Thursday, October 08, 2015
When is a riot not a riot?
Newspapers understandably described it as a riot but police insisted that it was not. Why? Because the participants were mostly black? It is hard to tell from the very grainy footage available but there does seem to be a lot of brown skin in it
A picture from the scene -- after police arrive
Police were forced to shut down an entire street this evening after a mass brawl broke out just outside Walthamstow Central tube station.
Grainy footage posted on social media sites Facebook and Twitter appears to show groups of teenagers - the majority of them young girls - grappling with one another outside the station at around 5pm.
Around 100 officers from the Metropolitan Police were forced to shut down Hoe Street, where the station is located, in an effort to get the 200-strong crowd of youths under control.
This evening while police claimed the group had moved on, on social media users continued to post videos and images purporting to show further fights and scuffles breaking out in the area - including a group of girls brawling inside a branch of Sainsbury's.
Dozens of police vehicles attended the incident in an attempt to break up the fights and disperse the crowd
Three people have now been arrested following the incident and police - who say the incident was not a riot - remain at the scene this evening.
One of the videos appears to show a young women ripping hair extensions from another's head.
Another video shows a group savagely beating a girl lying on the floor, and another shows a young woman being arrested.
The hashtag #WalthamstowRiots began trending on Twitter soon after the incident. One local tweeted: 'There's basically a riot in Walthamstow rn'.
Another said: 'Police have the whole area sealed off - just been there, forget travelling down Hoe St'.
One tweeted he saw 'over 100' police in the area as they attempted to defuse the situation outside a McDonald's restaurant.
Samee Ullah, co-owners of Director's Cut in the High Street, told the Guardian Series: 'I looked out [the window] and I saw hundreds of kids shouting and screaming, they were coming from the Hoe Street end. 'It looked like someone had gone into Nandos and they were waiting for them to come out.
'They brought the whole street to a standstill. We asked some of them and they said it was "college fights."'
While the reason for the mass brawl remains unclear, hundreds of users on social media claimed it was sparked by an argument between two young women from rival colleges squabbling over a man.
One Twitter user even suggested the brawl had been pre-arranged and claimed flyers had been handed out outside a local college advertising the fight.
Most of the videos and pictures posted on social media appear to show young girls fighting each other
Waltham Forest Police said around 200 young people aged between 16 and 20 gathered in Walthamstow, adding they believe the majority are not from the local area.
A police spokesman said: 'Due to the large numbers and calls about a fight several police resources were deployed. 'At the time of the police arrival, the group were not committing offences but their presence in such numbers would be alarming to members of the public as would the volume of police vehicles.
'It is important to stress there has been no riot.
'The MPS Territorial Support Group were called and dealt with a large group who refused to leave.'
A 23-year-old man told the Evening Standard: 'As I came out of the train station, I usually get a bus, however they had closed off the bus station and in the market area nearby there were about 20 police cars and a few riot vans blocking off the pathway, and surrounding it about 150 people who were involved in an incident which looked like a standoff with the police.'
The newspaper reports today's incident follows an alleged brawl which took place outside McDonalds on the same street last night.
Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy tweeted her disgust following the incident this evening. She wrote: 'Furious to hear there is a fight outside Walthamstow Central station - will be following up with police but pls stay clear of area for now.'
Ms Creasy appeared to believe the youngsters seen in the footage may have attended colleges in the area. She wrote: '[I] will be taking matter up with college heads once clear who involved.'
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: 'Shortly after 5pm today police were called to reports of a large group of youths causing a disturbance in the Hoe Street / Station Approach area of Walthamstow.
'Officers from Waltham Forest Borough and the Territorial Support group (TSG) attended the scene. 'The group then began to disperse. There are no reports of any persons with injuries at this time. 'Officers currently remain in the area.'
Protesting for the sake of protesting
Let’s be real: The “protest” was not so much a protest as a coordinated cry for attention
A group of playful protesters picketed outside the Museum of Fine Arts on Monday, expressing their dislike of painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s work.
It’s nothing personal, says Ben Ewen-Campen, he just doesn’t think French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir is much of a painter. Monday, the Harvard postdoc joined some like-minded aesthetes for a playful protest outside the Museum of Fine Arts.
The rally, which mostly bewildered passersby, was organized by Max Geller, creator of the Instagram account Renoir Sucks at Painting, who wants the MFA to take its Renoirs off the walls and replace them with something better. Holding homemade signs reading “God Hates Renoir” and “Treacle Harms Society,” the protesters ate cheese pizza purchased by Geller, and chanted: “Put some fingers on those hands! Give us work by Paul Gauguin !” and “Other art is worth your while! Renoir paints a steaming pile!”
Craig Ronan, an artist from Somerville, learned about the protest on Instagram and decided to join. “I don’t have any relationship with these people aside from wanting artistic justice,” he said.
The museum hasn’t commented on the fledgling movement, but a few folks walking by Monday seemed amused. “I love their sense of irony,” said Liz Byrd, a grandmother from Phoenix who spent the morning in the museum with her daughter and grandchild. “I love Renoir, but I think this is great.”
Cybersexism? Yet another feminist panic
The UN’s report on cybersexism is shrill and illiberal
On Friday, the United Nations released a report called Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls. Described as a ‘worldwide wake-up call’, the report was written to raise awareness about so-called cybersexism and its consequences. Calling for further surveillance and regulation of the internet, the report promotes the use of the three Ss: sensitisation, safeguarding and sanctioning.
The report gives detailed lists of the varying definitions of harassment and warns that a failure to address the supposed onslaught of cybersexism will result in women’s lives being put at risk: ‘Now that a cyber touch is recognised as equally as harmful as a physical touch, all citizens must prepare themselves to take the appropriate action.’
But the UN is precisely against citizens taking initiative and dealing with instances of unpleasant behaviour on their own. Its report calls for further government monitoring of our online interactions. This covers the UN’s first points of sensitisation and safeguarding. The final S, sanctions, will no doubt lead to more cases like that of Peter Nunn, who was sent to jail for 18 weeks for trolling Labour MP Stella Creasy. Rather than letting individuals decide what they consider to be appropriate internet usage, the UN report advocates the creation of more laws to decide what citizens can do, and what they can be exposed to, online.
Yet again, women are the main target of this victim-culture logic. The report mimics every negative view of women propagated by contemporary feminist politics. Women are presented as too weak to handle nasty words online, too stupid to report it to the website if it all gets a bit much, and perhaps even too scared to use the internet at all: ‘The respect for and security of girls and women must at all times be front and centre of those in charge of producing and providing the content, technical backbone and enabling environment of our digital society. Failure to do so will clip the potential of the internet as an engine for gender equality and women’s empowerment.’
Forgive me, but I thought the internet was for expanding our knowledge, communicating with people in different time zones, or just plain entertainment. Rather than seeing the internet for what it is – an exciting technological advancement – the UN report presents it as a tool for social engineering. It puts women on a pedestal as sacred and fragile beings who must be protected at all costs from the rest of the world. Not only is this sentiment patronising and incredibly insulting to any female with half a mind of her own — it is also extremely out of touch. As someone who grew up with the internet, I can vouch for the fact that the majority of online ‘bullying’ among young people comes from bitchy gossip – mainly produced by teenage girls.
The desire to tackle offensive speech online has become influential in discussions around crime and the law. The old playground saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ has been ditched. The UN report is explicit in its assertion that ‘cyber touch’ and ‘physical touch’ – that is, words and actions – are the same thing. But maintaining the distinction between words and actions is paramount if we are to defend our most fundamental liberty: freedom of speech. Twitter trolls can be fought with witty comebacks and hard arguments, or you can just ignore them.
The report cites examples of supposed cyberbullying – including creating fake profiles, social-media harassment and ‘technology-based violence’ – in the same breath as gang rape, suicide and child pornography. The executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, told Time that ‘cyberviolence exists on a continuum with physical violence… both problems are byproducts of a society that is inherently unequal for women’. She echoes the report’s suggestion that the murder or rape of an individual, which is out of the victim’s control, is also equitable to the decision to take one’s own life after being ‘bullied’ online. ‘Whether you are dead because your partner shot you or beat you up, or you killed yourself because you couldn’t bear cyberbullying… bottom line, we lose a life.’
This hysterical document is a wake-up call. Not to the perils of being a girl on the net, but to the way in which ridiculous feminist panics are now being taken far too seriously. Gender politics, usually confined to university societies and purple-haired reading groups, is being discussed as the potential basis for new laws. What all this misses is that women are not at risk from violence online any more than they are at risk from violence over the phone.
Trolling, 140-character threats and unpleasant posts are not the same as physical violence – because words are just words. They might make us upset, but they can always be defeated. If girls are experiencing inappropriate or unpleasant things online, this is ultimately a job for parents to sort out – or an opportunity for a group of friends to think of cutting comebacks. And if grown women aren’t enjoying their online experience, they can deal with it themselves as autonomous, capable adults. In the past, women were seen as the weaker sex, in need of protection and safeguarding. The UN wants to revert us back to that position of true inequality. We need to rip up this report.
Why I still Support Charlie Hebdo
You know the shocking story: in January 2015, two masked Islamist gunmen launched a paramilitary attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical weekly magazine. The gunmen murdered twelve people: two police officers and ten of the magazine’s staff, including the much-loved editor and cartoonist Stéphane Charbonnier (known as “Charb”).
In the immediate aftermath, many people expressed solidarity with Charlie Hebdo’s staff and their loved ones, and with the citizens of Paris. There were vigils and rallies in cities across the world. Twitter hashtags proliferated, the most viral being #JeSuisCharlie: “I am Charlie.”
Yet, as with the Salman Rushdie Affair in 1989, many Western commentators quickly turned on the victims. In an article published in Free Inquiry (warning: behind a paywall), I responded that these commentators deserved a special hall of shame.
Charlie Hebdo has more than its share of enemies. Its style is irreverent, mocking and caustic. It attracts attention from fanatics, particularly from Islamists who are incensed by its frequent drawings of the prophet Muhammad. Importantly, however, its ridicule is aimed at fearmongers and authoritarians. It is an antifascist magazine, and it treats racial bigots with particular savagery and relish. Its most despised targets include the Front National - France’s brazenly racist party of the extreme Right - and its current president, Marine Le Pen.
While the corpses of the murder victims were still warm, however, some commentators insinuated that Charb and the other victims had it coming. Most deplorable of all, perhaps, was an op-ed piece published by USA Today within hours of the attack. This was written by a London-based radical cleric, Anjem Choudary, who has publicly expressed support for the jihadist militant group ISIS (or Islamic State). Choudary openly blamed the victims, along with the French government for allowing Charlie Hebdo’s freedom to publish.
With evident approval, he stated that the penalty for insulting a prophet should be death, “implementable by an Islamic State.” He added: “However, because the honor of the Prophet is something which all Muslims want to defend, many will take the law into their own hands, as we often see.”
While Choudary’s apologetics for murder were especially chilling, much sanctimonious nastiness issued from more mainstream commentators. All too often, it came from individuals who identify with the political and cultural Left, as with an article by Teju Cole published in The New Yorker on 9 January 2015.
To be fair, Cole’s contribution to the backlash was milder than some, and certainly more eloquent and thoughtful. He even makes some reasonable points about threats to free speech that are not overtly violent. But his article is worth singling out for comment precisely because of its veneer of sophistication.
Cole appears aware that much of what looks insensitive, or outright racist, in Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons could easily receive anti-racist interpretations when viewed with basic charity and in context. He alludes to the fact that one cartoon in a back issue of Charlie Hebdo was explicable, in its immediate context of publication, as a sarcastic attack on the Front National. Yet he dismisses this point with no analysis or evidence: “naturally, the defense is that a violently racist image was being used to satirize racism”.
Well, was it being used to satirise racism or not? Little research is needed to find the context of publication and discover that, yes, it actually was used to mock the racism of the Front National - so what is Cole’s point? And why the sneering word naturally? It is calculated to suggest bad faith on the part of opponents. The thought seems to be that Charlie Hebdo’s defenders would say that, wouldn’t they?
Despite his knowledge and intellect, Cole discourages any fair search for understanding. Despite his brilliance as a writer, he belongs in the hall of shame.
The refugee crisis in Europe
More controversy has come to Charlie Hebdo with the current refugee crisis in Europe. The magazine has ridiculed harsh European attitudes to Syrian refugees, but predictably there has been much moral posturing and hand wringing in the mainstream and social media. A recent report on the ABC News site summarises the international reaction and includes images of the relevant cartoons. Opportunistic, or merely obtuse, commentators allege that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons mock the refugees themselves, particularly the drowned Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi.
That accusation is seriously and obviously mistaken, and the point of the cartoons is not especially hard to detect. They attack what they portray as European consumerism, bigotry and heartlessness.
Nonetheless, in an astonishingly clumsy article published in New Matilda, Chris Graham takes jabs at those of us who supported Charlie Hebdo last January. He writes: “Did you hashtag ‘Je Suis Charlie’? Blindly? Without really knowing what the publication actually represents?”
Well, what does the publication actually represent? Graham hints that it’s something rather sinister - perhaps some kind of white or Christian supremacism - but if that’s what he thinks, he doesn’t spell it out so it can be refuted.
At any rate, there is no great secret about what Charlie Hebdo actually represents: it is, as I stated earlier, an antifascist magazine. It is, furthermore, anti-authoritarian, anti-racist, anti-clerical, and generally anti-establishment. In brief, Charlie Hebdo is a vehicle for radical left-wing thought of a distinctively French kind, one with antecedents at least as far back as the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.
Speaking for myself, then, I certainly did not act blindly in expressing my solidarity, and I frankly resent that suggestion. By contrast, I’ve seen many people blindly accept the claim that Charlie Hebdo is some kind of racist publication.
Graham describes the cartoons in a way that reveals his confusion. He even comments on one of them: “Apart from the fact it’s not funny, it also makes absolutely no sense. Maybe the ‘humour’ is lost in the translation.”
Maybe any humour could lose something in the literal-minded translation that Graham offers his readers. More to the point, it might be lost on someone who displays no understanding of the French tradition of satire. In any event, why expect that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons will be humorous in the ordinary way? Why shouldn’t they be bleak and bitter and fierce, with no intent to elicit giggles or guffaws?
As this episode plays out, I welcome the newly established JeResteCharlie (“I remain Charlie”) project, and I’m pleased to see a recent contribution to the debate by Salman Rushdie. Rushdie supports JeResteCharlie, he explains, “Because we are living in a time in which we are in danger of backsliding in our commitment to freedom of expression. That is why it is important to emphasize these values yet again right now.”
I agree, and I still support Charlie Hebdo.
Critique and its responsibilities
I don’t suggest that the ideas and approach of Charlie Hebdo are beyond criticism, though I do question how far that was a priority in early January before the murder victims had even been buried. That consideration aside, there is always room for fair, careful interpretation and criticism of cultural products such as prominent magazines.
There is certainly room for debate about whether Charlie Hebdo showed good taste in so quickly exploiting Aylan Kurdi’s death to make a political point (though, again, the cartoons do not mock the boy, whatever else may be said about them). Nothing I have stated here is meant to show that Charlie Hebdo’s approach to satire is tasteful. Then again, the magazine’s willingness to flout ordinary standards of taste frees it to make timely, appropriately caustic, comment on French and international politics.
We need good cultural criticism, but we also need some scrutiny of the cultural critics. Much of what passes for cultural criticism merely examines cultural products - whether novels, movies, video games, cartoons, speeches, items of clothing, or comedy routines - for superficial marks of ideological impurity.
This approach ignores (or simply fails to understand) issues of nuance, style, irony, political and artistic context, and the importance of framing effects. It fails to discover - much less appreciate - complexity, ambiguity, or instability of meaning.
There may be occasions when the excuse of irony is offered in bad faith. When that is the accusation, however, it needs support from careful, detailed, sensitive, honest argument. Meanwhile, authors and artists should not be pressured to create banal content for fear of dull or dishonest interpreters. There are some contexts, no doubt - e.g. in writing posts like this one - where straightforwardness is a virtue. In many other contexts, that’s not necessarily so.
Fair, useful cultural criticism should display some humility in the face of art. It should be grounded in an understanding of context and the relevant styles and traditions of expression. If we propose to engage in critique of cultural products, we had better show some complexity and generosity of response. That is how we earn our places in serious cultural conversations.
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, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.