The Labour Prime Minister: Gordon Brown (here)
What we have to do almost immediately is work harder than we have done for an immediate ceasefire.
I can see the Gaza issues for the Palestinians – that they need humanitarian aid — but the Israelis must have some assurance that there are no rocket attacks coming into Israel.
According to independent Palestinian sources, the death toll already stands at more than 500, of which approximately 70 are children and 27 women. Of the 2,650 Gazans injured, more than 270 are women and 650 children. Five Israelis have been killed since the start of Israel’s military operation, which is now in its 10th day.
The Labour MP: John McDonnell (here)
We are witnessing a bloody massacre in Gaza and yet the UK Government has stood by and simply repeated the usual ritual, ineffective statements of condemnation. I am calling for the recall of Parliament to enable MPs to make clear that we need our Government to take decisive action to help halt this bloodbath and secure a ceasefire. Our Government should be taking a leading role in bringing together a global coalition to isolate Israel diplomatically, economically and militarily. Only in this way will Israeli aggression be halted.
The bombings continue with mounting loss of life and suffering. It is widely understood that the assault on Gaza has been planned for some time. It is clearly timed as part of the electoral positioning of the political parties in Israel in the run up to the forthcoming elections. The Israeli political parties are vying to outbid each other on how more brutal they each can be in their treatment of the Palestinians.
The lack of decisive action so far from the UK government is a disgrace and the lack of firmness in dealing with this Israeli aggression by the incoming Obama administration is worrying for its future role on the Palestinian issue. As an aside the question also has to be asked about whatever happened to the Blair initiative?
On Saturday, Middle East peace Quartet envoy Tony Blair spoke to Jordan’s King Abdullah II by telephone. The King told Blair that the world’s ‘silence’ on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is unacceptable. Blair has since remained silent on the matter.
Following a link to this story by The Spoiler yesterday and the directing of near 1,000 visitors to the site in less than 24 hours, I re-publish the post that has been avidly read following the news that Police have released photos of those being alleged to have abused Sol Campbell…
Following the abuse directed at Sol Campbell during the recent Portsmouth versus Tottenham Hotspur (Spurs) match, the former England defender said:
“It’s out of hand now…This is a human rights situation. If this happened on the street you would be arrested”
It is not the first time that Campbell has suggested this. Back in December 2007 when he, Alex Ferguson and Avram Grant had all been subjected to varying levels of abuse, he stated:
Following on from my suggestion that you search the BNP members list to see whether any of your friends and family are closet members, I’m now reproducing below a heat map showing where the BNP’s members are located around the country. The map is reproduced from Ben Charlton’s ‘Spod CX’ website.
The map in its original form can be seen by clicking here.
A disaffected former member of the British National Party (BNP) is alleged to have taken revenge on the party by publishing the personal details – names, addresses, telephone numbers, occupations etc – of more than 12,000 of its supporters on the web. Unsurprisingly, this has provoked a massive response and many of those named on the list are claiming to have been threatened or put at risk because of it.
Whilst the overarchng view is that the list has been published by a former member, some BNP activists have begun to point the finger at the alleged skullduggery of certain Labour activists.
This is a transcript of the presentation I gave at the Equalities & Human Rights (EHRC), Greets Green Partnership event earlier today entitled, ‘Citizenship’. It was a precursor to a workshop that I facilitated on ‘responsibilities’ and so may seem slightly incomplete.
What does it mean to be a citizen?
The dictionary definition of ‘citizen’ is pretty straightforward:
Noun. 1, a native or naturalised member of a nation or state. 2, an inhabitant of a city or town.
Historically though, things have been slightly different.
The notion of being a citizen first arose in Ancient Greece. In those days, being a citizen was seen as a public matter, separated from the private life of the individual. The obligations of the citizen were deeply connected to everyday life where everyone had to be active in the community. As Aristotle famously expressed:
“To take no part in the running of the community’s affairs is to be either a beast or a god!”
This form of citizenship was based on the obligations of citizens towards the community, rather than rights given to the citizen. This was far from problematic because all had a strong affinity with the community, their destinies and futures being closely linked. Citizens also saw their obligations and responsibilities to the community as an opportunity to be virtuous, honourable and respectful.
In the Roman Empire, citizenship changed and expanded from small-scale communities to entire empires. Romans realised that granting citizenship to people from all over the empire legitimized their rule meaning that taxes were more easily collected and the need for expensive military power was reduced. Citizenship was no longer a status of political agency; it was reduced to certain safeguards and the expression of rule and law.
Citizenship today tends to be based on these same historical understandings, typically though in terms of a country.
Unsurprisingly then, British legislation sees citizenship as being not only directly linked to the idea of nation but also to the former empire too. At present there are six levels of citizenship, some of these were defined in the British Nationality Act 1981:
British overseas citizenship;
British overseas territories citizenship;
British national (overseas);
British protected person;
Of these, only British citizens have an automatic right to live and work in the UK and to apply for a British passport. Those with other forms must obtain permission to live and work here even though they may be entitled to register as British citizens in certain circumstances.
In the contemporary British context much has been made of late about the idea of being a citizen and what this means. For example, is it just about possessing a British passport or is it that the passport should be ‘earned’.
Maybe because of this, much has been made of the need for greater citizenship. From the introduction of ‘Citizenship’ lessons into the National Curriculum in 2002 for all state schools across the UK, through the introduction of ‘citizenship tests and ceremonies’ by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett in 2005, to a number of different speeches given by Gordon Brown, the focus has been on citizenship being understood as a two-way contract: one that has both rights and responsibilities attached to it. As Gordon Brown put it when talking about immigration:
Being a British citizen is about more than a test, more than a ceremony. It’s a kind of contract between the citizen and the country involving rights but also involving responsibilities that will protect and enhance the British way of life. It’s also right to consider asking men and women…to undertake community work in our country, or something akin to that, that introduces them to a wider range of institutions and people1
Underpinning this is the notion of “active citizenship”, one where citizens work towards the betterment of their community through economic participation, public service, volunteer work, and other such efforts to improve life for all citizens. Active citizenship is therefore put forward as a means of addressing the ‘problems’ or ‘challenges’ in society and its communities.
This has been central to a significant amount of New Labour inspired thinking, not just in terms of ‘new’ citizens but everyone. Most notably, this can be seen in reports such as ‘Our Shared Future’ by the Commission on Integration and Community Cohesion and as integral to the whole ‘community cohesion’ agenda. So when Hazel Blears has spoken about strengthening society, she said that:
communities that are cohesive, active and engaged [are] empowered and “citizenship-rich” in every sense of the term2
Similarly, in the influential ‘Our Shared future’ report, the findings speak of how a strong society is one where:
civility and courtesy are the norm, where people are at ease with change, and are committed to being good neighbours and active citizens. A society where opportunities for advancement are there for the taking and prosperity is more evenly distributed.3
Of course, these are not necessarily bad things. All of us want to live in strong, safe and secure societies, where opportunities for advancement are equal for all.
But can those such as greater economic participation, more public service, increased volunteering, swearing allegiance, and generally being a ‘good neighbour’ really create a society where opportunity is more evenly distributed? Can greater or more active citizenship really address those challenges posed by increased poverty, the widening gap between those who have and have not, growing social and economic inequality, and a lack of positive engagement?
Contemporarily, the debates about citizenship confuse historical and legislative notions. Today’s debates are far more complex and multi-layered, in many ways a smokescreen behind which the real issues and challenges of our increasingly diverse and complex society are somehow shrouded or even hidden.
This is not to suggest that citizenship and active citizenship should be readily dismissed: in fact, quite the contrary. But to further the debate we need to reject naïve and simplistic notions of citizenship.
To go beyond this, we must first to articulate the debate about rights versus responsibilities: in other words, the obligations that both the community and the citizen had in historical models. If the state gives rights to those under its remit, then it is right that the people should have certain responsibilities to uphold in return. In this way, the citizen is able and entitled to exercise both their rights and responsibilities in a balanced and equitable way.
But here is where the problem lies. Whilst our rights are written down as part of law, our responsibilities are not. Neither are they defined nor even thought about in a robust way and so disagreements amongst citizens as to what the responsibilities are duly ensue. So for example, whilst citizens have the right to free healthcare, they do not have the responsibility to vote. As such whether because of their age, disability, religion or sheer apathy, many do not fulfil what might be seen to be a responsibility to society.
Writing a clear definition of responsibilities for an active citizen is therefore what is desperately needed. Writing a clear definition of responsibilities for an active citizen is though far more problematic than writing a list of rights, something that we have in the Human Rights Act 1998.
If then as a society we want our understanding of what it is to be a citizen to go beyond the mere dictionary definition, the possession of a passport, or the being a ‘good neighbour’, the Human Rights Act must be our start point. Already the Act is a means through which all of us are able to understand the rights that we all have as well as being a framework within which inequality, poverty and discrimination can begin to be addressed.
In much the same way, the Act could also be used to help us articulate what is required of every one of us thus rendering the notion of citizenship something far more tangible, relevant and realistic at the same time as providing a recourse to law for when things go wrong. The Act therefore would be used to cement the social contract, provide the necessary balance between rights and responsibilities, as well as facilitating the legal relationship between the citizen and the state. It might also contribute towards making society and fairer and more equitable place as well as improving our collective understanding of what it means to be a ‘citizen’ in today’s Britain.
If though the citizenship agenda is merely a smokescreen behind which society’s ills and challenges are being hidden, then unfortunately, not only will those ills and challenges fail to be adequately addressed but we will also fail to become both individually and collectively, better citizens.
Everything on this site by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. www.chris-allen.co.uk.
This month’s chunk for the Birmingham Post:
Should we have the right to offend?
I ask this not because I was personally offended by Joe Kinnear’s swear-a-thon. Nor even because I offended my partner by licking my knife in a restaurant. I ask because there just seems to be a lot of people getting easily offended.
Being almost twenty years since Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’ was published could it just be ‘déjà vu’? No, but there are some similarities.
I was at an event for fifty ‘leaders’ – I was included in this so use the term loosely – last week in Whitehall that sought to consider ‘security and community cohesion’ (a euphemism for extremism and terrorism, natch). Whilst many clearly focused on this, a few were voicing their plans to protest against the publication of ‘The Jewel of Medina’, a Mills and Boon-lite account of one of the Prophet Muhammad’s wives, Aisha. Possibly because of their ‘offence’ at this, they seemed to have forgotten the clear lessons learned from some of the protests that followed the Satanic Verses and Danish cartoons debacles.
A few days ago, I also read how others were ‘offended’ by a London exhibition by the artist Sarah Maples. Described as the next Tracey Emin, Maples – who was raised as a Muslim – has caused ‘offence’ by using one of her paintings – depicting a Muslim woman cradling a pig – as the advertisement for the exhibition. Maples has categorically stated that she does not want to offend arguing that her work actually explores the confusion that many young Muslims face in contemporary western society, not least about what it means to be a ‘good’ Muslim.
Given that the offices of the publishers in London of ‘The Jewel of Medina’ have already been firebombed, it seems that some of those protesting – whether against ‘The Jewel’ or Maples – have missed the irony in that their actions are also quite ‘offensive’…!!!
Which highlights the point: whilst some are ‘offended’ by knife licking, others are ‘offended’ by paintings they dislike. In this column last Christmas, I even offered help to those ‘offended’ by Christmas lights, Eid celebrations and so on. And that was because offence is entirely subjective thus rendering it entirely un-manageable.
Is being ‘offended’ therefore legitimate enough to curb freedom of speech and expression?
In the past, free speech was seen as something that was inherently good. Because of this, restrictions and limitations on free speech were viewed as the exception rather than the rule, to be wielded carefully and only in those cases where speech might cause direct harm. In fact, legislation that affords protection against those trying to harm are rightly in place.
Yet nowadays, we seem to believe that speech and activities that ‘offend’ are in some way socially damaging and so require necessary curtailment. In an increasingly diverse society, this becomes increasingly difficult to manage, balancing one view against another. If we are therefore edging perilously closer to a situation where ‘if I don’t like what you say, you can’t say it’ becomes the rule rather than the exception, whose ‘offence’ will be given most importance?
Expanding upon the Maple ‘offence’ and the fact that pork is seen to be unclean, if vegetarians say that they are ‘offended’ by the sight of ALL meat in supermarkets because it is ‘unclean’, should we immediately oblige and remove it from the shelves? Is this the same or does it merely highlight how we treat people depending upon who they are? If so, we’re not as a society moving forward in a fair and equitable way.
Freedom of expression – including the right to offend – is therefore not just an important liberty; it is the very foundation of liberty. It is everybody’s business to ensure that no one is deprived of their right to say what they wish, even if what they say is seen as offensive by one or indeed many more.
This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.