joeldurston

Posts Tagged ‘Freedom of Expression’

Why Should Pleasures Be ‘Guilty’?

In Culture, Opinion on August 19, 2012 at 1:38 AM

I like Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Adele, Harry Potter, Jason Statham movies, R & B music and The Sun (or many examples of their work at least). The typical thing is to qualify declaration such typical yardsticks of ‘bad taste’ with an ‘…and proud!’ (‘I am a Potterer…and proud!) or by describing them as guilty pleasures. I don’t – because why should I feel guilty about any of my tastes if they bring me enjoyment and don’t hurt anyone else?! I’m neither particularly proud nor guilty of reading Harry Potter. It’s just something I like, or at least liked (and in the relationship of creator and consumer, I think it’s fair to say most of the effort was JK Rowling’s). Of course, ‘guilty pleasure’ is just a harmless little phrase, and I recognise I’m reading a lot into this, arguably too much, but the phrase does raise some interesting issues about our appreciation and consumption of art (in the broader sense – music, art, film, photography, theatre etc etc.). Principally, it follows if a pleasure is ‘guilty’, there’s something or things to whom or which people should feel guilty. I don’t know; some kind of existentially depressed cultural muso like High Fidelity’s protagonist up in the sky perhaps? An omnipotent cultural entity which peers down on us disapprovingly every time he sees us reaching for a Scouting for Girls album or a Michael Bay DVD? I jest of course. I understand there’s a set of nebulous understandable binding principles for what critics (with a small ‘c’) consider ‘good art’ – invention, technical skill, wit, lyricism, emotion, intelligence, sincerity, moral/political message, resonance with the audience etc etc. Most, but by no means all, will largely agree on these. But everyone’s view of these is different, as shown by the massive disparity in people’s music tastes, even among critics working for similar media outlets. People need to remember there are a lot of (subjectively) boring arthouse films and a lot of (subjectively) shallow and annoying experimental bands. The inevitable response is: so Girls Aloud are just as good as The Rolling Stones? The Wanted as relevant as Hendrix? Well, in a way, I think yes. Pop – in the narrower, One-Direction-and-Saturdays sense – is not meant to change the world, just be something catchy to brighten the walk to work or dance to. And if does that, then to a large degree it can be called, in a kind of Aristotelian way, successful. Relativism is a philosophically tricky position in any field, not least one which arouses such strong convictions in people. But given the massive difference in tastes and the intrinsically abstract nature of art (it can’t be so easily measured by profit or yield as in business, or scores such as sport), I think a largely relativist, subjective perspective of art is the only plausible one to take. As Roy Sutherland explains in this brilliant speech, reputation and perception are vitally important, often obscuring the true worth or efficiency of things, or the fact that there is no intrinsic value: (of English upper-middle-class people “rebranding” unemployment) “having a son who’s unemployed in Manchester is really quite embarrassing, but having a son who’s unemployed in Thailand is really viewed as quite an accomplishment.” Also, with ‘guilty pleasures’, we have sort of ‘obligated pleasures’. I don’t know if this is necessarily so, but it’s certainly so. The idea, held to different degrees, that we should like certain things – Bob Dylan, world music and Mike Leigh films. Some will even say, to varying extents of sincerity, that it’s blashphemy to criticise, homage or satirise these kind of things. Well, to these – I hate Bob Dylan. Deal with it. I find his music grating, nasally and pretty much devoid of anything so apparently base as a good hook. I also don’t like him as a person, from my albeit limited personal knowledge of him. (Yes, I gather he’s a great lyricist, an acute observer of the human condition – but one can get this from literature…without the nagging voice.) This is not to suggest he shouldn’t be regarded as a legend, because he’s obviously moved and provoked millions with his music, just that I shouldn’t feel obliged to like him. The kind of appreciation and almost universal devotion may not seem a real problem. This trait of Dylan fandom (or lack of it) isn’t really a huge issue, at least on the face of it. No one’s going to really have their world’s changed for me not liking him (not least him as it seems he’s doing pretty well for himself). What is concerning, though, is when all this grand importance we imbue in art makes people close-minded, restrictive and censorious. In music, the trait often comes to fruition when a ‘shit’ artist covers a ‘better one’ (with the former often more successful, commercially at least, than the latter), and all the musos admittedly somewhat in jest decry ‘blashphemy’ against something so ‘sancrosanct’. And even call for the death of the ‘offending artist’, as Mark Ronson found, with numerous death threats from sanctimonious and no doubt crying-because-they-stepped-on-a-slug Smiths fans for having the supposed temerity to, god forbid, produce a cover of one of their songs (which were never real threats and, to his credit, he took in good humour, but it doesn’t change the mindset of these morons). Harmless, you may think, but the same trait of oppressive censorship for critique of art has led to the actual deaths of millions, even in our modern, supposedly advanced world. Salman Rushdie was subject to a fatwa calling for his death merely for writing a novel (and a rather good one according to the Booker Prize), and riots all over the Islamic world caused around 100 deaths on the basis of a fucking cartoon. (Of course, there are similar cases across many belief systems – including a similarly-themed case last week of New York rabbis branding “evil” plans to make them get parental consent for sucking a baby’s bleeding cock – and there are arguably relevant, complex geo-political issues at play, but the most egregious examples do seem to surround Islam). Just last week, a Christian girl of just 14 with Down’s Syndrome has made UK news for being arrested for burning a Koran. Would people get so up in arms if the book had been Harry Potter? I daresay they wouldn’t. Superficially, a ridiculous analogy, yes – but hear me out if you will. All holy books definitively are is art – literature which moves people to great things, awful things; criticism, indifference. But ultimately just art, as evidenced by the fact millions, if not billions, do not consider the truths contained within literal (and increasingly so). Some people choose to think it’s divinely inspired (and it may be), but that’s their interpretation, not brute fact like 2+2=4. In principle, one could just as easily consider the described world and characters in the Harry Potter books to be true, and then take offence and call for restriction of (unharming) freedoms when others ‘disrespect’ their sincerely held view. So, people have no logical reason not to criticise the Bible, Torah or Quran – unless you somehow think, you shouldn’t also critique Harry Potter for the same reason. (There can be a lot of fear of criticising religion for fear of being branded ‘racist’, but this is illogical. To discriminate on the basis of what colour skin one has is nonsensical because they have no choice in the matter and it doesn’t necessarily make them anything, but criticising actions or beliefs is fine as these are chosen so should be stood by.) But wouldn’t it be preferable to engage in the debate? Consider if the actions or words really are so ‘immoral’ or ‘untrue’. And then if it is, spread that message; and if it’s not, have the humility to admit faults and change actions or taste accordingly. Not indulge in this culture of identifying onself vicariously through people in the media, most evident in a load of humourless whingers complaining about new BBC sitcom, Citizen Khan, the Muslim (or ‘Muslim’) protagonists of which have the nerve to (shock horror!) not to read the Quran and to laugh at themselves. To not be offended is not a democratic right, far from it. It’s only a right, in this respect,  not to be physically harmed. The trait is even more nonsensical when applied to real people, such as in the uproar at Rihanna (seemingly) choosing to take Chris Brown back after his domestic abuse. For one, the moral issues are debatable; she wasn’t exactly the person who did the Bad Thing in the first place, and for all we know they could find each other genuinely repentant and forgiving (respectively). If that ‘s the case what’s wrong with that?! But that’s not the point. The point is that it’s a personal, moral (i.e. not legal) choice. She has no fucking duty to do what you want her to do, because she’s a musician, not a member of the clergy, nor a social worker. She makes music – if people like it, they support her and she continues; if they don’t, they don’t and she doesn’t. Simple. Besides, Rock ‘n’ Roll history is filled with many who have actually perpetrated crimes and/or ‘immorality’ and been venerated despite, or probably because, of it. And, I don’t know if you’ve watched any of her videos, but Rihanna hardly markets herself as a paragon of (traditionally held) virtue, to be held up as a moral examplar. We can only be ourselves so let’s just live our own lives, and let others get one with theirs if it doesn’t do us any actual harm, by just changing the channel instead of imposing our own cultural tastes on others to the point of character assassination of strangers, death threats or calls to essentially shut up. Surely, they’re things to feel more guilty about than listening to the odd Katy Perry song?! Joel Durston

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An Inconvenient Necessity?

In Opinion on August 13, 2011 at 12:52 PM

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you will be aware of the riots and their aftermath and the way they have been largely conducted over social media, for good and for ill.

I have already explained in a previous article, my idea that short, snappy soundbites that abound on social media sites largely foster a polarisation of public opinion (probably unintentionally). The good in the case of the riots is the proliferation of movements such as Riot Cleanup, Operation Cup Of Tea, Something Nice for Ashraf and Youth Against Violence, which aim to clear up the physical and metaphorical rubble. Alas, as much as these groups deserve more publicity than the bad, they are not nearly as controversial and in need of discussion.

The difficulty is what, if anything, to do about the fact that much of the criminal rioting was organised via social networks. Many rioters instantly (and selectively) communicated to friends the timings and whereabouts of the commotion, thus playing a large part in turning what was initially a small, localised demonstration into widespread civil disorder. In this manner, it is very similar to the Arab Spring, which spread exponentially with the help of social media after an equally particular catalyst (Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, in reaction to the confiscation of his goods and harassment and humiliation at the hands of officials).

While admitting social media can be used for ‘good’, Cameron asserted it can also be used for ‘ill’, such as the London riots which had been “organised via social media”. He also claimed and that the government was “working with the police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality”. To this end, Cameron and his cabinet have communicated with social media companies such as RIM (the company that produces Blackberrys), Facebook and Twitter regarding the possibility of shutting down networks in emergency circumstances. All the above responded co-operatively, expressing a willingness to at least discuss the matter. While nothing to this end has been implemented so far (and looks unlikely to in the immediate future given the dissipation of the current riots), the idea is a very real possibility for the future. This is given the companies’ express willingness to co-operate and statements from the Prime Minister, such as: ‘When people are using social media for violence, we need to stop them’. In a similar vein, the government may grant police greater freedom to remove scarves or hoods (so people may be identified by CCTV) and to stop and search.

This topical idea is very contentious because it is so intrinsically linked to the ever-controversial topic of civil liberties. Such curbing, even ‘denial’, of freedom of expression is always met with suspicion and condemnation in many quarters, and this situation is no different. The Open Rights Group – an organisation which aims to raise awareness of digital rights and civil liberties issues – has attacked the idea. Executive director Jim Killock claimed: “Clearly, a service will be used by people for legitimate activities, some of which will mitigate or deal with the problem encountered. In any case, innocent people should not be punished for the actions of others”. He furthered to declare the measures would be abused and generally “seized upon by oppressive governments to justify their own actions”. My posing of the issue on the aforementioned Youth Against Violence Facebook page was also met with disapproval, even vitriol: ‘helllll no’, ‘foolish’ etc.

...to liberate?

...to liberate?

So, on the surface at least, it seems like a somewhat scarily authoritarian idea. I, and I daresay nearly everyone else, is in general agreement with the right to freely express oneself, whether on social media, in person, on the phone or whatever. Indeed, this is a right is enshrined in the cornerstone of utopian governance – The UN Declaration of Human Rights: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’. This is all gravy, until it is seen to conflict with other freedoms set forth in the declaration, as it often is in the argument about what views on race/cultural heritage it is acceptable to air. An infamous case of this is the debate over whether BNP leader Nick Griffin should have been allowed to speak on Question Time (he eventually was). Some asserted that he was a legitimate party member with the freedom of expression to air his views. Others claimed that his ‘racist’ views would unduly infringe upon others’ freedoms – variously, rights to freedom of movement, equality, even ‘life, liberty and security of person’ through the supposed increased racial hatred/violence. The latter freedom is probably the most conflicting in the case of the riots.

Look beyond the admitted slippery slope to nightmarish visions of Orwellian societies, though, and Cameron certainly has a point. By nearly all accounts, the riots were largely organised by social media, and with a consequent alacrity and spontaneity that made them very, very hard to effectively police. Moreover, social media companies are suggesting that such widespread censorship is at least technically feasible. Essentially, if we ignore all undeniably sensible considerations of ethics/principles and ‘slippery slopes’ for just a second, the idea is practical and would in all likelihood be effective at quelling violence.

Furthermore, the argument can be cunningly flipped around; since these companies are private, their owners arguably have the freedom to choose when to temporarily shut them down, as they occasionally do for maintenance. I’m sure that’d be in the small print somewhere. Despite this idea, I’d still tend towards the theory that these measures would in principle represent an ‘infringement of civil liberties’ (‘opinions without interference… through any media and regardless of frontiers’ etc.). Nonetheless, I still support these measures….

...or, to censor?

...or, to censor?

Very few would argue these ideas are ideal, but we quite fucking obviously don’t live in an ideal society (nor world). We live in Britain; not Utopia, and a fractured Britain at that. In this undoubtedly volatile social context (the reasons for this are a different argument altogether), I’m not sure we can afford the privilege of absolute freedom of expression. The cycle works both ways, but I do think we need to show responsibilities to gain rights. Frankly, some have not shown responsibility by thieving plasma TVs, burning buildings and throwing bricks. The fact is a minority – a significant one, but a minority nonetheless – have committed acts considered by the majority (including myself) to be reprehensible and exacted upon innocent people. Surely, given this, the greater good is to do our upmost as a society to protect and help decent people and livelihoods such as the late Haroon Jahan and the burned Reeves Furniture Shop of Croydon. If the result for this is having to not Tweet or write typically pithy status updates for a few hours, then, personally, so fucking be it.

Similarly, I view increasingly stringent security and CRB checks as necessary; annoying, but necessary. Being what most would class as a ‘white middle class’ Brit, it is hard to realistically put myself in the position of ethnic minorities being consistently stopped and searched. Alike above, though, I would like to think I would have the sense of perspective to see the police officers were merely stopping me being, to their largely unknowing eyes, statistically more likely to be carrying a dangerous weapon than a white person from Chelsea – to make a crass, but largely accurate, generalisation. This can of course be a vicious cycle, and just one of a very complex web of cause and effects of deprivation, but this is not the debate I’m focusing on here.

I sense many people attacking this idea are usually the same left-leaning people that, whilst generally ruing the riots, rightly or wrongly call for lighter punishment for rioters in favour of forgiveness, empathy and societal change (education, bridging the economic divide, re-integration etc.). I regard this view as slightly over-optimistic and unrealistic, but I do think it is an admirable view to hold (indeed, I would generally regard myself as a liberal ‘Guardian reader’, but in light of recent events I’m coming to gradually regard these views and values as somewhat merely hypothetical). Given this, I see an irony in these undeniably innocent people not willing to pitch in by being inconvenienced in their cyber activities for an hour or two. Maybe it’s the fact that Cameron and the ‘bloody’ Tories are proposing them….

Another objection is the supposedly Big Brother-esque implications of it, for which one only has to look to China for support. I, though, have the faith in the politicians and the parliamentary structure for censorship to be only used when some serious, bad shit is going down. This is fully compatible with my support of the popular view that in a democracy one has to be prepared to be ‘offended’, but not physically ‘harmed’. The other argument advanced in this camp is that the government would have to be sinisterly monitoring social media at all times to see when trouble’s a’brewing. They wouldn’t really, however, because they could be alerted to this by the companies themselves, who all cast a somewhat shadowy yet omniscient eye over the blogospheres. How else do you think those Facebook ads are targeted with such unerring accuracy?!

A wise man once said, “you can have peace. Or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once.” I’m not sure this always true, but I think it has a lot of pertinence for this discussion. If in this case, it is the feasible and moral choice I’d incline to say it was, I would most definitely go for peace. ‘Hypothetical simplification’ it may well be, yet I would be perfectly happy to sacrifice for a night virtual organisation of some party, or proffering my two cents worth on things, if there was any realistic chance of stopping some dickhead assaulting just one unwitting bystander or destroying just one innocent person’s business. Wouldn’t you?

Joel Durston

I got a right to be wrong…sartorially, at least.

In Opinion on May 12, 2011 at 3:51 PM

Again the inspiration for my writing, browsing Facebook, I saw a friend post a link to an article on BBC News. (I like to pretend that my rather zealous eye on Facebook is concerned with keeping abreast of current affairs. In reality, it is as much if not more to do with pure nosiness more becoming of the stereotypical teenage girl). Anyway, the story was entitled ‘France issues first fine for woman in Islamic veil’. And, no, this is not a story about Lady Gaga, or one of her legion (I presume) of lookalikes, being fined for going one up on even herself by dressing entirely in one particular meat, namely ‘veal’ permitted by Halal food laws.

No, it is the news that at a shopping centre recently, French police issued their first ever penalty for a woman wearing hijab, in line with the law dictating that they should do so introduced on the same day (04/04/11). N.B. Unless otherwise stated, I talk of ‘hijab’ as the state of conservative dress, rather than the particular noun for the headscarf for which it is also often used, but for which I will use ‘niqab’. The 27-year-old woman in question was issued with a ticket which required her to register for citizenship classes within a month or face a fine of 150 Euros (about £133). The reasoning behind this new law which prohibits the wearing of face coverings of all sorts (except in exceptional circumstances such as motorcycle helmets) is that the ‘face-covering veil undermines the basic standards required for living in a shared society and also relegates its wearers to an inferior status incompatible with French notions of equality’. And the little man himself (Sarkozy) pulled no punches in declaring his reasoning for the ban: “we cannot have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting cut off from all social life, deprived of identity. That is not the idea that the French public has of women’s dignity.”

First things first, I do not see the need for dressing in hijab. I understand there are powerful arguments for its use, at least in the wearer’s opinion, such as the empowerment it offers in being judged on merits other than ‘mere hotness’, the powerful outward expression of profoundly held faith and the security felt in avoiding potentially lecherous gazes. However, I just do not think these arguments necessitate its usage in a largely civilized, lawful and, I would argue, moral (or at least ‘not entirely amoral’) 21st century world.

The Qur’an certainly does call for modesty in dress (interestingly though, not the niqab or the burka specifically) and no doubt one is going to take notice of this if one believes The Qur’an to be the word of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, universe-creating deity, Allah. However, the Qur’an was written in a very, very different context to the 21st century World, especially the Western one, chronologically and culturally. A patriarchal time in which polygamy (with the males, in a very Sheen-esque way, winning) was not just accepted but, by most accounts, actively encouraged by both sexes. Also, we hadn’t got to where we are now with science to have discovered contraception, both the ‘unnatural’ and ‘natural’ types. In such a context, it is easy to see the need for women to ‘cover up their beauty’ to all but their husbands so that, to put it bluntly, the other males don’t get any salacious ideas. Lest they be getting knocked up every other time they have intercourse when not pregnant and just to rub salt in the wound, are condemned to spend the eternal afterlife in misery for doing so, all whilst their husband is off gallivanting with other wives. Alas, I generalise…a little.

In our current society (as much of the rest of the developed world), we thankfully have legislation which affords women equal if not greater rights in the fields of marriage, childcare and divorce and a competent judiciary system which enforces this effectively, bar the odd feminist’s shouting. Also, thankfully we have contraception which allows man and woman to go around bonking to their hearts’ content unburdened (about 98% of the time) by fear of the potential repercussions. And I for one see absolutely nothing wrong with this. This applies to men and women. In the end, my opinion of being a ‘free spirit’ will generally be ‘fair play to him/her’ or ‘whatever floats your boat’. Admittedly, this is not true of all and I think it’s fair to say that gender stereotypes are still are not quite concurrent with the equality of the laws themselves (slags versus lads), but considerable progress has been made in the last two centuries.

There is some logical reasoning behind this. If I had to describe my perception of my moral compass in a sentence if would probably be: ‘utilitarianism’ cooked with a sprinkling of ‘relativism’, ideally avoiding traces of ‘offence’, but definitely those of ‘physical harm’ (as a Philosophy and R.S. graduate I have pondered these positions pretentiously, hence the isms). There are few, if any, pleasures greater than sex, so it definitely hits the utilitarian’s bill. Furthermore, with consenting adults, it definitely avoids physical harm and, almost exclusively, avoids offence too. It seems in Britain we have a semi-embarrassed attitude towards sex, possibly as a hangover from our waning Christian roots. As a largely secular society, there’s absolute no reason to consider sex a slightly ‘lower’ pleasure and thus taboo subject. The Ancient Greeks – by all accounts a dynamic, progressive, enlightenment society – had the right idea; apparently, they loved that shit… free love, bi-sexuality and everything.

And I also think if there does happen to be some transcendent fella (lass or asexual whatever) up there, would they not want humanity to use the reasoning and ‘conscience’ which they granted them to come to their own moral decisions, instead of blindly following his own? Indeed, this is a problem I have with Islam. Undoubtedly, it is a force for innumerable good in the world, but also some bad (as is true for all faiths, just think of the crusades etc.). However, what worries me is that in some branches and denominations, I get the impression using reason and asking challenging questions is actively discouraged. Indeed, one needs look no further than the name itself ‘Islam’ which roughly translates as ‘submission’ – the idea that man is infinitely inferior to Allah and thus should more or less obey and not question Him. Take, for example, one loony called Zakir Naik who absolutely believes that both 9/11 and the Theory of Evolution are mere conspiracies. Although I again acknowledge this isn’t endemic to Islam.

Obviously, I could be accused of being biased in this argument because, as you have probably guessed, I am more than a little sceptical of the existence of a deity, not least the existence of one as described by any of the three Abrahamic religions. Even if, however, we assume a deity’s existence for the purposes of this argument, I still arrive at the same viewpoint. Many religious people say contraception isn’t natural, but surely if we made it from materials he put on the Earth it is natural and he’d know that because he’s omniscient- I mean, no-one says giving ‘unnatural’ water purifiers to the third world is bad. Besides, the Euthyphro dilemma clearly shows the inherent contradiction in God’s goodness; if he made things good, then he is merely arbitrarily choosing good, yet if he chose good then he is not absolutely powerful and thus need not be obeyed. So, all in all, I think God, or at least a deity I wouldn’t mind believing in, would want us to fill our proverbial boots.

So, in our Western World I see no need for women to wear hijab as they no longer have the cultural necessity and do have the legal protection, a little bit flesh is nothing to be ashamed of, personal commitment to a religion shouldn’t necessarily need any outward manifestation to validate it and the practical reasons of sometimes being hot and/or uncomfortable.

BUT, if there’s one thing I do believe in, almost whole-heartedly, it is freedom of expression! A concept enshrined in that rightly hallowed touchstone of Western liberalism – The U.N. declaration of Human Rights: Article 17 – ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance’. Article 18 – ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’.

Of course, adherence to this idea can prove very troublesome when people use (‘abuse’?) this privilege to act in ways which conflict with other fundamental human rights such as life, liberty, security of person and equal dignity. I believe a way this can be partially resolved is by declaring that citizens of democratic societies must be prepared to be offended but not physically harmed. So, for example, I was of the opinion that Nick Griffin should have been allowed on Newsnight because he has a right to set up a political party and express his views, however ‘repugnant’, in a considered manner and, though what he said may well have offended many (rightly so, in my opinion), it did not cause any direct physical harm. If his and other such people’s opinions are thought to be ‘racist’, then it is only right in a democracy that this idea is revealed by the wider public’s reaction to such ideas (which I believe it was), not by a small group of politicians and T.V. execs acting on what they believe and what they believe the public believe.

I believe this to be true for hijab too. A piece which really ground my gears in The Telegraph (which, I hasten to add, was not bought but left on the train) was Allison Pearson saying we should ban the burka too, mostly because of the way it painted Muslim women as complete victims with no absolutely no choice in their burka-caused ‘victimhood’. In it she describes the, vicarious I may add, ‘alien(ation) and intimidat(ion) of her poor daughter leaving school and seeing the pupils of a Muslim faith school next to hers as a ‘flack of crows in the sunshine’. Well, cry me a river, Allison, and ponder the fact that the same principle that rightly allowed her to attack a whole culture is the one which allowed the women to wear hijab in the first place. One lives by the sword, one has to be prepared to pretty much proverbially die by it too; not just whine and call for censure every time one gets upset.

As explained, I no longer think there is any need for hijab, even that it can be counter-productive, and believe it is representative of the far inferior legal and societal status of women prevalent in much of Islam/the Muslim world. However, hijab-wearing does not cause any physical harm and indeed I feel, unlike Sarkozy, it is more an effect than a cause of the aforementioned patriarchy. So, we should afford those who wear it some semblance of free-thought and intelligence and not abandon one of if not the main principle upon which this country has grown. After all, if Lady Gaga has the right to dress herself in all manner of ridiculous get ups including veal, who’s to say that people shouldn’t dress themselves in veils.

Joel Durston

http://thisaffectedyouth.com/2011/04/25/%E2%80%9Ci-gotta-right-to-be-wrong%E2%80%9D-sartorially-at-least/

Freedom of Emission

In Opinion on April 12, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Browsing through my Facebook newsfeed the other day, as you do, I chanced upon a hilarious link sent by a friend to another titled: ‘Malawians outraged at the new farting bill’. I couldn’t not investigate….

It transpired that the article and news clip were about a new Local Courts Bill in the Malawi’s financial capital Blantyre, which legislated that: “Any person who vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the public, to the health of persons in general dwelling or carrying on business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.” The bill will also attempt to deal with citizens who hinder the burial of dead bodies, as well as people who pretend to be fortune tellers.

The locals were rightly outraged at the new bill. They cited both the political reasons, such as the corrupt government wrongly focusing on trivial matters like public flatulence, rather than more pressing matters, such as child immortality, violence and illiteracy. And the practical reasons, such as the difficulty in tracing the culprit. College student Matthews Phiri claimed: “We all fart in public and it will be difficult to tell who has done it. Some do it silently. In some cases it is like teargas which goes like shhhh! Our legislators need to concentrate on discussing development projects. They should not waste our time and money on childish issues. It would make sense if they talked about defecating and urinating anyhow but not farting. This will not work. We will keep on farting.” Good for you, Matthews; keep up the gassy resistance, I say! It’s enough to make one think that ‘freedom of emission’ should join ‘freedom of expression’ in that hallmark of Western moral liberalism; the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

As funny as this new motion undoubtedly is, it highlights a more serious, age-old political trend…and a rather worrying one it is too. Namely, the penchant for governments to, if you will, sweep all their problems under the carpet, masked by various perfidious ploys; in this case, perverse legislation totally unrelated to other efforts. It happens all the time at the Olympics and other such sporting tournament. The spectacular ‘Bird’s nest’ arena that admittedly played such a wonderful host to the 2008 Beijing Olympics was the product of what was in aspects a very tough construction effort, with very poor working conditions and pay, forcible reinforcement and even related deaths (The Times reported ten, whilst Reuters, in a rather suspicious-sounding  ‘association’ with the Chinese government, claimed two).

But the prime example, of course, has to be the, quite frankly, madhouse that is North Korea. To quell concerns about (especially rural) poverty and political violence, to name but a few, Junior and Senior Kim Jong-Il have created the myths that North Korea is the best country in the world, fighting off the dominant evil forces of the rest of the world; that they are fittingly godly leaders with powers similar to that of the Judaeo-Christian God. My personal favourite myth is that Junior Kim was conceived and delivered immaculately by his mother from whose ‘birthing passage he strode out magnificently, already aware of his own brilliance.

During the last World Cup there was a hilarious blogger’s mock report of North Korea’s 50-0 victory over Brazil, just google ‘North Korea beat brazil 50-0’. It describes Kim Jong-Il’s incredible performance as he scored 49 goals almost single-handedly in the first half then, just to make matters fair, subbed everyone else off, put himself in goal and invited Brazil’s all time greats to come on. Needless to say, the great Kim kept a clean sheet for 45 minutes before scoring a heaven sent 50th goal. The game had to be stopped because no-one could stop the tears of admiration stemming from everyone in the stadium. On first reading of this, I laughed…a lot. Then, after a little research, I got the impression that this article was in fact probably pretty similar to the kind of shit that North Koreans are mercilessly fed on a daily basis and thus felt rather bad for using my freedom of expression to laugh at those who are tragically without this Western world luxury. Indeed, it is suspected that the North Korean government edited the footage of their team’s efforts in the World Cup such that they were presented as the winners of the thing!

This is far from the only time football has been used as a propaganda tool. During the 1978 World Cup, dictator of Argentina Jorge Rafael Videla is believed to have threatened violence, even death, to ‘his’ players had they not won the coveted Jules Rimet trophy in their own back yard. Thankfully for the players’ sakes, they did, but only after allegations of intimidation of opposition and suspicious results and decisions, including a very doubtful 6-0 win against Peru in their final group game which edged Argentina through by virtue of goal difference (Peru were decidedly under-par and several decisions went Argentina’s way which probably shouldn’t have).

And at the previous World Cup in ‘74, the dictator of Zaire (as it was then), worried of national embarrassment and consequent unrest and upheaval, threatened the national team with execution should they concede more than ten goals.  This is the team infamous for the hilarious scenes of players continually running out of the wall prematurely to disrupt the Brazilians taking of a free-kick (do yourself a favour and Youtube it). These are scenes that caused me to mock and look down at the Zaire players as disobedient, even stupid, until I learnt of their horrific plight (this was the 70-somethingth minute and they had conceded 9 goals in the tournament), thereafter seeing them as heroic members of the political resistance, running out of that wall to hoof the ball up the pitch as if, well, because, their lives depended upon it. You will be pleased to know they survived. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a film adaptation including Denzel as the inspirational talisman, Cuba Gooding Junior as the willing debutante and Morgan Freeman; the wise, world-weary manager. The Oscars would practically be in the bag.

Anyway, back to my original point; in whatever combination of sheer ignorance, or blatant indifference, of ‘their’ citizens’ conditions, governments have done and continue to do shocking things to cover domestic problems. That’s hardly a revelatory piece of political analysis I realise, but hear me out if you will. What worries me about this is that it means that all the respective Western government’s admirable statements of intent, be they genuine or not, to increase aid to developing countries could prove ultimately pretty futile. Comic Relief and other such charities present a ‘Disney-fied’ account of the developing world, whereby it is nigh-on guaranteed that x amount of pence will pay for Mary’s education for a month and x amount of pounds will pay for Lulu to drink clean water for at least a year. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a huge amount of admiration for such charities, I try to give and think they are right to portray charity and the developing world in such a way; I’m just not entirely sure it’s a particularly accurate representation.

Obviously it is in neither the respective LEDCs governments’ nor the charities’ interests to say so, but it is always alleged (quietly) that developing countries’ governments cream off so much of the aid money in spurious taxes that that charities (or MEDCs’ governments’) efforts are rendered unproductive. The same could be said of the money for or from sporting events. Such financial aid is arguably counter-productive if the money is used to prop up corrupt officials and businessmen, whilst maintaining the image of the poor country, that just needs to be ‘helped to help itself’.

While I don’t deny this is a noble mantra for helping countless specific communities, I do wonder how easy it is to get into such communities due to government interference. For example, I remember watching a show maybe a year ago where the presenter, as far as possible, travelled across the world along the titular line. He very bravely ventured into Burma, whereupon just over the border he encountered a tiny destitute community, many of whom were in very poor health. Not only were the government and the militia doing nothing to help this community, they were actively preventing a small group of Christian health workers from getting to this community, and no doubt countless similar ones too, when the only possible agenda they had was to gently preach the message of a 2,000-year-old Jew. The presenter and cameramen soon got the hell outta there!

In many countries, I get the impression that senior politicians who want to keep hold of their leadership are in cahoots with the police or militia, who want a subordinate populace, who in turn are in league with heads of business who want to retain a huge sub-strata of society, willing to work for next to nothing. And these businessmen conspire with the politicians in the whole murky network where ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

So, in addition to rueing the injustices of imperialism (especially throughout history) and Western apathy, I feel a lot of the blame for wealth differences lies with those at the top of the hierarchy, too self-interested to see or do anything about the strife on their doorstep.  In his new book The Chosen One, Sam Bourne writes: ‘politics would always rise up and strangle hope, like a weed choking a flower’….

So as I draw to a close, and seek to unite my many digressions, for which I am sorry, I start to hope that the above is the misguided ramblings of a cynic; that the world isn’t rife with unremitting corruption and pain. Or that this state of affairs doesn’t harness its power to entrench and self-perpetuate itself. Otherwise it may well be an accurate and depressing reflection of the world’s geo-political state; as we fail to disinfect the stagnant injustice that continues well into the 21st century.

Joel Durston

http://thisaffectedyouth.com/2011/03/29/freedom-of-emission/#more-739

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12363852