Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"I'm not a pacifist"

Is there something about particular religions that incites people to violence or is it particular people who go looking for support of their crackpot tendencies? Finally, the question is settled once and for all in this evening's episode of the Channel 4 documentary, The Bible: A Brief History, in which Gerry Adams gives us his version of Jesus' teachings on peace and forgiveness. Yes, Gerry Adams.

You can just picture Channel 4's producers salivating at the idea of the rumpus such a shocking choice for their programme on Jesus and forgiveness might cause. Unfortunately for them it's ultimately more comedy than controversy.

During the programme, Adams does his best to portray himself as affable, thoughtful and kindly (which he may well be, I can't really comment as the closest I've ever come to meeting him was when I went shopping in Manchester on 15th June 1996).

He affably, thoughtfully and kindly points out to viewers less conversant with Northern Irish politics: “I'm not a pacifist”. Well, cheers Gerry, that whole IRA thing has been puzzling me for years. Adams goes on to seek out grains of support in the (what I had hitherto always regarded as gentle, peaceful) teachings of Jesus for his own personal support of violence. A particularly snigger-worthy moment was during a discussion about Barabbas, when Adams pointed out that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter:

Posh history prof: “Barabbas was what we would call a terrorist these days”
Adams: “From someone else's viewpoint he might have been a freedom fighter”

By now even the slowest of Channel 4's viewers[1] have grasped the brazen fact which has been flaunting itself throughout: that Adams has nothing meaningful to say on the subject matter that the programme professes to be about.

Finally, Adams' conclusion about the teachings of Jesus? they're more sort of guidelines really.

Channel 4 did accidentally allow some valid insights to slip in, such as the widow of Pat Finucane (who was killed by Loyalist paramilitaries) talking about forgiveness, and Alan McBride (whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the Shankill road IRA bombing), who suggested that we should “be more like Jesus and not so religious”. Pretty spot on. Odd to think there are people out there who, on the one hand are willing to kill in the name of their professed religion, but on the other hand, are not willing to live according to the true teachings of that religion.

[1] And we're talking a Channel which routinely broadcasts impenetrably intellectual programmes such as Wife Swap and Supersize vs Superskinny.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Is the BBC making up titles to court controversy in some sort of pathetic attempt to drive up ratings...

... or is Generation Jihad an actual marketing demographic, like Generation X?


Anyone who is interested in hearing what's going on in Haiti, should check this out:

Grant is a good friend of mine, and I had the pleasure of working with him in Sierra Leone. He's a fantastic journalist and has worked in Sierra Leone, Liberia, various parts of South America and now Haiti, not only reporting on human rights stories but also helping local journalists to improve their skills.

His journey in Haiti is well worth following.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Still human...

It doesn’t surprise me one bit to hear that UK Border Agency staff have been accused of humiliating people who have claimed asylum in the UK. Surely and sadly, it is obvious in a system that is designed to humiliate and de-humanise, staff members should work within a “culture of disbelief and discrimination.”

What the UK government has missed, in it’s policy making for asylum seekers in the UK – is that these people are human.

A recent change in policy has been around those asylum seekers who have been refused refugee status, but unable to return or be returned to their countries. They are not allowed to work. They are provided with basic accommodation. Until recently, a single person on section 4 was provided with £35 per week of subsistence – in the form of supermarket vouchers.
The cash free existence is one that has been campaigned against by many as being unnecessarily restrictive. It is a system, however, that had been successfully overcome outside the system – church, community groups and individuals purchased the vouchers at face value, using them themselves and providing the asylum seeker with cash that can be used for buying food etc at cheaper, more accessible shops.

The clever old UKBA weren’t too impressed by this. So, instead, they have now introduced the Azure card [1]. This card is loaded with £35 per week. It has to be taken to the supermarket and spent there. If you don’t use the credit, only £5 will roll over. Doesn’t sound so bad, but... not all the supermarkets are online for it yet. In Newcastle, only Tesco and Asda accept the cards. And what if you want to save up some money for a warm coat? Or take the bus to see your solicitor? Or visit the doctors?

Some of the people I work with have been on Section 4 for years. One man I know, we’ll call him Alpha, he lives in Walker, like many asylum seekers. There is no Asda, no Tesco in Walker. So he has to travel to Kingston Park Tesco. But he has a cash free existence. That means he can’t get the bus, the metro. So he walks. 8 miles. 8 miles there and 8 miles back to Kingston Park to shop. And he can’t buy halal food there.

Now, I agree, that perhaps this is better than being dead somewhere in East Africa, killed by a government official. And I concede that according to the ‘system’ this man has been refused asylum. But I believe that he, like many, has been wrongly refused. And even if he hasn’t, even if he is lying. What kind of life is this? It’s certainly not cheaper than providing that £35 through the benefits system – the Azure card system must have cost a fortune to implement [2]. Or even allowing people to work for a living so they don’t need state handouts. It is designed to be de-humanising, degrading, humiliating, restricting.

Alpha, he escaped persecution by the government of his country. He escaped death there. And he came here, and now, he is persecuted by our government. And he sat in front of me, and he said.
“In my country, the government, they don’t like you, and they kill you. But at least they kill you. But in this country, the government, they kill you slowly.”

[1] So called because it is blue.
[2] I might stick in an FOI request to find out how much...

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