Monthly Archives: July 2014

Empty Gestures

They did it last summer, and it looks like the government is at it again: the silly season is due to be dominated by damaging immigration discourse and ridiculous publicity stunts in poor taste that manage to simultaneously exacerbate the perception that the government hasn’t got a handle on an immigration system in crisis while convincing no one that their vacuous stunts make a difference.

So the most high-profile opening salvo: David Cameron and Theresa May hanging out with border agents in the home of people arrested for being suspected undocumented immigrants. There’s something quite awful about David Cameron casually leaning against the kitchen counter of someone’s home, uninvited. The occupants are conspicuous by their absence, and the media and the Prime Minister no less are in the intimacy of their home, broadcasting to the nation. Despite the fact that the occupants of the house haven’t been convicted of a crime, and might yet be innocent, the invasion of their home in such a high-profile manner really brings the hostile environment home; and the “Go Home” campaign it seems, is far from over. Cameron saw fit to double down:

“”When we find you, and we will find you, we’ll make sure you are sent back to the country you came from,” he said.”

Funnily enough, and despite the far right rhetorical grab, UKIP actually felt there was political mileage in denouncing the stunt as “vacuous”. Labour, oddly enough, criticised the government for not going far enough. This is what it has come to. The main parties are so desperate to be seen to be tough that they’ll say (and do) anything, and somehow conspire to leave UKIP (and the Greens I suppose, not that anyone asks them) to claim the moral high ground.

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In praise of Phone Shop

It’s not just the fact that I’ve chained myself to a laptop for a week to crunch out a draft of my dissertation and Phone Shop is my light relief. It’s hilarious. It’s also got a very clever  script with a lot of zinging one-liners, but the real triumph is the cast, who are credited with improvising the script too.  At turns slapstick and satirical, Phone Shop is a comedy on a many levels and I enjoy every single one, from the basement up. And if you don’t believe me, read the Guardian’s review of Season 3.

Just one example of the silly, self-referential style:

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It is possible to oppose Israeli military action in Gaza without being anti-semitic, or denying the Holocaust, or approving of Hamas rockets being fired into Israel to harm innocent civilians.

It is possible to be horrified by the suffering in Gaza and angry at both the Israeli bombs and the Hamas militants who shelter among the innocent, drawing their fire.

It is possible to have complex feelings about what’s going on in the West Bank; many people do.

But some things are quite simple. Israel has a shield, while the people of Gaza are sitting ducks, utterly defenceless, with no open border to flee to safety in another country and no safe place to flee within Gaza where they can’t be bombed.

The majority of the occupants of Gaza are innocent children. They have nothing to protect them. Israel has nuclear weapons and the protection of the international community, most notably the US.

The stream of heartbreaking news out of Gaza is endless and awful. None of our hands are clean.

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The Good Wife

Perfection Eltahawy tumblrNo, not the TV show (arguably one of the best on TV at the moment and one of my favourites of all time, especially for the female characters) – the political theatre.

So, Ed Miliband is a geek. I think that’s always been fairly well-known, but the media is convinced that being “weird” in his particular way means that he unelectable (Come on, you must be a *bit* weird to be a politician, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, so they all are IMO). The evidence is meant to be unassailable: he can’t eat a bacon sandwich, unfortunately he looks a bit like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit, he has a nasal tone of voice etc etc.

I find the narrative irritating, but the solution to his perceived personality problem even more so: his wife, Justine. The last few days have seen a flurry of articles about Ed playing the “wife card” , columns on how Leader’s Wives is no longer a derogatory term, and a long profile of Justine Thornton in the Times.

Despite the earnest attempts to dress up this accessorizing role, it remains exactly that. It’s ridiculous that Ed should seek or expect a boost because he had the good sense to marry what appears to be an accomplished, smart and beautiful woman. He is the elected official, not her. And while the role of a leader’s wife is high profile, this is not the USA. You wouldn’t know it, but we vote for parties, not presidents. It’s ridiculous to expect Justine to assume the role as a foil to Ed’s career – and I salute women like Miriam Clegg who seem to have mostly eschewed the role.

I don’t know if it reflects badly on the media for appearing to require this farce, or for the politicians for trying to use it, or we the public for buying into it (they wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work, right?)

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I think sometimes it helps in these discussions to get down to the bare bones and say it like it is. And that is that people are scared of black and brown people coming into your country. That’s essentially what it is. And once you take it down to the bare bones, when you talk about things like the dole, and they’re coming to take our jobs, they’re coming to take our money, all of these incredibly toxic ideas people have, and it is at the end of the day about racism. It’s about people who don’t look like us. But in a country like this you have to ask, who is us? And who made us, us? And what did you do to the people who were there before us became us? And are you ok with that?
—Mona Eltahawy on Q&A, March 31st, 2014, Australia.

On Immigration and Us (Australia)

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Sexy Geckos and other Friday Thoughts

Right, I know it’s Sunday, but this was meant to go up on Friday.

Three for Friday! (Or Monday, as the case may be)

One A story that will *never* get old: Russia loses a satellite of geckos taking part in a zero-gravity sex experiment.

Two Something to think about:

What is African includes the ways by which we have preserved ourselves in foreign lands and lands engulfed by foreign men. It is the commitment to the preservation of natural and cultural environments that sustain us, and the rejection of those that seek to destroy us. We must remember that culture is meant to preserve people, not the other way around. It is fluid and it should be self-reflective.
—Georges Ekwensi; Know No Bounds

Three Gregory Porter’s dulcet tones. Easily one of my favourite male vocalists ever.

Dream Casting

CaptureOne of my favourite women, Mona Eltahawy, blogged about some stars as DC comic characters and I just had to share! Here’s the original post. As for Gina Torres as Wonder Woman – YES ! YES! YES! (Bit of a fan girl of both here) And I am a big fan of Lucy Liu too, so Yes again to her as Zatanna!




Last week, rather belatedly, I stumbled on the Faith Feminisms project, women talking about the intersection of their faith and feminism. One particular post really resonated with me, basically about intersectionality and theology, Loving Eve and Ham.

My journey as a feminist and a Christian was also glacial, with a gradual blossoming, settling of ideas and logic. I suppose there have always been feminist influences in my life; my mother and so many other women I grew up around, though they would never self-identify that way – they just did what they thought was right; they made their choices around work and home with a confidence and self-possession that left a deep impression on me. Later, at my all-girls school, we were never explicitly taught about feminism, but we were encouraged to believe that we could do anything that any other girl-or boy – was capable of. Reading Maya Angelou as a young woman moved me in ways that I can only articulate now. And there are more, so many more interactions that have acted upon me at different moments in my life, distilling down gradually in my thought processes.

My journey of faith has been exactly that; moving across a landscape that was ever-changing, learning what to carry with me, what to question and what to set aside; growing in a relationship with God and my changing impressions of what that even means (!) Reading about the women in the Bible, named and unnamed, whose stories (sometimes surprising or shocking) are preserved there to be explored anew, was also a transformational experience. (So much more there than Proverbs 31 woman!)

But here we are. I’m a Christian. I’m a feminist. I’m still learning, but the intersection of faith and feminism is dynamic and constantly challenging.  From the article:

“My feminism will always live at the intersection of race. It recognizes the Divine within all black women, all women of color, all women, all people. It doesn’t erase me from the Bible or make me the scourge of it. It proclaims the innate goodness of womanhood.

My feminism loves as hard as it fights. It basks in the glow of sisterhood. It nurtures relationships. It gives generously, protects fiercely, laughs freely, weeps courageously, dances with child-like abandon. Like shared wine and chocolate cheesecake with her best friends at midnight, it drinks deeply.  It lives.”


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Go Home: One Year On

We’re roughly a year on from the government’s ill-advised and offensive Operation Vaken campaign. Refugee Action has a great podcast on the campaign and their advice on how to help people who may want to go back to their home countries – basically, a humane and principled approach. It reminds me of how Operation Vaken was never really about helping people, (in my opinion) it was about advertising to the public about the government’s hardline approach. They also raise questions about the claims of the evaluation report, which appears to show the scheme was a success (!), concluding instead that close examination of its claims show that the scheme was, (as well all know) a resounding failure.

“The government currently have an approach to immigration that is actively hostile…we’re really worried about the impact that has on communities up and down the nation”

A Tale of Two Lives

I wrote about former immigration minister Mark Harper’s cleaner, Isabella Acevedo last year, at a time when their fortunes were starkly contrasted in the media. There was broad sympathy for Harper’s “principled stand” in resigning over Ms Acevedo’s irregularities in her paperwork but little to no appreciation for her situation or uncertain future. This week he was promoted back into the Cabinet, while Ms Acevedo is in Yarl’s Wood, after being detained at her daughter’s wedding. The excellent Ian Dunt reported in detail on what happened:

“They really grabbed her. She’s got marks on her arms. They handcuffed her. She said that in the van one of them leaned over and said: ‘We told you we would get you. I was there the last time. I raided your house. We’ve got you now. You’ve nowhere to run’.”

The officers didn’t appear to know any of the laws they were operating under. Some did not wear badge numbers. They did not explain where they were taking her – or her brother, who had also been detained. They tried to stop the wedding, telling her daughter that she didn’t have the proper paperwork to go ahead. The registrar checked and found everything was in order. The wedding went ahead, but only after the mother of the bride had been taken away.

The Guardian carried an in-depth interview with Ms Acevedo. I’m happy to see that her story is finally being told, but as the article points out, there is an “ugly symmetry” in events. Harper is riding high, while Ms Acevedo’s life and dreams, like so many undocumented migrants, lie in tatters:

Acevedo sobs angrily. “They destroyed a family in one day. They destroyed a dream, they destroyed a home.”

Speaking of Yarl’s Wood, there are a lot of refugee women locked up in there, many indefinitely. Women for Refugee Women has an excellent campaign on this issue and a report that makes for sobering reading.

Operation Skybreaker

 Looking forward from Operation Vaken, RAMFEL has written an insightful blog on the Home Office’s upcoming initiative, Operation Skybreaker:

Looking back Operation Valken also marked a new era in Immigration Enforcement, an era of ‘high visibility immigration enforcement’, of which the arrest of Isabella Acevedo Mark Harper’s cleaner is just one example. Since Operation Valken we have seen an intensification of immigration operations, such as  Operation Centurion, Operation Chelsea, Operation Skyscraper, and a few weeks ago we were ‘consulted’ about the Home Office’s latest brainwave  Operation Skybreaker.

They go on to detail the new plan and highlight some worrying plans, including the co-opting of faith communities (nowhere to hide!) and point out, quite rightly, that:

“voluntary departures under duress are hardly voluntary, and creating and egging on a local hostile environment where your neighbours hate you because you either are, or are suspected of being a migrant is hardly tantamount to safe secure neighbourhoods.”

The toll on community relations is a real worry that the Home Office seems determined to ride roughshod over. Beyond this, though, is the glaring fact that what we need, among so many other things, is a better debate.

In the meantime, so many amazing groups like RAMFEL remain vigilant. And those of us of like mind should, too.


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Soul for Friday

To cheer myself up, I thought I’d post some of the songs I have on repeat. Common theme: distinctive female vocals and songs that need a full listen to be appreciated.

One Paloma Faith, dubbed “London’s favourite glamourpuss goofball” by Time Out London. I love her retro/artistic/dramatic style, and I love her voice. Her first album was dramatic and yearning, and her new one Perfect Contradiction has a funky, soul vibe – a homage to a bygone era. Her backing singers are quite frankly amazing – but then I’ve always thought that backing singers often out-sing and out-dance the main act. Also: they’re wearing all plaid and singing in a kitchen. That saucepan riff is quite frankly one of my favourite bits.

Two Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (yes, again. Be prepared to see them, Hot 8 and Sam Cooke constantly reappearing). Just…well… listen.

Three Barbara Dane – the woman who counted Louis Armstrong among her fans. I’ve moved right back through time for this one.

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