Blame for the English Riots

Last week Darell Desuze, 17, admitted the manslaughter of Richard Mannington Bowes, 68, in Ealing. Bowes tried to talk sense to crazed rioters last year, was attacked and later died. It was a savage crime, one of many committed over those frightening days. Such offenders have few defenders, understandably. Desuze will be sentenced next month by the judge, Mr Justice Saunders who said he would take into account the context when passing judgement. Good luck to m’lud. Even his considerable cerebrum may find it somewhat testing to sum up the context, contested daily by every sector of society and an unending line of headmen and specialists.

Mayor Johnson has just blamed our educators and wants strategic control of failing schools in London, a number of which he claims are ‘chillingly bad’. It is a pitch for re-election and also Boris being plain daft. True some pupils leave sink schools and well, just sink. However, there is no evidence that the young people who rioted were illiterate and innumerate or that some bracing Latin might have tamed them. The very next day Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector for Schools turned on ‘lax’ mums and dads who expect teachers to be surrogate parents and double standards: ‘ …bad behaviour and violence is condemned but endlessly available as entertainment.’ Some of this analysis is compelling – in their bonfires of vanities, winners like Alan Sugar and Simon Cowell have flamed good manners and consideration and the burden on many teachers breaks backs and will. But again schools can’t simply shift all responsibility elsewhere .

Christina Odone, the Catholic high priestess is absolutely sure the rioters came from homes without dads, again plausible up to a point but not evidenced. MPs David Davis ( Tory) and David Lammy( Labour), raised by lone mothers, weren’t seen throwing bricks or torching carpet shops. Max Hastings concludes the causes lie with the generous welfare system. Soon immigration or multiculturalism and Political Correctness will be blamed and we will have the full set.

More seriously, studies suggest deprivation and inequality were underlying causes, softie nonsense dismissed by Cameron. Last week the Runnymede Trust produced results of a survey carried out by trained 11-15 year olds ( a brilliant idea) found that race was a factor. How can it not be? Unrest started after Mark Duggan, a young black/mixed race man was shot dead and the police first said the victim shot at them then it turned out he didn’t. This has happened too many times to black and Asian Britons and each new case adds to collective rage and life struggles. The unemployment figure for young black men now stands at 56%. But white anarchists were out there in high numbers, so race cannot be overemphasized. My head hurts now looking this way and that, trying to piece together all the possible reasons why English cities erupted. But we must persevere, dive deeper , look more honestly at this country as it is today and at the responses to the disturbances which should worry us. It is not just to imprison young people for many months for stealing bottles of water or a bin.

Some thinkers and analysts have been duly diligent. David Wilson, former prison governor and academic locates some of the unease in our widespread culture of entitlement: ‘It is not only about the underclass, it’s about politicians, bankers, it’s about footballers’ The one and only Camilla Batmanghelidjh who works with some of the nation’s most troubled young people wants us to understand why kids go bad: ‘It’s repeated humiliation, being continually dispossessed in a society rich with possession’. Two weeks ago outside TopShop in Oxford Street, I saw people camping, not anti-capitalist protestors as I thought, but capitalism’s fools, desperate for some new Nike trainers. I asked two of them why? They looked at me as if I was a loon. These consumers have had their brains occupied. They are what they must own. Those who can’t buy will take. The panel looking into the riots criticizes aggressive advertising aimed at young people. For this maniacally pro-business coalition these messages will sound communist and will be duly dismissed.

Which makes one ask, is it to do with how the ruling Tories were parented and schooled? Raised by Uber-businessmen or stock owning dads and frightfully society conscious mums must have left their little hearts undernourished surely. And then to go to schools where bullying or warlike competition is seen as leadership, what hope did they have? Avaricious bankers were similarly made not born that way. When Osborne can only give to those up high and kick away the weak walls of benefits for those under his feet, the poor chap can’t help it. Toffs and street gangsters are more alike than they would like. Neither lot know how to care about society, the pain and destruction they cause and are without conscience.

As the cuts hurt and citizens get more divided and intolerant, there will be more unrest for sure by nihilists. The powerful will impose further severe suppression and trust will collapse. Neither the Jubilee nor Olympics can save us or put GB back together again.

Published in The Independent

Israel's Abdication of Human Rights

This February Thaer Halahleh, 34, wrote a letter to his wife Shireen from an Israeli jail: ‘My detention has been renewed seven times and they still haven’t charged me. I can’t take it anymore.’ Then he began a hunger strike as did captive Bilal Diab. That was 77 days ago. Both are Palestinians, fathers, whose young daughters are strip searched and terrified when they visit. David Rose, an exceptional investigative journalist and Jewish himself, recently publicised their stories. Eight others have been on the same, silent, self-wasting, wasted protest. Halahleh’s eyes were bleeding, blood instead of tears. He, Diab and others may well be dead by the time you read this. Last Friday supreme court judges in this hubristic democracy turned down an application from civil rights groups to have the man moved to civilian hospitals. They didn’t want perhaps, their own good citizens to witness such stuff. What would that do to the image of the plucky little nation, surrounded by real and imagined threats?

The moralistic Chief Rabbi will not be heard on Thought for the Day expressing sorrow or reciting ethical mantras on the treatment of these prisoners. Ardent British Zionists will not be pressed to condemn those responsible for the state barbarism. You certainly won’t get a big TV hit like Homeland, based on Israeli series, Hatufim, now showing on SKY TV about one of their soldiers, captured and eventually released by Palestinian militants. Come on, you cool, edgy TV chaps, how about a film about a handsome Palestinian held by the Israelis till he loses his mind? Do I hear a choral ‘No’?

Western opinion formers have been indifferent, in some cases knowingly so about what is happening. No condemnations are heard around Parliament. They say we must have freedom of speech, but that right is never evoked when it comes to Israel. The BNP and EDL can spread their racist poison freely but Baroness Jenny Tongue is savaged by Zionists and her own party for saying that nation ‘is not going to be there in its present forever in its present form.’ She has just quit the LibDems. If she had uttered the same words about, say, Zimbabwe, she would have been acclaimed.

A large number of enlightened British Jews see the double standards and object to Israel’s intransigence. It must be so hard to do what they do, behave with integrity and empathize with those they are instructed to hate.

The detained Palestinians are embarked on peaceful, Gandhian protest action. They want their families to be able to visit without restrictions, decent medical treatment, not to be put into solitary confinement for years on end, to be taken to court and tried. How is that ‘terrorism’? With the 1981 IRA hunger strikers of whom ten died, the most anti-Republican British papers published pictures and told us was happening. TV too covered their journeys to the very end.

With these slowly dying inmates and the 6000 others locked up without due process, there is nothing, nada. I never knew until this week that since 1967, 700,000 Palestinians have been detained. Not all were innocent but nor were all of them guilty. To be a Palestinian, to want equality, rights, freedom and land is not a crime. Except it is , for hardline Israelis.

Their country is protected from censure partly because of fears that any criticism is potentially ‘anti-Semitic’. Some anti-Semites do use Israel as a cover but then Israel uses that fact to tar and warn all legitimate criticism. Its governments do what they damned well want and claim perpetual exceptionality. Its darkest deeds are thus left un-scrutinized. This time though, it is suddenly dawning on some key people, among them the hapless Middle East saviour Tony Blair, that these ‘martyrs’ could trigger another Intifada. He is urging Israeli officials to ‘take all measures to prevent a tragic outcome that could have serious implications for stability and security’ Why he even uttered the words ‘human rights’. The UN and other bodies have intervened. They will all be rebuffed., so monstrous are the egos of the ultra right wing leadership. In any case Netanyahu et al can, and with absolute validity, point at Guantanamo Bay and our own prisoners held without trial. They are all in it together.

Blair is right to be fearful. Every time a hunger striker dies, even more inchoately angry young Muslim men will be radicalised and turn murderous. Some are raised in the west, see and hear all the cant about freedom, democracy, fairness and justice and then witness the betrayal and oppression of Palestinians. That dissonance between principles and reality makes them, perhaps, even more enraged than the Palestinians themselves who have low expectations and few illusions. This is not making excuses for terrorists, just a reality check.

I truly want Israel to survive and thrive. Fighting against its real adversaries and ill wishers, it becoming its own worst enemy. British activist Tom Hurndall, 21, was sheltering a Palestinian child from Israeli bullets in Gaza in 2003, when he was killed. His candid journals have just been published. Read them and mourn for the idealistic young man and the loss of all idealism in Israel.

Published in The Independent

Good at Sex bad at Love

At the supermarket on Friday night, my beloved said a red, heart-shaped candle was tat and a total rip-off at £8.99. Guess he won’t be buying me the latest, big thing for Valentine’s day, made of a new metal amalgam, Rubedo. Created by Tiffany, it’s slightly pink and quite attractive. Hoop earrings cost a thousand pounds and a bangle seven times as much, and not even real gold as my mother would have said. But for someone called Edwina Ings-Chambers, an effusive connoisseur of high style, a piece of Rubedo would be making: ’… that statement of statements- the “will you love and cherish me forever” one…’ Love costs in these circles. And therefore is worth nothing. Real love is priceless. I went to see the disturbing and touching George site – Clooney film, The Descendents about a dying, unconscious wife, grief, loss and marital betrayal. All the while I was thinking about how much my man and marriage mean to me, the strength and commitment of our mutual love, how lucky we are. I hated my body and face before I met him, was lost, untrusting and wounded. Oh there have been terrible moments and phases; we have shouted and said vile things; I have driven away wanting out. But we never gave up on our promise and would not break the bond. More than twenty- two years on we are best friends and lovers. ( Note to husband: Now don’t go off with some enticing young thing and make me rue these words. )

Love between couples should be about resilience, fidelity, trust, that steady entwining of hearts and minds, slow -cooked sexual intimacy, soul to soul murmurs. How archaic that sounds, except, perhaps, to the bonneted ladies of the Jane Austen Society. These days, it seems, relationships come and go like the colours of fashion. A big wedding followed by a short marriage and the next big wedding is how the story goes. Celebs and the powerful lead the way and humbles follow. Katie Price is a fitting goddess of our times. In our age of break and take, the Beckhams, together still after thirteen years, bless them, are oddballs or screwballs as they say in LA. UK divorce rates ( though stabilising) remain excessively high. I have just finished a series on the devastating effect of divorce on individuals for BBC Radio4 to be broadcast later this month. CHANGE HERE Then there are the recent studies showing the public is intensely relaxed about adultery, a pastime growing in popularity. Tomorrow is a day of brisk trade in romantic frivolities- kitsch, insistent candlelit dinners, overpriced bubbly. Lots of hot sex too. In his book on post-modernism Ziauddin Sardar writes: ’The sheer quantity of sex around us is unprecedented in history. We are the first generation ever to be constantly watching, listening to, thinking about, preparing for, engaging in and recovering from sex.’ Though its effects are short lived and too much is decoupled from the emotional life there can be no doubt that sex is better today for most western men and women than it was even half a century back. But with love the news is only bad.

Too many people are rubbish at it; it’s causing chronic heartache and is now just another instant choice, a shopping opportunity, an off- the-shelf or online commodity. Eva Illouz, an Israeli sociologist explores the tragedy in a new book, Why Love Hurts. Though always blamed and shamed, feminism, she finds, is not responsible for the state we are in. The causes are found in the consumerist, capitalist culture which has consumed us all. Also responsible are non-committal men who want it all- several partners, serial families, affairs, both freedom and cheap comfort. Now before chaps say it, let me. Such assertions are grossly unfair to all the constant men who love their women ardently and forever. And true that out there are also capricious women, greedy, selfish and incapable of long term tenderness and devotion. But at present their numbers are relatively small compared to the swell of self-centred males. We can all agree though, I hope, that the culture is toxic and killing off the one refuge we have to retreat from the vagaries of time and fate and to stay on in the memories of the one left behind. To lose faith in love is a seismic sign of total pessimism, and that can’t be good for the psyche or sense of security. Not everybody finds the real thing, but we used to believe in the possibility. Less and less now it seems.

That is why so many are now turning to more practical measures- IVF babies for women who have accepted a life without a partner, the huge increase in arranged dating, no different really from Asian arranged marriages, except you pay rather a lot to the matchmakers. It works for many and sometimes the unexpected happens. One friend, after years of wretched failed relationships with men, found a manfriend online, and they clicked. They’ve been together a while and something, she says, is growing: ‘It’s not like I hear bells and see rainbows or stars when he touches me. But I so look forward to him coming home. I want to hear his voice, feel him around me, in the house, in our bed. I feel cherished. But I haven’t said anything to him.’ That’s love I say. And she should tell him, though not on Valentine’s day which he detests. I hope she does and he stays.

Published in The Independent

Shades of Grey Disgusting Porn

Feminism and Porn

Erika Leonard James’ sadomasochistic Shades of Grey has become the fastest selling paperback ever. In her pics, she appears dependable and blameless, like a deputy head of a girl’s school who quite likes Marks and Spencer’s floral dresses. Looks lie. This erstwhile TV executive has cannily exploited ‘post-feminist’ confusion and sexual restiveness in a period of plenty. I bought the book to see what made it so irresistible to so many.

Most of the narrative is so corny, you cannot caricaturise it and the SM bits are grubby and foul. In sum, a green university Eng. Lit student in Seattle, a virgin ( yes, really) meets a heart-stoppingly handsome millionaire, swoons, and allows herself to be taken into his ‘red room of pain’ to be punished and enslaved for, I assume, for being a woman. I was not titillated, didn’t long to be bound and gagged and thrashed for ‘love’. I washed my hands with anti-bacterial soap, but couldn’t cleanse my mind of rising rage and desolation.

James has sheathed hard porn in a soft summer wrap, made it acceptable, sold fantasies of sexual subjugation to vacuous yummie mummies and middle-class female singletons who are clueless about is implications. Living comfortable lives, they must raise vicarious excitement reading about pain and playing at it in their bedrooms. Sales of bondage equipment have also shot up since the book came out. OK, I hear all you fans of the book, yelling at me. I have no business prying into the private lives and thoughts of people and chastising them for the sexual games they choose to play. Yes, agreed. But the phenomenal spread of this bonk-buster takes it out of that intimate space and should make us think about the social and political landscape, the victories and failures of feminism, and the dissonance between female equality achieved and equality willingly surrendered by females. What prayers is this manipulative, horrible book answering? What does it say about life for young women in our times? And the men too? Bret Easton Ellis shot to fame with his graphic novel American Psycho about a serial killer who mutilated his female victims. Feminists denounced the novel, which they said, was a ‘how to’ manual for such violators. Now, creepily, Ellis is keen on getting Shades of Grey made into a film. I have talked to men who say, with disturbing certainty, that sales of this book show what women really want. One of the most foolish assumptions of modern life is that everyone understands fantasy cannot affect, colour or distort the way we actually live and behave. It absolutely can and does.

Another SM book that has sold millions of copies is The Story of O, first published in 1954. The author was a Frenchwoman, a using the pseudonym, Pauline Reage. You can see why it took off in the period when post-war female emancipation was being pushed back and women were expected to go back into the home, rediscover the ‘pleasures’ of serving men, and suffering happily for love.

Today’s western societies couldn’t be more different. Women and girls expect to get the same chances and successes of men- not that most do, but that is the expectation. Greater sharing of domestic chores, money to pay for childcare, empathetic employers and legal parity has given us better lives than ever before in history. And yet internal traumas and guilt, low self esteem and inchoate fears still deny females real confidence and ease. Highfliers often have no luck with men. Others have babies, flee the workplace and turn into wifies, because it is so damned hard doing it all. Even more alarmingly evidence is emerging of young women, including teens, putting up with physical and mental violence from their boyfriends and the popular US TV series Girls (soon to come here, for sure) runs storylines which normalise the idea that some boyfriends get off on owning and beating their partners.

Katie Riophe, a New York academic and columnist writes intelligently about this modern female condition. She wonders why free will is such a burden for 21st century women, why in some spheres they so readily surrender to macho power. Could it be that equality is too much responsibility, or even that its imperatives can be boring? Maybe. There are, I think other, darker reasons. When young women become instinctively assertive and free of gender constrictions their liberty threatens the ‘natural’ order. So they have to be reminded of their place, taught that they can never be good enough and must re-learn submission. I have been shocked recently to discover how regularly female university students have their drinks spiked so they can then be raped. Sex is freely available but what these men want is humiliation and savage domination. Shades of Grey reinforces those sexual dynamics, and gives the message that even educated women can only be fulfilled if entrapped and tortured by rich and powerful men, that abused victims ask for it and love their abusers. Will all the mumsy fans of the book want their daughters to learn that? I’ve thrown my copy on to the pile of other trash in the garden. To be burnt. The last time I burnt anything in protest was my black lace bra, back in the seventies. What hopes we had then.

Published in The Independent

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