Ken Clarke made a mess of a Radio 5 Live interview yesterday. I think the worst thing he said was mentioning a type of rape involving an ‘unwilling woman.’ This unfortunately implied that there could be rape involving a ‘willing woman’, which of course would not be rape. He used a category of ‘serious rapes’ which could imply that some rapes are ‘not serious.’ Obviously this would also be totally wrong.
Rape is rape. Not only is that true but it can be an important rhetorical device to remind people that all rape is an extremely serious crime. In the UK, rape in marriage has only been a crime for 20 years. No doubt, patriarchal attitudes downplaying the significance of ‘date rape’ persist amongst much of the general public.
But to say that some rape crimes are worse than others is entirely accurate, both legally and morally. Let’s start with the law. The sentences rapists receive can vary significantly based on seven aggravating factors and one mitigating factor. Sentences are longer if the victim is a child. The law therefore makes clear value judgments about what types of rape crime are worse than others.
Morally, some argue that as ‘rape is rape’, all rape must be equally bad. If this is the case, all rape sentences should be of the same length. Intuitively, hardly anyone seriously thinks that some types of rape crimes shouldn’t be punished more severely than others. However, some people fail to realize that by doing this they are making a moral value judgment.
Morality and legality are not mutually exclusive. That’s why the law is designed to severely punish serious crimes, like rape and murder, and lightly punish less serious crimes, like shoplifting.
Proponents of preachy moral absolutism understandably worry that conceding this point will allow some people to downplay the significance of ‘less serious’ rape offences. However, a rape crime can be ‘less serious’ but also be ‘very serious.’ The former phrase is a relative value judgment.
Without making moral and legal distinctions between different types of rape crimes we are unable to have an intelligent discussion about appropriate sentencing policy, which is where this controversy started out from in the first place.
This must be every journalists dream. Ian Birrell, the former deputy editor of the Independent, tweeted last Saturday that the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame is ‘despotic and deluded.’ This was in response to an interview Kagame had given to the Financial Times. Normally such a comment would go unnoticed by a powerful head of state. However, thanks to the @PaulKagame tag in Birrell’s tweet, it went straight to the president. Amazingly he chose to respond, which resulted in a lengthy twitterspat between the two. The Rwandan Foreign Minister even decided to get embroiled in the beef.
Birrell’s initial accusation was over Kagame’s comment that: ‘I don’t think that anybody out there in the media, UN, human rights organizations, has any moral right whatsoever to level any accusations against me or Rwanda. Because when it came to problems facing Rwanda, and the Congo, they were all useless.’ Kagame tweeted back @Ian Birrell: ‘wrong u r …u have no such right’ (to criticize him). Yes, the President of Rwanda does tweet in text speak!
Since becoming the de-facto leader of Rwanda in 1994, Kagame has led a regime with a pretty brutal human rights record. He is particularly bad on restricting press freedom and suppressing any political opposition in Rwanda. His 93% of the vote in the 2010 Presidential election echoes that of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship in Egypt.
Despite this he remains a darling of the international community, particularly the US and UK, due to his skilful manipulation of Western guilt over the Rwandan genocide of 1994. His regime took power in the aftermath of the killing of around 800,000 civilians. He is also championed as being fairly effective in utilizing the massive amount of foreign aid his government receives, allowing Rwanda to post healthy levels of economic growth.
Kagame is right that the west has been useless in dealing with conflict in Rwanda and the Congo. But what about his role, why is he immune from criticism? To cut a long story short, Kagame is part of the Rwandan Tutsi Diaspora that fled to Uganda in the early 1960s. His Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) movement, was largely made up of soldiers of Rwandan Tutsi origin who were part of the Ugandan army. The RPF invaded Rwanda in 1990 leading to a destabilization of the country that ultimately facilitated the horrific genocide of 1994.
Kagame likes to portray himself as a modern democratic, human-rights conscious leader who ‘ended’ the genocide. However, it is not often commented on that Rwandan press freedom and the freedom of opposition parties was much greater in the early 1990s before he took power in 1994. His RPF guerrilla army knew they could never win a democratic election in Rwanda as they had very little support inside the country and had committed atrocities against civilians in the areas they controlled.
There is considerable evidence that the RPF were responsible for assassinating Juvénal Habyarimana, the then President of Rwanda in 1994. This event is widely perceived as the trigger for the start of the Rwandan genocide. There is also considerable evidence that the RPF committed crimes against humanity, and even ‘genocide’ according to one suppressed UN report.
Obviously the Rwandan Hutu’s that killed innocent Tutsi civilians, who they perceived as ‘enemy’ agents of the invading RPF, are responsible for their crimes. But Kagame and the RPF knowingly destabilized Rwanda as military victory was the only way they would be able to seize power.
As for the Congo, Kagame’s RPF sponsored an uprising to overthrow the crumbling Mobutu regime in Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of Congo). The leader of the uprising was Laurent Kabila, an ex-Marxist guerrilla who once liaised with Che Guevara in the 1960s. Shortly after seizing the power of the Congolese state, Kabila fell out with his Rwandan masters. The ‘Second Congo War’ that ensued from 1998 to 2003 (although it still hasn’t been fully resolved) has been dubbed ‘Africa’s First World War.’ It is estimated that 5.4 million have died in this conflict, more than any other since WWII. You might not have heard about it, because no one really pays attention to sub-Saharan Africa other than a passing reference to the Rwandan genocide.
Although all sides in ‘Africa’s First World War’ have blood on their hands, Kagame’s answer to the Congo hasn’t been very successful judging by most peoples standards. Throw in numerous atrocities committed against civilians by his army, and a systematic looting of Congo’s mineral wealth to finance the war, and what emerges is someone who might deserve a bit of criticism.
Maybe I should tweet him. I wonder if he’ll respond with: ‘wrong u r’. If anyone successfully bates a head of state on twitter, please let me know.
The rival ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns for Thursday’s referendum on the Alternative Vote may have failed to excite the masses, much like Delia Smith‘s infamously poor effort. Nick Clegg correctly said before the election that AV was a ‘miserable compromise.’ However, in a referendum you only have two choices: voting ‘yes’ is the best.
There are better voting systems than the Alternative Vote. There are also worse ones, including the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system we use to elect MPs. The main advantage of AV, compared to FPTP, is that it removes the distortions created by tactical voting. In many ‘safe’ seats, where one party wins by a comfortable margin, AV won’t make any difference. But in ‘swing’ seats, where two or even three parties have a genuine chance of winning, AV will clearly benefit for voters.
To illustrate this point I’ll use my home constituency, Oxford West and Abingdon, which at the last election was a two horse race between the Conservatives (23,906 votes) and the Lib Dems (23,730 votes). People who voted for the third placed Labour candidate (5,999 votes), or any other candidate, were effectively ‘wasting’ their vote as these candidates had no chance of winning. Many Labour party supporters, and supporters of other parties, will have already realised this and instead voted for their ‘least bad’ option between the Conservatives and Lib Dems. Those who wanted to express their ‘real’ preference, did so in the knowledge that their vote was effectively meaningless.
With AV everyone can express their real opinion on who they want to be elected. So for example, if my first choice was the Green Party, I quite liked Labour, and overall would prefer the Lib Dems to the Tories, I could mark my ballot in this order:
This removes the distortions of tactical voting. As the seat would come down to a two horse race, I would get to express my real opinion, but also have a say in the final outcome of the vote. A common criticism of this point is the: ‘I don’t want my third or fourth choice to end up winning as a result of my vote’ argument. However if the only party I liked was the Green Party, and I thought Nick Clegg was the antichrist, I could fill in my ballot as follows:
AV lets you vote for as many or as few candidates as you like. However, it should be made clear the principle of one person-one vote is maintained with AV. If one of your choices is knocked out, your vote is transferred to your next numbered choice. Caroline Flint’s assertion on Question Time that AV gives some voters ‘more votes than others’ is clearly ridiculous.
This segues on nicely to addressing the deliberately misleading arguments used by the ‘no’ campaign. The number one ‘no’ argument is that AV will cost up to an additional £250 million. They don’t give us any clue as to how they reached this figure other than claiming electronic voting machines will be needed. However, Australia has managed the administer AV with just pencils.
Another ‘No’ argument is that ‘AV is a politicians fix’ where backroom deals after hung parliaments will mean that ‘the only vote that really counts is Nick Clegg’s.’ Besides the point that Nick Clegg is unlikely to be the eternal kingmaker of British politics, this seems more likely to be a criticism of proportional representation, that would indeed produce a lot more coalitions. It is unclear that AV would make coalitions much more likely. But even so, would this be such a bad thing? Coalitions are the norm for most European countries. The last Labour government gained only 35% of the vote but had a comfortable majority in parliament. That stat is damning evidence that FPTP grossly distorts the will of the electorate. However, it is true that AV would not on the whole tackle the ‘winners bonus’ effect.
This leads on to a wider argument about electoral reform best summed by a ridiculous statement from the ‘No’ campaign: ‘voters should decide who the best candidate is, not the voting system.’ If a democracy is meant to reflect the will of the people, then surely voters should decide on the voting system? In fact, nobody has ever voted in favour of the unfair FPTP system.
The problem with the current referendum is that it gives voters only two options: AV or FPTP. Their are proportional electoral systems that better reflect the ‘will of the people,’ than either of these options. However, if the ‘no’ campaign wins, politicians are likely to treat the result as an endorsement against serious electoral reform for at least a generation. On the other hand, a victory for the ‘yes’ campaign would destroy the legitimacy of FPTP and open political space for further improving our electoral system.
So all in all, AV negates the problem of tactical voting created by FPTP, and could open the door for further electoral reform based on a more proportional system (such as AV+, but I won’t bog anyone down with the details here).
But wait a minute…what about the BNP? The ‘no’ campaign is trying to tap into BNP hysteria, by attempting to relate everything back to them. The simple fact to illustrate why AV is bad for the BNP is shown by choosing which Nick to ‘agree’ with. Nick Griffin is voting ‘No.’ Nick Clegg is voting ‘Yes.’
Although Nick Clegg’s public antichrist status has reached astronomical levels for many voters, at least he’s better than Nick Griffin. We can all agree on that. Therefore this awful poem may appeal to those who are still wary of the BNP:
But please vote ‘yes’ on Thursday, it’s clearly the best option. And for anyone that’s still completely confused by everything I’ve said, a ‘yes’ victory would piss off David Cameron. There’s a nice populist argument to appease the average left-of-centre student voter.
My University recently had a referendum on whether to ban bottled water from our union shop. It passed. The bottled water is no more. Well, not quite as the ban only covers still mineral water. You can still buy water of the flavoured and sparkling variety, and all other types of bottled soft drinks. Cunning students will also still be able to buy bottled water from every other shop in Sheffield. All in all this policy represents the fairly pointless side of student politics. Its effect will be a drop in the ocean (slight pun intended) in terms of achieving its stated goal of promoting ‘sustainability.’
Last night, as I left a club night at my students union, I was handed a free bottle of mineral water. It was not flavoured or sparkling, so this action could be seen as at least violating the spirit of the recent referendum. I queried the benevolent water giver: ‘isn’t this against union policy?’ He seemed a bit perplexed, or even concerned about my question. He started muttering something about the bible. I took that as my cue to leave and embarked on my journey home, water in hand.
The religious element of this exchange posed another ethical question in my mind: why are Christian groups targeting drunken students? Don’t get me wrong, faith groups do masses of great charity work (the sort of ‘big society’ stuff that makes King Dave proud). But the question is: are drunken students either needy or deserving of charity?
In terms of neediness, you can get free (non-bottled) water at the union bar and free (tap) water at your house. The drunken student can manage the short intermittent period that is their journey home, without dying of dehydration. In terms of charity, using your disposable income to have some alcohol-fuelled fun is hardly a reason for deserving anything, even free water. My basic point is there are other groups in society that are far more in need of help.
So why am I receiving this holy water? It probably has something to do with the expansionist nature of Christianity, particularly of the more evangelical variety, that is always looking for new recruits. Drunken students may be seen as easy targets (I won’t use the word meat) as they may be emotionally distressed and vulnerable. It is troubling when a random act of kindness may in fact be a back door recruitment drive.
I wouldn’t ban them as I’m all for freedom of expression, religion and even bottled water. But I would encourage them to expend their efforts on other more needy members of society, without simultaneously pushing a biblical agenda.
Everybody loves people power revolutions. The Egyptian protesters who rose up to successfully call for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak inspired hope throughout the Middle East: the masses can defeat the autocrats.
Developments in Libya have been even more astonishing. Rebels have managed to take control over much of the East of the country. Much of the regime and army have defected to the opposition. If the Libyan ‘revolution’ proceeded as we would like it to, Colonel Gaddafi should now resign as he has lost his last modicum of domestic and international legitimacy.
But Gaddafi has publicly stated he will ‘fight to the death.’ For some dictators this would be mere posturing; however, there is a good chance that Gaddafi really means it. His son Saif (the one who did a PHD at the LSE on democratization!!!) has revived some Enoch Powell style rhetoric by warning of the impending ‘rivers of blood’ on the streets of Libya. So Gaddafi’s regime is willing to fight on. Does this mean we are witnessing the start of a Libyan civil war?
If a Libyan civil war has started, what is remarkable is how militarily weak both the pro-Gaddafi and rebel forces appear to be. Over the years Gaddafi has deliberately weakened the Libyan army to protect himself from a military coup. If both sides are weak and unable to strike a decisive blow on the other, Libya could be facing a long drawn out period of low intensity civil war. This has dire humanitarian consequences for the Libyan people. If Gaddafi eventually prevails and retakes control of the country, those that opposed him will face brutal retribution.
Civil war is not a happy ending to a people power revolution, so what should the international community being doing to help the Libyan people? One response is to simply do nothing. This view is increasingly popular after the debacle of the Iraq War. The problem with doing nothing is at leaves the Libyan people at the mercy of the tyrannical Gaddafi regime. This is a fight they cannot reasonably be expected to win on their own.
The UN Security Council has at least taken limited action by imposing travel bans and asset freezes on the Gaddafi family and other high ranking members of the regime. However, these measures are ‘limited’ as they allow Gaddafi to fight on for the time being. David Cameron has received a lot of criticism for publicly advocating a no-fly zone, which would be designed to deny Gaddafi the air power advantage over the rebels. This idea was seemingly struck down (unlike the planes ready to bomb Eastern Libya) by the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates. The muddled response over a no-fly zone is likely to strengthen Gaddafi’s resolve that he can call the bluff of the international community and eventually regain control of the country.
But what would really put pressure on Colonel Gaddafi? One option that needs to seriously be considered is for the Egyptian army to step in. Thanks to being the second largest recipient of US military aid (after Israel), the Egyptian army is extremely powerful and well equipped. It has nearly 500,000 troops at its disposal. This would vastly outnumber Gaddafi’s forces and should be able to overpower them. As rebel-held Eastern Libya borders Egypt, there would be few logistical problems to sending in troops. Furthermore the political and cultural solidarity between the Egyptians and Libyans, who also importantly share the same language, has considerable advantages over sending in a western military force.
The threat of action by the Egyptian army would scare Gaddafi. It would also hopefully lead to further defections from his armed forces. Ideally this could lead to a swifter demise of his regime, instead of a protracted civil war. It could lead to a form of managed transition to democratic governance, supervised by a UN peacekeeping force that could take over from the Egyptian military.
But wait a minute. Am I falling guilty to the Blair-esque folly of believing in idealistic regime change with no unintended consequences? Is this idea even feasible, given the recent turmoil in Egypt? To deal with the second charge, it is true that this policy would become moot if the Egyptian military were completely unwilling to get involved. However it shouldn’t immediately be dismissed out of hand as a ridiculous suggestion. The US should have considerable leverage over the Egyptian military, through its massive annual subsidy and close relations. This could used to persuade it to play a role in a multilateral effort to turn the screw on Gaddafi. Although Egypt has recently faced a period of instability and lawlessness, it is unlikely that the Egyptian military faces any real threat to its power if it sticks to the promised timetable of conducting elections in the autumn.
To return to the first charge of having a Blair-like romanticized ‘good vs evil’ perception of foreign policy, it is true that Egyptian military action could cause a significant civilian death toll and fail to produce and neat and tidy end to the conflict. However, the overwhelming superiority of the Egyptian military could hopefully reduce the scale of the conflict by compelling pro-Gaddafi forces to defect. Libyan society is not as militarized or factionalized as Iraq meaning the prospect of all-out anarchy after foreign intervention is far weaker.
Whatever is done or is not done next could have dangerous consequences. Gaddafi in power, and a protracted civil war that he may eventually win, is not good for the Libyan people. This is probably the most dangerous consequence of all. The international community cannot idly standby and let this opportunity to remove a crackpot dictator go to waste. We may appreciate his dress sense and ridiculous outbursts, but his time should now be up and could be hastened with a bit of Egyptian assistance.
Conservative Party Chairman Sayeeda Warsi gave a high-profile speech yesterday on the rise of Islamophobia in Britain. Amongst other things, she made the perplexing claim that:
‘We need to think harder about the language we use. And we should be careful about language around religious “moderates”.’
I was unaware that being labelled a moderate was such a bad thing. Isn’t it generally thought of as a positive characteristic? According to her we should only talk about ‘British Muslims,’ not ‘moderate’ Muslims. However, she did make frequent references to the problem of a minority of ‘extremists’ within the Muslim community. Assuming these extremists are also British Muslims, then surely the distinction between ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ becomes quite useful! There are moderate and extreme Christians, moderate and extreme socialists, and moderate and extreme Tories. It’s not something we need to exorcise from our language.
Here is another piece of entertaining nonsense from her speech:
Others will say that it’s ok to be irrational about religion because religion itself is not open to rational debate. I don’t accept that. Faith and Reason go hand in hand. This is a point the Pope has made consistently over the last few years.
I enjoyed the outlandish claim that those critical of religion like to think of themselves as being ‘irrational!’ I can really imagine Richard Dawkins saying: ‘well if they’re going to be irrational, I’m going to stoop to their level and be irrational about them.’
As for her conclusion, I’m pretty sure that faith is almost the exact opposite to reason: they hardly co-exist in perfect harmony. When you have the classic ‘does god exist’ argument, it soon gets to the ‘proof’ stage. The believer usually accepts they have no real proof for god (a.k.a. a good reason), but instead they have faith. I don’t think name dropping the pope, who is slightly partial on the matter, adds much to her point.
Baroness Warsi is Minister for Equalities in the coalition government. However her track record for exploiting prejudice and promoting discrimination makes you wonder whether she’s the best person to be lecturing people on irrational fears. In the 2005 general election Warsi was the unsuccessful Tory candidate for Dewsbury. In her campaign leaflets, she accused Labour of promoting homosexuality in schools by repealing section 28. Further enlightened statements included:
“Labour reduced the age of consent for homosexuality from 18 to 16 allowing school children to be propositioned for homosexual relationships.”
Does that sound like someone who genuinely believes in equality? Her Labour opponent, Shahid Malik MP, said this homophobic campaign was targeted at the Asian community while she distributed leaflets about immigration to white voters! Since then, she has at least expressed regret for her comments, and now supports civil partnerships. She did condemn homophobia in her speech, along with a few other forms of discrimination. I guess I could give her the backhanded compliment that she hopefully isn’t as bigoted as she was 5 years ago.
This is brings us fall circle as to why it’s both justified and important to criticize irrational prejudices, based in antiquated religions. While there are secular homophobes, and tolerant people of faith, it’s fair to say that many mainstream readings of both Christianity and Islam promote shocking levels of homophobia. If I was a gay person in Iran I couldn’t be ‘Islamophobic’ because a phobia is an irrational fear; I’d be justifiably terrified of the theocratic establishment. If I was a gay person in about to be independent South Sudan, I’d have a perfectly rational fear of the backwards Christian beliefs of its political leaders.
Let’s hope that ‘moderates’ of all religions exhibit real toleration, including of gays, who get a pretty bad rep in their holy books. If not, then I wouldn’t deem the term ‘moderate’ to be appropriate: just like Sayeeda Warsi does.
Jack Straw recently argued that there is a problem of certain young men of Pakistani origin treating vulnerable white girls as ‘easy meat’. He had made these comments as a response to a Times article claiming the vast majority of men convicted of on-street grooming in recent years, are of Pakistani origin. Just so what he said isn’t taken out of context watch his Newsnight Interview.
On Last weeks Question Time I was disappointed, although not that surprised about how the panel wanted to avoid talking about how cultural factors may facilitate certain crimes. See what you think for yourself by watching Chapter 5 of last weeks episode. Everyone on the panel completely missed the point, dodged the actual question and were generally wrong.
James Caan, an entrepreneur of British-Pakistani heritage, missed the point by going on about how those guilty of sex crimes should be punished, regardless of their ethnicity. ‘Breaking the law is wrong’ answers to questions should be banned for time wasting, along with starting an answer with ‘I believe in freedom of speech.’
Diane Abbot MP said that we should focus on the ‘crime’ and not stigmatize individual nationalities by associating certain crimes with particular ethnic group. However, Jack Straw made clear that most convicted sex offenders are white; he was talking about a more specific offense of on-street grooming. Abbot stated she supported the current police investigation into these sorts of crimes and wanted to know ‘the facts.’ It seems completely inconsistent to support fact-finding but preemptively reject conclusions that could support Jack Straw’s assertions. I remember in the early days of new Labour the catch phrase ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.’ On this issue Abbot does not want to seriously discuss all the potential causes of crime.
Charles Kennedy MP, former leader of The Liberal Democrats, attempted to make a point about how a politician of Jack Straw’s stature must choose his words carefully. At face value this may have seemed like a statesmanlike thing to say. However, what it really translated into was: anything issue on the border line of being politically incorrect should be brushed under the carpet. This is an extremely cowardly position to take; Kennedy is closing down the debate on the grounds of being ‘inappropriate’ without even considering whether Straw is right or wrong. Straw has been MP for Blackburn since 1979, a town with a large Pakistani-origin population many of whom help to elect him to office. He seems like to last person who would want to go out of his way to label an entire community as sex offenders; in fact I think he did try to choose his words carefully.
Michael Gove MP took a different tack by suggesting that it wasn’t pragmatic for people from ‘outside’ a community to criticize the behaviour of those within it. This may provoke a backlash from the ‘community,’ therefore preventing positive change. Gove preferred the idea of change coming from inside a community. While their may be an element of truth in this point (I think it was the least bad answer given by the panel), it seems wrong to draw a rigid dividing line between ‘Asian’ and ‘white’ communities, each separately resolving their own problems. If an Asian person said that white women in western societies were discriminated against, I wouldn’t claim they had no right to enter the debate. If a black person gave their opinion on Mozart, I wouldn’t tell them to shut up. So surely Jack Straw should be allowed to be part of this debate. As he represents a multicultural town, and this issue is also about non-Pakistani women, he is in fact very much part of the community in question.
Author Jeannette Winterson, not only missed the point of the question, but went on a patronising rant about how it was wrong for Jack Straw to use the phrase ‘easy meat’ when referring to women. Diane Abbot echoed this position. However, a member of the audience rightly pointed out that Jack Straw did not himself think of young women as being ‘easy meat.’ He was asserting what he thought was the attitude of some men towards them. If a feminist were to say that men treat women as sex objects, would you call the feminist sexist for objectifying women? That would be the logic of Abbot and Winterson.
Before Gove spoke, an audience member said that he felt ‘we should get our own house in order’ with regards to the Catholic Church before we start criticizing other communities. This exposed both a double standard of cultural sensitivity, and a misconception of what ‘house’ we’re supposedly living in. When criticizing paedophilia covered up by the Catholic Church, people rightly criticize institutional and cultural failings that have allowed such abuses to occur. When patterns of sexual abuse by Catholic priests has been discovered around the world do we just focus on the crime, just on the criminal? No, we focus on the possible underlying cultural causes: celibacy amongst priests, deference to religious authority, and denial of the problem, that may have allowed abuse to be perpetuated for so many years. This is examining the causes of crime, with the hope that it might be useful in preventing crime in the future. If that’s the logic for the Catholic Church then why can’t Jack Straw enter the territory of debate that the panel is so against? I don’t myself know enough about the issue to say whether Straw is right, but cultural sensitivity is not a justification for silence.
In terms of getting ‘our house’ in order, which Michael Gove said he quite agreed with, I think it’s dangerous to further divide Britain into separate cultural houses that don’t interact with each. This issue affects people of all backgrounds. Even if it only affected women from one particular community, they still wouldn’t deserve neglect and silence from the rest of society.