Preceded by Simon Hamilton

There was some speculation earlier this month as to whether DUP ministers, having resigned from Stormont following allegations that a high-ranking member of Sinn Féin was involved in the murder of ex-IRA paramilitary Kevin McGuigan, continued to draw a salary despite refusing to serve the people they were elected to serve.

Speaking to the Irish News, Health Minister Simon Hamilton said that the DUP was making arrangements to return wages earned while ministers were in office.

“If people have got a payment and they return to their posts then they have to return that money, and that’s the arrangements that are in place.”

On the same day, East Derry MP Gregory Campbell suggested salaries had been repaid by cheque, while a statement from DUP headquarters said discussions were taking place with Northern Ireland Assembly authorities.

As the money is paid under legislation by the assembly we have had discussions with the assembly finance authorities about not only stopping future payments but also the repayment of any payments previously made. As a result of those discussions appropriate arrangements are be made to ensure that happens.

But a response from the assembly to a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Irish News suggests that no such discussions had taken place.

As at the close of business on October 7 2015 the NI assembly has no correspondence or record of any discussions, nor have any meetings been arranged with the DUP regarding ministerial salaries.

If you’re claiming the moral high ground, it benefits to practice honesty. Failing this, at least get your story straight.

DUP ministers returned to Stormont on Wednesday following the publication of the British government’s assessment into paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. While the assessment was able to confirm suspicions that the Provisional IRA remains operational, the allegation that Sinn Féin was involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan has not borne out.

With Stormont returned to its former glory, the assembly has revealed that DUP ministers have resigned and resumed office more than 20 times between September and October. In the interim, the public health system and other important public services have suffered. Patients, some of whom can’t afford to wait, have been forced to put their health on hold.

Lest we forget, I’ve taken the liberty of updating Simon Hamilton’s Wikipedia page.

 Simon_Hamilton

A Threat to Democracy

In May, David Cameron announced a new counter-terrorism bill handing powers to police and government ministers to limit the “harmful activities” of individuals and groups deemed a threat to democracy, with additional powers to close religious schools found teaching views intolerant of other religions. 

The proposals sparked concerns from academics and religious representatives worried about the potential chilling effect on free speech. Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg said:

“While the exact wording of the law remains to be seen, it is unclear why new legislation is needed. Current laws on incitement to violence and hatred can already be applied to extremist individuals or groups. New laws risk simply stifling a far broader range of speech.”

A statement from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) challenged the Prime Minister’s claims that students in Islamic supplementary schools are beaten and indoctrinated.

“It is neither Islamic, nor prevalent in madrasahs to be isolationist or to preach hate of other faiths. We would hope that these allegations can be substantiated and the evidence brought forward, so that appropriate action can be taken.”

Further initiatives preventing “hate preachers” from speaking at universities took effect in September. Downing Street laid out its agenda in a press release. Citing research conducted by the government’s Extremism Analysis Unit (EAU), the release states that over 70 events involving speakers “known to have promoted rhetoric that aimed to undermine core British values of democracy” were held on university campuses in 2014. 

Honouring the Prime Minister’s pledge to “name and shame” institutions that give platforms to extremist speakers, four universities are singled out for our contempt. Spokespeople for all four have since denied having hosted the speakers named in the release. Its findings were later discredited by Times Higher Education after it was discovered that the EAU lifted its most inflammatory passages, without attribution, from a misleading report by Student Rights, an arm of the Henry Jackson Society.

A Guardian article on Muhammad Umar Farooq, a post-graduate student at Staffordshire University falsely accused of being a terrorist, served only to poke holes in the theory that Britain’s universities are hotbeds of terrorist activity. The subsequent acquittal of Yousif Badri, a medical student at Aberdeen University accused of being involved in conduct “with the intention of committing acts of terrorism,” did not bode well for the cause.

Then came the news that teachers from Parkfield Community School in Saltley, Birmingham referred a ten-year-old Muslim boy to police on suspicion of harbouring terrorist tendencies after he requested the provision of a prayer room. The capper: last week, the Family Division of the Judiciary put out a memo detailing the process by which children, on suspicion of possible radicalisation, will be removed from their homes to be made wards of the state.

The Counter-Extremism Strategy

Cameron’s long-awaited Counter-Extremism Strategy – reaching into all corners of British life – was finally unveiled this month. Its proposals include:

• A full review of public institutions such as school, further and higher education colleges, local authorities, the NHS and civil service to ensure they are protected from “entryism” – or infiltration – by extremists.

• An official investigation into the application of Sharia law in the UK.

• Extremism disruption orders to stop individuals engaging in extremist behaviour.

• Closure orders for law enforcement and local authorities to close down premises used to support extremism.

• Tougher powers for broadcasting regulator Ofcom so action can be taken against radio and television channels showing extremist content.

• Demands that internet service providers do more to remove extremist material and identify those responsible for it.

• Anyone with a conviction or civil order for extremist activity will also be automatically barred from working with children and vulnerable people.

The new law would also give parents worried that their 16 and 17-year-old children might travel to join Islamic State the power to apply to have their passports removed, while anyone with a conviction for terrorist offences or extremist activity would be banned from working with children.

The Response to the Counter-Extremism Strategy

Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg reaffirmed her view about the chilling effects the new law will have on free speech:

“We are concerned that the extremism strategy outlined this morning has the potential to massively damage the reputation of the British educational establishment – universities in particular which should be the home of debate and academic inquiry. This will have the effect of ramping up a climate of fear where both lecturers and students are afraid to speak.”

Jo Glanville, director of English PEN, said that the government’s enforcement of “British” values actually undermines one of the fundamental values of democracy:

“The government has created an impossible bind for itself: in the name of protecting our values, it’s now seeking to undermine the most fundamental value of all for democracy – freedom of expression. This is a deeply misguided policy that will not only stigmatise minorities, it will criminalise political speech across society and introduce a culture of caution.”

I’ll sign-off with a quote from Sir Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester police, who spoke out against the proposals in his last week before retiring. Via the Guardian:

“There is a concern that efforts to control extremist narratives will limit free speech and backfire if we don’t get the balance right. The efforts to control extremism and limit protest by those caught by too wide a definition may undermine the very rights and British values you seek to protect.”

Taken

The seizure of a BBC journalist’s laptop by Thames Valley Police demonstrates how counter-terrorism laws are being used to constrain free speech.

Via the BBC:

Newsnight editor Ian Katz has spoken of his concern over the seizure of a BBC journalist’s laptop by police acting under the Terrorism Act.

Secunder Kermani handed over the computer after officers secured a judge’s order, the BBC has confirmed.

They were responding to communications between Kermani and a man in Syria who was publicly identified as an Islamic State extremist.

Police said the laptop, seized after a hearing in August, has been returned.

Police have legal powers to seize information during any inquiries into the “commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”, under the Terrorism Act which was introduced in 2000.

Katz said police use of the act to access information shared between journalists and sources could cause problems when reporting about the Islamic State (IS) group.

“While we would not seek to obstruct any police investigation, we are concerned that the use of the Terrorism Act to obtain communication between journalists and sources will make it very difficult for reporters to cover this issue of critical public interest,” Katz said.

The news comes less than a month after Thames Valley Police confiscated 150 copies of a student publication from Oxford University’s Freshers’ Fair.

Maybe this time someone in the mainstream media will take notice.

No Offence

That bastion of free speech, the Oxford University Student Union (OUSU), last month banned the distribution of a student publication over its supposedly sexist, ableist, colonialist and transphobic content.

The Thames Valley Police confiscated 150 copies of the publication mid-October following a complaint reportedly made by an Oxford student about its distribution outside Freshers’ Fair. 

According to the Telegraph, student union censors had received a review copy of the publication, ironically called No Offence, prior to its Freshers’ Fair debut. The union’s decision to ban the publication cited regulation 13 of the Student Stallholders Regulations.

Regulation 13 states: “OUSU reserves the right to remove any materials, or prevent any activity, that may cause offence.” 

Jacob Williams, editor-in-chief of No Offence, said that the union’s knee-jerk decision to ban the publication validated arguments by free speech activists. Via the Oxford Student:

“There’s clearly room for disagreement about where to draw the line between satire and needless offence. We twice gave OUSU the chance to take issue with specific parts of the magazine. They declined to do so and simply claimed the whole magazine was offensive. By banning the magazine outright all they have done is prevent the airing of controversial views and confirm everything the ‘free speech’ movement has been saying.

“The irony of banning a magazine called No Offence for being offensive is clearly lost on them.” 

Student bans on offensive speech usually come front loaded with academic arguments that seek to rationalise the otherwise arbitrary whims of the censor. In its response to Williams, the OUSU made no attempt to pretend that the decision to ban No Offense was based on anything other than it disapproved of Williams’ politically incorrect brand of satire.

The magazine included a graphic description of an abortion, the use of an ableist slur, a celebration of colonialism, and a transphobic article. In an attempt of satire, another article suggested organising a “rape swagger” – in the style of a “slut walk” – in order to make rape “socially acceptable”.

OUSU do not want to be associated with the views in this magazine, therefore do not want it to be distributed at our event. The offensive views exhibited in this magazine do not in any way represent the majority of Oxford students, or OUSU. We therefore are very comfortable with our decision not to allow the publication at our event, and would like to emphasise that the editors of ‘No Offence’ are completely free to publish the document online, in the exact form in which it was sent to us, to enable students who wish to read it to do so.

When protesters ransacked a student newspaper in America last month following the publication of an op-ed piece critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, they were criticised – justifiably – for their unfathomably illiberal behaviour.

Is nobody willing to take a stand when British police enter an institution of higher education for the purpose of shutting down a student publication?

Protesting the Protesters

Cops across America have joined forces to confront the single worst injustice since the shooting of Tamir Rice: Quentin Tarantino’s peaceful and lawful participation in an anti-police brutality protest in New York.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA), released a statement calling for a boycott of the acclaimed director’s films:

It’s no surprise that someone who makes a living glorifying crime and violence is a cop-hater, too. The police officers that Quentin Tarantino calls “murderers” aren’t living in one of his depraved big screen fantasies — they’re risking and sometimes sacrificing their lives to protect communities from real crime and mayhem. New Yorkers need to send a message to this purveyor of degeneracy that he has no business coming to our city to peddle his slanderous “Cop Fiction.” It’s time for a boycott of Quentin Tarantino’s films.

Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), followed suit with a statement opposing Tarantino’s right to protest:

We fully support this boycott of Quentin Tarantino films. Hateful rhetoric dehumanizes police and encourages attacks on us. And questioning everything we do threatens public safety by discouraging officers from putting themselves in positions where their legitimate actions could be falsely portrayed as thuggery.

Late to the game was John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge #5, issuing a statement condemning Tarantino’s penchant for movie violence.

John McNesby (…) wishes to announce that at the Tuesday, October 27, 2015 Board of Directors meeting the Board of Directors of Lodge 5 voted unanimously to Boycott the works of film director Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino has shown through his actions that he is anti-police. Mr. Tarantino has made a good living through his films, projecting into society at large violence and respect for criminals; it turns out he also hates cops.

Movie violence perpetrated against fictional characters must be stopped. Protesting non-movie violence perpetrated against non-fictional Americans is slanderous and hateful.

By questioning police conduct, Tarantino compromises officers’ ability to do their jobs, which threatens public safety. Henceforth, anything less than glowing approval will be deemed unacceptable.

New Yorkers need to send a message to the Black Lives Matter movement that their lives don’t matter. It’s time we protested the right to protest.

The Katz Meow*

Early this month, I re-blogged a fascinating report by Peter M. Heimlich (via the Sidebar) that asked whether prominent Yale professor and Huffington Post columnist David Katz reviewed his own book on Amazon. The question was left hanging in the air, awaiting a response from Amazon’s public relations team.

The response from Amazon never materialized. Then to my delight (having checked for updates a number of times), Heimlich yesterday provided an answer.

10/26/15 UPDATE: This didn’t occur to me until I spied this sentence in an October 3 re-reporting of my item by Dean Sterling Jones at his lively Shooting the Messenger blog:

Ethically, whether or not David Katz the Amazon user is revealed as David Katz the Huffington Post columnist, it’s hard to imagine how a doctor and university professor could sink any lower.

A click here led me to the reviews page for Amazon user David L. Katz.

In his review for another book, he settles the matter.

2015-10-25_162416

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Big hat tips to Dr. Jason Fung for tagging the HuffPo column, to Low-Carb Barb for catching the Amazon review, and to Dean Sterling Jones for joggin’ my noggin.

Although validation for writing is not something I actively seek out, hat tips from reporters like Peter Heimlich are always welcome. I tip my own hat in his direction. But it appears I’ve been shown up. Somehow in the course of my own research, I missed David Katz signing-off another book review in his trademark style, where he makes a point of listing his credentials (which are extensive).

Now that has been cleared up, it’s my turn to add a piece to the puzzle, namely the how and when of the Huffington Post’s discovery that Samhu Iyyam is a pseudonym of David Katz. This is apparently as easy as typingdavid katz samhu iyyam” (minus quotations) into Google, yielding this curious LinkedIn confession, conceived as an April Fools’ joke. 

On April Fools’ Day, it is customary to perpetrate some variety of practical joke. I suppose, then, I am leveraging the occasion but defying its convention- by ending, rather than initiating, a playful deception. I am the novelist, Samhu Iyyam. reVision, the first book in an epic trilogy, is my first work of fiction.

Why? Jessamyn West, as quoted in the book, says “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.” I believe that to be true. Much that is most important to share with one another is also the hardest. Deep thought about who we are, what truly matters, how we might be- in particular, how we might be better. Notions of how perceptions alter the realities that drive us apart, and how they might instead construct common ground, and bound our common causes.

I wrote reVision, and I am writing the Lore of the Corners trilogy, because I have been compelled to do so. Because the story took over my mind, and the characters have come to populate my imagination as vividly as anyone I know in the “real” world. Because I have fallen into a world of other, and often better, possibilities- and feel no less than duty-bound to share it. Because the story flowed through me, seeking egress.

I am Samhu Iyyam, and proud of it.

Before continuing, I’d like to take a moment of silence to remember the many thousands of innocent words murdered in the name of one man’s tireless self-promotion…there, doesn’t that feel better?

A time stamp on Katz’ LinkedIn post confirms the date of publication as 1 April, 2014: April Fools’ Day. Unfortunately, there is nothing to confirm whether Katz contrived to reveal his pseudonym when he wrote his review in February, or if this was a cynical exercise in damage control having been outed by the Huffington Post earlier that day.

Somehow, Katz’ confession only raises further questions. If he did originally conceive his book review as an elaborate April Fools’ prank, why hasn’t he clarified this with Amazon? Why confuse things by writing on Amazon at all, where such a “playful deception” is unlikely to touch anybody beyond the reach of fussy Amazon users? Lastly, was somebody at the Huffington Post in on the joke? 

Presumably, the answers to all of these questions have nothing to do with the sale of books.

*Cat puns are admittedly a bit thin on the ground.

The Crime of Leafleting

Britain’s streets are full of inconveniences, from panhandling to Hare Krishna. We tolerate those vying for our money and time as an inescapable feature of modern life. Never does it cross our mind to ask the state to intervene on our behalf, except in the event that a person breaches etiquette by voicing opinion contrary to what is deemed appropriate in civil society.

Enter Damon Kelly, a “fake monk” affiliated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Northampton, arrested last December by Cambridgeshire Police on suspicion of a public order offence for the distribution of leaflets. Via the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS):

A religious activist from Northamptonshire has been given a Criminal Behaviour Order preventing him from distributing leaflets about religious, sexual or reproductive topics to any residential, commercial or academic address and door-knocking to express his views for the next five years.

Damon Jonah Kelly, had been distributing leaflets dressed in a monk’s robe in a variety of different locations including the East Midlands, Brighton, Cambridgeshire and the West Midlands since 2012. The leaflets expressed his views denouncing a number of groups and communities, including faiths different to his own, divorcees and people using assisted childbirth, but principally targeting the gay community.

Many people who read his leaflets were upset and offended by them, and reported his activities to the police. The leaflets were described by witnesses as “vile,” “offensive” and “upsetting.”

That Kelly is somebody whose presence on Britain’s streets is an inconvenience to residents speaks for itself. Whether it was fair to prosecute him for leafleting is another matter.

Slowly but surely, we have been led to believe that restrictions on freedom of speech are justifiable where the government deems it necessary to preserve public order. Public order and malicious communications laws, frequently used to silence unpopular speech, are sold under the pretense of protecting religious and racial minorities from discrimination.

These laws, equal opportunity prosecutors managing to snare people as ideologically diverse as James McConnell and Bahar Mustafa, conflate offensiveness, hatred and violence so that otherwise harmless words and opinions are taken as incitement to violence. Clearing away the rhetoric, the theory falls flat: a leaflet comparing homosexuals to paedophiles is no more an incitement to violence than a leaflet comparing the slaughter of animals to the holocaust is an incitement to vegetarianism.

Tellingly, police were initially reluctant to take action against Kelly, stating that neither the distribution of leaflets nor the messages they contain constitute a crime. Retrospectively taking up the argument that leafleting is in fact a crime worthy of prosecution should the leaflets contain offensive messages is Lisa Morris, Senior District Crown Prosecutor at CPS East Midlands:

“Damon Kelly has caused offence when distributing his leaflets. The right of free speech is extremely important in our society, but when this crosses the line into harassment, it is important that the public is protected. This Criminal Behaviour Order is necessary to balance Damon Kelly’s right to free speech with the need to protect the public from such further conduct. It is important that communities are aware that he has been banned by the courts from these activities. Anyone who thinks they have seen Damon Kelly breaching this Criminal Behaviour Order should contact their local police force and report it.”

Damon Kelly could soon be leafleting in a town near you. You’ve been warned. 

In Which the Young Will Eat the Old

Students at Cardiff University are petitioning to cancel a lecture by iconic feminist Germaine Greer. The online petition, which was started by Rachel Melhuish, Women’s Officer at the university’s students’ union, takes umbrage with Greer’s views on transgenderism.

While debate in a University should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous. Allowing Greer a platform endorses her views, and by extension, the transmisogyny which she continues to perpetuate.

Greer’s response questioned the idea that some views are simply too dangerous to be allowed to be heard. Via the Guardian:

“What they are saying is that because I don’t think surgery will turn a man into a woman I should not be allowed to speak anywhere.”

Greer said that she did not understand the mindset of those who had signed the petition, adding: “I do not know why universities cannot hear unpopular views and think about what they mean.”

The woman who once stood toe-to-toe with Norman Mailer – the man for whom the term “male chauvinist pig” was coined – is now considered the enemy by third-wave feminists. It’s with bitter irony: Greer fought for women to be heard, who in turn try to silence her.

Greer is due to speak at Cardiff University on 18 November. Her lecture is titled “Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century.”

Educating Against Extremism

Anyone concerned that recent measures to eradicate Islamic extremism from schools constitute an attack on religious freedoms can safely put their concerns to bed.

Demonstrating that when it comes to the evils of extremism, no law is too broad, no wording too vague as to sweep up innocent lives in the hysteria, teachers from Parkfield Community School in Saltley reported a ten-year-old Muslim schoolboy to police on suspicion of terrorist tendencies after he demanded the provision of a prayer room.

Via the Birmingham Mail:

Teachers at Parkfield Community School in Saltley referred the Muslim pupil under the Home Office’s Prevent scheme, which was set up to tackle radicalisation.

Headteacher Hazel Pulley said: “The pupil was referred for a number of incidents which, put together, formed concerning behaviour.”

She added: “As well as demanding a prayer room and his comments about scarves he also expressed a view to a teacher about the Charlie Hebdo attack.”

After speaking with the parents, who failed to see the problem with asserting the right to practice one’s religion, teachers were successful in forcing the boy to conform to British values:

“We undertook a round-table discussion with the pupil’s parents. 

“Initially they did not think it was that important but they were very supportive and understood our concerns.

“Once we’ve heard it and seen it [extremist behaviour] we will then work with the child and the family and move forward with it.”

Another victory for Britain. Plaudits for the patriotic Ms. Pulley, who managed to report no less than three non-conforming children to counter-terrorism police within the last 12 months. Bravo!

The Oxford Dictionary

Annie Teriba, activist and delegate of Oxford University’s student union to the National Union of Students (NUS), has announced she will resign from political campaigning.

The announcement comes with an admission that Teriba engaged in non-consensual sex at this year’s NUS Black Students’ Conference. What is meant by non-consensual” sex is that Teriba failed to adhere to the precept of affirmative consent.

In her own words:

At this year’s NUS Black Students’ Conference, I had sex with someone. The other party later informed me that the sex was not consensual. I failed to properly establish consent before every act. I apologise sincerely and profoundly for my actions. I should have taken sufficient steps to ensure that everything I did was consensual. I should have been more attentive to the person’s body language. In failing to clarify that the person consented to our entire encounter, I have caused serious irreparable harm.

The problem with affirmative consent, as prescribed by the Oxford University Student Union (OUSU), is that it allows for otherwise consensual sex to be redefined as sexual violence.

If someone groped you on a bus, if someone pressured you into taking a hook-up further than you wanted to, if someone made you touch them, if someone had sex with you when you didn’t say yes, that’s sexual violence [emphasis added].

If the standard for consensual sex is the presence of a verbal “yes, then Teriba along with countless of her fellow students would be in serious trouble right now. Fortunately, nobody outside the bubble of academia is obligated to take their interpretation of consent seriously. 

Oxford students remain free to rewrite the dictionary. But as some will find out, it’s a bitter diet having to eat your own words.