Friday, February 25, 2005

Someone else thinks so too!

I found this article from today's Guardian marginally comforting - at least there's someone out there getting published whose views are not completely opposed to my own!

And for another lesson in political double standards, look at this one.

That's it for tonight - early start tomorrow!

Thursday, February 24, 2005


I've just finished watching Kenneth Glenaan's film YASMIN (starring Archie Panjabi). I cannot begin to describe what a deep impression it has made on me - it says all and more that I have felt about the way the British government have behaved since 9/11. This is the blurb from the back of the DVD case:

Yasmin is a spirited woman whose life has become a precarious balancing act as she attempts both to please her traditional Pakistani family and enjoy the freedoms of Western life. Having rebelled against her family as a teenager, Yasmin yields to the demands of her widowed father and agrees to marry a cousin 'from home'. The omens are not good when the goat-herder from a Pakistani village meets the vivacious, Westernised Yasmin.

After the shocking events of 9/11, Yasmin's life begins to change; her innate sense of confidence starts to evaporate and she becomes increasingly ostracised at work. Yasmin is only jolted out of her crisis of identity when she witnesses a brutal internment of her husband under the draconian rules of the Anti-terrorism Act. The injustice of this event forces Yasmin to re-evaluate her faith, her culture and her relationships. The scene is set for a compelling and topical personal drama of what it means to be Asian, Muslim and British in the 21st century.

Unlike so many films centred around the Asian community, the arranged marriage part does not dominate the film. Instead, it gives a moving and balanced view of life before and after 9/11 for the Muslim community in a town in the North of England. It uses several central characters to portray the different reactions to the events, and does it in the most fluid and natural way possible.

This film should be widely distributed, especially in view of the Home Secretary’s recent proposal for legislation allowing suspected terrorists to be placed under house arrest (see my comments two postings ago). It certainly provides food for thought.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

White stuff

On a lighter note, it snowed today!!!!! This is something of a novelty for me, coming from possibly the warmest part of the UK. True, Dartmoor is not far away and gets heavy snowfall throughout the winter, but no one with any sense (or a home elsewhere) would ever risk getting stuck in a blizzard/snowdrift on Dartmoor, so I'm not sure it counts. Lots of Asian students with cameras taking pictures of themselves holding snowballs carefully scraped off nearby cars. If it freezes tonight, getting down the hill to the campus for my tutorial tomorrow will be interesting.

I cooked an enormous pan of chilli con carne today, and froze it in individual portions. That's my dinner sorted out for the next 5 days, then...

I also spoke to my little brother online for the first time in ages, because he's usually out either drinking or fencing (as in swords) in the evenings, or can't get near the computer because our dad is working. He's grown up very fast in the 6 months or so since I left home - suddenly it makes sense that he's the same age as most of the first-years I have lectures with. I say little, but he's actually 6'4'' and 18 years old. And before all you Americans start spluttering, the legal age for drinking alcohol over here is 18, so he is not about to be arrested for underage drinking!

Which brings me to another point that someone may or may not be able to clear up for me - if some states don't allow alcohol consumption until 21, how do students manage? Over here, entrance to university at 18 is for many the beginning of a 3- or 4-year drinking binge... do you not have this in the US, or is it one of those things that is technically illegal but everyone does it anyway? Personally, I've been drinking small amounts of alchohol with meals since I was about 5 and I am now one of the few undergraduates who doesn't drink excessively, but I'll save that discussion for another day!

Anyway, it's 2.40am here, so time I went to bed. The question stays open to anyone willing to answer it!

Trials? Who needs them?!

Recently the law lords over here decided that detaining foreign nationals without charge or trial for an indefinite period of time was “unlawful”. HELLO!!! Since when was this news? I hesitate to even begin to describe what was wrong with the idea in the first place, but here goes anyway…

1. They are foreign nationals, and therefore out of diplomatic common sense (not to mention self-preservation) and a basic sense of courtesy, we should NOT be detaining them without the agreement of their home governments (which, one assumes, would require them to be charged so that we can explain why we want to imprison them).

2. We have a structured judicial system within a democracy that acknowledges a person’s right to a fair trial – or come to that, to any trial. As far as I am aware, the British constitution does not provide exceptions to allow for politicians wishing to side-step this procedure.

3. Politicians are not judges. Most of them are not even lawyers. Being elected does not magically invest them with infinite and objective legal knowledge.

4. Since when was it acceptable in this or any other civilised country to hold people without even telling them what they’re charged with?

Having finally got to grips with the concept that this practice may be illegal as well as immoral, our Home Secretary is now trying to persuade the House of Commons that a new law should be passed that allows suspected terrorists to be placed under house arrest – again without trial or charge. The emergency anti-terrorist laws that would allow this were put in place just after 9/11, and being emergency legislation, they are only temporary. With the expiry date fast approaching (March 14, according to the Guardian), they need to get this bill through the House of Commons in two days, hence the Home Secretary’s efforts to convince parliament in particular and the British nation in general that a terrorist attack is imminent.

Am I the only one who thinks that this of all bills should not be rushed? That such a drastic step needs careful consideration, and certainly should not be compressed into just two days of debate? That, most basic of all, any bill that cannot be passed without emergency legislation being in place needs to be thought about very very carefully? And finally, why are these ludicrous proposals even being entertained as ideas, let alone stand a chance of being passed?

What the hell is going on here?! Politicians are just that – people who are "professionally involved in politics (Oxford dictionary definition). They do not have the right to pass judgement on people, and they certainly do not have the right or the capability to bypass the assumption of innocent-until-proven-guilty that is a foundation stone for our legal system. We cannot have one system that applies to the majority of law-breakers, and another that applies to people from ethnic minority groups who (whether justifiably or not) have fallen prey to the innumerable prejudices and stereotypes held by those in power in this country. Our legal system is there to offer some measure of protection to people against these idiots who are so easily persuaded that each and every one of our approximately 1.5 million Muslims are strapping dynamite to their bodies as we speak.

And no, Guantanamo Bay is not an excuse. The more I learn about the GB camp, the more horrified I am that the international community is standing back and allowing the US to run such a facility. With no charges, no trials, and no end in sight for the majority of the detainees, Guantanamo Bay is a prison camp that I would liken, on the evidence available to me, to some of the worst atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime in Hitler’s Germany. And unlike the Mayor of London, I do not use such a comparison lightly.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Just how democratic is our democracy?

Following a class debate on the merits of the German voting system, I have started thinking more about my dissatisfaction with the way we Brits do things when it comes to choosing the people who will represent our interests on a national and international stage.

The brand of democracy that we have in Britain is by definition designed to suppress the minority. This is by no means restricted to the UK, but I don’t want to set myself up as an expert on international politics, since I often have difficulty grasping what’s going on within my own borders.

When I say that our political structures are biased against minorities, I am not simply referring to the process by which the party with the backing of the majority rules the country for the next 4 years. While coalition governments undoubtedly have their benefits, there is also the risk that with a wide range of opinions from more than one party, no one would be able to agree on anything.

My objection is that with the constituency system, I am subject to a postcode lottery when it comes to the number of choices I have. I come from a rural area, and not all parties have a candidate standing in my home constituency. I would seriously consider voting for the Green Party – but there is never a Green Party candidate. And even if there were, would there be any point? My constituency is, and always has been, a Tory stronghold, and I can be reasonably certain that my vote will make no difference to that. My voice is silenced because my neighbours feel differently – where is the democracy in that? I have voted twice, and both times felt a vague sense of frustration that mine would be, essentially, a ‘wasted’ vote.

In both elections since I reached the age when I was eligible to vote, my choices have been narrowed down to a simple process of elimination. I sincerely doubt that I will ever vote Conservative; Labour have abolished student loans, introduced tuition fees and seem to add a new crackpot policy to their list almost daily; the Independent candidates never let me know what they stand for (the first I hear of them is when I see their names on the ballot paper); so that leaves me with the Liberal Democrats, whose lack of backbone bothers me.

I feel a certain responsibility to vote, as a functioning member of British society and out of respect for the struggle that so many women took part in for me, as a woman, to be allowed to have my say. If I don’t vote, what right do I have to criticise the way the country is run? But my dilemma is this: what do I do if there is simply no one for whom I wish to vote? If none of the parties standing in my constituency have policies that I agree with or wish to condone? I cannot believe that choosing ‘the best of a bad bunch’ fulfils my responsibility to take part in the democratic process.

There are, of course, several issues to be addressed here. Perhaps my first grumble, that of wasted votes in areas that are strongholds for another party, could best be addressed by a system of proportional representation, or at least one modelled on the concept. I heartily regret that I have a very limited understanding of the way different political systems function; it is not something that was included in the curriculum in school or in sixth form college when I was there. But surely there must be a way for me to vote for a party rather than a candidate, thus removing the need for parties to waste money sponsoring candidates in individual constituencies they stand no chance of winning. The German two-vote system, while unquestionably plagued by its own problems, should provide food for thought when redesigning a system that is out of date in so many ways.

Monday, February 14, 2005

First Time

Blogging: right now a new and exciting way to avoid doing a German assignment. But in the long term, also a way to share my thoughts and opinions with a wider audience than I can glean from those of my friends patient enough to listen to my frequent 'soap-box' moments. Your advantage is that you can surf away if you get bored.

My interests are spread far beyond the boundaries of the subjects that are officially incorporated into my course at university. Often I feel the need to write down some of my thoughts, and the result is a large and varied collection of essays with no apparent purpose. It would be both comforting and encouraging to know that other people think about the same things I do, even if they don't share my opinions.

Let's start with an introduction, which will perhaps provide a context for my other postings. Or not.

I'm 22 years old. Or maybe it would be better to say I was born at the beginning of 1983, to save any readers I might get from straining with more complicated maths than absolutely necessary.

Aha! A clue... Did you pick it up? No, didn't think so. "Maths" - UK terminology, rather than you Americans' (since the bloggers on here generally seem to hail from the other side of the Atlantic) "math". I am British, and I will faithfully stick to the spelling and vocabulary of my own language. That means that when I use words like "colour" and "grey", I am not spelling them incorrectly. Equally, if I ever use the word "aluminium", the word that you mentally hear is pronounced "al-yoo-MIN-yoom". This is a sore point with many Brits, so I feel it my duty to get that sorted out right at the beginning.

Before you get the idea that I'm a raving Yankophobic, I have to point out that I will also be found grinding my teeth over my own government (whom, it must be said, I did NOT use my vote to elect) and those wonderful British character traits that drive me quietly up the wall.

This is bad. 3 paragraphs to establish that I am a 22 year old Brit. At the risk of rushing the rest of it, I was born and raised in the south west corner of England and I'm now a first year Music student at a university somewhat closer to London, but still on the coast. I'm engaged (let's call him S), and I'm a Jew-by-Choice. Interesting term, that, and I'm not quite sure yet how I feel about it. Still, it serves its purpose. If you prefer convert, that's fine.

Before you ask, I am not converting because I want to marry a Jewish man. S is Jewish, but we met at the synagogue long after I started attending regularly, and only got together much later still. I'm going through the official conversion process at the moment (Liberal - sorry to all the frumme Yidn out there!), but after 6 or 7 years I feel Jewish, so excuse me if I refer to myself as such.

But that's another blog. This one is a starting point, a foundation for something that will hopefully blossom into a kind of cathartic collection of thoughts, ramblings, quotes and other things that I feel a need to share with other people. And who knows, maybe I'll discover that there are other people out there in the blogging world who feel the same way, or who at least feel strongly enough about the same issues that we can get a discussion going. I will send my ruminations into the ether and see what, if anything, comes back to me.

I'll leave you with an interesting and thought-provoking fact (N.B. I have not personally checked this for accuracy):

There are 56 words in the Lord's Prayer, 297 in the Ten Commandments, 300 in the United States Declaration of Independence, and 26,911 in the EEC directive on the export of duck eggs.