite the incessant political and media barrage to make us all change our ignorant habits in relation to the environment, it appears that the English often keep a cool head about global warming. However, the results suggest that, at the same time, we now feel enough personal guilt to adopt, in everyday life, many of the pious rituals of environmental correctness. We are quite rational about climate change doom-mongering, and yet we're happy to change our behaviour in response to it.

Remarkably, people are less concerned about the environment than they were when DEFRA last conducted a similar survey, in 2001. Then, when asked without prompting what were the most important issues for the government to fix, 25 per cent mentioned the environment; today the figure is down to 19 per cent.

Thankfully, too, today's popular sense of impotence in the face of impending doom is very modest: only 17 per cent strongly agreed or tended to agree that it's too late to do anything about climate change. And 67 per cent said that humanity can find ways to solve environmental problems. A striking 19 per cent said they were convinced that scientists would find a solution to global warming without people having to make big changes to their lifestyles.

In the face of all the finger-wagging injunctions to change our carbon-producing behaviour, about a quarter of the survey respondents didn't believe that their lifestyles contributed to climate change; 18 per cent said that going green `takes too much effort'. More than two thirds said that buying food produced locally, rather than food produced abroad, would have little impact on the UK's contribution to climate change.

On the flipside, a solid 75 per cent said that more insulation and less energy use in the home, along with recycling and using cars and planes less, could have a major impact on the UK's contribution to climate change. But this sentiment was predicated on the idea that, for that kind of impact to happen, most people in UK would have to adopt such measures. And here, some commendable realism was on display. While more than half the respondents held that a lot or quite a lot of people would be willing to recycle their rubbish more or take new steps on the insulation of their homes, just 17 per cent thought that many would be willing to drive less - and only 13 per cent thought many would be willing to fly less.

Greens would say these attitudes show selfishness or cynicism. I think they show a refreshing refusal to tow the official line on climate. It's great to hear that 24 per cent threw PC etiquette to the winds and insisted they `didn't really' want to cut down on their use of cars. Intransigence about flying was even higher: 32 per cent didn't really want to cut down on their use of planes. A sizable minority of English people wants to get out more and refuses, it seems, to conform to today's green orthodoxy. And how many felt guilty about taking short-haul flights? Just 17 per cent.

However, the more worrying aspect of DEFRA's research concerns the claims people made about their own behaviour. Judging by their responses, people appear to have bought and then mentally internalised the view that it is consumers, rather than employers, who are to blame for environmental problems. However much rationality suggests that serious changes to levels of carbon emissions, for example, can only be made in the domain of energy supply, today's culture has successfully encouraged a majority to go through the irrational motions of saving the planet through cutting back on their personal energy demand (2).

Of course, when 71 per cent said they were personally recycling more, that may have been because their local council insists on such a policy. And when more than half said they had moved to low-energy light bulbs, or had taken to switching off equipment when not in use, that may reflect misguided hopes that they will significantly lower electricity bills, rather than still more misguided hopes that these actions will make a difference to the Earth's temperature. No fewer than 81 per cent of those surveyed strongly agreed or tended to agree that people have a duty to recycle.

The survey's seemingly contradictory findings are revealing. On one hand, people are quite robustly sceptical about the need to prioritise the environment over other important issues, and they believe that, with the help of science, we can deal with changes in the climate. And many of us do not believe that we are responsible for climatic doom, whatever the greens tell us. On the other hand, people claim to be carrying out new eco-rituals, such as recycling more and wasting less food. This shows up the religious character of environmentalism: we get on with our lives, but we feel guilty about doing so, and we try to offset that guilt by doing things we know won't make a great deal of difference. Quite a few people seem to have an atheist or agnostic attitude towards the cult of environmentalism, but that hasn't prevented them from believing that to consume is so sinful that one must perform Hail Marys at all hours of the day. That kind of saintliness has no impact on environmental degradation, of course. But it does degrade our minds, our conversations and our ambitions.


Some justice -- The lost-luggage airline is also now the out-of-pocket airline: "British Airways was fined $US300 million yesterday after pleading guilty to antitrust charges and admitting fixing some prices on international flights. Britain's largest airline could have faced fines closer to $US900 million but the US Justice Department credited the company with cooperating in the case. A federal judge agreed. Representatives of British Airways pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy for colluding with rivals to fix fuel surcharges on international flights. Earlier this month, authorities in London announced $US246 million in fines for the company in the parallel trans-Atlantic investigations. As part of its plea deal, British Airways is admitting that between mid-2004 and early 2006, it colluded with Virgin Atlantic over the surcharges, which were added to fares in response to rising oil prices. Virgin Atlantic is not named in the Justice Department case and is not expected to face a fine in Britain because it reported the misconduct to authorities."

Pathetic Britain is riddled with gang crime and they worry about this: "Two 21-year-old women will appear at Chichester Crown Court to answer charges of outraging public decency after they lifted their tops and exposed their chests to CCTV cameras as they sat on a beach. The gesture at Worthing, West Sussex, last month could lead to a six-month jail sentence for Abbi-Louise Maple and Rachel Marchant. The prosecution told Worthing magistrates that two 15-year-old boys were walking past when the women flashed, and that there was a family play area near by. The women deny the charges."

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