Muslim blogs

By the Skin of the Teeth: NHS Dental Services in Crisis

The Platform - Sun, 12/11/2017 - 19:10

A broken system and low morale threatens the NHS dental service in a crisis that few speak of

The NHS is in crisis, as many know. But few are privy to the unreported disaster that is the NHS dental service. Stories such as this, where patients are extracting their own teeth for want of a dentist, have circulated with appropriate social media shock. But where the public may be poised to blame dentists and practices, it is a broken and collapsing system that has been forcing these dentists to turn away their most vulnerable patients.

The last two years in England have seen just 58.2% of children and 51.4% of adults visiting an NHS dentist within the last 12 months. During 2015 and 2016, dental infections were the most common reason children aged 5-9 were admitted to hospital, and total expenditure on dental extractions under general anaesthetic for under-18s was £35.6million. To give these figures some context, dental decay is not inevitable, nor is it normal – it’s completely avoidable. Left untreated, as it so often is, an abscess develops and becomes so big that it ends up requiring intravenous antibiotics and an operation under general anaesthetic to treat, including up to a week spent in hospital. A child under the age of 5 having teeth removed like this costs the NHS £836 every single time, totalling a whopping £7.8milion in 2015.

It’s important to emphasise here that NHS dentistry in the UK is free for all children, and free for anyone claiming benefits. But statistically, you’re more likely to be admitted to hospital with a life threatening dental infection if you’re poor. So what’s going wrong? Put simply, the NHS isn’t paying dentists fairly. This suggestion may seem ludicrous, given the archetypal Mercedes–clad local dentist, but in the last decade it has become a reality that is driving many dentists to leave the NHS or leave dentistry altogether, as I have. I lasted one year as a general dentist before I decided to study medicine – a system slightly less broken but, thanks to our benevolent health secretary, it seems likely to meet a similar fate.

NHS dentistry is priced purely according to complexity of treatment (the banding system), not the actual amount of treatment that is needed. This means that a dentist treating a patient needing 10 fillings (roughly 1-2 hours worth of work plus materials and nursing staff) will be paid the same as a patient needing one filling (20 minutes at most). What this translates to is dentists being expected to treat patients with a lot of dental disease for free, and most, if not all dentists, just can’t afford to do this.

An example of this is the way root canal treatments and extractions are banded within the NHS. Root canal treatments save teeth. They save smiles, help you eat, keep you young, figure out your taxes – they’re simply wonderful. They’re also really very difficult and take at least 2 hours to complete. During my brief time as a general dentist, I never really mastered root canals anywhere near to the standard they should be. The alternative treatment is removal (extraction) of the tooth. It’s not only much easier, it also requires fewer materials and equipment and take much less time. Both of these treatments fall under the same band in the NHS system. This means that a dentist will get paid the same amount for a root canal treatment as an extraction. A 3-hour long, demanding, tooth-saving treatment versus a 20-minute extraction.

This often forces dentists to make a choice between making a financial loss on treatments, providing inferior quality treatment or just not providing the treatment at all. Because why would you offer a difficult, expensive, stressful treatment basically for free, over an easier, faster, cheaper one? There are very few other industries where workers are expected to provide such drastically different treatments for no extra financial reward. Ultimately, the system is failing both dentists and patients alike.

Alongside this, dentists are also shouldering the growing burden of an increasingly draconian regulator – the General Dental Council – that is constantly threatening litigation and de-registration should there be any whisper of dissatisfaction from patients. These ‘Fitness to Practice’ hearings leave their lasting mark on most dentists who subsequently find themselves questioning their clinical decisions for fear of another complaint. While I fully acknowledge the need for a robust complaints system, there is a growing trend of law firms actively encouraging patients to take legal action against their dentist without even discussing their concerns first.

A study conducted by the British Dental Association this year found that over 50% of dentists surveyed complained of feeling stress, anxiety or depression at work, with regulators, patient expectations and finance being the main sources of burnout. Fifty-four per cent said they’d like to leave the profession and 45% said their low morale had led to a decline in standards of treatment.

A new system for NHS dentistry is being piloted in some regions, whereby patients are assessed on a traffic light system: red for high risk, poor oral health and green for a clean mouth with no disease. The idea is that red patients shouldn’t be offered things like crown, bridges or dentures, because if they’re struggling to keep on top of their oral hygiene now, adding in a crown or bridge which needs extra cleaning to last will not be a great idea for them. This is a step forward as it pushes for a better focus on prevention, which the existing system currently doesn’t have room for.

The purpose of the NHS isn’t to provide whatever treatment a patient wants. However, helping patients improve their lifestyle, and therefore their risk for further disease, is more than simply telling them that smoking is bad for them. As GP practices have dedicated stop smoking teams, dieticians and alcohol services, dentists don’t have any resources for teaching patients how to keep their teeth clean, how to eat to prevent dental decay or how to prevent oral cancer. With both dentist and nurses being pushed just to provide treatments on the NHS, there is no time or money to sit with patients for 20 minutes and explain oral hygiene or cancer prevention. And so the pool of patients remain with a high rate of dental disease and no system to provide for them.

This myriad of issues leaves a lot of patients worse off, receiving either sub-par treatment, no treatment at all, or only the offer of private treatment – a realistic option only for the few and a frustrating example of the NHS not fulfilling its remit. For dentists, this results in the psychological burden of fulfilling NHS contracts while covering costs, constant fear of patient dissatisfaction and the stress of knowingly providing second-rate treatment with the inevitable complaint to follow.

Doctors, dentists, nurses – all health care professionals – have a responsibility to prevent as well as treat disease, yet prevention takes time and needs resources. The NHS is systemically propped up on the goodwill of its workers. But in dentistry, there isn’t even space for that.

Image from here.

 

Categories: Muslim blogs

Unfinished Business in Puerto Rico: The Case for Debt Audit and Relief after the Hurricanes

The Platform - Sat, 11/11/2017 - 17:18

The mission to audit Puerto Rico’s public debt comes with its own political challenges

Despite President Trump scoring his administration’s response a perfect “10”, the conditions on the ground in Puerto Rico could not be starker more than one month after Hurricane Maria. About one-fifth of Puerto Rican households lack drinking water and only about 40% of the power grid has been restored, while communications remain dismal. Due to the inadequate response on the part of both the federal and territorial governments, Puerto Ricans have been self-organising community recovery efforts.

In the context of this post-disaster humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by the pre-existing debt and economic crises and years of austerity and colonial neglect, Puerto Rico’s looming $74 billion public debt has received renewed media attention. However, media accounts often overlook the established struggle for a public debt audit that preceded the hurricanes and demanded a similar scrutiny that would conceivably lead to some debt relief. An integral public debt audit would untangle a complicated web of debt relations and determine who owns what, the kinds of mechanisms used to contract public debt, and what the funds were used for. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, politicians and creditors unleashed a slew of ambiguous claims, ranging from a total debt wipeout and new debt swap schemes for the electric utility, to a congressional “aid package” via new debt with supposed priority for repayment over all existing obligations.

Law 97 of 2015 established the official ‘Commission for the Integral Audit of Public Credit’. Comprised of 17 people from the public and private sectors, labour, and academia, the objective was to audit the public debt and ensure that Puerto Ricans were not paying back debt that could instead be nulled. On the surface, an audit may seem like an ordinary and bureaucratic measure but, in Puerto Rico’s case, it is highly politicised. The multi-sectoral Commission would have evaluated how Puerto Rico’s 18 public entities contracted debt over 40 years of emissions, the role of financial institutions, and how public entities executed debt-financed projects. This would determine any illegal, unconstitutional or illegitimate debt relations before voluntary creditor renegotiations or legal debt restructuring took place. The audit process would, further, defend access to public information, transparency and accountability on the part of public officials and bankers who may be implicated in questionable debt emissions.

The Commission found multiple irregularities in two preliminary reports published in 2016. Independent organisations also found reason to audit the debt and cancel a good part of it. Researchers for the ReFund America Project, under the Action Centre on Race and the Economy (ACRE), for example, concluded that nearly half of the public debt is not debt at all, but rather future interest on predatory loans called capital appreciation bonds (CABs). Another report argues that about $3 billion of the public debt is illegitimate issuance fees and capitalised interest on “scoop and toss” deals.

The unelected fiscal control board overseeing Puerto Rico’s finances and fiscal policy has repeatedly claimed that an audit is a waste of time and money. This opposition comes as no surprise, as the audit would investigate bond emission and underwriting practices that some members oversaw and profited from. The Hedge Clippers, a coalition campaign to expose the mechanisms of hedge-fund profiting and “billionaire-driven politics”, revealed that two control board members in fact have conflicts of interest stemming from the “revolving door” between Santander Bank and Puerto Rico’s Development Bank. Despite mounting debt incredulity and conflicts of interest, the government held back designated audit funding and in April 2017, Governor Ricardo Rosselló eliminated the official audit Commission, effectively squashing a state-legitimated audit process. At the expense of Puerto Rican taxpayers, the control board recently contracted a legal firm to “review” part of the debt after pressure from multiple creditor groups in bankruptcy court, but credibility concerns invalidate this costly effort.

The grassroots support for the audit, however, was only strengthened by the legislative dismantling of the audit Commission. This struggle to defend access to public information and government accountability seems all the more relevant under conditions of tenuous democratic rights and economic uncertainty exacerbated by the hurricanes. The Citizens’ Front for the Debt Audit, a group that formed in support of the official audit Commission, amplified its efforts and is undertaking a citizens’ public audit, for which it is has been raising funds and soliciting participants. The group sponsored a petition calling for the debt audit that reached 140,000 signatures, demonstrating this claim’s broad appeal. Even the University of Puerto Rico’s student movement, which led a cross-campus 10-week strike during the spring 2017 semester, endorsed a debt moratorium and integral public audit as one of its major demands.

Creditors that invested in Puerto Rico’s municipal bonds comprise a diverse group. While all bondholders may not have engaged in unscrupulous practices, the creditors most apt to take a “haircut”, or reduced value, for serious debt relief should be those that accumulated unfettered and speculative profits from suffering in Puerto Rico and beyond. In the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria, reports have revealed new details of mysterious bondholders with tremendous political clout and troubling track records. For example, a class of bonds called COFINA was purchased under Shell company subsidiaries to shield hedge funds like The Baupost Group from public scrutiny – until now. Out of the 30 known firms vying for debt repayment in bankruptcy court, 24 have been identified as “vulture funds” that specialise in risky distressed debt. A number of these vulture firms also profited from the Argentinian and Greek financial crises and the U.S. sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Puerto Rico faces a massive recovery that magnifies the importance of a full and transparent debt audit. The audit and post-disaster debt relief are part of the broader struggle of Puerto Ricans, both at home and in the diaspora, to organise a just and transformative recovery that puts “the people before the debt”, as many activist groups demand. Rather than normalise the public debt in post-hurricane relief discussions, the established debt incredulity should be front and centre.

Image from here.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Nordic Matters: Epic Tales from Finland

The Platform - Thu, 09/11/2017 - 19:16

Finnish tradition brought to life as part of the ‘Nordic Matters’ series at Southbank  

Epic Tales from Finland is, perhaps, not the title you would expect to come across in the London Literature Festival at Southbank Centre. Even so, as I tuck myself into this room after a couple of wrong turns (finding the show is like being on a treasure hunt here), I find it is already full of expectant faces.

It is a quaint setting tinged with the nostalgia of school days on plastic chairs, and is animated by a crowd of elderly guests, as well as small children and even a young couple on a date. I expect to see many Finns, like myself, but a commendable number of English folk seem interested in this small window of Finnish tradition.

Upon entering, not knowing what to expect, I gladly accept a shot of Salmiakki – a strong and emblematic liqueur abhorred by most of those not from the Nordic countries. Perhaps this opens up my senses for the wondrous hour to come…

The stage is entered by the narrator, Nick Hennessy, and three musicians: Anna-Kaisa Liede (vocals), Kristiina Ilmonen (flutes, percussion, vocals), and Timo Väänänen (kantele, pyngyr, vocals). Our storyteller is a lively English fellow. Hennessy is so engrossed in just about every sentence he utters, and so colourfully animated, that I felt like I was watching a Hollywood blockbuster. I was slightly surprised that he wasn’t Finnish (evident in his pronunciation), but happy to see that the three musicians who joined him on stage a few minutes later sang their lines in my native tongue.

How they sang! This was Epic Song (runolaulu); singing like I’ve never heard before. A mystical, seemingly never-ending song I did not recognise, and yet, it moved me to a home-sickness that made me immediately picture the thousand lakes and trees of quiet Finland, that of my childhood. I gradually began to recognise that I was hearing the Finnish National Epic Tale, Kalevala, being told in a way I hadn’t encountered before. This is a tale I have read and studied multiple times in school, and one that is quite routine for any Finnish person. The Kalevala was first compiled by Elias Lönnrot around the 1850s. The story goes that he went all across the country knocking door to door, asking the locals to sing their folk tales to him. They each do so in a special style of singing known as kalevalamitta – an archaic tetrameter to be technical – a tradition said to date back as far as 2000 years. The result is a cohesive epic connected by certain characters and their mystical adventures.

After studying the Kalevala as a child, this performance at Southbank Centre was one of the only times I have fully engaged with the story. The tale being related in a strong English accent meant that I was given the opportunity to hear it, in some respect, for the first time, and become newly engrossed in the fantastic adventures of Väinämöinen and his encounters with death and magic. I am aware that this might give the impression to outsiders of Finns as forest-folk, still dressing in rags and frolicking with the animals, but rest assured, this impression is only the result of artistic expression. The music of the Finnish traditional instrument, the kantele, is hauntingly beautiful, but we hardly ever hear it being casually played.

And then I had the feeling of hearing the Kalevala for the first time again. The song of Liede was a whole new epic tale in itself. Two performers tell the tale at once, weaving two languages and mediums together into one. In between speech and song, they find a line of communication, and in turn, connect the two people with the entire crowd present.

The group will continue touring their talent in Lithuania this December and Helsinki in February 2018. Their nifty little brochure brilliantly explains their own work as well as Finland’s culture. Follow the Advers Camber website for more details.

‘Nordic Matters’ continues with a series of events at the Southbank Centre.

Photo Credit: David Tiernan

 

Categories: Muslim blogs

Fractures at Home: Arshad Khan on Documenting His Family History

The Platform - Wed, 08/11/2017 - 01:01

Umar Ali interviews director Arshad Khan about his new feature documentary ABU which screened at the BFI London Film Festival 2017

ABU is an emotional family journey that grapples with religion, sexuality, colonialism and migration. Through a tapestry of narratives composed of family footage, observation and classic Bollywood films, gay-identifying Pakistani-Muslim filmmaker Arshad Khan takes viewers through the tense relationships between family and fate, conservatism and liberalism and modernity and familiarity.

I caught up with Arshad between worldwide screenings of ABU to discuss his documentary.

One thing I found very interesting about this documentary was your process – you use a lot of archival footage, and a lot of home videos. What was it like re-interpreting them for the purpose of this documentary?

I was trying to do a feature fiction project, then my father died. I made a five-minute video for his memorial, and I realised I had a huge wealth of archival footage. And I was inspired by films like Meet the Patels, Stories We Tell, Tarnation, and I thought, “They’re not using the best footage, but telling very effective stories. Let’s see if I can do that with my footage.”

You use a lot of different layered forms of media. Was it difficult stitching all these into a single narrative?

Very difficult! But what really helped the film feel so full are not the images necessarily – it’s the soundtrack. Sound design is very powerful in the film. That’s why I try to encourage film festivals to show the 5:1 Dolby sound, because my sound designer, Sylvain Bellemare, actually won an Oscar this year. Where we lack in image quality, we make up for in sound.

So here I had all this footage, and I just met this really wonderful animation artist who was such a sweetheart, Davide de Saro. And I asked him if he would collaborate with me – because I’m making a film mourning someone who’s already passed away, so how do you do that? At first it was very cartoonish, kinda Beavis and Butthead, but we worked on it, and again, the strong sound design really helped it stand out.

As your long feature directorial debut, this is quite an interesting film to start things off with.

Making a film about your own life is much more complicated than you would think. Firstly, I am using our shared family archives. And I was also very nervous about it – a lot of people didn’t help me in my family. My uncle refused to participate once he found out that it’s a film dealing with my gay identity and my father. My uncle’s a very important person in our family – he’s the oldest. So I had to make this film without him, which was not easy. But I’m a storyteller, a filmmaker, and what you learn in film school is that you tell stories with whatever you have. And that’s what I did.

I knew the subject matter really well, which was a good thing, and I could get really indulgent too, but my collaborating partners prevented me from going there and feeling too sorry for myself.

You interviewed your sister, as well as your mother who appears to be quite a religious person. How did they feel about it?

They did it because they thought I was making a film glorifying my dad [laughs]. But when it got to the more serious questions, my mother was quite concerned, and you can see it in her body language, she is a conflicted person. But I wanted her perspective, because you cannot make a documentary without showing the other side. My mother saw this film! And she actually liked it, because she felt she had been represented in a dignified and balanced manner. And that means a lot to me.

Going onto the LGBT discussion, there’s a clear difference between the western idea of a nuclear family and the ‘khandan’, the extended unit that everyone’s always a part of. How do you think that made your experience as a gay person different from more western perceptions of LGBT identities?

I went and explored where homophobia in our culture came from, and it can be directly attributed to western colonisation of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. This whole “macho” attitude, this toxic masculinity, is also a gift from the coloniser. And it makes me very angry, actually. Often I talk to people and I used to have patience with them, but now, if they cannot connect the dots between their persecution after 9/11 and the persecution of LGBT people and other minorities, then they’re really fucking stupid and it’s time to call them out.

I didn’t make a hateful film. I was trying to, but I didn’t because I have very strong collaborative partners. I made a loving film, you know? But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a rose in one hand and a stick in the other. I’m still like “get your fucking act together”, because we are suffering. And it’s time to break the silence. Someone has to do it, and it might as well be me.

Yeah, it’s very frustrating, because you’ll talk to people about things like Islamophobia, but in the same breath they’ll say terrible things about gay people and trans people.

Yeah, it’s very annoying. And it’s been years. And now look at what’s happening in Egypt. Like, really? It’s so upsetting, and the West is silent and complicit, you know, it’s disgusting. Floggings in Indonesia, killings and concentration camps in Chechnya. When’s it gonna stop?

What can people do in their everyday lives to break down these colonial barriers and unlearn these prejudices?

The simplest thing they can do is come see my film and bring other people to it. Bring their white allies, parents and people who are sceptical about it. I made this film to help people like me, so other young people don’t suffer, so we can accomplish greatness.

Look at where the earth is going – it’s 25 degrees here in bloody October, seriously? Even in Montreal, in Toronto, it’s really warm. Something is not right with our planet. There are fires raging, floods, hurricanes, and you’re worried about who we’re fucking? Come on!

What advice would you have for the LGBT youth of today, who are going through similar struggles to you, albeit in a different political climate?

On the one hand, I think it’s really nice that these kinds of things are being talked about. When I was young, there was no internet, no Google, no Wi-Fi, no way to connect with different communities. Now we have that, it’s pretty amazing. But on the other hand it’s also quite alienating – everything is instant, so no one can actually get to know you, before they already have all the information about you and reject you very quickly. Overall, I feel like the world is a more aware place, because of the fast travel of information.

You can’t pretend to ignore it any more.

No, you can’t pretend to ignore it anymore, and the parents of young people are more exposed to it now than, for example, my parents were. So that’s nice.

I was talking to these teenagers in a classroom, mostly white kids and straight kids, and they loved the film. And I was telling them that being young is hard. Being a teenager is shit. You’re not considered a full person – you’re not cute enough to be a baby and you’re not old enough to be an adult. Everyone has it hard, it doesn’t matter who you are. Try and hang out with people who make it less hard for you.

That’s very good advice.

Images via Arshad Khan

Categories: Muslim blogs

Re-Living American History on the Big Screen

The Platform - Thu, 26/10/2017 - 23:45

The passage of time is depicted in imaginative ways by directors of Mudbound, Last Flag Flying and The Shape of Water

It is a quirk of human consciousness that, whether collectively or as individuals, we work out where we are going by trying to make sense of the past. Time flows continually, and the present does not exist, since as ancient philosophers pointed out every moment is fleeting. Given that we can only guess as to the future, the past has particular authority over the direction of our societies. While conservatives urge us to keep calm and think of Churchill, progressives still dream of the spirit of ‘45 and the ethos of the welfare state.

In 1922 in Paris, two celebrity intellectuals, Henri Bergson and Albert Einstein, debated whether time is an objective, mechanical fact or an aspect of experience, felt in multiple and dynamic ways. Film has a great ability to capture time as a feeling, recalling worlds long gone and elapsing whole years in minutes within tremendous states of longing or anticipation. This was on my mind as I watched a number of historical films at the recent BFI London Film Festival.

One of the best, Mudbound, takes ‘return’ as its subject. Told through six different voice overs, its diverging points of view give it the feel of being both modernist and recalling the classic novel. Two young men, one black and one white, return to their families in rural Mississippi after distinguished service in Europe in WWII. In a South determined to maintain old racial hierarchies the real battle is at home, where there is no place for heroes. Its end returns to its opening scene as the two families pass each other in hostile silence, the white brothers burying their recently departed, violently segregationist father, and their black dependents forced to confront a rather different tragedy.

‘Return’ has a wider meaning in a US whose 400-year history of racial hatred refuses to be buried. Last year’s documentary of writer and activist James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro, began by contrasting footage of police attacking Black Lives Matter protesters in Ferguson in 2014 with the faces of southern whites insulting black students trying to go to school in the early 1960s. The title of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest book, We Were Eight Years in Power, only indirectly refers to Obama’s presidency, as it quotes Reconstruction blacks in the 19th-century after their brief participation in political life was terminated by a racist South who was keen to halt the advance of equality after the end of slavery. The Ku Klux Klan, a group dedicated to restoring the values of the slave era, appear in Mudbound in a scene whose horror owes in no small part to its contemporary relevance given President Donald Trump’s flirtation with their current Grand Wizard, David Duke. It is hard in these post-racial times to maintain faith in progress, when the beasts of the past raise their unslain heads once more.

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote of Americans in the wake of WWII that they were “men who had been swamped, lost in too large a continent, as we were in history, and who tried, without traditions, with the means available, to render their stupor and forlornness in the midst of incomprehensible events.” Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying gives a sense of this forlornness in a land now forced also to contemplate its greatness as itself history. Set during the capture of Saddam Hussein, it follows three ageing ex-Vietnam vets played by Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston and Steve Carrell as they take a road trip across a rather downbeat America to bury the latter’s son who was killed in action in Iraq – or so the military claim. As they consider ageing through the prism of their own disillusion with a government who lied about Vietnam and has lied again about Iraq, the leads are just about engaging enough to carry the male badinage of the script. The casting of Fishburne as a preacher who has renounced his youthful debauchery is a minor masterstroke given his first role as a whacked-out 17-year-old marine in the classic Vietnam film Apocalypse Now, but the fantasy of patriotic reconciliation that ends the film undoes the confrontation of past ingloriousness that precedes it.

A rather different kind of fantasy is found in the creature-romance adventure The Shape of Water from Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro. Like that earlier film, the fairytale allows escape from the all too human violence of repression, as the battle between US and Soviet scientists centres upon classified experiments on a captured Amazon reptile river-god. Science fiction more normally extrapolates from today to offer a vision of our potential future, but this homage to the classic sci-fi inverts this relationship and is set in the 1960s of the sci-fi B-movie’s heyday. This period is rendered as a weird place removed from nature, and the inhuman objectives of its Cold War fanatics provide a comment on our relationship to the ecosystem, and a song of love for its virtuous wonders.

Remaining much closer to the historical record of imperial power is Zama, Lucrecia Martel’s tale of an 18th-century Spanish colony on the Asuncion Coast. Martel drops us in this location without explanation, somewhat in the manner that we find her lead character, a Spanish magistrate, continually promised a transfer home that never comes. The setting on the water’s edge, and an antagonistic relationship both with the subjugated people and the bands of outlaws surrounding them, turns this into a beautifully-realised tale of the state of non-being that is waiting at the hands of a distant, stagnating colonial power.

In writing on the decline of faith in progress, Svetlana Boym noted that “the 20th century began with utopia and ended with nostalgia.” This would fit the British film The Party, Sally Potter’s political satire of a disastrous celebration held by Kristin Scott-Thomas as an opposition MP taking up a position as Shadow Health Minister. Although its setting is contemporary, the 71-minute chamber piece is shot in a black-and-white that recalls the era when its characters’ worldviews were first set. Its all-star ensemble embodies the permutations of post-68 politics, from Bruno Ganz’s homeopathic life-coach to Cillian Murphy’s Blairite privatizer. The brilliance of its balance between sensitivity and farce rescues the film from being as ostentatiously self-regarding in its politics as the well-heeled and well-intentioned intelligentsia that it caricatures.

Marcel Proust wrote that “the time at our disposal every day is elastic: the passions that we feel expand it, those that inspire us shrink it; and habit fills it.” The films discussed above not only fill the time, but place such individuality of experience within the scope of history. They restore to us our perspective, and connect our feeling to something wider.

Photo Credits: Steve Dietl

Categories: Muslim blogs

‘No Turning Back': Tracking Stories of Migration in Britain

The Platform - Wed, 25/10/2017 - 20:35

This exhibition demonstrates that migration has been critical to the shaping of this country long before current debates

Since the Brexit referendum in July 2016, migration has been one of the most hotly debated topics in the British public sphere. Indeed, the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union has brought to the fore questions of boundaries, identities and belonging. Yet, despite the sensationalism with which migration is treated by media and politicians alike, none of this is actually new, as the latest exhibition hosted at the Migration Museum shows. Entitled No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain, this exhibition is a timely reminder that the process of migration itself, into and from the UK, has always been part of British life, and that without it, the country would certainly look very different today.

The exhibition brings together photographs, art installations, personal stories and commentaries around seven pivotal migration moments in the history of Britain. It ranges from the expulsion of the Jews in 1290, to the 2011 Census which revealed an 85 per cent increase of the number of people who define themselves as mixed race, compared to the previous one of 2001. In between these two moments, the exhibition tackles the arrival of the Huguenots fleeing oppression in France in 1685, the first journey of an East Indian Company ship from Tilbury to Surat in 1607 – asking whether this was the beginning of globalisation – the 1905 Aliens Act, the ‘Rock Against Racism’ movement in the late-1970s and the first ever long-haul passenger jet flight in 1952. Significantly, these events are not presented in a chronological order, so that the visitor is free to explore the connections and parallels between these different moments, and between the past and present.

‘Postcards from Nowhere’ (Shao-Jie Lin) shows 65 postcards made from the pulped landing cards refused by the UK Border Agency – 65 also being the average number of people who are denied entry to the UK every day. It is impossible not to make the connection between this installation and the Alien Act previously referred to, and, before that, to the expulsion of the Jews.

Analogously, the wall covered with the front pages of newspapers which, in the run up to the Brexit referendum, discussed migration in terms of ‘invasion’, ‘deception’ and ‘protection of borders’, point to a resurgence of racism

In this light, Rock Against Racism being chosen as one of the turning points for Britain testifies to the influence it had on people and the nation as a whole, as well as exhorting people to not stand by racism, but instead, to fight it. While, of course, being a way to pay homage to the creativity that emerged out of that moment (let’s not forget about White Riot or Punky Reggae Party!) Moreover, Andy Barter’s portraits of mixed-race families in Britain and Angélica Dass’s installation ‘Humanae’, where the artist used the Pantone colours to catalogue every human skin tone, exposes the feeble fantasies of purity and race, whilst calling for an inclusive notion of Britishness.

Not willing to identify these seven moments as the only key ones in the history of migration into and from Britain, the exhibition also exhorts the participation of visitors, who are encouraged to write down what they believe to be a key migration moment and to leave it there for the curators. But, focusing on these moments the exhibition provides an exploration to questions of migration, identity and culture that is badly needed at this historical moment in time. They remind us that, as the late Edward Said argued, no one is ever exclusively one thing, and that the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale started well before the Brexit referendum.

‘No Turning Back: Seven Migration Moments that Changed Britain’ exhibition runs until 25 February 2018. Opening hours: 11am – 5pm Wed – Sun, with a late opening the last Thurs of each month. Location: Migration Museum at The Workshop, 26 Lambeth High Street, London, SE1 7AG. Free admission.

See also ‘Experiences of Creativity’ workshop (12.30 – 5.30pm) held this Saturday at the Migration Museum.

Photo Credits: Susan and Joseph, part of Andy Barter’s Mixed series © Andy Barter

Categories: Muslim blogs

BFI LFF Perspectives: Confronting the Wicked Past

The Platform - Sat, 21/10/2017 - 13:49

Stunning landscapes, aching nostalgia and confronting the past at this year’s BFI London Film Festival, as reviewed by five of our writers.

 

THE SONG OF SCORPIONS
Dir. Anup Singh (India)

Review by SU Ahmad

Present at London’s Cine Lumiere to introduce his third feature The Song of Scorpions at the BFI London Film Festival, director Anup Singh spoke as if briefed by Paulo Coelho backstage. He remarked on the violence currently saturating our screens and asked us, the audience, whether we would “breath out the violence that we take in” or instead “breath out a song”. I wanted to ask him whether violence itself can ever be beautiful, even melodious.

Known for strong female leads, the opening scenes of Singh’s dark love story introduce us to fiercely independent Nooran, played by Iranian-born Golshifteh Farhani who learnt Hindi for the role and did an impressive job. A singer-healer taught by her grandmother, none other than Bollywood legend Waheda Rehman, Nooran goes about the Rajasthani desert coaxing scorpion venom out of bite victims with her song. Meanwhile, besotted camel herder Aadam (Irrfan Khan) has a mysterious knack for appearing by her side during her travels, remaining enraptured despite numerous humiliations.

The cinematography is stunning, with Pietro Zuercher and Carlotta Holy-Steinmen shamelessly taking advantage of Rajasthan’s golden desert and star lit night skies, frequently returning to silhouettes of veiled women navigating sand dunes in the darkness. While hauntingly beautiful, it is perhaps excessive, as if exclusively made for the pleasure of westerners lusting after a taste of the exotic.

After a well-executed Shakespearean plot twist, the story drifts off into obscurity in the second half, and will leave many frustrated. Farhani and Khan’s stellar performances, however, make The Song of Scorpions a worthwhile watch.

THE SHAPE OF WATER
Dir. Guillermo del Toro (USA)

Review by SU Ahmad

Fans of the now cult classic Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) will not be disappointed by Guillermo Del Toro’s eagerly anticipated The Shape of Water, a fantasy movie set in the Cold War era focusing around what is an MKUltra-esque government programme. The prize possession for government operatives working in a covert US military facility becomes a newly discovered humanoid creature from South America.

Director Del Toro, who recently weighed in on the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal at the BFI – “two horrible things happened in the late-nineties, my father was kidnapped and I worked with the Weinsteins” – casts Sally Hawkins as the charming Eliza, a mute cleaner who forms a relationship with the captured creature amidst its horrendous abuse, and plots a daring plan for its escape. “That thing isn’t human!” a friend bellows at her upon uncovering her plan, to which she responds in sign language, that if the creature is left to die “then neither are we”.

The political backdrop of the film highlights middle class America’s rampant racism, homophobia and xenophobia in the 1960s, themes which are integral to the film’s central message. Viewers will notice that the overall enemy in the film in many respects is the mediocre straight white all-American male, with the ‘good guys’ consisting of a motley assortment of the disabled, people of colour, the foreign, and a highly intelligent aquatic being.

To use Alfonso Cuarón’s words, “…run immediately and go see that film. It’s absolutely sublime.”

SPOOR
Dir. Agnieszka Holland (Poland)

Review by Rukiya Gadid

‘Spoor’ is an English word related to hunting, meaning to follow the tracks or scent of a person or animal. It is also the title of a beautifully made film set in the luscious green pastures on the Polish-Czech border. The film stunningly spans all four seasons and follows the tale of Janina Duszejko, an eccentric partially retired teacher, as she tries to solve murders committed in the forest where her small cabin resides.

It’s an ecological thriller written and directed by Agnieszka Holland, based on the polish novel chillingly titled Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tkarczuk who also co-wrote the screenplay. The film has been labelled a ‘feminist black comedy’ and the gender dynamics are fairly significant from the start, whereby a mysterious incident leads the protagonist into a direct confrontation with the police, who dismiss her concerns about her missing dogs and the all-male hunting club.

The film also explores other themes such as the fragility of life and the splendour of nature. It truly comes alive as a result of the magnificent cinematography which captures the jaw-dropping beauty of the Kłodzko Valley, and through the charismatic performance of Agnieszka Mandat who plays the lead character. Together, these redeem the film as the plot takes many odd turns which can leave you scratching your head.

ISRAFIL
Dir. Ida Panahandeh (Iran)

Review by Amir Rizwan

Ida Panahandeh’s Israfil puts three women at its centre. The film’s location is a small town in the Mazandaran Province in the east of the Caspian Sea, offering viewers the green, misty and irregular landscapes that provide the depth of each frame. The film begins by focusing on widow Mahi (Hedieh Tehrani) and Behrouz (Pejman Bazeghi), two former lovers whose relationship scandalises their families, and who are reunited through the death of their son. But soon the arrival of a young woman, Sara (Hoda Zeinolabedin), a love interest of Behrouz, disrupts the story. As she returns to Tehran a different story emerges – one that features a family of three in which the mother has mental health problems and an older son dreams of emigrating.

Throughout Israfil there are moments of beauty and a unsatisfied nostalgia for the past which elicits moments of sadness – whether that is through the broken gaze of Mahi or the tone of Behrouz when he calls Mahi’s name affectionately for the first time. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this film was the gradual and subtle creation of a world brimming with emotion. No shot feels arbitrary. The movie is abound with visual sophistication ensuring that behind every image there remains feelings of closeness, death and sorrow.

ADRIANA’S PACT
Dir. Lissette Orozco (Chile)

Review by Zainab Rahim

Adriana’s Pact is a series of chilling interviews conducted by director Lissette Orozco, who is trying to find out whether her ‘favourite’ aunt was a torturer under Augusto Pinochet. Confessing to being swept off her feet by the privileges of the high ranks, Adriana only agrees to participating in this film because she believes it will clear her name. Instead, through the calmly determined character of Orozco, a story of scandal, denial and hysteria unravels on screen – and it feels like it’s happening in real time.

Orozco must be highly commended for her raw and incredibly brave debut documentary film that digs deep into her family’s history. She told the BFI audience that she pressed on with the making of the film for years, despite losing key funding and at the harsh disapproval of a number of family members. The skilful angles and editing make for unsettling viewing. It will particularly resonate with those who can relate to the murky aftermath of brutal dictatorships (for me, Adriana was a straight comparison with Baathist intelligence workers under Saddam’s mukhabaraat), where troubling testimonies emerge from the woodwork, competing to be heard.

THE JOURNEY
Dir. Mohamed J. Al-Daradji (Iraq)

Review by Zainab Rahim

Baghdad has a thousand and one tales to be told in a suffering cultural industry. That’s where Mohamed J. Al-Daradji steps in. Being one of few Iraqi filmmakers to reach international acclaim, Al-Daradji has worked tirelessly to train non-professional casts and crews from scratch.

The Journey follows aspiring suicide bomber, Sara, on a tense 24 hours in Baghdad Central train station on the day of its re-opening. Though fictional, it succeeds in introducing a fractured and diverse cross-section of Iraqi society through its characters: orphaned children, aggressive yet endearing, selling roses; an elderly father reading the Qur’an over the coffin of his son; a mother who abandons her baby for fear of shame; a bride-to-be who is being sent to Basra; and a busker who cannot afford to marry his sweetheart.

Though insurgency in Iraq is often attributed to ‘foreigners’, Sara’s Iraqi accent is uncomfortably familiar – and her weary bitterness even more so. Al-Daradji intentionally leaves out her background and motive, instead humanising her by weaving her experiences with that of others. Does she press the button? You’ll have to watch it to find out. Aside from a few stiff performances (understandably) and some unconvincing bonding between the protagonists, The Journey manages to represent a microcosm of the traumatised state of a nation. The film still needs a distributor and thoroughly deserves one.

THOROUGHBREDS
Dir. Cory Finley (USA)

Review by Louis Bayman

There can be something truly endearing about wickedness, so long as it is done with consistency. And you will find no film more consistent than this tight, eccentric thriller and its teenage evildoers. Everything in it has the controlled energy of a ticking bomb, from the metronome regularity of the soundtrack to the enclosed decadence of their LA mansion – part prison, part palace – where the two playmates languish indoors over long sunny days, as fantasies of murder overtake their domestic boredom. The plot is simple enough – one rich girl with no friends is invited to a second rich girl’s house. Although she already knows that her mother is paying the second girl to befriend her, they bond over a common plan to do violence to the second girl’s new stepfather. Rarely do teen noirs come as good as this, nor as convincing, for the deliberate artifice of the heightened style fits a world of the idle rich bereft of fellow human feeling. Bearing in mind that children already occupy a position unnervingly balanced between innocence and amorality, we may say that when they’re good, these girls are very good, but when they’re bad they’re better. And at the end of it all, their wickedness almost turns into a touchingly romantic perversity.

APOSTASY
Dir. Daniel Kokotajlo (UK)

Review by Louis Bayman

The first feature for director Daniel Kokotajlo is set amongst the congregation of the Oldham Jehovah’s Witnesses, as a mother of unwavering faith faces the loss of both her children. The all-male church elders instruct her to cast out one daughter who has fallen pregnant out of wedlock, while her second must forego life-saving medical treatment due to the Witnesses’ embargo on blood transfusions. Belief requires faith; commitment is tested by sacrifice. But how, when the sacrifice is yours, can you really know you have not adhered to a false doctrine? The sociologist Max Weber distinguished between ‘church’, which encompasses all those born in a community, and ‘sect’, which includes only the elect few, whose righteousness is proven against the mockery of the heathen majority. Films and documentaries that try to denounce the strange habits of sects and cults can themselves have a bit of a tendency to preach to the converted: that is, they shine a spotlight on the exotic crazies at the margins to reassure the general audience in holding the beliefs of the majority. Nevertheless, this is an enlightening glimpse into a minority religion and a sensitive portrayal of a woman caught between closeness to her religious community and to the family with which it is at odds.

 

Amir Rizwan works in the social investment space supporting high impact social enterprises and charities.

Louis Bayman is film editor at The Platform and an academic based at the University of Southampton.

Rukiya Gadid is a writer on society and culture in the big city.

S U Ahmad is a London-based editor and contributor here at The Platform.

Zainab Rahim is the joint editor-in-chief of The Platform.

Featured image: Israfil / Omid Salehi

Categories: Muslim blogs

Preview: Young Adult Literature Weekender at Southbank Centre

The Platform - Fri, 20/10/2017 - 07:01

Nelli Kirla explores the London Literature Festival with a great line-up next weekend

It is time for the annual London Literature Festival. Dive into the world of words. Southbank Centre is hosting a festival spanning three weekends of literary events, including poetry readings, debates, workshops and an array of talks, from the likes of Phillip Pullman to Tom Hanks to Tracy Chevalier. The weekend of October 28th to 29th is a chance for all of London’s literary youths to lose themselves in the ‘Young Adult Literature Weekend’ which is now in its fourth year.

The weekend sees a jam-packed schedule of talks, readings, Q&As, and even a market inside the Southbank Centre. It is a weekend to satisfy all sorts of literary cravings – whether this might be to look for inspiration on your blog or next big novel, to seek guidance from those who’ve been in your shoes, or simply to be entertained. Not only focused on the traditional novel, the weekend allows young writers to get into a more experimental direction of writing with Deanna Rodgers’ spoken word recital on Saturday, and a dialogue about sex and self-love with vlogger Hannah Witton. Keeping it contemporary and topical, you can also hear discussions between the authors of A Change is Gonna Come, a new fiction anthology on the importance of change in young writers’ fiction.

Combining different mediums of writing, the weekend also brings together different ages and mediums of writing. From young authors on their first blogs and novels, the series of events will work their way up to the finale, Tracy Chevalier, who will be discussing her latest work, New Boy, in conversation with novelist Sally Gardner. A retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello, New Boy is a natural continuation for Chevalier’s emblematic novel, Girl With a Pearl Earring (1999), the famous story inspired by Vermeer’s painting of the same title. After fishing out this 17th-century image and bringing it back to life in a new millennium, I do wonder what she has to say about Shakespeare’s 16th-century language today. Surely, language is the one thing that creates a collective sense of stability within the self, while simultaneously existing in an ever-changing state. I am curious to uncover this union of the classic and the modern. With this in mind, I’ll be heading down to Southbank ready to explore.

So go ahead and join me! Learn about the process of writing from the young authors who have published their own works, listen to spoken word, and learn something about the classics you thought you knew all about.

Recommended for those of ages 13-25, tickets are £10 for a day and £16 for the whole weekend. Visit this page for more information.

Image: Mary Bello

 

Categories: Muslim blogs

Cities Ablaze…

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Fri, 22/09/2017 - 04:10

In 1970 the R&B group, The Temptations, sang about “...cities ablaze in the summertime.” The reference was to the race riots that left large swaths of cities like Los Angeles, Newark, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington DC and others burned to the ground. Racism, America’s seemingly incurable disease, continues to rear its vile head and we see sections of cities like Ferguson and now St. Louis ablaze as a result of the intense racial polarization tearing at the seams of our society.

In the African American community, those tensions are worsened by the scores of men, women and children shot by police with no accountability. There are those who may argue that some of those killings are the result of poor judgment, inexperience, fear or inadequate training. However, when an officer says “I’m going to kill this motherf*****...”, as happened in the Saint Louis incident triggering the current unrest, or is wearing a T-Shirt emblazoned with a confederate flag under his uniform, as was the case when Ray Tensing shot unarmed, non-menacing Sam DuBose in the head, there is no argument.

The era defining the Temptations song was itself defined, to a great extent by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was killed before he was able to fully develop the movement to bring down what he referred to as the evil triplets of racism, militarism and materialism. Dr. King presciently understood that most of the ills in our society are a function of those three evils.

Dr. King of course was a Christian, however, the forces he challenged are ecumenical in nature. They affect Catholics as much as they affect Protestants; they affect Muslims as much as they affect Christians. As Muslims, we must recognize that the times are calling us to be the heirs of Dr. King’s mission. It may not be today or tomorrow, but sooner or later we must respond and join forces with others who are fighting these evils. Until then, tensions will continue to rise and cities will continue to burn.

Categories: Muslim blogs
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