Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Britain: Cambridge academic says he would not tolerate Jamaican neighbours

A Cambridge academic and novelist was at the centre of a race row after saying that he would not be able to tolerate living next door to Jamaican neighbours "playing reggae all day". George Steiner, 79, said he believed racism was inherent in everyone and that racial tolerance was merely skin deep.

The playwright and critic Bonnie Greer labelled him a "cranky old man", while Muslim groups accused him of an "offensive and lazy" racist generalisation. But other academics defended his honesty and right to express such views, saying they were a valuable addition to an important debate. "It's very easy to sit here, in this room, and say 'racism is horrible'," he said from his house in Cambridge, where he has been Extraordinary Fellow at Churchill College since 1969. "But ask me the same thing if a Jamaican family moved next door with six children and they play reggae and rock music all day. Or if an estate agent comes to my house and tells me that because a Jamaican family has moved next door the value of my property has fallen through the floor. Ask me then!"

Mr Steiner, whose Jewish family fled to America from Paris before the Nazi invasion of 1940, adds: "In all of us, in our children, and to maintain our comfort, our survival, if you scratch beneath the surface, many dark areas appear. Don't forget it."

American-born Ms Greer said: "He is wrong. People are aware of differences in other people, but being racist is being someone who sets out to harm someone based on the colour of their skin. "George Steiner can talk about his own feelings and talk about what is specific to himself, but to talk of a Jamaican family like that, this is Britain in 2008, what is he talking about? "He is a cranky old man and he should sit down and have a cup of tea. It's quite clear that he doesn't know what racism is."

Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, expressed surprise at Mr Steiner's comments, saying his multicultural background and research into the Holocaust, should have made him more tolerant than most. He said: "Steiner appears to have made some rather lazy and offensive generalisations about entire groups of people such as Jamaicans. You would think he - of all people given his background - would know better by now."

But Dr John Allison, a South African-born law lecturer at Cambridge, said it was important to be open about racism. "There are subtle forms of racism and less subtle forms, but anything that provokes debate about the issues and gets them into the open is a good thing," he said.

Dr Robert Berkeley, deputy director of equality campaign body The Runnymede Trust, said: "I think it's good to recognise your own racism - and everyone has their prejudices - so that you can deal with it. Racism is something we struggle to talk about enough, and I am always happy for there to be a debate, provided no one is victimised as a result. But I don't agree with his view."

Although Cambridge University has worked hard to shed its white, middle-class image and take on more multicultural staff and students, only 16 per cent of Cambridge students are from ethnic minority backgrounds and roughly similar levels of staff. The city itself is overwhelmingly white. Official figures from the 2001 census reveal that 91 per cent of the city's population is white British, compared to 87 per cent nationwide, while the black and Asian populations combined make up little more than one per cent.

Dr Oke Odudu, a British-Nigerian law lecturer at Cambridge, said he has never encountered racism during his time there. "The atmosphere of the university is tolerant and the student population is extremely diverse," he said. "I never encountered any discrimination. It's a place where, if you are judged, it's going to be on the basis of academic performance, not your background."

Mr Steiner's interview with a Spanish newspaper followed the publication of his latest novel, My Unwritten Books, which is a semi-autobiographic work featuring graphic details of his sex life. At his current home, a substantial redbrick detached 1930s house in Trumpington, the leafy suburban outskirts of the city, he is likely to be safe from noisy neighbours, what black or otherwise. All the properties on his road are set well apart, interspaced with large, well-tended gardens. Asked by the Daily Telegraph if he now regretted what he said, Mr Steiner said: "No I do not, but I do not wish to comment further."


Pregnant teen flees to Ireland to escape social workers she fears will take her baby

Fascist British social workers again -- accountable to no-one but themselves

A mother-to-be has fled to Ireland because she fears social services are planning to seize her newborn child and have it adopted. Sam Thomas, 19, left Britain alone, despite being heavily pregnant. She discovered that her social worker had told the local hospital not to let her leave the maternity ward with her child - a girl - without social services being involved. The county council has not obtained a court order giving it authority to keep Miss Thomas in the hospital, and she has no history of being a danger to children - yet social workers appear convinced she is unfit to care for her baby.

Last night an MP who is campaigning against local authorities' power to remove children from their parents and have them adopted said he was aware of the case. Liberal Democrat John Hemming claimed that the local authority had been heavy-handed. In some cases, he said, fearful parents feel they have no option other than to flee to Ireland or Sweden, where it is difficult for councils to take children away from them. 'Miss Thomas is right to worry that if the new baby is taken into care after birth she might end up getting adopted,' he said.

Miss Thomas, staying in bed and breakfast accommodation in Ireland, said: 'All I want is the opportunity to prove I can be a fit mother - but I feel like I'm on the run. 'It's the only way to make sure I can have my baby girl and be with her in peace.'

She had been living in Yeovil, Somerset, with her mother Carol Hughes and looking forward to the birth of her first child. She became concerned, however, at Somerset County Council's growing interest in the birth, due in early October - and says it soon became clear that there was a risk she would not be able to keep her child. Miss Thomas accepts that she has harmed herself and taken an overdose in the past, but insists she has not been troubled by problems related to depression for two years. Yet council documents show her past difficulties are still considered serious.

There is a further issue surrounding claims that she has failed to take medication for a health condition related to blood-clotting. She feared a child protection conference arranged for today would result in her child being taken from her. A letter sent by Somerset County Council social worker Carly Barrett to Yeovil District Hospital earlier this month instructed that after the birth 'under no circumstances must Miss Thomas be discharged without Children's Social Care involvement'.

Miss Thomas fled to Wexford last week, where she is signed up with a GP and is in contact with Irish social services. She plans to name her daughter Ellie-Jay. She said: 'I don't want to be here - but I feel I have no choice. 'Social services have made me out to be an unfit mother but everything in their reports is either wrong, or out of context. They're not listening to anything I've got to say.' Miss Thomas's mother Carol is supporting her emotionally and financially from back home in Yeovil.


Documentary reveals hidden side of British mosque where extremist women urge Muslims to kill non-believers

Women preachers in one of Britain's most influential mosques are calling on Muslims to kill homosexuals and adulterers, a television documentary will reveal on Monday night. During a hardline rant at the London Central Mosque one preacher said Muslims who switch to another religion should also be slaughtered. The extremist sermons, filmed secretly by the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, encourage a circle of listeners to follow a hardline Islamic code, urging Muslims not to talk to people from other religions. They describe Britain as the 'land of evil' and say the behaviour of other races is 'vile'.

The mosque, known as Regent's Park Mosque, is one of the most respected centres for moderate Islam in western Europe and has a major interfaith department which welcomes visits from other religious groups and thousands of British school children each year. However, the documentary exposes a hidden side to the mosque, where hardline Muslim women preach to study groups. The DVDs preach that disbelievers are 'evil, wicked, mischievous people...they do the most evil, filthy things'. In one of the recordings, a speaker says of the Jews: 'Their time will come, like every other evil person's time will come.'

Dr Ahmed Al Dubayan, the director general of the mosque, said the women were not authorised and did not reflect the views of the mosque. He said the mosque 'is committed to interfaith and cross-cultural understanding. It does not support or condone extreme views, racial hatred, violence or intolerance.' The Muslim Council of Britain, of which the mosque is an affiliate, said: 'Some of the statements are deeply offensive, but it would be very wrong, and quite unfair, to smear the whole centre.'

The documentary is a follow-up to Undercover Mosque, which investigated mosques in Britain more than a year ago. This found DVDs preaching intolerance on sale in a bookshop at the Regent's Park Mosque. The new programme says they are still there. Dr Al Dubayan pointed out the bookshop was run by an independent company and said: 'We made it clear that it was not acceptable to stock materials containing extremist views.'


Amethyst Initiative's Debate on Drinking a Welcome Alternative to Fanaticism

By Radley Balko

It's been nearly 25 years since Congress blackmailed the states to raise the minimum drinking age to 21 or lose federal highway funding. Supporters of the law have hailed it as an unqualified success, and until recently, they've met little resistance.

For obvious reasons, no one wants to stand up for teen drinking. The alcohol industry won't touch the federal minimum drinking age, having been sufficiently scolded by groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and federal regulators. So the law's miraculous effects have generally gone unchallenged.

But that may be changing. Led by John McCardell, the soft-spoken former president of Middlebury in Vermont, a new group called the Amethyst Initiative; is calling for a new national debate on the drinking age. And McCardell and his colleagues ought to know. The Amethyst Group consists of current and former college and university presidents, and they say the federal minimum drinking age has contributed to an epidemic of binge drinking, as well as other excessive, unhealthy drinking habits on their campuses.

This makes perfect sense. Prohibitions have always provoked over-indulgence. Those of us who have attended college over the last 25 years can certainly attest to the fact that the law has done nothing to diminish freshman and sophomore access to alcohol. It has only pushed underage consumption underground. It causes other problems, too. Underage students, for example, may be reluctant to obtain medical aid for peers who have had too much to drink, out of fear of implicating themselves for drinking illegally, or for contributing to underage drinking.

More than 120 college presidents and chancellors have now signed on to the Amethyst Initiative's statement, including those from Duke, Tufts, Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, Maryland, and Ohio. Over the last few years several states, including Wisconsin, Montana, Minnesota, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Vermont have also considering lowering their drinking ages back to 18.

All of this has the usual suspects predictably agitated. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, not accustomed to striking a defensive posture, calls the Amethyst Initiative's request for an "informed debate" on the issue "deeply disappointing," and has even raised the possibility that parents shouldn't send their kids to colleges who have signed on to the measure.

Acting National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker says it would be a "national tragedy" to, for example, allow 19- and 20-year-old men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to have a beer in celebration of completing their tours of duty.

Supporters of the 21 minimum drinking age have long credited the law with the dramatic reduction in traffic fatalities they say took place after it was passed. But a study released last July may pull the rug out from their strongest argument.

The working paper by economic researchers Jeffrey Miron and Elina Tetelbaum finds that the bulk of studies on highway fatalities since the federal minimum drinking age went into effect erroneously include data from 12 states that had already set their drinking ages at 21, without federal coercion. That, Miron and Tetelbaum conclude, may have skewed the data, and indicated a national trend that may not actually exist.

While it's true that highway fatalities have dropped since 1984, it isn't necessarily because we rose the drinking age. In fact, the downward trend actually began in 1969, just as many states began lowering their drinking ages in recognition of the absurdity of prohibiting servicemen returning from Vietnam from enjoying a beer (the 1984 law was a backlash against those states). As Miron and Tetelbaum explain, 1969 was the year when "several landmark improvements were made in the accident avoidance and crash protection features of passenger cars," a more likely explanation for the drop than a law passed 15 years later.

Miron and Tetelbaum also credit advances in medical technology and trauma treatment for the decline in fatalities, which makes sense, given that we've seen improvements in just about every other area of human development over the same period, including life expectancy, and both incidence and survival rates of major medical conditions like heart disease, cancer, and stroke- none of which have much to do with teen drinking.

The U.S. has the highest minimum drinking age in the world (save for countries where it's forbidden entirely). In countries with a low or no national minimum drinking age, teens are introduced to alcohol gradually, moderately, and under the supervision of their parents.

U.S. teens, on the other hand, tend to first try alcohol in unsupervised environments - in cars, motels, or outdoor settings in high school, or in dorm rooms, fraternity parties, or house parties when they leave home to go to college. During alcohol prohibition, we saw how adults who imbibed under such conditions reacted - they drank way too much, way too fast. It shouldn't be surprising that teens react in much the same way.

Anti-alcohol organizations like MADD and the American Medical Association oppose even allowing parents to give minors alcohol in supervised settings, such as a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer on the couch while watching the football game. They've pushed for prison time for parents who throw supervised parties where minors are given access to alcohol, even though those parties probably made the roads safer than they otherwise would have been (let's face it - if the kids hadn't been drinking at the supervised party, they'd have been drinking at an unsupervised one). They advocate a "not one drop until 21" policy that's not only unrealistic, it mystifies and glorifies alcohol by making the drug a forbidden fruit-a surefire way to make teens want to taste it.

McCardell and the academics who have signed on to the Amethyst Initiative are asking only for a debate-an honest discussion based on data and common sense, not one tainted by Carry Nation-style fanaticism. In today's hyper-cautious, ban-happy public health environment, that's refreshing. The group comprises serious academics who have collectively spent thousands of years around the very young people these laws are affecting. The nation's policy makers would be foolish to dismiss their concerns out of hand.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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