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Rancière: ‘Post Democracy’, Populism, and Anti-Anti-Populism (Part One).

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‘Rancière: ‘Post Democracy’, Populism, and Anti-Anti-Populism.

Part One.

Maint fleur épanche à regret,

Son parfum doux comme un secret,

Dans les solitudes profoundes.”

Many a flower regretfully
Exhales perfume soft as secrets
In a profound solitude.

 

Le Guignon. Les Fleurs du mal. Charles Baudelaire. (1)

Introduction.

Jacques Rancière has become a reference point in radical aesthetic theory. Over the last two decades his writings have a committed audience, a larger group of spectators, and have helped inspire some optimism about allying artistic experimentation with emancipatory politics. (le Monde 6.7.18)  The irruption of “dissensus”, upturning existing communities of the creation and reception of arts, (the “partage du sensible” in a “sensus communis”), offers glimpses of “festivals of the future”. (2)

Across the left Rancière is best known as a champion of the politics of the “principle of equality”, “the equality of anyone at all with anyone else”. This, the only universal in politics, is the perpetual up-setter of apple carts. Perhaps his most ambitious target is a vehicle that might be better called a juggernaut. This is “post-democracy”. Pierre Rosanvallon has observed that he was one of the first to employ this term. “Post-democracy”(“post-démocratie”) has replaced the classical active ‘subject’ and agent of politics, effaced before the technical regulation of society – in the interests of those who hold economic power. (La contre-démocratie. 2006). As Rancière has stated, “Post-democracy is the government practice and conceptual legitimisation of a democracy after the demos, a democracy that has eliminated the appearance, miscount, and dispute of the people and is thereby reducible to the sole interplay of state mechanisms and combinations of social energies and interests.” (3)

Can the egalitarian figure of the People overturn the rule of the experts steeped in managerial science, neo-liberal economics, and the crafts of PR, presiding over post-democracy?  Is neoliberal post-democracy, as Rosanvallon has recently stated, so dominant, diffuse and elusive that the one is restricted to making its workings known?  (Le Monde. 31. 8. 18) Rancière places his hopes in a revived Demo. As he said in 2017, “the point today is trying to think a form of political organisation as really creating a new form of people. Because person is not the reality that parties represent, it is the reality that they create. The problem is whether we can create a new kind of people, a people of equals who have the possibility to put the capacity of anybody at work.” (4)

Rancière, then, is a critic of “Ètats oligarchiques”, based on the rule of – liberal – law that excludes Popular Sovereignty, and a voice on the side of the People. The late Ernesto Laclau’s On Populist Reason (2005) welcomed his “rediscovery of the People”, while flagging up his differences, with the French writers references to the “irreducible heterogeneity” (as Rancière calls it, “a multiplicity of experiences of equality, freedom or emancipation”) of popular struggle. Including those whose fight for equality flowers in “profound solitude.”(5)

Disagreements are more clearly signalled in public discussion with Laclau in 2015. Rancière asserted, “at least in European countries the representative principle of the state is completely integrated into the oligarchic mechanisms that it reproduces. It certainly does not function as a means for building a popular will.” This puts him at odds with the intramundane translation of Laclau’s ideas, put into strategic form by his partner Chantal Mouffe as ‘left populism’. Based on “federating the people”, bringing together their diverse interests and backgrounds into a unity that displaces the post-democratic consensus managed by the ruling political class, this has had some influence on European politics.  Spain’s Podemos and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (LFI) have paid attention to this perspective. Key advisers have borrowed from Laclau’s theoretical tool-box. It would be rash nevertheless to make the bolder claim that these politicians are the earthly incarnation of the abstractions of On Populist Reason and, other, far less accessible works. Mouffe’s most recent book, For a Left Populism (2018) restricts herself to quoting Rancière’s description of “post-democracy”. The debate has halted there for the moment. (6)

Populism.

Rancière is also known for his article, L’introuvable populisme (2011), which criticised, pell-mell, “elite” contempt for the rough masses, secular French republicanism, and the racialism of the French state. Éric Fassin, Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, include these aspects of Rancière in discussion of both Populism and post-democracy. (7)

In this year’s Socialist Register James Foley and Pete Ramand find comfort for their opinions on the potential of Referendums for outsiders (including the left) to express themselves in the earlier La Haine de la démocratie (2005).  Pouring scorn on the denial of the French vote on the 19th of May 2005 against the EU Constitution, Rancière wrote on the theme he was to take up in L’introuvable populism, “Populism is the convenient name under which is dissimulated the exacerbated contradiction between popular legitimacy and expert legitimacy”.  Railing against “les oligarches, leurs savants et leurs idéologues” who despise the masses, in this instance those opposed to backing the EU plan, as ignorant “populists”. This theeme is repated many time in his writing, “‘populist’ is very much part of this arsenal used by the intellectual world, the world of the dominant.” This is, in some eyes, a way of avoiding talking about what exactly this particularly “heterogeneous” people. Indeed he is obdurate enough to claim that “it was clearly a democratic question and that was in the forefront.” In reality during that contest the ‘non’ to the Constitution included the whole of the French extreme right and many on the left marked by ‘elitist’ republicanism’ and nationalism. (8)

And yet… Rancière is best described as an ‘anti-anti-populist’. The ‘elite’ horror of mass direct intervention in political life, turning upside down the consensus of established politics, is the principal contradiction. “Cold racism”, he asserts on the universal basis of French experience, is generated by the ‘secular’ state. Laws entrenching secularism (that is, laïcité), endorsed by the Republican left, which affect ‘Moslems’, terms no doubt requiring no further explanation – highlight a wider form of contempt. But is, the “new racism coming from the top of the State” the end of the problem? The successes of right-wing ‘populism’, up to the extreme right, in the electorates of many countries, can hardly be obscured as they parade in the light of day. Is it only a ‘secondary contradiction’ amongst the people, a fabrication by ‘elites’, another shadow game in post-democracy, or, as most would imagine, a profound and rooted political problem?  Any answers are, at best, obscured by Rancière’s polemical gambit. That is, the principle  – frequent if never explicitly put – that one often needs to “reverse”, turn upside down, two poles to get a hold on how the elusive post-democratic society is operating. The election in Sweden this September suggests that one should turn this round again. We have to look at the ‘popular’ basis for mass backing for racist parties.

Radical Democracy.

That said, does Rancière contribute to grasping the world described as “post-democratic” and offer any useful ideas about creating democratic equality? Alex Dimorivić offers a hook into his work: the thinker is a champion of “Radical democracy ll, a stand that flavours democratic aspirations through “dissensus, argument, conflict and antagonism.” To approach Rancière’s politics through the lenses of left-wing radical democracy is to place him within, as he might put it, to join a sensus communis that is potentially intelligible to a broad left audience.  Rancière certainly does not follow those who are attempting to construct and channel the ‘People’ into a political organisation under the guidance of left populist theory and charismatic Leader. In the 2017 French Presidential election he called for a “non candidate”, and encouraged of independent forms of popular democracy beyond the “false choice” in the ballot box.   It would appear that the last thing the principle of equality would endorse is, transposing the words of The Philosopher and His Poor, a Party-Movement dedicated to training actors “in the art of becoming historical agents.”  (9)

Can Rancière offer light, as Étienne Balibar has stated, on the roots of his own principle of “égaliberté”, equality-liberty? That is that by pushing the drive for recognition by those without a stake in society into broader political thinking (including the worlds of Theory and Philosophy….)? He may of thinking through the concepts of freedom in the mould of radical egalitarianism, and add some spice about the pitfalls of integration into the ways things have been set up till now. Balibar’s pwn democratic experimentation, has explored the blind spots (“angles morts”) of Marxism. Rancière’s independent take (and criticisms) of pictures of the “democratic revolution”, and “political emancipation” associated with Claude Lefort.

Ideas of  “equality-liberty” may open up further avenues that bring the “principle of equality” into a wider range of issues, from human rights to the shape of the welfare state and education.  The critic of the Western military imposition of “infinite justice” is far from an opponent of all concepts of human right. Indeed he is a keen supporter of the struggles stemming from those who have no part in society (“la part des sans-part”), and their fight for rights that emerge beyond the framework of nation, peoples and classes. Those influenced by Claude Lefort tend to be over-wary of the threat of totalitarianism; Rancière has a profound tendency to ignore the issue altogether.  A certain balance, or, dare I say it, ‘anglo-saxon’ (as French writers misleadingly call us) pragmatism would suggest that that each writer may illuminate the other. (10)

But – this is a repeated warning  – often the language is very abstract. This is not only a matter of the terms employed. Slavoj Žižek point out that Rancière’s account (the ‘non-foundation’) of The Political (le politique) and Politics (la politique) structurally avoids the importance of the critique of political economy. One can extend this insight. Anybody educated in the history of the labour movement and the left will find the bald assertion of the importance of a “non-sociological” concept of the working class,  “a kind of symbolical invention of the collective”, offered without substantial documented detail, grating.  It is not only these difficulties that should concern us. Whether his take can contribute to any definite political project is equally far from clear. As Frédéric Lordon has remarked – he is far from the first to do so – the golden moments of democratic energy, real politics, are for Rancière brief and rare. The “police”, the administration of post-democracy, soon brings the masses to order. (11)

 

**********

Part 2, from the  La leçon d’Althusser (1975) La Nuit des prolétaires. Archives du rêve ouvrier, (1981), Le Philosophe et ses pauvres, (1983) to the overview offered by Pratiquer l’égalité  Anders Fjeld (2018) passing through, amongst others Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (2010), Chronicles of Consensual Times (2010)…….

 

References :

 

 

  1. Translation by William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954). The lines, criticsm assures us, echo, “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” Thomas Gray. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. The following may extend the relevance to Rancière’s project, “Some Village Hampden that with dauntless breast, The little tyrant of his fields withstood, Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood”.
  2. On the new links between aesthetics, politics and “other ways of living”, “Entre esthétique et politique les frontières deviennent poreuses.” Le Monde. 6.7.18). One of the best texts with which to begin reading his views on art is Chapter 3. Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community. The Emancipated Spectator, Jacques Rancière. Translated Gregory Elliott. Verso. 2009. See the invaluable Translator’s Introduction to, Jacques Rancière’s Politics of Perception Gabriel Rockhill to The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution  of the Sensible. Jacques Rancière. Continuum. 2005. In French there is this useful short overview:  Stéphane Roy-des-rosiers. Introduction approfondie à l’esthétique de Jacques Rancière.  On the wider importance of his views on aesthetic judgement, see the Introduction to Rancière’s Sentiments. David Panagia Duke University Press. 2018.
  3. Page 15. Rancière, Disagreement. Originally published as La Mesentente: Politique et philosophie, copyright 1995 Editions Galilee. Translated Julie Rose. University of Minnesota Press. 1999. On Post-democracy: Page 267. La contre-démocratie. Pierre Rosanvallon. Seuil 2006. Rosanvallon states that Rancière was probably the first to use the expression “post-démocratie” in La Mésentente. The line cited is from the English translation, Page 102. Disagreement. Op cit. The term is also known through the work of  Colin Crouch. See Colin Crouch. Coping with Post-Demcoraccy.(Fabian Society. No Date) Is there a liberalism beyond social democracy? By Colin Crouch. Policy Network , 5 May 2011
  4. .Pages 19-20 A coffee with Jacques Rancière beneath the Acropolis Babylonia. January 2018.
  5. “Concluding Remarks” On Populist Reason. Ernesto Laclau. Verso 2005. Don’t they represent us? A discussion between Jacques Rancière and Ernesto Laclau. 2015. Translated by David Broder, from El Diario. Page 13. For a Left Populism. Chantal Mouffe. Verso 2018.
  6. L’introuvable populisme in Qu’est-ce qu’un people? Alain Badiou, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Georges Didi-Huberman, Sadri Khiari, Jacques Rancière. La Fabrique
  7. Pages 17 – 18. Populisme: le grand ressentiment. Èric Fassin. Èditions Textuel. 2017. In the Conclusion: Ce Cauchemar qui n’en finit pas. Comment le néolibéralisme défait la démocratie. Pierre Dardot, Christian Laval. .La Découverte. 2016.
  8. In fear of Populism: Referendums and neoliberal democracy. James Foley Pete Ramand. Pages 87 –88 Rethinking Democracy  Socialist Register 2018. Merlin. La Haine de la démocratie. Jacques Rancière La Fabrique. 2005 Page 120. Europe: The Return of the People, or of Populism? 2016 (Verso site’s translation). In fact faced with the Brexit vote all he could do was mumble about  a reaction to the (EU) “denial of democracy, a denial which the European bureaucracy itself embodies. Then there is the aspect that is about relating to the other, relations with foreigners. “
  9. Radical Democracy and Socialism. Alex Dimorivić. Socialist Register 2018. Merlin 2018. On more details on this ‘non-candidacy”, such as they are, see Jacques Rancière, La Grande Table: Revaloriser la démocratie avec Jacques Rancière. France Culture. (3.5.17)“Les logiques représentatives génèrent un système d’alternance de partis qui se ressemblent de plus en plus.”:”La seule campagne significative à mon sens est précisément une campagne pour la non-présidence.” “Il reste possible d’envisager des formes d’institutions réellement démocratiques et non axées sur la question de la lutte du pouvoir.” “La vraie question est celle du choix lui-même : nous assistons à une élection de la dépossession.” “Un peuple n’existe pas par lui-même : c’est le résultat d’un certain nombre d’éléments, d’un processus politique.” “Il y a un combat à mener contre les idéologies ouvertement réactionnaires et élitistes, et un autre contre les fausses évidences.” The Philosopher and His Poor, ed. Andrew Parker, co-trans. John Drury, Corinne Oster, and Andrew Parker (2004) original edition. Le Philosophe et ses pauvres, Fayard, 1983 a crucial transtional point which will be taken up further).
  10. The translation “counting the uncounted” (counting , décompte) is used in From Universality to Equality Badiou’s critique of Rancière. Jeff Love and Todd May (Clemson University) Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy. (Web) Most of the article is taken up with demolishing one of the most arrogant claims a world class egotist has ever made, Alain Badiou has asserted that in this approach to equality Rancière simply borrowed his own concept of “nomination” – in a grand ontology which few can fathom – to signal out the moment of resistance that marks the ‘non-part’ rebellion. Rancière’s own, respectful, account of Badiou’s concept of ‘fidelity” is discussed at a level of enormous abstraction in, “Jacques Rancière A propos de L’Etre et l’Evénement d’Alain Badiou. le cahier du Collège international de philosophie.n° 8 octobre 1989 (éd. Osiris) A courageous effort to render into English the decent obscurity of the learned language in this essay on Badiou is offered by David Broder, Time is nothing other than intervention”—Jacques Rancière on Alain Badiou’s Being and Event. Verso Site.
  11. The link is underlined by Balibar right at the beginning of this work, “il faut que s’affirme une légitimité de la lutte, ce que Jacques Rancière appelle la part des sans-part, qui confère une signification universelle à la revendication du « décompte » de ceux qui ont été maintenus en dehors du « bien commun » ou de la « volonté générale” Ouverture: l’antimonie de la citoyenneté. In Étienne Balibar. La Proposition de l’égaliberté. Essais politiques. 1980 – 2009/ Actuel Marx. PUF 2010. Étienne Balibar, L’Illimitation démocratique. Martin Deleixhe. Michalon Éditeur. 2014. Page 293. Of Lefort’s writings on these issues see particularly. Essais sur le politique. Claude Lefort. Seuil. 1986. L’invention démocratique. Fayard, 1981/1994.  Page 75. Amongst many references to this take on human rights see: What is the Subject of the Rights of Man? In Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (2010) The Lesson of Rancière. Slavoj Žižek. In: The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution of the Sensible. Op Cit. Structures et affects des corps politiques. Frédéric Lordon. La Fabrique. 2012.

 

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Giles Fraser, Guardian Columnist and radical Priest attacks “Cosmopolitans” and calls for New Patriotic Party – “Home”.

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Giles Fraser: Fighting “Rootless Cosmopolitans”. 

Clergyman Giles Fraser is a bit of character.

During his time at St Paul’s – as Canon – he backed the Occupy! movement.

More recently he has embarked on a journey which began with his studies of Nietzsche, then passed through his staunch denunciation of the ‘atheist’ French revolution, and, above all, Charlie Hebdo, who misused freedom as “white atheists to sneer at non-white believers”.

Then he attacked the “The oppressive individualism of human rights.

As you do.

Pride is not normally considered a Christian virtue, but this has not stopped our Padre this week from terminating his voyage with his very own proud call for a new political party.

He begins with this lament for the past.

The Labour party began as a party for the working class, reflecting the patriotic communitarian commitments of working class people. Many who were not themselves working class were attracted to its values of fairness and social solidarity.

But towards the back end of the 20th century, the party was increasingly taken-over by those who espoused a cosmopolitan and liberal philosophy of individualism that was too relaxed about the effect of market forces and indifferent to the importance of communal life.

There was a dangerous hubris about the way liberals accepted no limit to individual self-assertion. Under the banner of progress and spreading liberal values, we invaded Iraq and brought the world to the very edge of another world war.

Enough is enough. It’s time for a new political party. My one would be called Home. It wants a United Kingdom that is generous at home and reluctant to intervene abroad.

Liberals, human rights – all vanity.

In touch with Twilight of the Gods Fraser has thus spake.

Let’s Concentrate on Home

Home is a party that accepts we are no longer a global power. The empire is long behind us, and, therefore, we do not need an expensive global military to go with it. We would immediately cancel Trident and substantially reduce our budget for the armed forces. We will be extremely cautious about foreign military interventions. Withdraw all forces from the Middle East. We need more police and fewer soldiers.

Exit EU, without a deal if necessary: no to the Single Market, no to the Custom’s Union. We must have a home of our own, and others should respect we have our own way of doing things. We need a British Bill of Responsibilities and Rights. The seat of government should move to Manchester during the refurbishment of the Houses of Parliament, and an English Parliament should remain there when the United Kingdom government returns to Westminster.

Home is a patriotic party. Not narrowly nationalist, but nonetheless proud of our heritage. It believes in stable communities, full of people who are very definitely citizens of somewhere. Deracinated cosmopolitanism, and its accompanying philosophy of liberalism, has transformed us into a society of atomised individuals, cut off from each other and ill at ease together. Home is a proposal for the fightback.

Liberalism has broken us – we need a new party to call Home.  7th of June.

This looks, probably because as it is, like 1930s neo-socialism, a half-way house to the nationalist far right.

Fraser is only one anti-EU figures to go in this direction.

Sovereigntism, a “home of our own” is the maison commune of many an anti-globaliser.

Communities, the real destination of the once influential communitarian thought of Michael Sandel and others, end up being exclusionary Nation States for all this fretting Man of the Cloth’s warm words.

Fightback Forsooth!

Rootless Cosmopolitans. 

There are those, less enchanted, and full of resentiment who have picked up on some of his language.

More on HP.

 

Here is a recent example of how Fraser is Beyond Good and Evil.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 8, 2018 at 11:37 am

Giles Fraser, former Guardian Columnist and Present Priest of St Mary’s, Newington, Touts for Assad in Syria.

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Giles Fraser, Vicar, former Guardian Columnist Touts for Assad.

Hat-Tip JP.

This will remind many people of the kind of criminal lies and delusions spread by the fellow travellers of Stalin.

As in  David CauteFellow-Travellers: A Postscript to the Enlightenment,  1973 (revised edition, as The Fellow-Travellers: Intellectual Friends of Communism,  1988.)

He is not alone:  London Times articles about Assadist university professors  Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist)

Fraser has a more recent history of deluded apologies for murder.

2016:

Giles Fraser (Guardian) attacks Charlie Hebdo.

Zineb El Rhazoui, formerly of Charlie Hebdo, “white atheist sneering at non-white believers” says Giles Fraser. 

Giles Fraser is a columnist for the Guardian.

In his spare time he is  parish priest at St Mary’s, Newington.

Giles Fraser does not like French secularism.

He devotes most of his energy to unmasking Republican France’s  “foundation myth”, the “glorious triumph of atheistic rationality over the dangerous totalitarian obscurantism of the Catholic church.” (France’s much vaunted secularism is not the neutral space it claims to be)

During his morning bath Fraser thinks of the Vendée and the Drownings at Nantes (Noyades de Nantes) of refractory clergy.

A walk on the beach sends him musing on the ‘Burkini’.

Passing by a Stationer’s  the Priest considers the shadow of the secularist Guillotine.

It goes without saying that he did and does not like Charlie Hebdo, modern Atheist “Iconoclasts

It is with little surprise that we find that Fraser now manages to drag Charlie into this debate: “Kelvin MacKenzie has been cleared by Ipso over his column on the Channel 4 News presenter. What message does that ruling send?” (Is it ‘open season’ on Muslims, as Fatima Manji suggests? Our panel responds.)

 Fraser comments,

Defending freedom of speech is one thing, but freedom of speech is brought into massive disrepute when it becomes a moral alibi for white atheists to sneer at non-white believers, and Muslims in particular. It was exactly the same with Charlie Hebdo – they hid their racism behind that all-purpose moral pass, freedom of speech. But at least they were equal opportunity offenders – they had a pop at all-comers: Jews, Christians, Muslims.

Racism?

Is Charlie a group of ‘white atheists’?

You mean that anybody criticising Islam gives an “alibi” to ‘racists”?

That Charlie “hid” its racism?

As in the case of this much loved comrade….

Zineb el Rhazoui, Charlie Hebdo survivor, discusses why the world needs to ‘Destroy Islamic Fascism’ (New York Times 18.10.16.)

Undeterred by fatwas and death threats, the author has released an incendiary and thoughtful new book, bound to provoke debate.

She leads a clandestine existence, on the move and under 24-hour guard as France’s most protected woman. Yet Zineb El Rhazoui, the Charlie Hebdo journalist who happened to be in Casablanca on January 7 last year, the day terrorists “avenging the Prophet” massacred nine people at the satirical magazine in Paris, believes she has a duty to defy Islamists desperate to silence her.

Shaken but undeterred by the fatwas and relentless, precise death threats issued via social media to “kill the bitch” since she helped produce the publication’s first survivors’ issue following the attack — and spoke about it in Arabic for the Arab press — the Moroccan-French writer refuses to assume an anonymous identity. Fleeing Paris or abandoning her human rights activism, and her unforgiving critiques of the religion she grew up with, are also out of the question.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 16, 2018 at 11:07 am

Stephen Hawking: a Powerful Voice for Decency.

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In the deeply affecting film of his life, The Theory of Everything (2014), Stephen Hawking’s wife Jane describes him as a  “old liberal socialist’.

Amongst many of the powerful tributes to Hawking’s today the Independent draws attention to the political aspect of this commitment.

The death of the Labour-supporting Stephen Hawking robs campaigners against “backdoor privatisation” of the NHS of their most powerful supporter.

The world-renowned and much-loved physicist was embroiled in a fierce legal battle with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt over a shake-up of the health service he had condemned.

Professor Hawking was also a lifelong Labour supporter, although he called for Jeremy Corbyn to step down before last year’s general election – saying: “I regard Corbyn as a disaster.

His heart is in the right place and many of his policies are sound, but he has allowed himself to be portrayed as a left-wing extremist. I think he should step down for the sake of the party.”

However, at an election event in his home city of Cambridge, the scientist also said: “I’m voting Labour because another five years of Conservative government would be a disaster for the NHS, the police and other public services.”

The Labour leader tweeted his tribute today, saying: “Stephen Hawking inspired the world with his determination to explain the mysteries of the cosmos. But he also showed breathtaking courage to overcome life’s adversities and a burning passion to protect our National Health Service. He will be greatly missed.”

Hawking’s spoke publicly for his beliefs.

Stephen Hawking gave the keynote speech on the NHS at the Royal College of Medicine last year.

LBC

“I have had a lot of experience of the NHS and the care I received has enabled me to live my life as I want and to contribute to major advances in our understanding of the universe

“Sometimes I have had to challenge the medical opinion to get the care I need, but the important thing is that a principles of the NHS I mean that there is good care available and that it is provided at the point of need to everyone without regard for a personal circumstance or ability to pay.

“These are the principles of universal and comprehensive provision on which the NHS was founded.

“It is important that care is available without any of the added burdens for people that come with private health insurance.

“To be able to access that care from doctors and hospitals without having to go through an intermediary in the form of an insurance company or a deal with massive amounts of paperwork before and after is crucial to good health.”

The NHS saved me. As a scientist, I must help to save it

Like many people, I have personal experience of the NHS. In my case, medical care, personal life and scientific life are all intertwined. I have received a large amount of high-quality NHS treatment and would not be here today if it were not for the service.

The care I have received since being diagnosed with motor neurone disease as a student in 1962 has enabled me to live my life as I want, and to contribute to major advances in our understanding of the universe. In July I celebrated my 75th birthday with an international science conference in Cambridge. I still have a full-time job as director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology and, with two colleagues, am soon to publish another scientific paper on quantum black holes.

Last year my personal experience of the NHS and my scientific life came together when I co-signed a letter calling for healthcare policy to be based on peer-reviewed research and proper evidence. The specific issue addressed in the letter was the “weekend effect”. Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, had claimed that thousands of patients died unnecessarily because of poor hospital care at the weekend, and used this to argue that we needed to implement a seven-day NHS. I had mixed feelings about the issue. Having spent a lot of time in hospital, I would like there to be more services available at weekends. Also, it seems possible that some patients spend more time in hospital than is necessary because certain diagnostic tests can only be done on weekdays.

However, as we showed in the letter, Hunt had cherry-picked research to justify his argument. For a scientist, cherry-picking evidence is unacceptable. When public figures abuse scientific argument, citing some studies but suppressing others to justify policies they want to implement for other reasons, it debases scientific culture. One consequence of this sort of behaviour is that it leads ordinary people to not trust science at a time when scientific research and progress are more important than ever.

This problem goes beyond the weekend effect. The NHS is in a crisis, and one that has been created by political decisions. These political decisions include underfunding and cuts, privatising services, the public sector pay cap, the new contract imposed on junior doctors, and removal of the student nurses’ bursary. Political decisions such as these cause reductions in care quality, longer waiting lists, anxiety for patients and staff, and dangerous staff shortages. Failures in the system of privatised social care for disabled and elderly people have placed an additional burden on the NHS.

So what is to be done? A physicist like me analyses a system in terms of levels of approximation. To a first approximation, one can see the situation facing healthcare in this country in terms of forces with different interests.

On the one hand, there is the force of the multinational corporations, driven by their profit motive. In the US, where they are dominant in the healthcare system, these corporations make enormous profits, healthcare is not universal, and it is hugely more expensive for the outcomes patients receive than in the UK. We see the balance of power in the UK is with private healthcare companies, and the direction of change is towards a US-style insurance system.

On the other hand, there is the force of the public, and of democracy. Opinion polls consistently show a majority in favour of a publicly provided NHS, and opposed to privatisation and a two-tier system. Therefore, the best way to support the NHS is to empower the public. There are two priorities. First, clear information that public provision is not only the fairest way to deliver healthcare, but also the most cost-effective. Second, a loud voice and the political power to make politicians act on our behalf.

If that all sounds political, that is because the NHS has always been political. It was set up in the face of political opposition. It is Britain’s finest public service and a cornerstone of our society, something that binds us together. People value the NHS, and are proud that we treat everyone equally when they are sick. The NHS brings out the best in us. We cannot lose it.

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Hawking – with canes – protesting against the Vietnam War (MDS via Barry).

Written by Andrew Coates

March 14, 2018 at 1:02 pm

Atheists face prison in Egypt as Non-Belief may be made illegal.

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Charged in 2012 with “defamation of Islam and Christianity, insulting the divine and satirizing religious rituals and sanctities and the prophets under articles 98, 160 and 161 of the Egyptian Penal Code”

There are many countries where Atheism is a crime.

Atheists, and those accused of defection from the official religion, may be subject to discrimination and persecution in many Islamic countries. According to the International Humanist and Ethical Union, compared to other nations, “unbelievers… in Islamic countries face the most severe – sometimes brutal – treatment” Wikipedia.

Last year the Independent reported,

In thirteen countries, you can be sentenced to death for not having a faith

1.    Afghanistan

2.    Iran

3.    Malaysia

4.    Maldives

5.    Mauritania

6.    Nigeria

7.    Pakistan

8.    Qatar

9.    Saudi Arabia

10.    Somalia

11.    Sudan

12.    United Arab Emirates

13.    Yemen.

These regimes have laws that put people to death for ” blasphemy or apostasy”.

In Egypt, a state where the Sharia is one of the ‘sources’ of legislation, there has long been intolerance and the criminalisation of non-belief.

In January 2015 this happened:

A student has been sentenced to three years in prison for announcing on Facebook that he was an atheist and thereby “insulting Islam”. Karim Ashraf Mohamed al-Banna, aged 21, was arrested in November 2014 with a group of other people at a cafe in Cairo.

Police then closed down the so-called “atheists cafe” in what is being viewed as a coordinated government crackdown on atheists. A local administrator told a news website that the coffee shop was “known as a place for satan worship, rituals and dances”.

Egyptian police shutdown ‘atheist cafe’ accused of harbouring ‘Satan worship’

#EgyptTurmoil

The café, on Falaky Street in the downtown neighbourhood of Abdeen, was “destroyed” after local residents reported customers as spreading “wrong thoughts regarding religions”, Arabic-language daily Sada al-Baladreported.

“We have destroyed the café of the devil worshippers in Falaki Street for being illegal and for having a number of atheists spreading their thoughts,” local police chief Gamal Mohi told the daily.

However, when speaking to independent outlet Mada Masr, Mohi denied the café had been demolished and said it was actually shutdown in November “following noise complaints from local residents”.

“There was no demolition involved, only confiscation of the coffee shop’s property,” he said. “This was all done in accordance with the law and legal procedures.”

The café owner was the only person arrested in the raid, according to Mohi, who said he was being held “as his coffee shop was unauthorised, unlicensed, and also because drugs were found inside”.

“There was no sign reading ‘atheists’ café’ outside, as nobody would put up such a public announcement. However, it was popularly known as a place for Satan worship, rituals and dances. There were also Satanic drawings at the entrance,” the police chief said.

No publicly available evidence has been produced to verify the police chief’s allegations of Satan worship at the café and he did not explain why atheists – who reject the existence of both God and Satan – would be engaging in such practices.

Egyptian rights activists denounced the café closure as being “the wrong and criminal action”, providing the business was operating legally.

“No one has the right to arrest someone for his thoughts,” Ali Atef, from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told The Cairo Post. “And to be fair and honest, usually these incidents happen for arresting atheists, and later they explain that the café papers were illegal, which is usually wrong.”

In August 2017 there was this,

Egyptian TV presenter El-Beheiry was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of blasphemy—a charge filed against him by Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest Sunni authority. El-Beheiry’s show had tackled controversial issues on Islam such as punishments for apostasy, early marriage, and different interpretations of the Hadith—the sayings and teachings of Mohamed.

According to article 98 of the Egyptian Penal Code, those found guilty of insulting the monotheistic religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism) could face a fine or up to five years in prison. But the blasphemy law works mostly in favour of Muslims because they are the ones who bring this charge against people the most.

As can be seen, ‘insulting’ religion is punishable by law, but atheism is not as such, yet, a crime.

But now the Egyptian authorities are considering extending this persecution to make atheism itself a crime.

Lawmakers in Egypt are seriously considering passing a law that would make atheism illegal.

Blasphemy is already illegal in Egypt, and people are frequently arrested for insulting or defaming religion under the country’s strict laws. The newly proposed rule would make it illegal for people not to believe in God, even if they don’t talk about it.

“The phenomenon [of atheism] is being promoted in society as freedom of belief, when this is totally wrong,” Amro Hamroush, head of Egypt’s Parliament’s committee on religion, said when he introduced the bill in late December.

“[Atheism] must be criminalized and categorized as contempt of religion because atheists have no doctrine and try to insult the Abrahamic religions,” he wrote in the local daily paper Al-Shorouq.

As France Info points out in a new broadcast, you are obliged to declare your beliefs to the authorities., which will then appear on your identity card.

Already Christians and non-Muslims are second-class citizens.

Now, if the legislation is passed, you will not be a citizen at all, and a resident of a prison cell.

Égypte : les athées seront-ils bientôt mis en prison ?

Background:

Egypt’s war on atheism

There have been waves of panic about atheism in the predominantly conservative Islamic country for some years, largely driven from the top-down by government officials, religious leaders, and some media. The ‘crackdown’ on atheism has included a campaign to ‘inoculate’ or ‘educate’ young people away from atheism. Some highly questionable regional polling data in 2014 determined that there were precisely 866 atheists in the country. The figure was used as a justification for the ‘war on atheists’, though ironically the figure (which would represent just 0.001% of the population) is undoubtedly a huge underestimate and was dismissed by atheists locally as “highly unrealistic”.

The former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, in September 2014, put the level of atheism at 12.5 percent of young people (which is more realistic but the origin of the figure is unclear). Figures from the Family Court state that 6,500 women filed for a divorce in 2015 due to their husbands’ atheism. (Under the Personal Status Law, Muslim women can apply for divorce if their husbands denounce religion.)

The Sisi government has been pushing a line that has been described as “militantly mainstream“, targeting some conservatives and extremist interpretations of Islam as well as atheists and liberals.

Police have raided internet cafes that were alleged to be meeting places for atheists, and while atheism has become a hot topic in the country’s media, those invited to advocate atheism in televised debates have faced death threats and harassment.

Last month, a 29-year-old computer science graduate Ibrahim Khalil was detained on the accusation of ‘contempt of religion’. He was accused of running a Facebook page called ‘Atheism’ on which he allegedly published “distortions of the Quran” and advocated atheism.

Another student, 21-year-old Karim Ashraf Mohamed al-Banna, was sentenced to three years in November 2014 for announcing on Facebook that he was an atheist.

The media, religious leaders and politicians sometimes link atheism to homosexuality, which is similarly reviled, and promote the idea that atheism and homosexuality are mutually reinforcing “psychological imbalances”.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 1, 2018 at 5:25 pm

As Protests continue, half of Iranians say No to Compulsory Veils.

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The “Girls of Revolution Street”.

Iranian authorities have arrested 29 people as part of a crack down on protests against the compulsory hijab.

The movement, which has been named “the Girls of Revolution Street”, started after a woman took off her headscarf in central Tehran. (BBC).

Woman Arrested For Removing Hijab in Tehran Refuses to Repent Despite Facing 10 Years in Prison.

Centre for Human Rights in Iran. February the 6th.

Narges Hosseini, who was arrested for protesting against Iran’s compulsory hijab, refused to appear in court to face charges punishable by up to 10 years, including “encouraging immorality or prostitution.”

“Ms. Hosseini did not even appear in court to express remorse for her action. She said she objects to the forced hijab and considers it her legal right to express her protest,” Hosseini’s lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) on February 5, 2018.

Hosseini, 32, has been in detention since January 29, 2018. She was unable to pay the $135,000 USD bail set by the judge presiding over her case.

She was arrested on January 29, 2018, for posting a photo on social media of herself standing on a bench holding her white headscarf like a flag on Tehran’s Revolution’s Street.

All women in Iran are required to cover their hair and bodies in public.

Vida Movahed was the first woman to be arrested after she did the same thing in late December 2017 in Tehran. The act of removing your headscarf in public and waving it like a flag has become a symbol for the “Girls of Revolution Streetmovement, which advocates choice over compulsion for women’s clothing.

“Ms. Hosseini is being held in difficult circumstances in Gharchak Prison [south of Tehran] but she is not prepared to say she is sorry,” Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer, told CHRI. “She believes she’s innocent.”

Hosseini is facing the charges of, “openly committing a harām [sinful] act” and “violating public prudency” under Article 638 and “encouraging immorality or prostitution” under Article 639.

Compulsory Veils? Half of Iranians Say ‘No’ to Pillar of Revolution.

New York Times.

The office of Iran’s president on Sunday charged into the middle of one of the most contentious debates over the character of the Islamic Republic, suddenly releasing a three-year-old report showing that nearly half of Iranians wanted an end to the requirement that women cover their heads in public.

The report’s release comes as dozens of women in recent weeks have protested in public against being forced to wear the veil, a symbol of Iran’s revolution as much as it is deemed a religious requirement.

The decision to release the report — which found that 49.8 percent of Iranians, both women and men, consider the Islamic veil a private matter and think the government should have no say in it — appears to pit President Hassan Rouhani directly against Iran’s hard-line judiciary, which on Friday said that 29 people had been detained in connection with the protests. They have called the demonstrations “childish,” insist that the large majority of Iranians support Islamic veiling and have called for harsher measures against those protesting the veil.

At least as striking as the report’s findings was the timing of its release. The study is from 2014, and publishing it now suggests that the president saw this as a moment to challenge the hard-liners, who hold ultimate power, about such a symbolically potent issue.

Observers said the release of the report, by one of Mr. Rouhani’s closest advisers, was probably a politically calculated decision by the president, an Islamic cleric, to bolster support for social reforms and to signal to the authorities to temper their response to the veil protests.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

February 7, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Tariq Ramadan’s Accuser, Henda Ayari, Receives Anti-Semitic Death Threats as More Allegations Surface.

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Paid by ‘Zionists’ to attack Tariq Ramadan, say Oxford Don’s militant  Supporters. 

This story was on the French radio this morning:

Menacée sur les réseaux sociaux, la première accusatrice de Tariq Ramadan, Henda Ayari, porte plainte Huffington Post.  22/11/2017

Threatened on social media, the first accuser of Tariq Ramadan, Henda Ayrai, has lodged a formal complaint to the police.

She is now under Police protection.

The Parisien reports,

“Les insultes et menaces évoquent que je serais payée par les juifs, les sionistes, que l’homme qui me battait [son ex-compagnon] devrait être respecté… Ils disent que je fais du fric en surfant sur l’islamophobie, également sur le sang des Palestiniens”, raconte-t-elle au Parisien.

The insults and threats claim that I am paid by the Jews, the Zionists, and the home who beat me (her ex-partner) should be respected…They say that I’m making money and surf on a tide of Islamophobia, and on the the blood of the Palestinians.

Europe I  states that there have been 21 Pages of death threats.

 

It took a minute to find some examples of gross abuse and anti-semitism (there are more on Mediapart).

Image result for Henda Ayari sioniste

The National ( a private English-language  newspaper published in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates) reported yesterday that more accusations of sexual abuse have surfaced.

 

‘Tariq Ramadan’s victims could be in their hundreds’ – new exposé

The prominent Islamic scholar is facing a string of accusations of rape and sexual assault.

The victims of Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan are in the tens, if not hundreds, stretching back over more than two decades, according to a new exposé.

Majda Bernoussi, a woman of Moroccan origin, kept a daily journal throughout her tumultuous relationship with the prominent Islamic scholar, extracts of which have been unveiled in French magazine Le Point.

While Ms Bernoussi was herself not raped or beaten in the five year relationship, which lasted from 2009 to 2014, she claims to have been threatened by his fans when she tried to denounce him for his “predatory” behaviour towards women.

She is now planning to publish her journal, entitled: A voyage into troubled waters with Tariq Ramadan.

The latest development follows a string of damning allegations about Mr Ramadan, who is a professor at Oxford University and the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

It is completely abnormal that the British media and establishment, both liberal and not so liberal,  who have treated this creature, the Oxford Don and media invitee, Tariq Ramadan, with respect, should largely ignore this affair   and the dire straits  Henda Ayrai is in.

What kind of Oxford ‘Professor’ has supporters who rave against a women and her “Jewish” paymasters?

What kind of Oxford College still employs – on “leave of absence” – a man embroiled in a scandal like this?

Written by Andrew Coates

November 22, 2017 at 12:39 pm