Monday, 31 January 2011

Egypt - The world is watching

A sense of the spirit – and the danger - of the Egyptian revolution could be found in Robert Fisk’s report in the Independent yesterday.

On the one hand, the people are embracing the army:

When a long line of troops assembled across the road, a very old, hunch-backed man sought and gained permission to approach them. I followed him as he embraced the lieutenant and kissed him on both cheeks and said: "You are our sons. We are your people." And then he walked down the row of troops and kissed each one and embraced each one and told each one that he was his son. You need a heart of stone not to be moved by such scenes and yesterday was replete with them.

On the other hand, no-one knows what is taking place behind the scenes, or what the escalation of the military presence on the streets really means:

The old lady in the red scarf was standing inches from the front of an American-made M1 Abrams tank of the Egyptian Third Army, right on the edge of Tahrir Square. Its soldiers were paratroops, some in red berets, others in helmets, gun barrels pointed across the square, heavy machine guns mounted on the turrets. "If they fire on the Egyptian people, Mubarak is finished," she said. "And if they don't fire on the Egyptian people, Mubarak is finished." Of such wisdom are Egyptians now possessed”

It is clear, though, that only the fall of Mubarak and his regime can now satisfy the Egyptian people. Calls have gone out for a general strike and for a million-strong march in Cairo tomorrow. The world is watching. And the world will need to act if there is any attempt to drown this uprising in blood.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Solidarity with the Egyptian people

For six days, the people of Egypt have stood firm against the Mubarak regime in a remarkable, moving and inspiring display of courage and determination.

The situation remains very tense and the outcome is not certain. We should do what we can to demonstrate our solidarity with their struggle.

Vigil in Solidarity with the Egyptian People

Thursday 3 February
6pm onwards
Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham

Supported by Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Stop the War Coalition.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

US hypocrisy on Egypt

President Obama last night called for 'concrete steps' to advance democratic rights in Egypt. Here is one concrete step he could make. He could cut the American aid that is propping up the rotting Mubarak dictatorship the Egyptian people are so heroically striving to rid themselves of.

If Obama were to do so, Mubarak would be running for his plane with the same speed that the Tunisian dictator Ben Ali ran for his.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Birmingham Uni penalises protestors

The University of Birmingham is threatening student protestors with disciplinary action for taking part in a peaceful occupation against education cuts and fee rises. For standing up for the future of free education, these students could face expulsion from the university.They deserve our support, and a petition has been launched to defend them.

You can find the petition here.

And, for more detail and up to date news, click here.

Save the CAB

Birmingham City Council has removed £600,000 funding from the Citizens Advice Bureau. The result will be the closure, on February 11th, of its walk-in advice centres in the city. For more than 70 years, the CAB has had offices in Birmingham, providing free and independent advice to people who need it. The service is used by more than 50,000 people every year, and is needed even more in these difficult economic times. Yet again all the talk of a ‘big society’ from the Tories and Lib Dems turns out to be so much hot air.

You can find out more about the campaign to save the CAB at this Facebook page.

And there is an online petition here.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Taking hope from horror

I have just finished reading Victor Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning'. It is a remarkable book, written by a remarkable man, which has sold over 9 million copies since its publication in 1946.

Victor was a survivor of the Nazi death camps. His family wife, father and mother  were murdered there. They were imprisoned, and ultimately killed, for no reason other than being Jewish.

The horrors of Victor's experience, and those of other Holocaust victims, are difficult to read. But even more remarkable than his suffering, was Victor's reaction to it.

Only authentic leaders can deliver a Middle East peace

'It's a tragedy for the Palestinian people that at a time when their cause is the focus of greater global popular support than ever in their history, their own political movements to win their rights are in such debilitating disarray.'

Excellent article from Seumas Milne in light of revelations about the capitulation of the PLO.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Fighting back against cuts to youth services

Young people were out in force at the Sparkbrook ward committee last night. They were there because the City Council is planning to destroy services to young people. Cuts of up to 70% are planned. Yes, you read it right, around 70% of youth services are set to go.

The consequences will be horrendous for Sparkbrook, which has one of the youngest populations in the city. It is not only that these services provide an outlet for young people to mix with their peers and enjoy themselves; it is not just that they keep them out of trouble; they also play an important role in helping our youth realise their potential and raise their aspirations.

With youth unemployment hitting record levels, and the withdrawal of EMA penalising the poorest for continuing with their education, young people need all the help they can get. Instead they face callous indifference from our Tory and Lib Dem council leaders.

While council leaders want to slash budgets in the most deprived areas, they are splashing the cash in the richest areas. At a time when Sparkbrook faces the loss of up to 70% of its £250,000 youth services budget, it is simply obscene for the city council to spend £700,000 for scaffolding on Harborne clock tower. The fact that this is in the ward of Tory council leader Mike Whitby was not lost on the meeting.

The good news is that our young people are determined to fight tooth and nail to stop their youth services being axed. And I will be with them 100% in that fight.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Sparkbrook ward committee tonight

I will be attending the Spakrbroook ward committee meeting tonight. Among the items on the agenda are  the expansion at Anderton Park School and youth services provision.

The meeting starts at 6.30pm and will be held at Balsall Heath Church Centre, 100 Mary Street, Balsall Heath, B12 9JU. It is open to the public. Come along and have your say.

Solidarity with the Tunisian people

The unfolding revolution in Tunisia is inspiring people everywhere. It is not difficult to understand why. Hisham Matar expresses the great hope events in Tunisian hold for the entire region:

"seeing the Tunisian crowds was one of the most glorious things I have seen in all of my 40 years. From before I was born, we Arabs have been caught between two forces that, seemingly, cannot be defeated: our ruthless dictators, who oppress and humiliate us, and the cynical western powers, who would rather see us ruled by criminals loyal to them than have democratically elected leaders accountable to us. We have been sliding towards the dark conclusion that we will forever remain trapped between these two beasts. The men and women of Tunisia took us back from the brink of that precipice."

And it is not just in the Arab world people are being inspired. To show their solidarity my friends at Philosophy Football have combined politics and fashion in their typically stylish manner. Their new t-shirt carries the Tunisian flag beautiful emblazoned with a quote from Abul-Qasim Al-Shabi which translates as: “If, one day, a people desires to live, then fate will answer their call” . The sleeveprint reads: “ Protest, Disobedience, Solidarity Tunisia 2011".

Buy it, wear it, and show your solidarity with the Jasmine revolution!

Monday, 24 January 2011

The 'Big Lie' behind the 'Big Society'

Government plans for the ‘Big Society’ is provoking fierce criticism, not least from within the Christian community. A number of Christian social justice activists from the Common Wealth Network have come together to write a powerful critique of the 'market driven idolatry' behind the ‘Big Lie'. You can read it here.

Thanks to Ray Gaston for bringing to my attention.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Reclaiming a radical faith

At around 2.30pm today I have been invited to address a conference entitled 'RECLAIMING A RADICAL FAITH FOR THE 21st CENTURY: AN EXPLORATION TOGETHER', organised by the West Midland and Birmingham Branch of the Progressive Christianity Network (PCN-Britain).

The event starts at 2pm and the venue is Ladywood ARC, St. John’s and St. Peter’s Church, Darnley Road, Ladywood, Birmingham B16 8TF. No 80 bus direct from New Street and Moor St railway stations.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Thursday, 20 January 2011

George and Blair's spin doctor face off

George Galloway is appearing on the BBC's Question Time tonight and is set to clash head-on with another of the guests, Tony Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell.

The programme, on BBC1 at 10.35pm, comes on the eve of Blair's second appearance before the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war. It will pit against each other one person whose deceit helped paved the way for war and one whose grave warnings about its consequences have been sadly vindicated. Not to be missed.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A victory for equal rights

Imagine turning up to a hotel with your partner, only to be turned away because the hotel decides they don’t like the look of you. This sort of thing used to be common. Landlords could get away with displaying signs that said “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”. Places of entertainment could employ doorman to turn away the ‘wrong sort’.

This soul-destroying experience of discrimination and bigotry is one that black, Irish and Muslim communities have known only too well in recent decades. And, behind the scenes, this sort of discrimination goes on today. If your face doesn’t fit, then you may still find that there is ‘no room at the inn’.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Save Our Youth Services e-petition

The youth service budget is set to be slashed, which will have a disastrous effect on youth work throughout the city. You can sign the e-petition opposing the cuts here.

Hall Green Constituency Ctte tonight

Among the items on the agenda is a report on our (closed and under threat) swimming pools. The meeting is open to the public and takes place at Clifton Primary School, St Paul's Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham B12 8LY. More details here.

Monday, 17 January 2011

'Bin Laden and Ben Ali. Tunisia says no thank you!'

A big thanks to Naima Bouteldja for her report and photos of the  Tunisian solidarity demo held in Paris on Saturday.

"About 10000 people marched through the streets of Paris in a show of support for the "Jasmine Revolution" yesterday.

Demonstrators, in their great majority French of Tunisian and Arab descent, assembled at Place de la République, customising the statue of Marianne with Tunisian flags.

Makeshift signs and slogans outnumbered the official flags and placards of the various political groupings the most popular being “Ben Ali Assassin” and "Ben Ali, clear off". One slogan also read “Bin Laden and Ben Ali. Tunisia says no thank you!”

Alongside the Tunisian national anthem, songs of independence and religious recitations filled the air. The atmosphere was of great celebration and joy.

Among the demonstrators were families and people of all ages glad to see the back of Ben Ali. Not only was this a day of rejoicing among many of the Tunisian diaspora, estimated at around 600,000 living in France, but also an opportunity for many in the rest of the North African communities to show their solidarity hoping that the spark in Tunisia catches alight particularly in Algeria and Egypt.

Nobody knows what will happen next. One Tunisian political dissident told me: "we can expect the best as the worst" but for the time being and after all those years of political disillusions and defeats let's just all enjoy the moment."

Saturday, 15 January 2011

People's power in Tunisia

Great news from Tunisia! Popular protest has forced the corrupt President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country. Good riddance!

The uprising of the Tunisian people was sparked by increases in the costs of cooking oil and sugar but underneath it is a desire for economic justice, civil liberties and democracy.

The intifada in Tunisia will be scaring the living daylights out of corrupt rulers across the Arab world. They are right to be afraid. For far too long the Arab peoples have had to endure the humiliation of being ruled by corrupt, dictatorial, Western-backed stooges. My hope is that the Tunisian intifada will be the spark for a broader revolt that will give to the Arab peoples the justice for which they so desperately yearn.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Egypt's Muslims and Christians unite

Reports of the recent suicide attack on Egyptian Christians attending a church service in Alexandria made for depressing reading. There are fears that the attack signals a growth in religious sectarianism.

I was really heartened therefore to read about the inspiring acts of solidarity Egyptian Muslims have shown towards their Christian brothers and sisters in the aftermath of the New Year's Day bombing.

Juan Cole reports that:

"Thousands of Muslims honored a promise made by their leaders and showed up at Christmas Mass or at candlelight vigils outside Egyptian churches offering their bodies as human shields against any acts of terrorists…

Father Marqus, the Bishop of Alexandria, said that in his entire life he had never seen the degree of solidarity of Muslims with Coptic Christians that he has witnessed in recent days. He said that Muslims attending the funeral of the Christian victims of the New Year’s Day bombing had treated them like Muslim martyrs, pronouncing ‘God is Great!’ in mourning, and had erupted in applause at the condemnation of the terrorists."

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A new wave of student protests in 2011

It is great to see that students are getting ready for a new wave of protest in 2011. The Tories and Lib Dems rushed through a vote in parliament on tuition fees in the hope that everyone would just meekly accept the damage they have done. Instead they have inspired a movement that is determined to fight for education.

A major national demonstration has now been called for 29 January, with the support of several trades unions and a range of student campaigns.I was shocked to read that the National Union of Students have voted against supporting this demonstration. Surely the role of NUS is to throw everything it can into reversing this disastrous attack on education? If not, what is the point of a student’s union?

Mary Roberston, who was part of the occupation at the School of Oriental and African Studies, explains why a campaign is underway to get rid of the NUS President, Aaron Porter. You can read her piece on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Council to blame for rubbish pile-up

The City Council meets today amidst mounting piles of rubbish. And there will be more strikes by refuse workers later this week. Unfortunately I won’t be at the council meeting as I have to attend the funeral of a close family friend. But if I had been there, I would have pointed out that it is the responsibility of the Tories and Lib Dems who rule this city to solve this dispute. Instead they seem to be doing everything possible to make the situation worse.

The people who collect our refuse face a £4,000 a year pay cut. Like everyone else they have mortgages to pay, and families to feed. It is hardly surprising that they are angry.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Imran Khan warns of danger to Pakistan

In today’s Observer, Imran Khan expresses his deep fears for the future of Pakistan. He says:

“The assassination of Salmaan Taseer has shown only too clearly the growing extremism in Pakistan, the radicalisation of its society and the polarisation that is taking hold. This is not just between the religious and the secular, but also the polarisation that the "war on terror" has caused between the various religious sects.”

The thrust of his article, however, is a powerful appeal for an end to the war in Afghanistan:

“There is no military solution in Afghanistan, only dialogue, so the supreme irony is that in siding with the Americans all we have done is send the levels of violence up in Pakistan. The ‘war on terror’ has weakened the state and then, thanks to the George Bush-sponsored National Reconciliation Ordinance in 2007, which allowed an amnesty for all the biggest political crooks, we now have the most corrupt government in our history. The "war on terror" is destroying Pakistan...There is incredible anti-American sentiment here, and the drone attacks only fuel that hatred. We need a change of strategy, otherwise the worst-case scenario will be achieved here; an unstable nuclear state.”

He is not the only one to have warned, time and time again, of the dangers that the ‘war on terror’ will turn Pakistan into a battlefield. These warnings have to be heeded before it is too late.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Another thing they don't tell you about capitalism

Last month I reviewed Ha-Joon Chang’s book ‘23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism’. I know it sounds dry but, trust me, it’s not. It is a fascinating read, and I’ve been returning to it over the past few weeks.

In the book he tackles many myths about the global economy, one of which concerns the roots of under-development in Africa. There is a body of work which reduces poverty and economic stagnation in Africa to poor climate, lousy geography, ethnic division and the 'curse' of abundant natural resources which supposedly makes Africa's people 'lazy, corrupt and conflict prone'. It is the kind of ‘common-sense’ prejudice that Chang is able to powerfully dismiss.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Short tales

My friend Naima Bouteldja and her colleagues at Red Rag Productions are in the process of making a documentary about the lives of four women in England, France, Germany and Belgium.

Their film, Short Tales of the Hijab, is, in the words of the producers, an attempt “ bridge the yawning chasm between the perceptions of Muslim women shrouded in media and political scare stories and the multiple and dynamic identities of Muslim women living in modern European societies... we have filmed the lives of these women through their work, activities and personal stories - their struggles portrayed as living testimonies against the stereotypical roles assigned to Muslim women in popular culture and politics.”

She sent me a link to the trailer, and it looks great! Check it out.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Students debate fees fight

The fight against education cuts is opening up heated debate inside the National Union of Students.

Student activists from the Free Education Campaign are deeply critical of the role being played by NUS National President, Aaron Porter.

You can read their case here.

Photo: Fiona Edwards, from the Free Education Campaign.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A sad day for Pakistan

The shocking murder of Salmaan Taseer is a sad day for Pakistan.

He was killed because of his outspoken defence of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who is facing the death sentence under the country's infamous blasphemy laws.

These laws are often used to as a means to persecute religious minorities and restrict freedom of speech.

It is right they should be revoked or revised and Salmaan Taseer was brave and principled to campaign against them.

His murder further highlights the worrying growth of religious extremism in Pakistan. His death is a blow to all those who wish to see a Pakistan which respects freedom of expression.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

There is an alternative to the VAT rise

VAT hammers the poor hardest, because they spend almost all their meagre incomes, whereas the rich save a big chunk of theirs…Instead of raising VAT and national insurance this year, the government could introduce taxes on carbon and financial transactions next year. And it should levy a tax on land values. Since all the land in Britain is worth some £5 trillion, an annual levy of 1% could raise £50bn a year – without depressing economic activity, because land is in fixed supply: central London can't be spirited away to a tax haven. As well as preventing property bubbles (and busts), a land tax would be fair. A mere 160,000 people (mostly hereditary landowners) own more than two-thirds of Britain – and the value of that land increases not through their own striving, but through that of others. Surely it would be better to tax this windfall gain than the hard work and enterprise of those who generate it?
Excellent article from Phillippe Legrain in today's Guardian. You can read it in full here.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Interview on the cuts

I was interviewed recently for the website Birmingham Budget Cuts about the impact of the cuts, and what we can do to resist them. The interview runs for over thirty minutes and is in three segments. You can listen to it herehere and here.