Tag Archives: gordon brown

Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Dear friends,

Many of you wrote posts, linked to campaigns and wrote to your MPs and so on recently about the shoddy way the Digital Economy Bill, or what is now the Digital Economy Act 2010, was being handled. I read your thoughts, watched the video, had a look around on the ORG website, and was interested and impressed to see the depth of feeling and analysis that was going on about the various issues, and agree that it was a pretty bad example of what passes for a democratic process, and that it’s without exception creepy and disturbing for any state to assert or seek greater control over people’s means of communications (I do have reservations about certain things that arose on ‘our’ side of the debate as well, like the repetition of Brown’s claim that ‘the internet is as vital as water and gas’; I do know what he was saying in context but don’t really think that stands up to much scrutiny from a global standpoint, and – taken out of context, as it was when I first saw it – it strikes me as being in questionable taste given that one billion people worldwide are living without access to clean water).

But anyway, what I wanted to say here was, while you are all thinking about human rights (yeah yeah, so I meant to write this earlier, whatever) and also about politics and getting ready to vote and so on, I would like to draw your attention to immigration and the treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers in the UK. These are people, please bear in mind, who have come to Britain knowing that it’s a country wealthy enough, democratic enough, and with enough of a tradition of understanding and respect for upholding human rights, that when something like the DEBill is rushed through our parliament, there is an uproar and backlash such as we saw this month.

  • On February 4th 2010, a hunger strike (ongoing at the time of writing) began at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, with over 70 women protesting their poor conditions, separation from their children, poor health and legal provisions and long periods of detainment. They have also demanded better legal representation in their asylum cases, as a report conducted by Legal Action for Women in 2006 found that 57% of women detained at Yarl’s Wood had no one representing them. While officials have claimed that detention is only used as a short-term measure, one of the women on hunger strike has been held for over two years. The response of the Serco staff to the hunger strike has been extremely heavy-handed. Many injuries have been reported and some of the women involved have been transferred to police stations. The women, many of whom are survivors of rape and torture, have reported racist abuse and beatings at the hands of guards, as well as being locked in isolation in a windowless corridor for eight hours without access to water or toilet facilities. Many of the detainees need medication which they have been denied during the protest.
    Serco and the UK Border Agency refused to confirm the number, nationality and status of the hunger strikers.
  • In April 2009, the Children’s Commissioner for England published a report which stated that children held in the detention centre are denied urgent medical treatment, handled violently and left at risk of serious harm. The report detailed how children are transported in caged vans and watched by opposite sex staff as they dress.
  • In March 2010, the Chief Inspector of Prisons published a report which confirmed that a baby had been detained for 100 days at Yarl’s Wood, and that force had been used against children twice in the last year to separate them from their families: “What was particularly troubling was that decisions to detain, and to maintain detention of, children and families did not appear to be fully informed by considerations of the welfare of children, nor could their detention be said to be either exceptional or necessary.”
  • In 2009, Felista Peters, a trainee radiologist, was jailed for 19 months and will be deported on completion of this term. Felista had successfully completed her BSC in radiology at the University of the West of England in Bristol and was days away from graduating when she was arrested. Her ‘crime’ was gaining British citizenship by claiming to have been born in London.
  • In 2002-03, Yurdugal Ay and her four children aged 7 to 14 were held in Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre for over a year, living like prisoners in a single room inside a razor wire surrounded compound, with the children allowed just 2 hours exercise each day. The Ay family eventually gained asylum in Germany. In March 2010, two five-year-old boys and their mother, who had fled from domestic violence in Nigeria in 2006, were taken to Dungavel. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland have “expressed their abhorrence at the practice of detaining young children and have asked the Scottish government to end this brutal and inhumane regime.”
  • Also in March 2010, a family of three people committed suicide at the Red Road flats in Glasgow.
    While Saeed, an Afghan asylum seeker, attended a candlelit vigil for the family, his belongings, including identity papers, were cleared out of his room in YMCA Glasgow and he was told without notice that he could not return to his flat. YMCA staff advised him that his belongings were ‘probably in the bin’.
    Meanwhile, the Home Office challenged a judge’s decision that a mourning couple should not have to exhume the body of their dead baby son and rebury him in Pakistan.
  • In February 2010 (thanks to my dearest dad for pointing this out to me), Gordon Brown issued an apology for Britain’s role in the Child Migrants Program, which shipped thousands of children to former colonies such as Australia and Canada.
    “We are sorry that the voices of these children were not always heard, their cries for help not always heeded.”… Mr Brown said the participants in the scheme were “robbed” of their childhood. “The pain of a lost childhood can last a lifetime.”

    The scheme began in 1869 and was ended in the 1960s.
    Gordon Brown was born in 1951, and is apparently fond of making meaningless, hollow gestures.

Support No One Is Illegal and the No Borders Network

Support the Refugee Council, Yarl’s Wood Befrienders and Scottish Detainee Visitors

Write to women inside Yarl’s Wood. Contact the All African Women’s Group (AAWG) at aawg02@gmail.com for more information on writing to women who want to receive letters. Help ensure the guards and the government know that these women are not forgotten.

Write to Minister of State Phil Woolas MP: woolasp@parliament.uk or Privateoffice.external@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

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I can’t go on, I will go on

This month saw Gordon Brown’s beleaguered government issue an official apology for the treatment of Alan Turing, the brilliant logician, cryptanalyst, and pioneering computer scientist who committed suicide in 1954 after enduring persecution and enforced chemical castration as ‘punishment’ for his sexual orientation. Brown, who was born in 1951, stated: “I am very proud to say: we’re sorry”.

There is something wrong and insulting in a society where the shameful mistreatment and needless death of a human being can be appropriated in this way by a failing politician who can never bear any meaningful responsibility for the events of his life; where Brown’s empty words can be weighed up against the suffering or death of any person. As time separates us from Turing and his persecutors, the 55 years between us allow Brown to regard his demise, the UK of the time and its attitudes coldly, as though through glass – as alien, over and done with; to use this horrible anniversary as a publicity stunt which is somehow supposed to illustrate his modern government’s commitment to equality and human rights; to speak, even, of ‘pride’.

Turing was undoubtedly a gifted scientist, and he is quite understandably remembered for his innovative work in cryptanalysis and artificial intelligence. But before all of this, he was a human. Can his life somehow be judged to be worth more than that of Jody Dobrowski, who was brutally battered and kicked to death aged 24, on Clapham Common in 2005? Than Robyn Brown, 23, a trans woman stabbed to death in her home in central London in 1997? Jaap Bornkamp, 52, knifed in New Cross, 2000? Geoffrey Windsor, 57, beaten to death in a Croydon park, 2002? How about the millions of LGB, trans and queer people who have suffered abuse including sexual assaults, violence, threats, intimidation, degradation and harassment every year in the UK, who might not be as ready or as ‘proud’ as Brown was to congratulate himself on all that progress we’ve made when he ‘celebrates’ Turing’s life while muttering a hollow apology for his death?

This is happening now. Research produced by the campaigning group Stonewall (2007, 2008) shows that two thirds of LGB young people at schools in the UK experience direct homophobic bullying, and 98% of them habitually hear derogatory homophobic language and insults. Within and outwith education, the reports prove that a majority of LGB people do not report homophobic abuse and hate crime, strongly believing that the authorities – whether teachers or police – cannot or will not take these cases seriously. We understand and recognise the institutionalised homophobia (as well as racism, sexism and xenophobia) of the police; we are constantly reminded by the mainstream media that queer and trans people must be constantly belittled and caricatured in order to be ‘tolerated’ and acceptable; that they are regarded, at best, as jokes.
Heterosexual privilege and a polite, insidious homophobia are constantly asserted and reinforced in the letters pages of the most popular newspapers. We hear it argued over and over again that these things (homophobia, heterosexual privilege) simply don’t exist. As laws have changed, the feeble refrain is that we ”don’t mind what people get up to in their bedrooms” (a statement which is unfailingly followed by “but…”), that we’re all ‘tolerant’ now, as though diversity, love and passion are fit only to be endured, wearily borne. Heterosexual privilege is blinding – these patient, ‘tolerant’ people could ask themselves: can you turn on a television, or walk past a school playground, without being fully prepared to see someone of your sexual orientation being mocked for this and this alone, or an aspect of your identity used as a slur? LGB, trans and queer people cannot faithfully answer yes.

The complaint always aired about the discussion of any sexual politics – the ‘don’t mind what people get up to in their bedrooms’ brigade – however pathetic, does reveal something about a disturbingly common British attitude – the horror and revulsion we feel towards both sex and love. It’s often argued that part of the problem is using ‘charged’ words and referring to ‘sexuality’, ‘sex changes’ and people as ‘homosexual’ because it’s not all about sex – and of course it’s not, but I’d argue that that’s not all, we have a serious problem with talking about meaningful relationships as well. About any kind of love, care or human emotion that’s not been pre-packaged and sapped of meaning by Hallmark cards and Richard Curtis films. It’s also worrying and wrong that sex itself, and the body, is still such a massive taboo – we need to be able to talk about this. We need to be able to make explicit statements about equality to the young, explaining what we mean by loose terms like ‘different’ and being unafraid to acknowledge issues of race, disability, sex – recent research by the Children’s Research Lab at the University of Texas has proven that it simply doesn’t work to try and make children ‘colourblind’ or protect them from such discussion, just reinforces the taboo and makes them think there’s something wrong with difference or talking about it.
A fear of sex – fear of one of the basic functions common to all animals throughout time – is why parents are too embarrassed and teachers too afraid to address it in schools. Faith schools exist in modern Britain and represent a massive failure to move or think forward – in 2009, teachers consulted for another piece of Stonewall research expressed their views that “homosexuality is wrong” and “a deviant behaviour”. Environments exist in which the very people who are supposed to guide and care for children view their charges as sinners and condemned. The rotten, ragged spectre of the church and a wish to cling to some mythical and meaningless ‘morality’ hangs over this country, and coupled with the divide and rule bigotry and fearmongering constantly reinforced by politicians and the media, it is retarding us.

As Jody’s mother, Sheri Dobrowski, says: ‘Jody was not the first man to be killed, or terrorised, or beaten or humiliated for being homosexual – or for being perceived to be homosexual. Tragically, he will not be the last man to suffer the consequences of homophobia, which is endemic in this society. This is unacceptable. We cannot accept this. No intelligent, healthy or reasonable society could.’

Of course, though, there’s nothing in all this that Gordon Brown feels the need to apologise for.

If those who would call themselves our leaders show no propensity for leadership, what right do they have to the name? Would we rather – will we be able to – make real progress under these old straight men who believe it is acceptable to issue a clinically worded apology for a half-forgotten tragedy, who can point to dusty law books as evidence of their commitment to ‘equality’, or can we build a better and more honest society, a better world, together as people – as diverse communities, with all our wealth of intelligence, understanding, experience, and with compassion that those who broadcast bland apologies from ivory towers can never have?