Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Happy Christmas everyone

Great message from Searchlight:

by Sonia Gable, 24 December 2012

Whatever Christmas means for you – the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, renewing ties with extended family, enjoyment of good food in the company of others, a rest from work or campaigning, TV specials, or just a lull before the winter sales – I hope you have a good one.

I have no hesitation in wishing you a happy Christmas rather than use a religiously neutral phrase. Recently published figures from the 2011 census reveal that 59% of people in England and Wales still describe themselves as Christian, though that is down by 13 percentage points since 2001. Of the 25% who have no religion, most celebrate Christmas in some form, as do many adherents of other religions. Celebrating Christmas is not to disrespect other religions and their festivals. The hugely diverse primary school where I am a governor marks all the main festivals celebrated by the religions represented among the children: Eid, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas etc. Although Christians are a minority in the school, there was a nativity scene and Christmas tree in the reception area at the end of last term. Knowing and respecting one another’s beliefs is part of the children’s education.

I have no religion myself, but I found resonance in the words of Pope Benedict in an extract from Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narrative reproduced in The Times on 22 December. Writing about the biblical narrative of the three Magi – wise men or kings – who journeyed to see the baby Jesus, he said: “In the kingdom of Jesus Christ there are no distinctions of race and origin. In and through the black king humanity is united, yet without losing any of the richness of variety.” The British National Party purports to be Christian, constantly wheeling out its fake reverend Robert West, but with racism at its core it is diametrically opposed to the principles of Christianity. Although the BNP often claims it is opposed to immigration because Britain is overcrowded and there aren’t enough jobs or houses, or on the ridiculous grounds that sharia will somehow be imposed on an unwilling majority that includes most British Muslims, the real reason is that the party hates the rich variety of humanity now represented in our country.

That core racism was apparent in the BNP leader’s Christmas message. Seated at a table set with a huge plate, wine glass, two Christmas crackers and a pair of china angels, a glass of what looked like whisky in front of him and his back to a wood-burning stove, Griffin claimed the BNP had had a good year (well it survived) but that London was difficult electorally because there are “very few of our people left” in the capital (my emphasis). He ended with the words “our country is in peril … our freedom and our very identity are in mortal danger”.

The BNP does not currently represent an electoral threat but it has not gone away, its revival at some stage cannot be ruled out and it has the potential, with its increasing number of street protests about which Griffin waxed lyrical in his Christmas message, to cause community tension. After our Christmas and New Year break, let’s come back with renewed vigour to ensure the BNP and its rivals remain in the gutters where they belong.


Thursday, 20 December 2012

WAN December news round-up

We Are Norwich, (WAN), is buoyed with the success of its counter demonstration against the far right racists of the EDL in November, and has not been resting on its laurels.

By tweets, email, and Facebook the group has maintained contact with its many members, and has agreed to keep going as a broad coalition of many different individuals and groups.  The main goals remain, that is, to to counter bigotry and social injustice, and to act locally where bigotry or social injustice seems to be an issue.
On 7th December some WAN members supported the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) by joining a demonstration "with placards, whistles and horns" outside the offices of Atos, St Mary's House, in Norwich.  Their goal was to raise awareness of how the Work Capability Assessment system and Atos are affecting disabled people, to protest the cuts to vital services, and to demand a rethink of this policy from the government.  DPAC claims that sick and disabled citizens have actually died after Atos has declared them "fit to work" and WAN wanted to be represented with those who speak up for those least able to defend themselves here in Norwich.
On the 8th December two WAN activists, including core member David Peel and keen activist Ellen Nierop (with her daughter), spent their work lunchtime making a peaceful protest in front of tax dodging Starbucks.  

After all, Starbucks and other international tax avoiders benefit from Britain's infrastructure, such as taxpayer-provided health care for employees and taxpayer-provided decent roads upon which to move their supplies, so it seems unjust not to contribute towards these costs, doesn't it? 

Ellen wrote: 
In solidarity with UK Uncut's day of protest against Starbucks tax avoidance, I asked if anyone was around for a spontaneous protest. Despite the short notice, David Peel turned up and we held a well supported and silently peaceful demonstration.

The placards we held highlighted their multi million pound corporate tax dodge, the fact that as a dinnerlady I have paid more UK tax in the last 3 years than they have, and they have a turnover of billions but contributed nothing to the economy, and that they have compounded the austerity we are all supposed to be "in together".

We had dozens of people agree or congratulate us on what we were saying, and several who turned away from the doors and asked to be redirected to local coffee shops.

The fact there were only two of us seemed to have a big impact, a majority of the public were with us and there were hundreds of people who read the placards and learned a bit more about what has been going on. Even if they made no comment I hope it made them think about what the corporations are doing. 
David added: 
This was one of the most quietly effective protests I have attended, for these reasons: We were not a big intrusive and disruptive presence, so we didn't intimidate anyone. We silently held up our placards instead of shouting slogans at people and that in turn gave people the confidence to come and talk to us, and the vast majority supported us and were angry at Starbucks.  It also meant the police left us alone - two officers passed us and didn't give us a second glance.  Three staff spoke to us, and we made it clear we were there for them too

A good day, and my thanks to Ellen for organising this and producing great placards, and to everyone who walked past, read them, and got the message.

Ellen's sweet little daughter would not be left out and made her own placard.  The letters translate phonetically as "people have to give money to peoples school (something) is not fair to steal money".  She wrote it herself based on Ellen's explanation of what they were going to do and why.  

The campaign to highlight rich tax dodgers, however, is far from won and continues.

You can act too.  For example, here is a petition from small bookshop owners Frances and Keith Smith, squeezed by tax-dodging Amazon.  Read through their argument, and decide for yourself whether to sign or not.

Then, finally for this month, on the 12th December WAN held a "really positive organising meeting" under the leadership of Nick O'Brien and Julie Bremner with "a very respectable turnout for a freezing Wednesday night just before Christmas".  The meeting listened to comments from the floor and the group suggestions that had been sent in earlier, and some plans for next year were discussed.

Thanks were given for all those who supported WAN on the crucial demonstration against the EDL march on Norwich in November, and for the continuing support for WAN, a local activist group intent on challenging bigotry and injustice in our neighbourhood.


Some links:

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC)
UK Uncut
Starbucks Actions Nationwide gallery
WAN - We Are Norwich

Monday, 17 December 2012

Is Norwich the 'least religious' or 'most honest'?

Census shows Norwich 'least religious city' in England and Wales

From the BBC by Jon Welch:

It was once said to have a church for every week of the year, not to mention a pub for every day.

It has two cathedrals and is said to have more standing medieval churches - 32 - than any city north of the Alps.

But the 2011 Census has revealed Norwich had the highest proportion of respondents in England and Wales reporting "no religion".

The city's figure was 42.5% compared with a figure of 25.1% for England and Wales as a whole.

The question was the only voluntary one in the census and 7.2% of people chose not to answer it.

The census found the Christian population of England and Wales had fallen by four million to 33.2 million in the past decade.

In Norwich 56,268 people reported having no religion, but the census revealed a wide range of groupings within that category.

There were 169 Spiritualists, 131 atheists and 783 said they were Jedi Knights, a reference to the Star Wars films.

Sixty-five people gave their affiliation as Heavy Metal.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Right Reverend Graham James, was sceptical about the census' findings.  He said: 
Norwich is a city of churches. They are around every corner.  It's also a centre of vibrant Christianity today.

The cathedral is seeing hundreds of worshippers every day during December and will welcome thousands on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
 He said there were many other large and growing churches in Norwich of all denominations - 
So it seems doubtful that Norwich is a less religious place than anywhere else in the country.

It would not have above-average churchgoing rates if that was the case.

But it may be a place where the vibrant presence of the churches means that people have to make up their minds about faith more definitely, and that's no bad thing.


The Bishop of Norwich is right, the people of Norwich are "making up their minds".  In this free thinking and creative City there are many ways to explore important questions rather than through traditional religions. 

Maybe it is because of our history.  Norwich has a past of unedifying religious excess, from the treatment of the Jewish community in the Middle Ages when Meir ben Elijah of Norwich complained “The land exhausts us by demanding payments, and the people’s disgust is heard”,  to the Lollards Pit where "Many a saint of God has breathed his last beneath that white precipice, bearing witness against Popish idolatry, midst flame and pitch; many a grisly procession has advanced… across the old bridge towards the Lollards hole . . .".  

Perhaps there is more honest doubt about the ambitions of organised religion here in Norwich than elsewhere in the country.  

Not sure how the Heavy Metal fits in, however.  Some Norwich people simply don't take "religion" questions seriously - 

Interested?  Try the following links:

Norwich Skeptics in the Pub 
Norfolk Humanists
National Secular Society
British Humanist Association 

Norwich Buddhist Centre
Norwich Pagan Moot

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Far right MEPs ineffectual - so far

From: Europe's extremist threat is criminal, not political

By Doug Sanders

As Europe enters its fifth year of economic trauma and choking unemployment, is it being overtaken by the politics of anger and hate?

To get a graphic understanding of the seriousness of this problem, you might start by visiting the Brussels-based European Parliament, as I did this week, and staring out across the semicircle of 754 seats.

Like the continent itself, the middle of the 27-nation assembly is dominated by a huge bloc of moderate conservatives – certainly the largest electoral beneficiaries of the economic turmoil – alongside a diminished slice of social democrats and wedges of Greens and Liberals. Several dozen ill-dressed Communists sit largely ignored on the far left.

What really grabs your attention is the noisy and ragtag group occupying a surprisingly large chunk of the hall’s far right. These right-wing extremists and ultra-nationalists take up as many as 120 seats, depending on how you count them.

Here you’ll find the three elected representatives from Hungary’s third-largest party, Jobbik, which attracted 16 per cent of the vote in the last national election. Or, rather, its two representatives, because the third was forced to quit the party this year after he discovered he was Jewish. That should give you some idea of the party’s political obsessions: At the moment, it’s in the midst of a very public campaign to expose the names of all “Israeli dual citizens” – that is, Jews – in government, because it considers them “security threats.”

Next to them, you’ll find members of other parties devoted to racial hatred and intolerance, including France’s National Front, for which almost one citizen in five cast a ballot in this year’s presidential election; the thuggish British National Party; and the Dutch Party for Freedom, whose immigrant-baiting leader Geert Wilders has recently declared that Slavs, as well as Muslims, should be declared undesirables.

You won’t yet find members of Golden Dawn, the Greek party that uses a modified swastika and unmodified physical violence to get across its message, or the Hungarian Guard, or Germany’s neo-Nazi NPD.

Staring across this terrain, you might be led to believe that recession-battered Europe is following the path it did in the 1930s.

But look again. After four years of economic turmoil, no extremist party has become either a governing or a major opposition party in any major country. Those hateful parties have failed to join forces and coalesce into anything meaningful (they tend to hate each other, too). Mr. Wilders was abandoned by voters in this year’s election, the National Front failed to capture the French imagination, and Scandinavian and Mediterranean movements have mainly peaked.

The real extremist threat is criminal, not political.

The real extremist threat is criminal, not political. Domestic anti-minority groups are now the largest violent threat in Europe, police agencies say, eclipsing jihadist terrorism by an order of magnitude. And some of them are joining forces – we saw this when Anders Behring Breivik, the anti-immigration terrorist who killed 77 Norwegians last year, wrote a letter from prison last month to the German neo-Nazi terrorist Beate Zsch├Ąpe, accused in the murders of 10 Turkish immigrants, declaring that “we are the first raindrops of the violent, cleansing storm closing in on Europe.”

That frightful prospect is painted in vivid detail in a new study of extremism published by the Budapest-based Athena Institute. It identifies 115 domestic extremist groups now active in Europe. Two-thirds are in Western Europe, a third are linked to political parties and three-quarters of them are right wing.

But most of them peaked long before the recession. The report notes:
Even though the 1990s were definitely an era of economic growth and prosperity for most in the Western Hemisphere, this era was also much more plagued by serious extremist attacks than the 2000s … There has been an increase in the number of people falling victim to extremist violence between 2006 and 2010, but those numbers stay far below the numbers we found in the 1990s.
This could be reassuring – as the report notes, it shatters “the myth of the Great Recession” and shows that extremism is no longer linked to wider economic or political conditions. But, on another level, that makes it more disturbing: It means that even after Europe fixes its economy, it won’t have dealt with this simmering threat.

These extremists have made many parts of Europe dangerous for religious and racial minorities. As governments get their economic houses in order, they should also stop being complacent about this grave threat to their harmony.



What exactly have the two British far right MEPs achieved for Britain in the past few years?  What have they done for their constituents? 

Nothing I can think of, apart from trying and failing to wangle more EU money their way, quarrelling so bitterly that Brons left the BNP, and the absurdity of climate change denier Nick Griffin enjoying a jolly at taxpayers expense attending a climate change conference.

Wasted votes for wasted space in the EU Parliament.

See also:
Germany Moves Closer to Banning Far-Right Party
France asks European Parliament to lift Le Pen immunity
Police close neo-nazi e-shop (in Czech Republic)
Hungary: political fight over resurgent fascism
Anti-Islam protesters in Norway greeted with shouts of 'no Nazis on our streets'
Europeans March against Neo-Nazi Threat in Athens
Raising the issue of fascism in Spain

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Racist gesture against Norwich player leads to arrest

From BBC News:

A Swansea City fan has been arrested over allegations of racial abuse towards a Norwich player at the Liberty Stadium, the club has confirmed.

Sebastien Bassong (right) scored Norwich's second goal
in their 4-3 victory away to Swansea
Norwich manager Chris Hughton said a racial gesture had been made towards Cameroon international defender Sebastien Bassong during Saturday's Premier League match.

Police confirmed a man had been arrested on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence.

Swansea City lost the match 4-3.

The incident allegedly happened after Robert Snodgrass scored the visitors' fourth goal in the 77th minute.

Bassong indicated to referee Howard Webb that he had been the victim of a racist gesture as he celebrated the goal with his teammates.

Webb referred the complaint to the fourth official and a male fan was then arrested.  A Swansea spokesperson said:
There was an incident after Norwich's fourth goal. Sebastien Bassong made the referee aware there was a racist gesture towards him from a Swansea City fan.

Within 10 minutes of the report, the stewards had got hold of the TV footage, replayed it, identified the alleged person in question and within that period, he was arrested for a racially aggravated public order offence.

The matter is with the police, but from the club's point of view, we abhor racism and we have worked hard over the years to make this a family club.

We will look into it and a further statement will follow in due course.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Norwich manager Chris Hughton said:
What I've been made aware of is that there was a gesture made towards Bassong.

I have spoken to Seb and I know what the situation is, but Swansea dealt with it in the correct manner. It's now in the hands of the authorities.
Swansea manager Michael Laudrup said he had been unaware of the incident.  He said:
I was concentrating on the game so I don't know anything.

I don't know anything about it but it's a thing we don't want in a game, not here and not anywhere.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Soldier/War Artist Doug Farthing in Norwich

Douglas Farthing at Mandell's Gallery, Elm Hill:


Doug Farthing’s art is intense and sometimes raw. His expressionist style is well suited to the moments and moods of combat, as well as ‘everyday’ situations on the ground, on patrol, driving or walking among civilians. As a soldier, Doug was trained to observe everything around him, to see and interpret every face, action and the environment at all times – it could have an impact on what he should do next. At times his survival, and that of his comrades, depended upon his response. A sergeant major in 2 Para, Doug was decorated for his part in operations around Kabul in 2002.

Partroopers drop before the storm

This acute perception now serves him well as an artist – alert to the tensions as well as the beauty of life, his work is never ‘off duty’, even back in East Anglia. Instead his paintings share these moments with the viewer. As he says, ‘I’m always drawn back to that piece of ground, that unseen danger, where there may be an enemy sniper hiding’.

Soldiers on a 'WMIK' patrolling the outskirts of Kabul

‘Comfort Zone’ is Doug Farthing’s artistic response to the more recent experiences of his extraordinary army career, which spanned Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland, and his work on the northwest frontier since. The show’s title refers not to the comfort zone of civvy street, away from risk and hardship. Instead, it means military life - which, despite the high-octane existence, represents a focussed, disciplined understanding of the hardest aspects of life, and an exceptional camaraderie driven by shared experiences of danger. From this ‘zone’, Doug has provided a glimpse of the moments of truth. JENNY SPENCER-SMITH (National Army Museum)

Douglas Farthing's exhibition at Mandell's Gallery December 8th - 29th 2012 is fund raising for the Parachute Regiment Charity 

More details and direction at   
Tel 01603 626892