Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Post excerpted from David Thompson -- exposing the lying propaganda about Islam that emanates from a famous and popular British religious commentator. See the original for links

In my review of Robert Spencer's The Truth About Muhammad, I wrote: "In his book, Islam and the West, the historian Bernard Lewis argued: 'We live in a time when. governments and religious movements are busy rewriting history as they would wish it to have been, as they would like their followers to believe that it was.' This urge to sanitise unflattering facts is nowhere more obvious than in biographies of Muhammad, of which, Karen Armstrong's ubiquitous contributions are perhaps the least reliable." I've since received a number of emails asking me to clarify why Armstrong is unreliable in this regard. To that end, here's a brief catalogue of Ms Armstrong's errors and distortions, a version of which was first published by Butterflies & Wheels. Some of her rhetorical airbrushing is, I think, quite spectacular.

Karen Armstrong has been described as "one of the world's most provocative and inclusive thinkers on the role of religion in the modern world." Armstrong's efforts to be "inclusive" are certainly "provocative", though generally for reasons that are less than edifying. In 1999, the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Los Angeles gave Armstrong an award for media "fairness." What follows might cast light on how warranted that recognition is, and on how the MPAC chooses to define fairness.

In one of her baffling Guardian columns, Armstrong argues that, "It is important to know who our enemies are. By making the disciplined effort to name our enemies correctly, we will learn more about them, and come one step nearer, perhaps, to solving the. problems of our divided world." Yet elsewhere in the same piece, Armstrong maintains that Islamic terrorism must not be referred to as such. "Jihad", we were told, "is a cherished spiritual value that, for most Muslims, has no connection with violence."

Well, the word `jihad' has multiple meanings depending on the context, and it's hard to determine the particulars of what "most Muslims" think in this regard. Doubtless countless Muslims would recoil from connotations of violence and coercion. But it's safe to say the Qur'an and Sunnah are of great importance to Muslims generally, and most references to jihad found in the Qur'an and Sunnah occur in a military or paramilitary context. Aggressive conceptions of jihad are found in every major school of Islamic jurisprudence, with fairly minor variations. The notion of jihad as warfare against unbelievers is affirmed by Maliki, Hanbali, Hanafi and Shafi'i traditions, to which the majority of Muslims belong. And Muhammad's own celebration of military jihad and homicidal `martyrdom' makes for interesting reading.....

In another Guardian column, Armstrong insists that, "until the 20th century, anti-Semitism was not part of Islamic culture" and that anti-Semitism is purely a Western invention, spread by Westerners. The sheer wrong-headedness of this assertion is hard to put into words, but one might note how, once again, the evil imperialist West is depicted as boundlessly capable of spreading corruption wherever it goes, while the Islamic world is portrayed as passive, devoid of agency and thereby virtuous by default.

According to Armstrong, Muhammad was, above all, a "peacemaker" who "respected" Jews and other non-Muslims. Yet nowhere in the Qur'an and Sunnah does Muhammad refer to non-Muslims as in any way deserving of respect as equals. Quite the opposite, in fact. Apparently, we are to ignore over 13 centuries of Islamic history contradicting Armstrong's view, and to ignore the contents of the Qur'an and the explicitly anti-Semitic `revelations' of Islam's founder. One therefore wonders whether Armstrong has read Ibn Ishaq's canonical, quasi-sacred biography of Muhammad. Has she not read the Hadith, most notably Bukhari? Does she not know of the massacre of the Banu Qurayza and the opportunist raids against the Bani Quainuqa, Bani Nadir, Bani Isra'il and other Jewish tribes? Does she not know how these events were justified as a divine duty, one which formed the theological basis of the Great Jihad of Abu Bakr, setting in motion one of the most formidable military expansions in Islamic history? Does she really not know how these theological ideas established the subordinate legal status of Jews and Christians throughout much of the Islamic world for hundreds of years?

In her latest offering, Armstrong is again given free rein to mislead Guardian readers and, again, rewrite history. Armstrong asserts that, "until recently, no Muslim thinker had ever claimed [violent jihad] was a central tenet of Islam." In fact, contemporary jihadists pointedly draw upon theological traditions reaching back to Muhammad's own example. The Fifteenth Century historian and philosopher, Ibn Khaldun, summarised the consensus of five centuries of prior Sunni theology regarding jihad in his book, The Muqudimmah: "In the Muslim community, the holy war is a religious duty, because of the. mission to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations." Shiite jurisprudence concurred with this consensus, as seen in al-Amili's manual of Shia law, Jami-i-Abbasi: "Islamic holy war against followers of other religions, such as Jews, is required unless they convert to Islam."

Given that Armstrong is regularly described as a "respected scholar" and an "expert on Islam", she must surely know of Khaldun and his sources, and must surely know how Muhammad conceived jihad primarily as an expansionist military endeavour. Armstrong must also be aware of the jihad campaigns of religious `cleansing' throughout the Arab Peninsula, in accord with Muhammad's purported death bed words. Likewise, the five centuries of jihad campaigns in India, during which tens of millions of Hindus and Buddhists were slaughtered or enslaved, along with similar campaigns in Egypt, Palestine, Armenia, Africa, Spain, etc. These campaigns are thoroughly - often triumphantly - documented by Islamic sources of the period and are available to any serious scholar.

UK immigration panel orders deportation of convicted terrorist to Jordan

The UK Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled Monday that a convicted terrorist from Jordan must return to his home country despite his arguments that he risks being tortured upon returning to Jordan. SIAC chairman Justice Ouseley said there was no real threat of persecution for Islamic cleric Abu Qatada, basing the commission's decision on a 2005 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the UK and Jordan that guarantees deportees will not face abuse upon their return. While many argue that the MOUs are meaningless agreements, UK Home Secretary John Reid praised the commission's decision to recognize the pact since it would allow the UK to continue deporting security threats.

Qatada, who has been held in a UK prison for the past five years under anti-terrorism and immigration laws, plans to appeal the SIAC's ruling. He was convicted in Jordan for terrorist attacks and is allegedly linked to al Qaeda, which Qatada denies. Amnesty International UK expressed concern Monday at the SIAC's ruling, saying the commission "discounted ample evidence showing the risk of torture if Abu Qatada is returned," including Amnesty's documentation of abuse of so-called "security suspects" such as beatings while victims are suspended from the ceiling for hours at a time.

The UK has come under criticism for its reliance on memorandums of understanding countries also including Libya and Libya. In 2005, Manfred Nowak, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture said the agreements circumvent the absolute prohibition in the Convention against Torture against the forcible return of detainees to countries where there is a risk of torture or ill-treatment.


Legal appeal forces the NHS into the modern world

A cancer sufferer who spent 70,000 pounds on a drug that he believed would prolong his life has been told it can now be prescribed on the NHS. Keith Ditchfield, 53, a businessman who lives in Stonyhurst, Lancashire, is terminally ill. He learnt of Nexavar while receiving treatment in Germany. When he asked for the medication to be prescribed on the health service last year, he was turned down.

Since then Mr Ditchfield, has been buying the drug and believes that it has prolonged his life and left him, at least temporarily, in remission.

He has now been told that his appeal against the decision by East Lancashire Primary Care Trust has been successful. Nexavar was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2005 and is widely prescribed in Europe for advanced cancers.



Exactly what the NHS was designed to obviate

Peter Ashley was told that he had dementia seven years ago, after enduring three years of treatment for a series of wrongly diagnosed conditions that culminated in electric shock therapy.

The retired company director from Warrington recalls very well the day he and his wife were given the diagnosis of Lewy bodies dementia, a rarer form of the disease with characteristics of Parkinson's. "We literally fell apart. It was the summer, and I remember we sat on the patio for days just crying - and we are not really that sort of couple. I just did not know what it meant for my retirement plans, our plans for more holidays and, most importantly, what it would mean for my three daughters and my wife," he said.

However Mr Ashley, 71, has been fortunate, receiving excellent medical and psychiatric treatment, and he continues to live a fulfilling life. Fortunately, a neighbour held a senior post in the local mental health care trust, so he was given prompt and up-to-date advice on treatment. Unusually for early-stage dementia, he was approved for drug therapy, although only on the basis of a trial. He takes Exelon, which helps to retain cognitive function.

"I also adopted a `use it or lose it' strategy and began to lecture on dementia and sat on the NICE Guideline Development Group, which came up with recommendations for treatment. I have very bad short-term memory problems and I cannot get around very well. My spatial awareness is very poor. But I am convinced that the drugs have been a key element in helping me to retain a great deal of my mental capability," he said.


Catholics slam Britain for Equality Act's "Violation of Religious Liberty"

Say Britain poised to overturn centuries of legal development in human rights

In comments preceding the upcoming international congress, "Conscience in Support of the Right to Life," the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life said Britain is poised to overturn centuries of legal development in human rights. Bishop Elio Sgreccia told reporters the provisions of the Equality Act that claim to defend human rights, are a "violation of liberty." The Equality Act's Sexual Orientation Regulations will make it illegal to deny goods or services based on sexual orientation, including adoption of children. "I think that conscientious objection is fully justified and I would be surprised if a nation, such as Great Britain, usually considered as the homeland of fundamental liberties, would deny at least on one occasion recognition of this objection," Bishop Sgreccia said. Zenit Catholic news agency quoted the bishop saying, "I hope this won't take place or that, in any case, it will trigger an appeal before the Court of Human Rights."

Responding to the same legislation, the bishop of the Scottish diocese of Paisley wrote in a pastoral letter that there is "something sinister" happening in Britain. "For the first time in the modern era in this country, the Catholic Church is facing the prospect of being forced to act against her faith and against her convictions, or else face legal challenge and possible prosecution."

In a four-point manifesto, Bishop Tartaglia said the Church has no desire to unjustly discriminate against homosexual persons, but said that "no one has the right to be an adoptive parent," and that Catholic adoption agencies base their decisions on the belief that children are best served by being adopted by "a mother and father who are married."

The bishop urged his flock to be prepared spiritually for persecution. "We are so much at home in contemporary society that we have probably not seen this coming." "Affluence, prosperity, aspiration and a pervasive spirit of relativism may tempt some to set aside the principles and values of the Catholic faith and life." He warned Catholics, however, not to allow the Christian voice to be pushed "to the margins of society." "This unfortunate episode may well herald the beginning of a new and uncertain time for the Catholic Church in the United Kingdom."


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Normal British bureaucratic bungling blamed on "racism"

I think the ladies deserve compensation for their treatment but there have been plenty of cases of whites getting similar treatment from immobile and wasteful bureaucracies. Putting someone on nil duties is a standard bureaucratic way of getting that person to resign

The Home Office has been branded "one of Britain's least impressive managements" after an employment tribunal ruled that two interpreters were subjected to years of sexual and racial discrimination. The department now faces a bill of up to 2.3 million pounds to compensate the two women, who claimed they would have been treated differently if they had been white men.

The tribunal found that they suffered systematic discrimination because of the procrastination of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, and accused more than 100 human resource staff of mismanagement. The attack came at a hearing in London yesterday into the claims of Marti Khan, 48, who is fluent in various Indian languages, and Odette King, 57, who speaks Farsi. Both worked in Terminal 3 at Heathrow but also travelled to other airports to translate for new arrivals and at detention centres.

The tribunal found that the women had been effectively redundant since 1990, when the Home Office outsourced interpreting to freelances. Officials failed to reassign them to other roles and though they were contracted to work 41 hours a week, they were paid to do nothing or asked to carry out basic clerical duties. They could have remained in that position until retirement had they not complained to managers. Their complaints about the lack of work and that freelances were paid more were ignored by senior officials. They were signed off sick and placed on paid leave but after writing to Charles Clarke, then the Home Secretary, they were dismissed from their 25,000-a-year jobs.

Jeremy McMullen, tribunal judge, ruled that the women were unfairly dismissed and condemned their treatment by the directorate, which John Reid, the Home Secretary, branded "not fit for purpose" last year. The judge said: "What happens when one of Britain's least impressive managements, by its sole consistent attitude of procrastination, drives two long-service Asian women to become uncooperative and dismissive? The answer is systemic race and sex discrimination against them and dismissals unfair according to every tenet in the canon."

Mrs Khan, of Heston, West London, is claiming 970,000 in compensation, including 682,000 for loss of her career, 60,000 for injury to feelings and 30,000 aggravated damages. Mrs King, of Barnes, southwest London, is seeking 550,000, including 302,000 for the loss of her career. Imtiaz Aziz, their lawyer, said the panel could increase any award by 50 per cent to reflect the Home Office's breach of statutory grievance procedures. Both women are also seeking an order that the Home Office find them jobs, although this would cut the compensation.

Mrs King said after the hearing: "This has never been about money for either of us and we feel vindicated by the judge's damning ruling. We just want to have jobs in the Home Office and are prepared to work in any capacity."

Mrs Khan said that her department had been like a "ghetto" by the time she and Mrs King were short of work. "It was a total waste of taxpayers' money to pay me to do nothing whilst at the same time employing [others] at 50 per cent more than my hourly rate to undertake the tasks."

The Home Office claims that relations with the two women have broken down irretrievably and says that they acted unreasonably in rejecting job offers before they were dismissed. The panel is expected to announce how much compensation each woman will receive next month.


The pain of being a conservative at the BBC

If you want to see BBC man in his natural habitat you must travel to the unpromising reaches of Wood Lane in west London, the corporation's spiritual heartland. You can learn a lot about the organisation from pavement level. Your eye will certainly be drawn to the familiar outline of Television Centre (known as "the centre" by BBC types), but you will also take in the massy new development which squats by the elevated section of the Westway. This is known - in irritating coinage - as the "media village" and its imposing size and confident design telegraph to the observer that this organisation is a leviathan.

With its proliferating television and radio channels the corporation is easily the country's most important media organisation. It reaches into every home, is many people's constant companion, and shapes and moulds opinion in ways that we hardly understand. Its stated ambition is to become the most "trusted media organisation in the world" and given its glittering reputation for quality, accuracy and fairness we might think that it has already realised that aim.

However, after 25 years as a BBC reporter I concluded that I could not trust it. Auntie has moved away from its nonpartisan ideals to championing progressive causes. And that is a distorting prism through which to see the world.

Back to pavement level. As you stand there outside the Tube at White City, BBC people course past you. They swing into work with their interesting bags and clothes, no two alike. In this respect, at least, the BBC does fulfil its royal charter obligation to balance: no style goes unrepresented. But their colourful plumage camouflages a more insidious conformity. For with membership of the tribe comes adherence to a set of well defined political beliefs, distinctly inclined to the left.

These convictions are not made explicit to the outsider; the line for public consumption is that the BBC has no line. But this is moonshine; it takes very strong editorial positions which are consistent and clear. There is no central diktat, for instance, insisting that all employees believe that George Bush is an idiot and that the American religious right threatens world peace. But you would find few BBC people who would dissent from such views.

Why should this be so? First, the majority of BBC employees share similar backgrounds: they are middle-class arts graduates of liberal outlook. Second, the internal political culture within the corporation's newsrooms is well defined and subtly coercive. It was Lord Macpherson, in his inquiry into the Stephen Law-rence murder, who alerted us to the possibility that organisations can develop institutional deformations; in the case of the Metropolitan police it was racism. In the case of the BBC, by precise analogy, it is leftism.

When I first joined the BBC in the 1970s I accepted all this as the natural order. In BBC Scotland where I worked in the 1980s there was a suffocating anti-Thatcher consensus. As it happened, I was the business and economics correspondent and I had become convinced that Thatcherite economics were necessary and actually worked. These heretical views were looked upon askance; most of my colleagues thought I was just winding them up. "You don't really believe that, do you?" they would sometimes ask plaintively. I nearly came to blows with one producer (who later rose to prominence at BBC Westminster) because he would not accept that Thatcherism was a legitimate political creed at all.

The anti-Thatcher bias was sometimes jaw-dropping. In 1984 I returned to my office in Scotland having covered the Tory conference in Brighton at which the Grand hotel was bombed by the IRA. "Pity they missed the bitch," one of my colleagues commented. When I moved to London I found things were just as bad. If you find yourself working alongside well educated, intelligent and agreeable people it can be uncomfortable to be the dissenting voice. As one producer described it, you almost feel part of an ethnic minority. I remember a planning meeting at The Money Programme where we were discussing privatisation. I offered up the Thatcherite orthodoxy; there was a pause of the kind you get when someone has made an audible bodily function at a dinner party and then I was politely ignored.

Try making a reasoned argument against abortion, single parenthood or comprehensive education - or in favour of the Iraq war - at the BBC and see how much progress you make.

Of course none of this would matter if it was merely about the discomfiture of a handful of misfit conservatives in the BBC's ranks. But it is much more serious than that. The fact is that the BBC's internal political culture profoundly colours its news output. The corporation's public stance has always been that it is fair, evenhanded and nonpartisan. Sadly the reality is different.

Of course the convictions of individual journalists have a bearing on what is broadcast. How could that not be so? For it to be otherwise BBC journalists would need to display a judiciousness that would be remarkable in the judiciary itself. All journalism is about selection: which story to cover, which to ignore, who to interview and which bits of it to use in the finished piece. At every stage journalistic judgment comes into play. As consumers of news, we should all be aware that the BBC's news agenda is only one among many; it is fallible, partial and hugely influential. Scripts are often as opinionated as any editorial in The Guardian.

There will be many, I'm sure, who will immediately object and fly to the BBC's defence when I claim that the corporation's journalism consistently favours the Labour party and the liberal left generally. They will point especially to the Iraq war, Andrew Gilligan, Lord Hutton et al. Surely that proves the corporation is robustly independent? Er, no, actually. What was striking to me while working on the Today programme was how rapidly a doom-laden BBC line emerged about the war; from the very outset Today and the rest of the corporation were instinctively and viscerally opposed to military action. When I suggested that our coverage was skewed, the programme's editor told me: "That's a very dangerous view."

The BBC's stance had consequences. I believe it reduced even further the slim chance that military action would prove effective, for the combined might of the BBC's suasion was committed from the outset to proving that the war was a disaster and Tony Blair a liar (just think what effect that had on opinion both in Britain and around the world). The loss of public support, orchestrated by the BBC, has been a grievous handicap for the war party. The only reason the BBC bet the farm on Gilligan was that it passionately wanted to believe that not only was the war wrong but that the government had lied through its teeth. Inconveniently Hutton found otherwise, not that this altered the BBC's conviction that, really, it was right all along.

The BBC is too big and important an institution for the situation to be allowed to persist. The first step towards a remedy must be for the corporation itself to acknowledge that it has a problem. There are plenty of BBC people, including senior and well known individuals, who will do exactly that in private. But it is essential that the BBC breaches the omerta - the code of silence - and fesses up in public. Then some practical steps could be taken. Bias not only stifles public debate, it is also destructive for the corporation.

In the late 1990s my colleagues had elected me to the BBC forum, designed to improve communication between management and staff. At one meeting in December 2000 I suggested to Greg Dyke, then the director-general, that there should be an internal inquiry into bias. Dyke, a Labour party donor and member, mumbled a muddled reply. As he left the meeting I overheard him demand of his PA: "Who was that f*****?"

"Diversity" is a concept much venerated within the BBC and yet my diverse political view was never respected. Dyke labelled the institution "hideously white", but skin colour is not the only diversity issue. There is a need for some kind of reasonable balance between people of differing political complexions. It is striking, for instance, that whereas I could name a long list of senior BBC journalists with left-wing antecedents, I cannot think of a single one from the right.

It is time that the BBC started hiring journalists from the right, not as a token presence but as part of the mainstream. And it would not be a bad thing if, like London policemen, BBC producers and reporters got "diversity training" that sensitised them to the problem. A more radical change would be to go for a market solution. No one demands that newspapers should be nonpartisan; readers are allowed to choose the one that chimes with their outlook. Why should broadcasting be different?

Fox News in America challenged the old networks and showed there was a big appetite for such a service. But entry costs are very high. Why not take, say, 2% of the BBC's revenue (a tasty 60 million pounds) to establish a rival service? Wouldn't it be refreshing to have a real alternative to Radio 4? The BBC has demonstrated it cannot be all things to all men; perhaps it is time for a change.


Britain: The other e-petition -- about forbidden photographs

A Hampshire photographer has taken a stand against the suspicion and restrictions snappers face due to the 'paedophile panic'.

E-petitions are getting popular. Recently 1,633,894 people (and counting) signed a petition on the British government’s 10 Downing Street website opposing the idea of road-pricing. And it’s not only drivers who are using the system to make their point.

On 14 February, a petition against restrictions on photography was started by Simon Taylor, a 43-year-old semi-professional photographer from Hampshire, England (1). The petition says: ‘We the undersigned petition the prime minister to stop proposed restrictions regarding photography in public places.’ Since he launched the e-petition it’s received over 4,000 signatures. News about his petition is even on the front page of the current issue of Amateur Photographer magazine (2).

The ‘more details’ section of the webpage fleshes out Taylor’s point: ‘There are a number of moves promoting the requirement of “ID” cards to allow photographers to operate in a public place. It is a fundamental right of a UK citizen to use a camera in a public place; indeed there is no right to privacy when in a public place. These moves have developed from paranoia and only promote suspicion towards genuine people following their hobby or profession.’

What the ‘moves’ are is not stated, although admittedly there’s very little room to offer much information in the e-petition ‘more details’ box. So I ring Taylor to get more information. He points out that there are a number of disturbing instances where photographers are being told (wrongly) that they can’t photograph groups of people and scenes in public places by child protection officers, security guards, London Eye officials and police officers. Sometimes photographers have been told to delete their photographs. He’s written about some of the cases on his website, where there are also more details about the petition (3).

Photographers have also been asked for identity cards or proof that they are members of a photography club or a professional photography organisation, as if only officially approved photographers should be allowed to take pictures. Taylor believes everyone should be able to take pictures in public places, regardless of their professional status. He argues that, if anything, photographers should carry cards which highlight their rights, the ones that are the same as any other citizen.

As his website notes: ‘I and many photgraphers like me are getting increasingly frustrated at the restrictions that are imposed upon us, suspicion we suffer and the incorrect assumptions that are made.’ (4) As he tells me over the phone, ‘if I point my large camera at a child there will be people who instantly say “he’s a paedophile“‘.

And yet, even though Taylor thinks anyone should be allowed to take photographs in public, he supports the policy that says people who care and work closely with children should be submitted for checks by the Criminal Records Bureau. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act, which passed through the UK Parliament last year, will require every adult who works with children (millions of people) to submit to such CRB checks. But as Josie Appleton, author of the Manifesto Club’s report The Case Against Vetting, points out, 10million people have been CRB-vetted since 2002, despite the fact that cases of adults physically harming children are rare. All of this only helps to stoke the paedophile panic, the culture of paranoia about adults near children, which Taylor says he is trying to challenge (5).

Also, Taylor is mistaken in believing that there is no legal right to privacy in a public place. Unfortunately, such is the closing down of public space these days, there is such a legal right. ‘Privacy’ has already been used to place curbs on the freedom of professional photographers. For example, in 2004, the European Court ruled that Princess Caroline of Monaco did have a right to go shopping free from being snapped by paparazzi cameras. Anyone can use this precedent in Britain - where the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and European Court rulings are recognised - to argue in court that they, too, have a reasonable expectation of privacy in public places (see Princess of Privacy, by Tessa Mayes).

The media must be free to photograph events in public as part of communicating information in a democracy. When the courts allow journalists to argue as a legal defence that their work is ‘in the public interest’, it is a recognition of the fact that the media help to facilitate an important democratic right for all of us to know what’s going on in the world.

Taylor’s petition raises important questions about freedom of the press and the stifling impact of fear and suspicion on journalism and investigation, or just on pursuing a hobby. Unfortunately, it also highlights that e-petitions are fairly limited in the extent to which they can develop debate and push for change.


Censoring students at Oxford? That is so gay

Welcome to the Oxford college where students can use the word gay to refer to a homosexual man but not to describe a rubbish pool shot.

In the quad at Merton College, Oxford, scruffily-clad students scurry to their lectures. But behind this everyday student scene, there lurks a rather bizarre controversy. The trendy college is renowned for its LGBT-friendly ethos (that’s LGBT as in ‘Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender’), yet it has become a rather unlikely setting for a university-wide controversy over homophobic remarks. Recently, fourth-year Merton student Andrew Godfrey complained about some of the language being used by his fellow students. This led to official action by the executive of the Junior Common Room (JCR) warning the student body to refrain from ‘unacceptable and extremely offensive’ behaviour ‘even if you are not being intentionally malicious’. Students were reprimanded for contributing to ‘an uncomfortable atmosphere in college’.

What was the ‘unacceptable and extremely offensive’ behaviour? It consisted of limp-wristed impressions and the use of phrases such as ‘Oh don’t be such a poof!’ and ‘You missed that shot, you big gay!’ during a heated game of pool in Merton’s swanky Games Room.

In response to Godfrey’s complaint about this behaviour, the college’s JCR president, Laura Davies, sent out the following email to students (drafted by Godfrey in collaboration with student welfare and LGBT representatives): ‘JCR members have raised concerns after groups have been overheard in the Games Room and other communal areas of college using terms like “gay” and “poof” as joking insults. Please be aware that using language like this is unacceptable and extremely offensive, even if you are not being intentionally malicious and think you are being ironic or witty in some way. It creates an uncomfortable atmosphere in the college.’

Can students not take a joke anymore? Can they not handle the use of words such as ‘gay’ or ‘poof’ in a slang context, in a setting as informal as a Games Room? Both Davies and Godfrey admit that the students probably were not expressing anti-gay prejudice when they made these comments while making their wrists go all limp. As Godfrey himself says: ‘I never maintained that this was deliberately malicious homophobia because I didn’t feel like I had been harassed; otherwise I would have turned to the college authorities. They were basically acting the way guys do.’

And yet guys ‘acting the way guys do’ has now been redefined as ‘unacceptable and extremely offensive’ behaviour that apparently warrants a stern official warning. Davies tells me she had no qualms about sending an official admonishment to the entire student body in response to behaviour that she admits was not purposefully malicious or offensive. ‘One of the JCR members raised the fact that he was quite unhappy with someone using the word “gay” and that he personally found that very offensive’, she says. This is a world away from John Stuart Mill’s argument that opinions ought only to ‘lose their immunity’ when ‘the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act’ (1). His point, made in On Liberty in 1859, was that only in instances where words and actions might directly lead to violence could one make a case for curtailing freedom of speech. Fast forward 150 years and we have the new Merton rule – where JCR officials recognise that students saying ‘gay’ to mean rubbish and swinging their wrists around was not intended maliciously, much less was it likely to lead to violence; and yet because these antics offended the sensibilities of a single student they took it upon themselves to chastise all students in a hectoring missive about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

This points to a worrying level of sensitivity among today’s students, and a lackadaisical attitude towards words, arguments and freedom of speech. The JCR’s aim seemed to be, not to protect students from harm, but to protect the college’s reputation for being caring and accepting from the ‘unmannered’ behaviour of some students playing a game of pool.

Apparently the term ‘gay’ is now in common usage among young people to mean ‘lame’ or ‘rubbish’. This has caused some controversy, especially among gay rights groups who don’t like the idea that being called ‘gay’ is now seen as something negative. Last year Radio 1 presenter Chris Moyles was the subject of an internal BBC inquiry after he described a ringtone on air as ‘gay’. Leaving aside the question of why there has to be an inquiry every time a broadcaster says something un-PC, it is reasonable to ask: where could young people have got the idea that ‘gay = rubbish’?

How about from another term, very closely associated with gay culture: ‘camp’. ‘Camp’, as Stephen Bayley argued in his scratch-their-eyes-out book on New Labour, Labour Camp, is just a synonym for rubbish. Or, as Susan Sontag observed in Notes on Camp, first published in 1964, ‘The ultimate Camp statement [is] it’s good because it’s awful...’ Sontag noted that Camp culture tends to emphasise ‘texture, sensuous surface, and style at the expense of content’; and that ‘homosexuals, by and large, constitute the vanguard - and the most articulate audience - of Camp’.

It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to re-work ‘camp’ as ‘gay’, especially when so many gay celebrities tend to wallow in kitsch. If you, like many people both straight and gay, think Graham Norton and Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (now there’s a show that emphasises ‘style at the expense of content’) are pretty dreadful, then surely no one could blame you for associating ‘gay’, at least in its cultural sense, with ‘rubbish’.

The self-censoring attitude of Merton’s JCR reflects a broader view taken by many today: that free speech is something that can be easily sacrificed in the name of protecting people from utterances they might find offensive. The idea that students should behave according to some predetermined college ethos stands in stark contrast to the old idea of universities as places where young people should be free to experiment, to think, to argue, to learn, to say what they please in a student common room…. Enforcing an official dogma about words, phrases and actions betrays an elitist view of what sort of behaviour is appropriate, and what is not.

Worse, it treats students as children who either must be reprimanded for saying naughty words or who must be protected from the jokey words of big ‘bully boys’ by student officials posing as social workers. This infantilises students – which is hardly conducive to creating an atmosphere where students can grow, both educationally and personally.

Some students have reacted against the JCR’s illiberal telling-off. Merton student Ben Holroyd created an online group called The Gay Appreciation Society, which argued that: ‘The word “gay” has several definitions, only one of which is “homosexual”. Others include merry, licentious and wanton. When I miss a pot at the pool table, I sometimes refer to said shot as “gay”. Obviously, I do not consider the shot in question to be homosexual. Having said that, I rarely miss, so I seldom offend the minority of pedantic, over-sensitive fools at Merton.’

Perhaps the most pernicious thing about the Merton ruling on when it’s okay to say gay is that it represents almost an attempt at thought control. According to the JCR officials, it is okay to say ‘gay’ to refer to a homosexual man but not to describe a ‘rubbish’ pool shot. What is being monitored here is not just the use of language, but thought itself, the meaning behind one’s use of the word gay. We are presented with a two-tiered attitude to the word gay, where it’s okay to use it responsibly to mean homosexual but not irresponsibly to mean rubbish. It seems the JCR wants to get into Merton students’ minds to see what is really going on when they speak.

Even if some students had been expressing anti-gay prejudice in their use of words such as ‘gay’ and ‘poof’, then censure would be no solution. The idea that monitoring student language can have an impact on certain people’s prejudicial views, or on discrimination in the real world, is ridiculous. It merely brushes issues under the carpet, seeking to silence certain arguments rather than challenging them. Prejudice – which is a more serious matter than banter around a pool table – can only be effectively challenged in open debate, through reasoned argument.

University should be a place where we are free to experiment and to express ourselves in whatever way we deem fit. Disagreements can and should be settled between students themselves. Official sanctions telling us how we should behave only thwart the advance of genuine tolerance, which is based, not on intolerant censorship of uncomfortable views, but rather on establishing through open discussion which ideas are good, valuable and useful, and which are not.

The campus thought-police have no right to tell us how to think, speak or behave, and certainly not when we are just hanging out with friends and playing pool. They should bugger off and stop being so gay.


Costly British red tape: "The burden of red tape on British business has hit a record of nearly 56 billion pounds and shows no sign of slowing, according to figures to be published this week. The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which compiles its "burdens barometer" on a regular basis, says the cumulative cost of regulation on British business is now 55.6 billion. A year ago that burden was 44.8 billion, revised figures reveal, implying an increase in red tape of more than o10 billion in the past 12 months. The BCC said the increase was particularly disappointing in light of the government's pledge to make 2006 the "year of delivery" on cutting red tape."

British jails waking up to Islamic problem: "The security services are conducting background checks on imams who provide religious and pastoral care in jails. The vetting, part of the effort to prevent inmates from being radicalised, is in addition to the routine counter-terrorism checks conducted by the Prison Service and a further check by the Criminal Records Bureau. A growing number of imams are being appointed to work either full or part time at prisons in England and Wales. The checks are in response to concerns that prisons may be an ideal environment for al-Qaeda operatives to radicalise and recruit young people. Another measure aimed at countering extremism is that all imams working in jails must speak English. In addition, prison authorities are spending thousands of pounds translating all texts from Arabic to English to ensure that they do not contain hidden messages. It is understood that all Arabic books, including the Koran, are subject to this vetting. The shoe bomber Richard Reid, the son of two non-Muslims, converted to violent jihadism after being radicalised at Feltham Young Offender Institution in West London."

Monday, February 26, 2007


Overweight adults are already being denied some medical services in Britain. This criminalization of fat is therefore a harbinger of worse discrimination to come. I suppose however we should be glad that the social workers now seem to have given up on witchcraft scares as a way to attack families. At least fat is not imaginary. Progress of a sort, I guess. Wouldn't it be nice, though, if they concentrated on (say) children of drug addicts instead of on ordinary decent families? Social work schools are covens of Leftism and the ingrained Leftist hatred of ordinary decent people happily getting on with their lives is always the best predictor of whom social workers will target. You can be sure that no social worker will ever mention how small the difference is between the average lifespans of slim and overweight people. A "crack" baby, or a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome, on the other hand, DOES have serious problems.

Note further that dieting normally promotes weight GAIN so the intervention described below is as ill-conceived as it is authoritarian

An eight-year-old boy who weighs 14 stone, more than three times the average for his age, may be taken into care if his mother fails to improve his diet. Connor McCreaddie, from Wallsend, near Newcastle upon Tyne, has broken four beds and five bicycles. The family claims to have a history of intolerance to fruit or vegetables. On Tuesday his mother and grandmother will attend a formal child protection conference to decide his future, which could lead to proceedings to take him into care.

Connor could be placed on the child protection register, along with victims of physical and sexual abuse, or on the less serious children in need register. The intervention of social services is a landmark in the fight against youth obesity. The boy's mother, Nicola McKeown, said: "If Connor gets taken into care that is the worst scenario there could be. Hopefully, we will be able to work through it and come up with a good plan and he will just be put on the at-risk register or some other register. That wouldn't be so bad because, hopefully, there will be some help for us at the end of it."

Two specialist obesity nurses, a consultant paediatrician, the deputy head of Connor's school, a police officer and at least two social workers are expected to be on the panel deciding what action should be taken. One National Health Service source said: "We have attempted many times to arrange for Connor to have appointments with community and paediatric nutritionists, public health experts, school nurses and social workers to weigh and measure him and to address his diet, but the appointments have been missed. "Taking the child into care or putting him on the child protection register is absolutely the last resort. We do not do these things lightly but we have got to consider what effect this life-style is having on his health. Child abuse is not just about hitting your children or sexually abusing them, it is also about neglect." The source added: "The long-term health effects of obesity such as diabetes are well known and it is concerning that Connor is more than twice the weight he should be. There has to be some parental responsibility."



I know very little about tennis so I had to read a long way into the article excerpted below before I understood what was going on. Apparently men's tennis is of greater interest to the public than women's tennis so more people go to matches between men and more people watch men's tennis on TV. So male tennis players earn more for the tournament organizers so the organizers have always paid men more in prizemoney -- which seems fair. But it is not EQUAL! And The Left never cease in their efforts to pretend that unequal things are in fact equal. So money earned by men is now going to be taken off them to be given to women. Equal pay for work of UNequal value, in short -- just the opposite of what feminists have always claimed they want.

One of the last bastions of sporting inequality - Wimbledon's prizemoney allocation - is about to crumble. The All England Club, which has offered greater rewards to male players than women for the past 123 years, is poised to follow the Australian Open's equal pay policy. The crusty home of tennis met this week to discuss prizemoney in the face of withering fire from recent champions Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport.

The Australian Open and the US Open have led the way in the battle for tennis equality, while the French Open employs an ad hoc approach. Roland Garros offers equal prizemoney -- but only from the quarter-finals onwards. But Wimbledon has stubbornly resisted calls to follow suit. Roger Federer last year earned $1.6 million for his fourth successive Wimbledon victory, $74,000 more than Amelie Mauresmo pocketed. Wimbledon has found itself under increasing pressure to modernise [Ancient Leftist propaganda: Leftism is "modern". Leftism is "outdated" would be more accurate] its pay scale.

The All England Club was expected to confirm a ground-breaking pay scale overnight. If so, Women's Tennis Association boss Larry Scott will have achieved one of the most monumental changes in international sport. Wimbledon has traditionally used stronger television ratings for men, especially in the early rounds, as the basis of its argument.

Reliapundit has more.

The incorrectness of SUVs

Britain: 'Chelsea tractors' [4X4s, SUVs, 4WDs] are seen as symbols of wanton environmental destruction. But class hatred, envy and gender are distorting the facts, argues Bryan Appleyard

I was queuing to pay at a motorway service station. Violence was in the air. A small, bald man, a lorry driver, was shouting at a young woman. He seemed to be angry because she and her passenger had laughed at him. He had stopped when she had stopped, specially to shout at her. But after a few tense moments his real grievance became apparent. She was driving a 4x4, a BMW, and, as his articulacy crumbled under the weight of his anger, it became clear what was the real issue: he hated her for her car.

In Richmond owners of 4x4s will soon have to pay 300 pounds a year to park their cars. Ken Livingstone, who thinks drivers of 4x4s in London are "idiots", plans to introduce a special 25 pound congestion charge. The Church says Jesus wouldn't drive a 4x4. The Alliance against Urban 4x4s continues its campaign of so-called "subvertising" - sticking fake parking tickets headlined "Poor Vehicle Choice" on the cars they hate. The alliance has also carried out "a daring protest" at Chelsea football ground aimed at the players' big 4x4s. Mothers using a "Chelsea tractor" to take their children to school are abused for their crimes of congestion and emission. If Jade Goody were a car, she'd be a 4x4. "Basically," says Sian Berry, a Green party spokesperson and central figure in the alliance, "they are a disaster for fuel economy."

Meanwhile, there is an academic campaign to establish that 4x4s are unsafe. Students from Imperial College London have watched cars at key sites in the city and discovered that drivers of 4x4s are more likely not to wear seat belts, and to use mobile phones while driving. Other studies have shown that 4x4s are more dangerous to pedestrians. Car insurers have said that 4x4 drivers are 25% more likely to be involved in an accident and are also more likely to be at fault. Each fragment of evidence is turned into a screaming headline about the iniquity of 4x4s.

These cars have become emblems of all our environmental crimes. They represent 7.5% of the UK car market and 100% of British car loathing. The very idea that in town, or even in the country, anybody should use a car in which all four wheels are driven is regarded as a crime comparable to logging the rainforests or clubbing seals. Across Europe, owners of 4x4s (or, as they are also called, Sports Utility Vehicles, or SUVs) have become eco-pariahs, malevolent planet-warmers. If you happen to be sitting in a Range Rover Sport, a BMW X5 or, worst of all, a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S in London, it is best not to catch the eyes of any pedestrian.

The environment is the issue, but not the only one. Berry admits that, if they made a 4x4 as green as a rainforest, she'd still go after them on grounds of safety. But darker forces are also at work. Class hatred is plainly expressed in much of the anti-4x4 rhetoric, as is envy. A City bonus boy driving a Cayenne is, in the eyes of many, the distillation of social injustice. The high driving position - significantly called the "command" position - and the sheer bulk of the vehicles can, to people who can't afford them, seem like the engineering of arrogance.

Sexism is also involved. It's largely women who do the school run and, if they do it in a monster SUV, the resulting congestion is seen as a peculiarly female failing. But there are two more twists of this particular knife. The 4x4 off-road tradition is, in essence, masculine. These new luxury SUVs, however, are absurdly easy to drive. In some cases you can drive over a mountain with no special skills or muscle tone. The electronics do all the work. Women, infuriatingly for some, can do the tough stuff as easily as men.

In fact, secondly, they can often do it better. As I was to learn while Land Rover's experts were giving me an off-road lesson, women are better at this surprisingly delicate art than men. They listen to their instructors and do what they are told, which for men can be as difficult as stopping to ask for directions. Off-roading often requires the driver to do exactly the opposite of what he would do on-road - selecting higher gears, using less power to preserve traction - and men find it harder to quell their instinct to go for high revs and too much power. The real fear of that man in the service station and, perhaps, of men in general when they see a woman in a powerful machine, was that he was being outclassed as a driver.

And, on the subject of 4x4s, it's a case of left and right unite and fight. Right-wing tabloids rage against 4x4s as eagerly as left-wing eco-warriors. These are not cars; these are social history.

Is the loathing of 4x4s justified? This is complex: few people fully understand the issues, the engineering or history. But the place to begin is with a figure - the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by a car per kilometre travelled.

Atmospheric carbon is the substance most likely to end human life or, at least, our reign over the planet. We toss 27 billion tons of carbon dioxide (over 7 billion tons of pure carbon) into the air every year. This traps heat and causes global warming. The UK emits just under 2% - about 550m tons. Of this, about one fifth - 110m tons of CO2 - comes from vehicles. The critical figure for judging the green credentials of a car is, therefore, the weight of CO2 it emits.

So, for example, the Toyota Prius, with a hybrid electric-petrol drive, emits 104 grams per kilometre. The latest Land Rover Discovery diesel emits 244g. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S emits 378g. Even this, however, does not look too bad next to the Bugatti Veyron, which emits 547g, or the Ferrari Scaglietti, which manages 475g. For perspective, a Ford Mondeo diesel emits 159g, and the European Union target for average emissions across each manufacturer's entire fleet is 130g. What these figures show is that 4x4s are, indeed, higher-than-average emitters, but they are not the highest. Fast cars are much worse. And people carriers can be pretty bad. The Chrysler Grand Voyager, for example, emits 303g. Luxury cars are just as bad. The Mercedes S600 Pullman emits 355g and the BMW 7 series rises to 337g. Why, then, are 4x4s singled out? "Because," say the weary executives at Land Rover who have heard it all before, "4x4 fits neatly into a headline."

This is fair enough. The Richmond parking scheme, for example, was universally reported as an attack on 4x4s, but in fact applied to all high-emission vehicles. The term 4x4 has supplanted "gas guzzler" as the supreme automotive shorthand of hate. It's better than mere words - it's a term that catches the eye before it engages the mind.

The rational answer is that the SUV sector has boomed. In the UK in 1996, 78,000 were sold; last year it was 176,000. This is slightly down on the year before, but, for a number of reasons, it is not clear yet whether it represents a real change. Sian Berry points out that this growth represents a reversal of the general trend towards lower-emitting cars that has persisted since the oil shocks of the 1970s. Individually, 4x4s may not be the worst offenders, but they are in danger of becoming the most numerous. Attacking 4x4s, therefore, is a way of reinstating the trend towards lower emissions and of drawing attention to the issue. The fact that 4x4 does fit neatly into a headline is a definite plus.

But there is a serious problem with this argument. At the Westminster offices of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, a body that advises the government on emissions, a self-confessed "tree-hugger", Alex Veitch, hands me a chart. It tracks market share against CO2 emissions. The big peak - between 6 and 18% market share - accounts for vehicles emitting between 130 and 200g. The line drops very steeply indeed above 200, where almost all 4x4s live. In other words, if all 4x4s were taken off the road tomorrow, the effect on emissions would be minimal. The real task, as Veitch sees it, is to drive down emissions of the middle market - the Mondeos and Vectras. "If you focus on 4x4s, you miss the more important point that this is all about low-carbon cars. You might persuade people not to buy a 4x4, but they may just buy a high-emitting saloon."

But for green campaigners the demonisation of the 4x4 is the perfect strategic tool. "We've kept the debate up," says Berry. "Our school-run event really drew it to people's attention. Every time the evidence comes out, like the stuff in the BMJ [British Medical Journal], it backs up our case. Then groups like the Church of England say: what would Jesus drive? Every time it gets into the media, we've got spokesmen ready all around the country to make our case. We're not ranty eco-warriors wanting to wipe out the cars; we say, here's something silly and something can be done about it. Local radio stations feel safe having us on a phone. It's a touchstone issue."

Almost nobody, campaigners say, actually needs four-wheel drive because almost nobody uses them to go off-road. "It's for middle-class people in boring city jobs," says Berry, "who need some way of believing they could get back to nature at any time." This fantasy element would have startled the originators of four-wheel-drive cars. In spite of the current research, the truth is, four-wheel-drive cars are intrinsically safer because of their ability to cope with poor road conditions ? if they're currently less safe, then it is the drivers who are at fault. For this reason, engineers in the 1950s thought that four-wheel drive was the technology of the future.

Yet, almost from the beginning, glamour was attached to this obscure engineering device. The American wartime Jeep was just so damned sexy. "The British were used to small, round cars like the Austin 7," says John Carroll, the editor of 4x4 Magazine, "then this stark, angular thing comes along driven by guys who look like film stars. No wonder there were so many war babies." After the war this sexiness survived mostly on film and among off-road hobbyists and collectors. Carroll himself has "about 12" old 4x4s he uses for off-roading, or what petrol heads call "mud plugging". And it was for mud-plugging that in 1947, on his farm in Anglesey, Maurice Wilks, the chief designer of Rover, built the Land Rover. He had taken one look at the Jeep and was convinced he could do better.

And he did. Down at the Land Rover Experience Centre at Eastnor in Ledbury, I drove HUE166. Built at Solihull, this was the first of a pre-production batch of 48 Wilks-designed Land Rovers. It is a joy. Its drive train makes it shimmy weirdly on the road, it is noisy and slow. But there is an almost tangible rightness about it. And, when I later drove a Freelander and a Defender - the current iteration of the original "Landy" - on Eastnor's off-road circuit, I endured a blinding revelation. Serious off-roading, like sex, is about as much fun as you can have without laughing. And - a deep, dark fear, this - it may be even more like sex in that women do it better.

Four-wheel drive cars intended for road use did not take off in Britain until the Range Rover appeared in 1970. Pricey and luxurious, this was a car for the lord of the manor, to distinguish him from his gamekeeper in his original Landy. Yet it was just as capable off-road, and it had plastic seats, bungholes and a floor that was level with its sills, so that its interior could be hosed down after a day of mud-plugging.

The move to on-road four-wheel drive was accelerated by rallying technology and, crucially, by the Audi Quattro, a high-performance car that made four-wheel-drive sexy for urban hot shots with no love of mud. But it wasn't until the late 1990s that the modern 4x4 was truly born. Manufacturers like Toyota, BMW, Audi and even Porsche invaded the market with four-wheel-drive machines. Meanwhile, the Range Rover had lost its bung holes and become a stately cruiser and, in Sport form, a fast two-ton supercar.

Their main market was America, where the love of big cars endures. In fact, over there these cars weren't even seen as big. In the 1970s the US government had reacted to oil shocks by imposing fuel-consumption targets on manufacturers. These never worked. Many big cars were simply classified as trucks to escape the controls, fuel consumption did not fall, and interstates became infested by monstrous vehicles like the Cadillac Escalade, the Chevrolet Suburban or, a favourite with British footballers, the Lincoln Navigator. These scarcely came to Britain, where big 4x4s were to remain a niche, though growing, market....

If this were a novel, the blonde, hippie-ish, Tufnell Park-dwelling Sian Berry would be contrasted with tall (6ft 3in), dark, corporate Phil Popham, the managing director of Land Rover. In fact, if this were a novel, they'd probably have an inter-ideological romance. Popham joined the company in 1988, straight from a university course in business studies, and became MD last year. Laid-back and, unlike many of his type, relaxed about time, Popham has all his strategy ducks in a neat row. He has big points to make and he makes them coolly and without digression.

The first is that 4x4s are justified by their "breadth of capability" - the wet-grass gymkhana argument - and their general ability to get around. The second is the "dust-to-dust" cost argument, the true environmental cost of a vehicle from build to scrap. Large amounts of carbon are emitted when a car is built, so, with over 70% of all Land Rovers still on the road, the company can claim its green credentials are much better than emission figures suggest. The credibility of the Prius has been eroded by figures showing its dust-to-dust may be damagingly high.

The third big point is that, because of their ticklish position, 4x4-makers are reducing emissions faster than any other sector. Land Rovers are now mostly diesel. The fleet used to be 75% petrol; this year it will be 80% diesel. Diesel can cut consumption, and thus emissions, dramatically. A petrol Range Rover Sport emits 352g, a diesel 271g. Land Rover is also launching a carbon-offset scheme to offset the carbon production of new cars from build through the first 45,000 miles. Money from sales will go to Climate Care (, which will invest in carbon reduction around the world.

Mild impatience crosses the Popham features when I point out this is clear evidence that the company is rattled by the campaigners. "We are doing this in addition to substantive improvements in fuel efficiency. There must be a recognition that we're on a long path of continuous improvement." The problem with offsetting is that it is open to an obvious criticism: why not do all the beneficial offsetting things and stop emitting as well? At this point we enter the only possible future for Land Rover and, ultimately, for all car makers: new drive-train technology.

Lexus already makes a petrol hybrid SUV - the RX400h - which emits 192g, low for a big 4x4 but not that low for cars in general, and almost twice as high as the Prius. At Land Rover, Mike Richardson, a tweedy individual who reeks of old-school British engineering, is in charge of the low-emission future. Nobody will say when the company will produce its first diesel hybrid, but I suspect it will be sooner rather than later. The cost will be high. Richardson says it currently looks like 3,000 pounds per car. But it has to happen, as all the other low- or zero-emission technologies (fuel cell, all-electric) are a long way off....

There can be no doubt that the days of the high-emitting car are numbered. If you are convinced by the arguments for human-caused global warming, this is an unconditionally good thing. But the anti-4x4 frenzy has all too often been misguided, sectarian and even - as I saw in that service station - potentially violent. It is riddled with irrationality and prejudice. Yet it has succeeded in putting pressure on the car makers - and that, I suppose, was always the point.

There is another point made not by green politics nor emission figures. It is made instead by the gleam in the engineers' eyes and by the weird rapture that overcame me while driving HUE166, or while, at the wheel of a modern Defender, I peered down a vertiginous, rock-strewn slope into an icy pool of incalculable depth at Eastnor. The original Land Rover in all its iterations is possessed of something supremely pure; it provides, to make better use of BMW's slogan, the ultimate driving experience. Even Sian Berry says she never puts a fake parking ticket on a Defender. She says it's because they genuinely go off-road and they last a long time.

More here

The bugs the NHS can’t beat

Last week’s horrifying statistics reveal hospitals are no nearer to killing off super bugs, says Sian Griffiths

How would you feel if a relative was about to go into hospital? A friend told me recently that when she heard her mother had to have an operation her first thought was: “Oh no, she’ll get MRSA.” Certainly the headlines in the papers last week seemed to justify her fears. Deadly hospital superbugs killed a record 5,400 people during 2004-05, according to figures released on Thursday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

And now as well as MRSA there’s an even more lethal infection stalking the wards. Deaths involving clostridium difficile rose 69% — up from 2,247 to 3,807 — while deaths from MRSA climbed 39% from 1,168 to 1,629. In other words, clostridium difficile (commonly known as C diff) was a cause of mortality on two in every 500 death certificates and MRSA a cause of death on one in every 500.

Hugh Pennington, a microbiologist, says that C diff, which can thrive when the balance of bacteria in the gut is disturbed after antibiotic treatment, causing diarrhoea and vomiting, produces a “toxic poison and is very often the last straw”.

The ONS figures are worrying enough, but campaigners warn that the real statistics could be even higher because of underreporting on death certificates. Nor do they take account of victims who survive such as the actress Leslie Ash, who announced last month that she is suing the Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London for £1m compensation after being struck down by a superbug during treatment there. Three years on, she is unable to walk unaided. Papers lodged at the High Court say her career is all but over.

No one is more furious about last week’s ONS report than agony aunt Claire Rayner. Not only did she contract MRSA after a routine stay at a National Health Service hospital six years ago, she has now been infected once again. Last week Rayner, 76, told The Sunday Times she is being treated for MRSA, which she believes she caught recently at her local hospital while waiting for treatment to a wound to her knee. “I think I got MRSA from sitting for four hours with an open wound in a busy A and E department,” she says. “But I am glad it is not C diff. Things are simply not being done properly. Hospitals should smell of carbolic and antiseptic and soap, not lavatories and vomit.”

Rayner is president of a campaign for better NHS care. Thousands of families have contacted the Patients Association helpline to share their stories of filthy wards, unclean toilets, sticky floors and serious, sometimes fatal, illnesses caused by the superbugs — strains that are resistant to many antibiotics.

Katherine Murphy of the association says it took one call last week from a woman who had lost a close relative to C diff, probably contracted at the local hospital. “She went to the coroner’s office early on a Monday morning and he said to her, ‘You are the first this week, but last week I had four deaths from C difficile caught at that hospital’.”

According to Kerry Walker, 31, who is considering legal action against the Southern general hospital in Glasgow, where she believes she contracted an almost fatal bout of C diff during a caesarean, the bug will be even more infamous than MRSA.

It is three years since the then health secretary John Reid called for MRSA infection rates in hospitals to be halved by 2008. That same year Rayner nursed her husband Des at home with a private nurse rather than risk him entering hospital. With last week’s figures soaring to such terrifying heights, many families must feel tempted to make similar decisions.

The problem for hospitals is that the superbugs are highly infectious and easily transmitted, particularly to patients with open wounds. And as hospital trusts struggle with funding deficits, cleaning contracts are high on the list of things to be shaved back.

“Fighting hospital-acquired infections is simply not a priority for ministers who are more preoccupied with cutting operation waiting times,” says Murphy. Pennington partly agrees: “More and more patients is a reason why staff just don’t have the time to do things such as basic hygiene.” The government insists its target of halving MRSA infections (as opposed to death rates) will be met by 2008 and that they have already fallen by 11% in two years. “We are not losing the battle on MRSA,” says a spokesman. “The challenge is for trusts to go further faster.”

Rayner, however, advocates that patients take charge of their own hygiene: showering before an operation and carrying antiseptic wipes. Somehow I don’t think that will reassure my friend. It sounds like the boy trying to stick his fist in the dyke — too little, too late.



More parents appear to be turning away from school in favour of teaching their children at home because they are unhappy with state education.
A government-commissioned study into home tutoring indicated that about 16,000 children in England were now being educated at home, which researchers said implied a threefold increase since 1999.
Home tutoring has become increasingly popular since evidence emerged that home-educated children frequently perform better in national tests, GCSEs and A levels.
In 2002 a study of home-educated children found that 64 per cent scored more than 75 per cent on the performance indicators of primary schools assessment, compared with 5.1 per cent of children nationally.
All parents have the right to teach their children at home. Unless a child has been removed from school, parents in England are not obliged to tell the local education authority. While the authority may monitor the children who have been deregistered from school, parents also have a right to refuse access to the child.
The study of nine local authorities found that home-educating parents had removed their children from the state system because they were worried about bullying, poor behaviour and quality of provision. Others thought that the special-needs education on offer for their children was not up to scratch or that they were required to start formal schooling too young, the study by York Consulting, for the Department for Education and Skills, said.
“Some of the parents interviewed felt that standards of education had declined,” the report said. “This, coupled with a view that the current education system is overly bureaucratic, inflexible and assessment-driven, prompted some parents to home-educate.”
Most parents who took their children out of school were white British, but religious and cultural reasons had also prompted Muslim, Christian, Gypsy and traveller families to teach youngsters at home. Overall, 65 per cent of those being home-educated were of secondary age, compared with 35 per cent who were of primary age.
The study found that some parents used formal and highly structured methods, including following the national curriculum, using online tutors and hiring professionals. Others were less conventional.



A letter to "Nature" magazine from Mike Hulme, Tyndall Centre, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia. He was awarded, jointly, the Hugh Robert Mill Prize in 1995 by the Royal Meteorological Society


Your coverage of the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group included some exemplary Editorial and News headlines: "Light at the end of the tunnel", "What we don't know about climate change" and "From words to action" (Nature 445, 567 & 578-583; 2007). These convey the message about knowledge, ignorance and action that would be expected from a leading journal writing for a scientific readership.

Communicating science to wider, public audiences, however - in this case on matters of important public policy - is an art that requires careful message management and tone setting. It seems that confident and salient science, as presented by the IPCC, may be received by the public in non-productive ways, depending on the intervening media. With this in mind, I examined the coverage of the IPCC report in the ten main national UK newspapers for Saturday 3 February, the day after the report was released.

Only one newspaper failed to run at least one story on the report (one newspaper ran seven stories), but what was most striking was the tone. The four UK 'quality' newspapers all ran front-page headlines conveying a message of rising anxiety: "Final warning", "Worse than we thought", "New fears on climate raise heat on leaders" and "Only man can stop climate disaster". And all nine newspapers introduced one or more of the adjectives "catastrophic", "shocking", "terrifying" or "devastating" in their various qualifications of climate change.

Yet none of these words exist in the report, nor were they used in the scientists' presentations in Paris. Added to the front-page vocabulary of "final", "fears", "worse" and "disaster", they offer an insight into the likely response of the 20 million Britons who read these newspapers.

In contrast, an online search of some leading newspapers in the United States suggests a different media discourse. Thus, on the same day, one finds these headlines: "UN climate panel says warming is man-made", "New tack on global warming", "Warming report builds support for action" and "The basics: ever firmer statements on global warming". This suggests a more neutral representation in the United States of the IPCC's key message, and a tone that facilitates a less loaded or frenzied debate about options for action.

Campaigners, media and some scientists seem to be appealing to fear in order to generate a sense of urgency. If they want to engage the public in responding to climate change, this is unreliable at best and counter-productive at worst. As Susanne Moser and Lisa Dilling point out in Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007), such appeals often lead to denial, paralysis, apathy or even perverse reactive behaviour.

The journey from producing confident assessments of scientific knowledge to a destination of induced social change is a tortuous one, fraught with dangers and many blind alleys. The challenging policy choices that lie ahead will not be well served by the type of loaded reporting of science seen in the UK media described above.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


"What is global warming?", asks Samuel Mauthike, a small scale vegetable farmer in Kirinyaga, Kenya's central province, as he crouches down compressing the moist soil around his green bean plants. "Is it something caused by us in Africa?" Mr Mauthike, 32, like so many of the two million Kenyans who rely on the western world to import their flowers, fruit and vegetables for their livelihoods, has never heard of a carbon footprint either. He points to the simple gravitational water irrigation system that flows through his smallholding, admitting he has never been in a plane, rarely travels by bus and uses nothing but his hands to grow, fertilise and harvest his top quality green beans, which then appear on a supermarket shelf in Europe.

Yet he and his fellow Kenyan farmers, whose lifelong carbon emissions are negligible compared with their counterparts in the West, are fast becoming the victims of a green campaign that could threaten their livelihoods. A recent bold statement by UK supermarket Tesco ushering in "carbon friendly" measures - such as restricting the imports of air freighted goods by half and the introduction of "carbon counting" labelling - has had environmentalists dancing in the fresh produce aisles, but has left African horticulturists confused and concerned.

Fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables make up 65% of all exports from Kenya to the European Union (EU), according to the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK). Half of this produce goes to the UK's supermarkets, generating at least 100 million pounds per year for this developing country. The dependence on the UK market cannot be underestimated, says Stephen Mbithi Mwikya, chief executive of FPEAK. For Kenya, horticulture is the country's second biggest foreign exchange earner after tourism. "This announcement from Tesco is devastating", says Mr Mbithi. "I think if things continue in this one-sided sensationalist way, purely targeting air freight, labelling our produce with aeroplanes and not looking at other aspects of production, it will cripple Kenya, it will cripple the economy," he says.



Two thirds of the ambulance trusts in England are missing targets to attend life-threatening emergencies quickly because of a shortage of funding, The Times has learnt. Millions of pounds needed to fund extra vehicles and crews are instead being withheld as local health authorities struggle to balance their books before the end of the financial year, ambulance leaders say.

The number of 999 ambulance calls has more than doubled in a decade and has risen even this year as patients have become concerned about access to out-of-hours GP services, the Ambulance Service Association (ASA) said. But despite a streamlining of the service last year designed to improve performance, the latest figures obtained by The Times reveal that 8 of the 12 mainland ambulance services are failing to achieve a 75 per cent success rate for attending serious emergency calls within eight minutes.

The current situation, using year-to-date figures, compares with the end of the previous financial year when three quarters of the 31 ambulance trusts in England were hitting the target for 75 per cent of ambulances to attend priority calls within eight minutes.

Richard Diment, chief executive of the ASA, said that the reorganisation of the service, an increase in demand and a lack of funding had all contributed to a fall in performance since July. “The number of category A calls has risen by about 10 per cent week-on-week compared with last year, and the total number of calls by 6 to 8 per cent,” he said. “The public and the Department of Health expect ambulance trusts to perform to national standards, yet PCTs are saying, ‘We know these are the targets but we just do not have the resources to help you meet them’.”

Mr Diment criticised local NHS primary care trusts (PCTs), which fund the ambulance service, for letting emergency response times slip while they struggled to balance their books and meet the 18-week maximum waiting times target for hospital referrals.

Ambulance trusts in North West, West Country, South East Coast and London are among the trusts currently missing the category A target. Some say that they hope to catch up by the end of the financial year. Other trusts have recorded huge variations in the different patches they cover, suggesting that high-performing areas could be masking low achievement elsewhere. For example, in South Western Ambulance Service, Dorset hits the target consistently , while Somerset and Cornwall have failed every month since last July.

Ken Wenman, chief executive of the South Western Ambulance Service, said: “It is historically more difficult to achieve these exacting performance targets in more rural areas. However, this has been recognised by our commissioners, and work is being undertaken to assess the financial implications of meeting them.”

Targets for the ambulance service are due to be toughened from next year, when the response time clock will start from the moment a call was made rather than when all a caller’s details had been taken. Trusts will also be expected to meet a new target to answer 95 per cent of all calls within five seconds. The total number of emergency calls rose from 5.6 million calls in 2004-05 to nearly six million last year


The incoherence of moral relativism

Last week, during a conversation about the `cartoon jihad' uproar, I used the phrase "emotional incontinence." This did not go down well. I was promptly told, in no uncertain terms, that I mustn't "impose" my own cultural values. Apparently, to do so would be a form of "cultural imperialism", an archaic colonial hangover, and therefore unspeakably evil. I was, apparently, being "arrogantly ethnocentric" in considering Western secular society broadly preferable to a culture in which rioting, murder and genocidal threats can be prompted by the publication of a cartoon.

As the conversation continued, I was emphatically informed that to regard one set of cultural values as preferable to another was "racist" and "oppressive." Indeed, even the attempt to make any such determination was itself a heinous act. I was further assailed with a list of examples of "Western arrogance, decadence, irreverence, and downright nastiness." And I was reminded that, above all, I "must respect deeply held beliefs." When I asked if this respect for deeply held beliefs extended to white supremacists, cannibals and ultra-conservative Republicans, a deafening silence ensued.

After this awkward pause, the conversation rumbled on. At some point, I made reference to migration and the marked tendency of families to move from Islamic societies to secular ones, and not the other way round. "This seems rather important," I suggested. "If you want to evaluate which society is preferred to another by any given group, migration patterns are an obvious yardstick to use. Broadly speaking, people don't relocate their families to cultures they find wholly inferior to their own." Alas, this fairly self-evident suggestion did not meet with approval. No rebuttal was forthcoming, but the litany of Western wickedness resumed, more loudly than before.

This tendency to replace a coherent argument with lists of alleged Western wickedness and an air of self-loathing is hardly uncommon. Indeed, in certain quarters, it is difficult to avoid. In her increasingly baffling comment pieces, the Guardian's Madeleine Bunting has made much of bemoaning "our preoccupation with things; our ever more desperate dependence on stimulants from alcohol to porn." (One instantly pictures poor Madeleine surrounded by booze, drugs and pornography - and tearfully alienated by all of those other terrible material "things" she doesn't like having, honest.)

In one infamous recent article, Bunting - a "leading thinker", at least according to her employers - waved the flag for cultural relativism and denounced the idea of Enlightenment sensibilities: "Muscular liberals raise their standard on Enlightenment values - their universality, the supremacy of reason and a belief in progress. It is an ideology of superiority that is profoundly old-fashioned - reminiscent of Victorian liberalism and just as imperialistic." Bunting's argument, such as it is, suggests no objective distinction should be made between democratic cultures in which freedom of belief and education for women are taken for granted, and theocratic societies in which those freedoms are curtailed or extinguished. As, for instance, when Islamic fundamentalists took umbrage at Western-funded school projects in Northern Pakistan and promptly destroyed the offending schools, on the basis that illiterate girls were being taught `un-Islamic' values.

Nor, apparently, should we notice that restricting the education of women and their social interactions has obvious consequences for healthcare and prosperity, both of which Ms Bunting seems to disdain. Indeed, she has explicitly argued to this effect, insisting women in the developing world should reject the evils of capitalism and material advancement as this disrupts their "traditions of keeping children with them in the fields" - traditions which, of course, we must respect and, better yet, romanticise, albeit from a safe distance.

Perhaps Enlightenment values, including tolerance, education and free speech, should only apply in the nicer parts of London, but not in Iran, or Sudan, or Saudi Arabia. Presumably, Enlightenment values are fine for Guardian columnists, but wrong for poor women in rural Pakistan. And, given Ms Bunting's recent Hello-style interview with the Islamist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who insists that disobedient women should be beaten, albeit "lightly", perhaps we can assume she's prepared to accept similar chastisement, all in the name of the moral relativism she claims to hold so dear?

During her tirade against `muscular liberals', Bunting argued that Enlightenment values should be "reworked" (in ways that were, mysteriously, never specified), then said: "One of our biggest challenges is how we learn to live in proximity to difference - different skin colours, different beliefs, different ways of life. How do we talk peacefully with people with whom we might violently disagree?" This sentiment echoes those of Ken Livingstone's race advisor, Lee Jasper, who maintains that "you have to treat people differently to treat them equally."

But judging by Bunting's own assertions, and the claims of those who share her views, perhaps we should assume that "reworking" Enlightenment values means pretending they don't exist in certain kinds of company. Perhaps we should pretend we don't disagree at all - as demonstrated by Bunting's own flattering interview with an Islamist cleric who advocates suicide bombing, the murder of apostates and the stoning of homosexuals. Though one can't help wondering what would have happened if Ms Bunting had actually dared to challenge Qaradawi's prejudices with any rigour. How would he have reacted? And what would this tell her - and us - about the limits of moral relativism?

Perhaps we should assume that when faced with bullies and bigots we should say nothing, do nothing, and pretend everything is fine. Though quite how that polite little lie will help the victims of bullying and bigotry isn't entirely clear. And one has to raise an eyebrow at those who will happily bask in the advantages of values that they refuse to defend and pointedly disdain for the sake of appearance. But such is the nature of cultural and moral equivalence, and those who espouse it.

Cultural equivalence came to fruition of a sort in strands of postmodern leftist theory, French obscurantists like Foucault and Derrida, and in anthropological studies, where it was essentially suggested that the local meaning of certain practices should be determined for greater insight. All well and good, one might think. But in terms of leftist political rhetoric, cultural equivalence has broadly come to mean than no objective judgment should be made as to whether those practices and beliefs are better or worse than any other, or have consequences that are measurably detrimental given certain criteria. The actual moral and practical content of a given worldview is, of course, to be studiously ignored, as this would imply some kind of judgment might be made. In common usage, this assumption reduces analysis to mere opinion and is corrosive to critical thought for fairly obvious reasons. In order to maintain a pretence of `fairness' and non-judgmental equivalence, there are any number of things one simply cannot allow oneself to think about, at least in certain ways.

One could, for instance, imagine a hypothetical culture which ascribed great meaning to the assumption that the Sun revolved around the Earth. However deeply held this belief might be, and however much cultural significance might be attached to it, it would nonetheless be wrong, and demonstrably so. And one is under no obligation to pretend otherwise, or to start revising textbooks in order not to give offence.

Perhaps more to the point, advocates of cultural equivalence don't actually believe in it. It's frequently just a faƘade for grumbling about capitalism, or consumerism, or choice, or whatever it is the person in question doesn't like, but nonetheless indulges in, and upon which their own livelihood generally depends. The titans of cultural equivalence clearly wish to identify with (or be seen to identify with) the perceived underdog, and to find suitable explanations for why those cultures don't function particularly well - say, in terms of child mortality, education or life expectancy. In order to do this, they must construe their own cultures as malicious, vacuous and predatory, even when they're not. (Cue the term "hegemony" and "Bush-Hitler" T-shirts.) Almost any assertion can be made, regardless of its incoherence or deviation from reality, provided one arrives at the preferred conclusion. Which is to say, whatever the problem is, it is always and forever `our' fault.

This prejudicial outlook and willingness to overlook the obvious can have surreal and grotesque effects. As when the faded Marxist Terry Eagleton informed Guardian readers that suicide bombers are actually "tragic heroes" who "have no choice" but to arbitrarily kill and maim for Allah. Eagleton went further, insisting these "tragic heroes" are morally equivalent to their victims - say, the 57 unsuspecting guests who were killed at a Jordanian wedding party.

Oblivious to this curious moral inversion, Eagleton happily attributed these acts of homicidal `martyrdom' to "despair", which, naturally, suits his own Marxist narrative and view of `imperial oppression.' He was, however, careful to avoid any reference whatsoever to the religious ideology that actually drives the phenomenon and shapes its expression, despite the fact jihadists invariably mention it as their motive. (Oddly, `martyrs' don't usually mention "despair" as a motive; quite the opposite in fact. But Eagleton knows which conclusion one is supposed to arrive at, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.)

In such an atmosphere of pretension and mental disarray, it's no great surprise that conspiracy theories flourish. As when the Guardian's Al Kennedy salaciously implied that "on 9/11 covert US government intervention killed thousands of innocents [in the WTC] and handed the country, if not the world, to a ... torture-loving, far-right junta." Unhampered by things like evidence, Ms Kennedy also believes that the British government seeks to "harass and murder Muslims anywhere [it] can." Doubtless she and Mr Eagleton have much to talk about.

Despite their evident lunacy, these culturally equivalent postures are almost obligatory among a certain kind of middle-class leftist. Curiously, the academics and theoreticians who advocate moral relativism, or variations thereof, seem reluctant to illustrate their theories with practical examples. One fashionable CE advocate, Kwame Anthony Appiah, a professor of philosophy at Princeton University, has advanced the notion of a "cosmopolitan" approach to morality. But, again, it's all but impossible to find any explanation of how "cosmopolitan pluralism" - which sounds wonderful, of course - would actually address radically conflicting values. How would moral relativism fare when faced with jihadist demagogues or practitioners of voodoo who beat small children to exorcise bad spirits?

A `cosmopolitan' moral worldview is obviously appealing, at least superficially - provided conflicting values never actually meet. Relativism must seem quite plausible if one is a well-heeled moral tourist and can flit from one culture to another, nodding appreciatively at the local colour and whistling about diversity, while committing to none of the values in question. But what happens when incompatible views bump into each other on the same piece of turf, and over something rather important, like the education of women or freedom of speech?

And what, I wonder, would Professor Appiah or Madeleine Bunting make of the following real situation? In a crowded shopping centre, a man sees an apparently unaccompanied woman shrouded in a niqab stumble and fall down. He extends a hand to help the fallen woman and asks if she's alright. This enquiry is met with a look of horror and the man is angrily waved away by the woman's husband, who promptly berates his fallen wife for reasons that aren't clear. Does this reaction - which we're supposed to respect - foster basic civility and encourage strangers to help? If we memorise the various conflicting religious and moral codes of each minority, will we learn to hesitate before offering to assist an injured woman? Will we have to first search out the husband and ask for his permission? Or, more likely, will we learn to ignore her altogether? And will this make us better people?


Extensive special treatment demanded for British Muslim pupils

Schools in Britain should allow girls to wear the headscarf in all lessons, including PE, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has recommended. Its guidance aims to ensure state schools meet Muslim pupils' needs. The 72-page document covers such topics as sex education, Ramadan and halal meals. It says schools should respect the decision of boys to grow a beard.

But head teachers warned that meeting any list of "demands" would pose major practical difficulties for schools. It says schools have an important part to play in fostering social cohesion. "Schools can play a vital role in facilitating the positive integration of Muslim pupils within the wider community and thereby preventing or at least beginning the process of tackling some of the problems of marginalisation."

In its examples of good practice, the MCB says the concept of "haya" or modesty must be respected by teachers and school staff. "In principle the dress for both boys and girls should be modest and neither tight-fitting nor transparent and not accentuate the body shape." Schools should allow girls to wear full-length skirts and boys and girls should be able to wear tracksuits in PE lessons.

The guidance criticises the "vast majority" of primary schools for asking boys and girls to change in mixed groups. "Muslim children are likely to exhibit resistance to this sort of compromising and immodest exposure, but are often pressurised to conform to institutional norms which do not take account of their own or their parents' beliefs and values," it says. Communal showering involves "profound indignity".

Muslim pupils should be allowed to sit out dance lessons, which are on the national curriculum for PE. "Muslims consider that most dance activities, as practised in the curriculum, are not consistent with the Islamic requirements for modesty as they may involve sexual connotations and messages." Headscarves for girls should be allowed, but the MCB guidelines stop short of endorsing the niqab or full-face veil.

Schools are urged to be particularly aware of the needs of Muslim pupils during Ramadan, the month of fasting. They should avoid scheduling exams during Ramadan and should refrain from sex education, as Muslims should avoid sexual thoughts and discourse at this time. Swimming lessons may also be problematic for some Muslim pupils, as there is a risk of swallowing water which they may believe breaks the fast.

MCB secretary general Muhammad Abdul Bari said: "Many of our schools have a cherished tradition of fostering an inclusive ethos which values and addresses the differences and needs of the communities they serve. "We are convinced that with a reasonable degree of mutual understanding and goodwill, even more progress can be made."

But the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Mick Brookes, said: "Schools are trying to create societies within their walls which are tolerant and celebratory. "I just worry that if the list of demands - if it is a list of demands - is too much, that it will simply create a backlash.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "This is not official guidance and is not endorsed by the government, nor does it have any binding power whatsoever on schools as some hysterical headlines claim today. "The Department for Education and Skills has no involvement with the document produced by the MCB."