Saturday, February 28, 2009

Women Against Fundamentalism have yet again been well ahead of the game in their analysis of the dangers of religious and "faith" involvement in public services and "community cohesion". Their latest summary of the situation could not be bettered:

"In Britain, as elsewhere, there has been a rise in fundamentalism in all religions which has been encouraged by a growing move to define complex and diverse communities solely according to 'faith'. Public funds are increasingly being handed out to religious bodies to provide services to 'their' communities on behalf of local and central government. WAF believes that this increases the power of religious leaders - often self-appointed - to discriminate against women and other groups and to exclude or silence dissidents within their own communities.Women Against Fundamentalism believes that public funds must be administered by accountable, democratically elected representatives and not by religious leaders, self-appointed or otherwise"

The toxic combination of religious orthodoxy and the confused use of the terms "community" and "culture" actually serve to head off and control elements within these population groups who are seen as dissident or difficult. In particular this means women (who might want to campaign against "cultural traditions" such as forced marriages, or honour killings) and sexual and political minorities. WAF traces this approach back to the colonial era:

"In the colonial situation, as in British multiculturalism today, the views of self appointed religious leaders were taken as 'authentic' and appropriate to all sections of the communities they claimed to represent"
For a brilliant analysis of how British colonialism managed to control the restless people's in its African colonies, Michela Wrong's brilliant new book "It's Our Turn to Eat" is a revelation.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Faith Communities often the problem not the solution

Why is it that New Labour and the Trevor Phillips of this world have got away with the amazing con trick of insisting that Faith and religion are issues that need to be treated the same way as other variables such as gender, class, race, sexual orientation, disability etc? At first sight this looks like it makes sense - after all one can be discriminated against for one's religion just as one can be for these other factors. We know this from Islamophobia and anti-semitism. The problem is that by insisting that Faith Communities should be at the heart of all generic equalities work we are endangering the whole enterprise. The new Commission for Equalities and Human Rights was launched in 2006 under the "leadership" of Trevor Phillips. This body claims to be an organisation "promoting equality issues across the full raft of ethnic, gender, sexual-orientation, disability and other minority interests". Under Clever Trevor this has resulted in equalities work challenging forms of discrimination being forced together with the so-called "Faith Communities". These so-called "Faith communities" are often the most resistant of any section of society to the most basic notions of equality, diversity, women's, LGBT and other minority rights. In fact this is a joke on a massive scale that serves to totally undermine the best of equalities work and involve us all in constant rearguard actions against some of the most obscurantist, fundamentalist and prejudiced individuals and belief systems on the planet!
If religious groups want to organise across their differences and campaign as such that's fine - but they shouldn't be encouraged to infect the rest of the equalities world with their appeals to their Gods or their Holy Books. These usually make a mockery of the one set of standards that can unite us in this diverse and muddled world - the notion of Human Rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration.
Nu Labour - Nu Verbiage

Rather than really challenging the many inequalities and the different forms of racism and discrimination that abound in our society, New Labour merely prefers to change the words we are allowed to use to describe them. It wouldn't be so bad if this was just seen by them as the cheap verbal conjuring trick that it is, what's worse is that they manage to con themselves into thinking that by changing the word they have somehow changed the world. I have pointed out elsewhere in this blog how they will use phrases like "social exclusion" so as to avoid having to talk about poverty, "community cohesion" so as to avoid talking about class and discrimination. I have shown in some detail how they use fuzzy but feel good terms like "Community" so as to avoid having to confront the real relations, the real tensions and the real inequalities that scar our society.
Doreen Lawrence points out beautifully today (Guardian "Police failing us still") how Government and the Police have started using the term "diversity" so as to avoid having to talk about race and racism and thus confronting their own complacency on the issue. As she says: "Race is just wiped out of all the vocabulary, they use the word diversity, they seem to be more comfortable with it. I would not say they have given up caring about race, I just feel they believe they have addressed it" . She has rightly identified classic New Labour doublespeak in action!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Now this is what I might be happy to call "community":

'I am a Woman in Black in Israel...'
Yvonne Deutsch writes
Dear all,
I saw this morning pictures of children from what the sender called 'Gaza Concentration Camp'.

This horror, this cruelty is done in my name, a Jewish Israeli woman living in West Jerusalem.
Israel's crime against humanity in Gaza is done in my name, a feminist peace activist.
These killings are done in the name of my loved ones.
This suffering is caused in the name of my community.
This crime against Palestinian children, women and men in Gaza is done in my name.
I feel deep shame.
I feel pain.
I mourn.
I feel rage.
I feel helplessness.
I am part of an activist community.
My community is active everyday to stop this bloodshed.
My community is active against the occupation for long years My community is active for a just solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict My community acts in solidarity with the Palestinian people My community acknowledges that Palestinian people aspire to live in peace
My community is aware of the violent results of the occupation and the poverty and despair it brings.
My community is cooperating with Palestinians around ecological and economic empowerment projects
My community is active against racism My community is active against poverty and for social justice within Israel My community is active for women's rights
My community is active for solidarity among women My community is Jewish - Palestinian
My community is old and young
My community is active for human rights of the Palestinians My community is active for their economic, social, civil and political rights
My community acknowledges that our own security and well being is connected to the well being of Palestinians and their security and prosperity
My community is active against violence and war.
My community refuses to take part in war and the occupation
My community is active for justice, prosperity, ecological awareness and peace
My community is part of a global feminist peace political movement that links between war and violence against women and sees in them a base of patriarchy.
My community is active to stop bloodshed and cruelty in the service of super powers that combine militaristic, fundamentalist, capitalist and nationalist structures
My community is made of many close and far circles of activism and knowledge
My community is diverse, varied and rich in its colors
My community is of women, men and multi gendered
My community is hetero, lesbian, gay, bi, queer and transgender
My community is local
My community is global

I am a Woman in Black in Israel
The Israeli government is committing crimes against humanity in Gaza.
I feel shame.
I feel rage.
I feel helplessness
We did not stop the evil
We continue to protest in the streets everyday, to appeal to decision makers, to widespread the information, to sign petitions, to send humanitarian aid, to do direct actions, to write letters and distribute leaflets
In the south of Israel where they suffer of counter violence of rockets there are also voices for peace
Our voices are not heard
Our clear and loud voices are silenced
Our voices do not reach our sisters and brothers in Palestine
Our voices do not stop the fire and destruction
We will continue to act and hope.
We will continue to cross imposed patriarchal walls, borders and ghettos
We will continue to hear the cry of Gaza
We will continue to hear the cry of the West Bank
We will also listen to the cry of women and children in Congo, North Uganda, South Sudan, Columbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere
The suffering everywhere is connected and part of the same patriarchal political culture
We are saying out loud NOT IN OUR NAME
We refuse to be enemies
We refuse to take part in oppressive relationships
We will continue to oppose war and militarism
We will continue to create a culture of non violence, justice and peace
We will continue to serve humanity
May we learn and teach that all is one
May we learn and teach that one is all
May we find transformation, justice and healing
May we all live in Peace
May we all live in Joy.
YvonneJerusalem, 8 January 2009

Thanks to Jews for Justice for Palestinians for this