Muslim blogs

Sun Rising Over Snowy Woods

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Fri, 13/12/2019 - 07:36

The sun rises over the snowy woods,
And looks into our hearts searching for good.
For those who prayed throughout the dark of night, 
The sun will find a mirror for its light.

Or is the mirror that she sees the lake?
Adorned with sheets of ice and downy flake.
Reflecting beauty for the passersby,
Reflecting all the beauty of the sky.

Or does she see illusions of our lives,
And hearts grown hard and cold just like the ice.
If that is what she sees then she should know,
How joyfully we greet her warmth and glow.

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Economic Goals of Labour’s Manifesto Are Achievable – and Necessary

The Platform - Tue, 10/12/2019 - 01:11

The UK Labour Party’s large-scale investment in public services is the economically viable transformation we need

This election is about delivering a major policy overhaul, which will profoundly change the lives of millions of UK residents and citizens for years to come. No, I am not talking about Brexit, but about the rebuilding of social infrastructure through a boost in public spending. All major political parties have promised to raise government expenditure in some form, from targeted pledges for the NHS and social care promised by the Conservative Party and investment in teachers and free childcare proposed by the Liberal Democrats, to nationalising of entire industries put forward by Labour.

Labour’s economic reform

Out of these political parties, Labour has promised some of the most far-reaching changes in economic policy. Think-tank The Resolution Foundation estimates that under Labour’s public spending plans, over 4% of output produced in the UK (measured by the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP) would be invested in the public sector. This is one percentage point more than the estimated levels of public investment under the Conservative proposals. While these projections are still below the highest observed levels of public investment in the mid-1960s, they are substantially larger than the trends recorded since the early-2010s.

Labour’s economic proposals would effectively double the levels of public spending observed today. Hence, it is not surprising that the party’s manifesto has come under close scrutiny from experts and the media – and the verdict is mixed. Analysis of the think-tank The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) states that “Labour would not be able to deliver investment spending increases on the scale they promise”. Many media and business pundits hail Labour’s spending plans as “unaffordable”, “reckless” and “impossible”.

Conversely, in a widely shared letter to the Financial Times, 163 economists, including myself, expressed support for Labour’s manifesto. We argue that Labour’s policies mark a much-needed shift in the economic priorities of the country, tilting the balance of power towards workers and other members of society who have been at a disadvantage under the policies of the past few decades. As experts in this field, we see Labour’s spending plans as the most effective and sustainable way of reducing inequality and promoting economic and social prosperity. As one of the signatories, I believe that Labour’s proposals are the most economically sound towards such reform.

Towards a green new future

Given the conflicting outlook on the Labour Party’s manifesto, what exactly are Labour’s plans for the UK economy and how viable are they?

Labour’s economic plans echo the large-scale plan of government investment in public services and infrastructure which was implemented by the US president Franklin D Roosevelt to revive the economy after the Great Depression.

Labour’s Green New Deal would involve raising the minimum wage to £10 per hour and creating a million jobs across the UK in a way that does not exacerbate climate change. Labour also plans to deliver free broadband to all households and bring into public ownership several industries providing vital services to the society, including energy, water, rail and mail. In addition, Labour wants to develop a National Education Service to provide equal and free access to education – with a particular focus on a progressive curriculum – and to expand funding for the National Health Service, as well as deliver free personal care for the elderly.

These plans are ambitious and go against the economic policy trends of the past four decades. Since the late-1970s, the government has actively reduced its role in the economy, believing that competition among private, profit-oriented firms leads to a better and more cost-effective production and allocation of economic resources. It implemented market-oriented policies according to which many areas of economic activity have been deregulated, while policies supporting wages (such as trade unions laws) have been restricted. After the Great Recession in 2007, the government has also pursued a budget surplus through reducing public spending in hope that such austerity policies would keep public finances in check and help restore economic growth.

Evidence suggests that the deregulation and privatisation policies have been costlier than government provision, and made the economy more unstable, contributing to climate change. Austerity has not boosted the economy as GDP growth has been slow, and the policy has made inequality worse. The broken social infrastructure is a result of ideologically – rather than evidence-driven – economic policies, which were initiated by the Thatcher government and have continued under subsequent governments, both New Labour and the Conservatives. Mainstream economics is also responsible, presenting misleading research as “objective” evidence for what are deeply ideological policy decisions. For instance, reductions in public spending that underpin austerity have been partly motivated by the infamous paper by two Harvard economists, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, who manipulated data to argue for a maximum permissible threshold for government debt.

The policies of the status quo have proven to be ineffective in delivering economic prosperity and detrimental to social justice and the natural environment. Hence, both populist politicians, promising a return to the “good old days”, and centrists, who claim that free market solutions are the panacea for the current social and economic ills, are adding insult to injury. Social tensions, so evident in the Brexit debate, highlight the need for a true reform of the UK’s policy priorities.

Public spending plans

The large-scale investment in public services proposed by Labour is radical enough to break away from the ineffective market-oriented policies of the past four decades, re-thinking the way in which economic resources are produced and allocated among people. It is backed by a long standing body of evidence produced by economists outside of the profession’s mainstream, which shows that higher government spending raises economic output by more than the amount of the initial investment and reduces income and wealth disparities in society across space and over time, improving the material situation of women and people of colour. Government regulation is also indispensable in reigning in the negative effects of climate change. According to this evidence, Labour’s spending plans are by no means “impossible”.

Neither are Labour’s proposals “unaffordable” or “reckless”. Economist Laurie Macfarlane gives an insightful analysis of the misleading nature of cost estimates which headline critical evaluations of Labour’s policy proposals. Economic evidence is never objective because economics is a social, rather than natural, science. The decision on what to analyse, how, and based on what data, is a subjective choice on the part of the given economist. This is crucial because analyses by experts are often presented as objective and unbiased in the media. But in fact, all estimates have a substantial margin of error embedded in them because they cannot measure directly all potential benefits that a progressive policy, such as a public spending increase, may have in the long term. For instance, MacFarlane notes that the existing estimates of the costs of implementing a four-day working week in the UK ignore the potential benefits to the quality of work which may arise if fewer working hours improve employees’ physical and mental health.

Progressive tax reforms

Labour’s radical public spending plans are backed by equally radical proposals for a progressive tax reform. Current tax structure in the UK is one of the most generous in the world when it comes to high earners. A marginal tax rate on personal income means that tax is only paid on income above a certain threshold – those earning more pay a higher amount in taxes on incomes above the tax-free personal allowance. However, other forms of taxes do not take into account the taxpayer’s income level. For example, the size of the national insurance contributions (NI) and the value-added tax (VAT) are the same for all employees and consumers respectively. These types of taxes have been increasing systematically, which, together with rising costs of living and sluggish income growth for the majority of the population, has put a great burden on finances of low- and middle-income people.

A progressive tax structure like the one proposed by Labour could reverse this trend. In addition to higher taxes on corporate profits, Labour proposes to increase marginal tax rates on the richest earners while freezing NI contributions and tax rates on lower incomes. This means that those earning up to £80,000 a year would not pay any more in taxes than they do now, and could even see their tax burden reduce if public services become more affordable and wages increase. At the same time, someone earning £100,000 a year would pay just £19 more a week (or £83 a month) in personal taxes.

It’s no secret that raising taxes on corporations and the highest earners is not easy, because their profits and savings can easily be moved to lower-tax jurisdictions elsewhere in the world. There is a limit on how much individual countries can mitigate tax avoidance, but several ideas have been put forward by economists on how to effectively design taxes at the national level. Arguments against raising taxes come from the same ideological conviction as arguments against increasing public spending, namely, that the government’s involvement is bound to “distort” the “efficient” free market outcomes. But there is no clear-cut evidence that higher taxes reduce economic growth, and it has been shown that raising taxes may actually boost economic performance.

A transformative government

In sum, Labour’s economic proposals are viable and necessary to reduce some of the social and economic tensions experienced in the UK. The proposals are backed by ample economic evidence and represent a true step towards a fairer and more sustainable economy. In fact, many of Labour’s proposals have already been successfully implemented in other countries. For example, full-fibre broadband is provided to almost all households in South Korea, while the marginal tax rate on highest earners is nearly 60% in Sweden. Together with its plans for a taxation reform, Labour’s economic policies are a change that the UK society can afford – and deserves.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Corbyn via Flickr

Categories: Muslim blogs

Poem: Past

The Platform - Sat, 07/12/2019 - 12:05

Kevin Higgins joins the Labour Party campaign for marginal seats in memory of James

 

Introduction

In ‘Past’ – among other things – I remember my friend James who was an anti-poll tax activist and a member of the Labour Party for a bit in Edmonton in North London when I lived there in the early 1990s. James went missing seven years ago and I feel I know for sure he’s no longer with us, as I know if he was he’d be in touch some way to chinwag over recent events. He’d say something like: “So, Kev, does this [Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader] mean socialism is back?” And I’d reply, “It might, me auld mucker, it might.” And then he’d tell me to PLEASE put my tea mug on the coaster he’d provided for it (and spent the morning polishing).

I recruited James to both the British Labour Party and the Militant Tendency in the early nineties – those were the days! – and watched the 1992 UK General Election results with James in his tower block flat in Shropshire House, London N18 and I know, if he were still with us, he would phone me this week.

I am travelling to the UK this week, to nearby Chingford, where I’ll spend Monday and Tuesday campaigning for Faiza Shaheen who has a good chance of unseating former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, to whom I have paid poetic untribute elsewhere.

James was always a great man for doing the grassroots stuff that a lot of the more theoretical socialists find challenging. No better man to convince a little old lady called Edith, or Flo, who wasn’t sure how she was going to vote yet. As I walk the streets of Chingford and Woodford on Monday and Tuesday, I will be thinking of James.

 

Past

Past clicks ajar the box
you thought you’d locked it in
and starts walking in your direction.
Under its right arm, it carries a kitten
you’d thought long dead
which is delighted to see you
and licks your hand
in the hope of butter or salt.
Past fishes your friend out of whichever
European river he went into
and deletes the message
you got from his cousin asking
if you’ve seen him.
His hair, still the same
Judas Iscariot red.
Yours, its increasingly inferior
imitation of its ex-self.
You talk hours
about coming revolution
which, like the kitten,
you remember burying
but which now magically offers you
an opening comradely hand.
Past takes its spade
and digs up your old defeats,
offers to turn them into victories
if you’re prepared to gamble
on losing again
and pain which even now haunts,
like the tooth you tried
but failed to extract yourself.

Photo Credit: Faiza Shaheen / Twitter

Categories: Muslim blogs

Poem: The Universal Moderate

The Platform - Sat, 23/11/2019 - 12:35

after Buffy Sainte-Marie

Over wishy-washy tea in the office canteen,
or when you’re condemned to sit beside him
at the after party of a funeral,
the unsub speaks his principles
like he’s eight foot one;
but is back down to his usual
one foot eight when
the vote on anything’s taken.

Though he says so himself,
it took monumental bravery
for a man of his measurements
to come loudly out in favour of
homosexual marriage the day after
it was legalised everywhere.

He’s taking at face value what the Director of the CIA
told Congress yesterday. He’s arguing in favour
of the First World War. On balance, he’s for
his country and China continuing to mutually
pleasure each other; of selling more
helicopters to Saudi Arabia. He’s too busy
giving King Leopold of Belgium’s efforts
to civilise the Congo another second chance
to indulge your wild theories.

Be it the proposal to limit the right of landowners
to gun down vagrants wandering
onto their property; the suggested legislation
to make mandatory the rescue by their employers
of children wedged up chimneys;
or the phasing out of compulsory
female circumcision; he’s in favour of everything
when the circumstances permit
and all bar Sir Rhodes Boyson’s corpse concur.

He’s the Universal Moderate,
forever holding up the bit between
those who want to slaughter six million
and those who “unrealistically refuse to consider”
killing even one.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Categories: Muslim blogs

Autumn Leaves

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Tue, 19/11/2019 - 15:59

The leaves of Autumn float gently down from the soon to be barren trees. As they quietly populate the ground, layer upon layer, they represent a metaphor for our lives.

In the Spring they silently entered into the world, cautiously exiting the little wombs lining the branches, branches which stretch mile after endless mile. Then they grow strong , lush and vibrant; capable of withstanding the violent rain and weathering heat of summer.

Then in early Autumn, they delight our eyes with the brilliant montage of their colors, painting scenes that evoke thoughts of Paradise. Now they are gone and with their passing we ponder the stark, denuding nature of death as they lay brown, crumbling and lifeless upon the ground.

Yet, it behooves us to inquire as we stare down upon their now uninspiring forms. Is what we witness before us the denouement of their life’s drama. The answer requires us to dig a little deeper. Doing so we observe that they shelter a hidden, living world beneath their dusky roof. The grubs and worms, bugs and beetles they give life to sustain higher forms of life which in turn sustain us. The flakes of paint peeling off from their ceiling becomes the earth which will nurture the trees, which will bring forth the leaves of a future season, which will represent a continuation of the cycle of their lives. Knowing this we can happily bid them farewell for we are certain that we will meet them again in Spring, after the Winter of our lives.

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Murky Coastal Waters of this Isle: New British Film Releases

The Platform - Mon, 18/11/2019 - 15:15

Four new British films to catch on the big screen

As election fever takes hold and a weary populace is asked to steer the country away from the current political decade, we at The Platform take a look at the nation according to its cinema, with a glance at some of the British films featured at last month’s BFI London Film Festival.

Official Secrets
Dir: Gavin Hood (2019)

We start then with the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, in the first film I have seen that manages to make the early noughties look retro. It follows the real story of Katharine Gun, the whistleblower who leaked a failed request by the US and UK to spy on UN Security Council delegates to blackmail them into passing a resolution supporting war. Keira Knightley plays the central role in what is both a slick thriller and an impassioned plea for public integrity, as Gun risks her livelihood and freedom against a war based on lies, a point that resonates with our post-truth age. Its espionage drama resembles Watergate saga All the President’s Men, but mixed with the heritage charm of the English countryside as Gun turns renegade amidst the rolling hills of Cheltenham. The pace is slow and the events of the case – the government drops the charges, but goes ahead with the war – are too recent to surprise, but the subplot of how it threatened her Kurdish husband with deportation holds real suspense.

Official Secrets is now showing at UK cinemas.

Greed
Dir: Michael Winterbottom (2019)

The unfairness of systematic injustice is brought up-to-date in this satire that depicts ‘Greedy’ McCreadie, a fictional boss of a series of clothing firms. McCreadie plans a lavish party in a mocked-up amphitheatre on a Greek island to celebrate his 60th birthday. The ancient-world setting hints that the Philip Greens and Mike Ashleys, to whom the character clearly refers, are modern embodiments of the timeless cruelty of imperial ambition. Director Michael Winterbottom always does his best work with actor Steve Coogan, who plays McCreadie, and the film is further enlivened by a vast array of comic talent. But it strains under the weight of its own ambitions, as its 100 minutes tick off every topic from corporate greed, financialisation and Thatcherism, to sweatshop garment workers, migrant labour, the Greek debt crisis, Syrian refugees, reality TV, an Oedipal subplot and a Commons select committee investigation. Its political conclusions about the evil of the 1-percenters may come as no great revelation, but there is a lot of fun to be had along the way.

Greed is scheduled for UK release in February 2020.

Saint Maud
Dir: Rose Glass (2019)

“Nothing worth trying comes easy,” repeats young nurse Maud to herself in this intimate drama from the debut for director Rose Glass that earned star Morfydd Clark a special mention in the festival awards at the BFI. She plays Maud, the carer for louche and terminally ill dancer Amanda (Jennifer Elhe). Strangely attracted by Amanda’s charisma yet repulsed by her lifestyle, Maud increasingly isolates herself within the certainties of religion until she eventually envisages herself as a latter-day martyr. Her belief in her divine mission is at odds both with the fish-and-chips surroundings of her anonymous seaside town and the mortification of the flesh she decides to endure. This film plays out as a psychological horror, with similarities to The Exorcism of Emily Rose, or Midsommar, in that the mundane safety of an everyday modernity is at odds with a biblical world of gruesome suffering powered by the awe of metaphysical forces. The film hints that a guilty past motivates Maud’s conversion, but it is a shame that, unlike Midsommar, it isn’t able to use her deranged ecstasy to undercut our confidence in our own normality. Her irrationality is explained away as one feeble-minded woman’s psychosis (a similar problem to another psychological horror that played at the festival, the US/UK co-production The Lodge) and the film rather misses its opportunity to turn into something more unsettling.

Saint Maud is coming to UK cinemas soon but the release date is yet to be announced.

Muscle
Dir: Gerard Johnson (2019)

This rather blokey film is small in its ambition, shot in a stylish black and white, whose grim toughness plays nicely against the tense hilarity of the central relationship of its male leads. It features unsuccessful call centre salesman Simon, who joins a local gym in an attempt to regain some purpose. While his wife can’t stand his company, Simon finds a new buddy in the hulking shape of ex-army personal trainer Terry . Terry puts Simon on a strict new regime, but quickly appears to have a deeper motive than mere professional interest, as he insinuates himself with unhinged intent into every facet of Simon’s life. Simon is put on a regime that denies him carbs after 6pm, but can accommodate all-night sessions of cocaine and super-strength cider. The film’s concluding twenty minutes indicate an uncertainty about how to conclude things, but the crackling intensity of the muscular absurdity that bonds the two men makes this film well worth seeing.

UK release date is yet to be announced.

So it would seem, from its films at least, that contemporary Britain is a place of unfairness and disappointment. It would also seem to be populated by lonely people whose attempts to escape failure only cause them further harm. Notably, all of the films mentioned above are set on the coast, with the exception of Muscle, whose South Shields is nevertheless on the banks of the Tyne. The water allows an idea of escape beyond the grey constraint of routine, while it also confirms our landlocked entrapment. Wherever the coming decade may take us as a society, as some of our films indicate, we shall not be sailing towards it on a wave of collective optimism.

Featured photo: Keira Knightley as whistleblower Katharine Gun in Official Secrets.

Body: Steve Coogan as Sir Richard ‘Greedy’ McCreadie in Greed. Photograph (Sony Pictures).

Categories: Muslim blogs

Immigration, the Colour Bar and the Bristol Bus Boycott

The Platform - Thu, 14/11/2019 - 17:19

The Bristol Bus Boycott should be remembered as a pivotal campaign that challenged racial discrimination in Britain, as we witness the Windrush generation face renewed challenges.

In the spring of 1963, Guy Bailey applied for a job at the Bristol Omnibus Company. There were plenty of vacancies advertised only the day before, however, when he arrived he was told they were not hiring. It was not a big leap to assume that he would have been offered a job if it wasn’t for the colour of his skin.

Most black people at the time were fully aware of the existence of a colour bar, which excluded black people from employment, housing, social venues and other places where white people congregated. Even when they got together in groups to discuss their mistreatment, socialise and express their culture peacefully, the law treated them with suspicion and they were regularly harassed by law enforcement (see the Mangrove Nine case).

Guy too knew that the colour bar existed within the Bristol Omnibus Company itself. He, along with Roy Hackett, Owen Henry, Audley Evans, Prince Brown and Paul Stephenson, formed a group called the West Indian Development Council (WIDC), an action group that fought against discrimination in the work place. They endeavoured to find hard evidence that the colour bar, a clear act of discrimination, existed in the Bristol Omnibus Company – and that’s when he applied for a job.

With the rejection of Guy’s application, they had their proof. In April 1963, Paul Stephenson got the WIDC to call for a boycott of Bristol buses. The boycott, which lasted three months was supported by both black and white people, who saw the overt injustice of the colour bar.

But how did Britain get to this point? At the end of the Second World War, Britain was financially depleted due to six years of warfare and it was in need of rebuilding. The working population in Britain had reduced drastically; the total workforce was said to have dropped by 1.38 million between 1945 and 1946. This was due to a number of factors, including the retirement of an ageing workforce and the migration of workers to Australia, New Zealand and Canada, countries that were also actively trying to rebuild their economies following the war. Britain needed workers.

In 1948, The Empire Windrush, a boat on its way from Australia to the UK, docked in Kingston, Jamaica. While the boat was docked, an advert placed in a Jamaican newspaper offered migrants cheap fares for anyone who wanted to work in Britain. As such, the first wave of migrants arrived in Tilbury Essex in June 1948 and included not only Caribbean’s, but also members of the RAF, Polish nationals displaced by World War Two, and people from Mexico, Gibraltar and Burma. Caribbean immigrants thought that they were coming to a country that wanted them, that needed them, and that could provide them with the opportunities that they lacked in their own country.

By 1960, in Bristol alone, there were about 1,000 African-Caribbean migrants and this tripled to 3,000 in 1962. Almost half of the immigrants were highly skilled workers and had excellent qualifications. Yet they were forced to take jobs that the local population considered undesirable and demeaning, or jobs that demanded they worked anti-social hours. Even though they were abused and treated poorly, they were still willing to take these jobs.

In the 1986 book Black and White on the Buses, Jessie Hood wrote: “Fear of increasing unemployment has made many English people more conscious of the presence of coloured people. Many white people who had a ‘live and let live’ attitude to coloured people (earlier) are now asking why coloured people should be allowed to come into this country and are showing hostility when speaking about coloured people although not necessarily when speaking to coloured people.”

Racial discrimination grew. Stories of the number of attacks and abuse based on the colour of someone’s skin became rife within the black and Asian communities. The correlation between racism and the economic downturn had never been so obvious. As a result of public opinion, and fearing the mass influx of non-white immigrants to Britain, the government attempted to revoke the commitments made in the Act of 1948 and passed the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, which tried to stop the future rights of entry to Commonwealth citizens. Many considered that a direct bar – an attack in fact – on people of colour. The Windrush generation were, therefore, rejected by the country that promised to welcome them as Commonwealth citizens.

Ian Patey, the general manager of the Bristol Omnibus Company, attempted to justify his company’s enforcement of a colour bar by stating, “We don’t employ a mixed labour force as bus crews, because we found from observing other bus companies that the labour supply gets worse if the labour force is mixed.”

He continued: “A company may gain 15 coloured persons and lose through prejudice 30 white people who decide they would sooner not work with coloured people.”

Of course there were no such observations in other bus companies and his arguments were unfounded, but this fear of the black worker replacing white workers was prevalent amongst white English people at the time and was used to justify the colour bar.

The boycott by Guy Bailey and the WIDC ended on 28 August 1963 when, after lengthy negotiations, Bristol Omnibus Company agreed to employ black workers. Three weeks later, Raghbir Singh became the first non-white bus conductor employed by the Bristol Omnibus Company.

A few years later, the United Kingdom passed the Race Relations Act of 1965 which finally made it illegal to discriminate against black people in the workplace. The role of the Bristol Bus Boycott in helping achieve this should not be forgotten.

Although the colour bar was removed, obstacles for black people working in the UK still remain. The Racism at Work Survey, published in March 2018, states that of the 500 people surveyed, 70% of ethnic minority workers have experienced some racial discrimination at work, while 60% have experienced unfair treatment at work related to their race.

The Windrush generation are also still feeling the rejection of a nation that feigned acceptance and inclusion to get them here in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. In 2010, arrivals from Caribbean countries were threatened with deportation due to the Home Office destroying thousands of landing cards, which recorded their arrival to Britain. Although the British government have said that the Windrush generation has a right to remain, this is another brutal blow to the black people who helped rebuild a nation in one of its darkest hours. Rather than threaten them with deportation, the government should be doing everything they can to make amends for the abuse, prejudice, violence and degradation that they have suffered since arriving on these shores. And we, as individuals, must never forget the impact that the Bristol Boycott and the power of collective action can make when we feel the injustices of our situation.

Categories: Muslim blogs
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