Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘islamophobia’

Boris and the “Burka Ban”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th August, 2018

NiqabThe former Foreign Secretary and Tory bad-boy, Boris Johnson, has well and truly put the cat among the pigeons with his Daily Telegraph column in which he likened Muslim women who wear the “burka” to letter boxes and bank robbers. I am sure he well knows that what he is talking about is the niqab (face veil) rather than the burka, but he is happy to chime with the populist riff in which “burka ban” has a satisfyingly alliterative resonance. This is more than a storm in a tea-cup, as several important issues are at stake. First, we live in a liberal, multicultural democracy in Britain, in which everyone should be free to wear whatever he or she wishes. Many white British may find the niqab unattractive or disturbing, but similarly many Muslims find topless bathers at least as offensive. As for the burka, while I saw lots of these in Afghanistan, and know that they have appeared in parts of north-west Pakistan, I have never seen one in England, though some of the many hundreds of people who have responded to a tweet of mine earlier today about the burka affair have assured me that  they have seen some in Ilford and Leicester. Anyway, the point is that it is not for us to tell people what they should wear, otherwise we become like some of the authoritarian societies which we rightly criticise.

burkaBut of course, there is a more important political point, namely that Boris Johnson has refused to apologise for his offensive remarks, despite being urged to by the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis, and, more weakly, by the Prime Minister. By refusing to agree, Boris Johnson is essentially showing two fingers to Theresa May, knowing she is too weak to sack him (he resigned as Foreign Secretary, remember; he was not sacked, though he should have been). I agree with Lord Sheikh, founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, that Boris Johnson should have the Conservative whip withdrawn if he stubbornly refuses to back down. Islamophobia is a problem within the Conservative Party, and whereas I do not believe Boris Johnson is personally Islamophobic (indeed, part of his pedigree is Turkish), I do believe that he is shamelessly pandering to the more disgusting of right-wing prejudices. He appears to be modelling himself on Donald Trump, saying the most outrageous things, knowing that he will carry a certain amount of the population with him. But Britain does not need such populism, nor should be tolerate it. We said “No!” in the 1930s, and we should say “No!” now.

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International Human Rights Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th December, 2015

Human Rights DayThe Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly 67 years ago today, but the fight for rights is as necessary as ever, not just in totalitarian states and conflict zones round the world but even in so-called mature democracies. Each International Human Rights Day (IHRD), 10 December, is a useful moment to take stock of the situation worldwide and the picture in 2015 is particularly depressing. Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are on the rise as part of the collateral damage to the war against ISIS/Daesh and other Middle Eastern and North African conflicts; countries including China, Saudi Arabia, the United States and Iran continue to implement the death penalty, in many cases for “crimes” that would not even be considered as such in much of the world.

capital punishmentThe theme of this year’s IHRD is “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always”, which at many levels is so broad as to be almost meaningless in campaigning terms, but the idea was to commemorate the 50th anniversary next year (sic) of the adoption of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Despite being equally broad-brush, these covenants are considered important frameworks for putting pressure on governments that are denying their people a decent livelihood or suppressing their freedoms.

amnesty pngOf course, despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not every country or society agrees on their definition. Uganda, where I am at present, continues to harass LGBTi activists, for example, with the tacit support of much of the local population. Apostasy is still a capital crime in Saudi Arabia, while freedom or religion (and the freedom to choose) is a core value of democratic societies. Double standards are moreover evident in so many fields and it is not always the Western democracies that are innocent. They were right to express outrage at Russia occupation/annexation of Crimea, for example, yet most (with a few honorable exceptions such as Sweden) have remained relatively mute about Israel’s 48-year occupation of Palestine; Russia is the subject of sanctions, Israel hardly at all.

However, that does not mean we should give up in despair. NGOs in particular have an important role to play in furthering economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political ones — not least in holding governments to account. But governments, such as Britain’s, also should not shirk their duty to stand up for what they say support, and the same goes for the European Union. So even if IHRD may seem vacuous at times it is important to remind us of all that needs to be done to promote human rights, both individually and collectively.

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Trump Is a Chump (and Worse)

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 9th December, 2015

Donald TrumpWere the US Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump a character in a movie he would be good for a few laughs. But he is very real and very determined and not funny at all. He is the worst sort of American redneck populist, with the added twist that he has more than enough money to do whatever he wants in this world — and not to be craven to anyone. Of course, we have seen GOP goofs before, Sarah Palin being a case that springs to mind. But Trump is much more dangerous because his rhetoric appeals to the worst instincts among right-wing conservatives and disaffected working class white voters. He has been in hot water in the more liberal elements of the US and global media before, for example damning Mexican immigrants as potential drug dealers and murderers. But his latest outrage, calling for a complete ban on Muslims entering the US is his most egregious outrage yet. Islamophobia is not limited to far right extremists, but it is chilling that Donald Trump has gone so far, unashamedly. Try substituting the word “Jews” for “Muslims” and the warnings of history are evident. Moreover, Trump is bound to act as an unwitting recruiting sergeant for ISIS, al-Qaeda and other extreme Islamist groups who will ratchet up the narrative that not just America but the whole Western World is anti-Muslim, and therefore deserves to be punished and attacked. In a comedy film, the candidate Trump might indeed become President of the United States, but this is no movie, and were the unthinkable to happen in real life it would not be farce but tragedy.

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Lessons from Oslo

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 25th July, 2011

Like many people — and most Norwegians, I suspect — I observed a minute’s silence at 11am, to mark the death of 93 predominantly young people at the hands of murderous right-wing fanatic Anders Breivik. The dignity with which the tragic episode has been handled by the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and the Royal Family is a lesson to us all. But there are other, more bitter, lessons to be learnt from the massacre. Details are emerging of the immensely long, rambling political self-justification that Breivik left behind. In the document are elements of the inspiration for his hatred and inhuman ideology, some of which will be uncomfortable for people elsewhere in Europe, including Britain. The Daily Mail’s ranter Melanie Phillips (no friend to Muslims) is one source quoted, and Breivik clearly had emotional and maybe physical links with groups such as the English Defence League (EDL), who spew out xenophobia, anti-immigrant bile and Islamophobia. These groups and individuals associated with them are poisonous and as we have just seen, potentially deadly. Just as men and women of principle stood up and spoke out against anti-Semitism in the 1930s, so now we should stand up and speak out against Islamophobia, xenophobia and all forms of hate speech and incitement to violence.

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Joan Smith and Maureen Freely at Toynbee Hall

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 3rd October, 2008

Last night I went to Toynbee Hall in Tower Hamlets for the first time for 20 years — since I attended Quaker Meeting there, in fact. The late John Profumo was still working there at the time. A lot of things have changed since then and perhaps the most positive novelty is Arts Admin, which now puts on a lively range of cutting-edge artistic and literary events. I was there last night to attend a ‘conversation’ between the writers Joan Smith and Maureen Freely, both of whom I have collaborated with on the Writers in Prison Committee of English PEN. Both have worked as journalists and in Maureen’s case, as a translator too.

Most of their conversation (ably moderated by Lucy Popescu) was about their novels, What Will Survive and Enlightenment , set respectively in southern Lebanon and Turkey. A common theme is the predicament of a female protagonist finding hereself in a complex political situation she does not fully understand. Inevitably the discussion turned to the menacingly surreal atmosphere surrounding Turkish trials of writers and publishers accused of defaming the state, Turkishness or the military — some of which I have sat in on myself. Joan and Maureen were both at the trial of Orhan Pamuk — who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature — and they felt the full brunt of the ultra-nationalist (perhaps one should say neo-fascist) heavies who gather at these events.

Interestingly, another, much larger, meeting was going on in the main hall, attended almost exclusively by Muslims. I noted in the programme that one of Arts Admin’s vents later this month is a show by DV8 ‘To Be Straight with You’, which is billed as an exploration of tolerance, intolerance, religion and sexuality, which is burningly topical in a borough where there have been a spate of recent homophobic attacks by young Bengalis, as well as some instances of islamophobia.


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