Category Archives: society

London Bridge

Why would anyone attack London?

London – without a doubt the most inclusive, diverse, welcoming, international, politically informed and intellectually engaged place I have ever lived – and I’ve called a fair few places home.

London – where voices can be heard, and arguments can find both informed support and intelligent dissent.

Why would anyone attack the very people that would willingly hear them out? Listen to their opinions without prejudice? Help them – or help them see another way?

Why would they have their children attack our children?

Religion can be a source of great love and community. I have seen this particularly in Europe and in South America – whole communities coming together, regardless of background or ethnicity or sexual orientation, to celebrate one another and support each other. The religion of these communities is not orthodox or radical or extreme. They do not hold up an ancient text written by different people living in a different community at a different time as the literal word of god. They take the tenets of that text – whatever the creed, it is some form of ‘be good to one another’ – and they live by them every day.

Religion can also be repulsive. I have seen this too – in other parts of Europe, in the United States, in Indonesia and in the Arab world. Communities divided by fear and misunderstanding. People persecuted for things that are beyond their control – who they love; their gender; the religion of their parents; abuses at the hands of others. Their religious communities take those ancient tenets and twist them to fit a modern context of their own invention. Their texts are not proclamations of universal love, but bitter rules about who to hate.

When people feel persecuted, they retaliate. But who had persecuted the terrorists who attacked London last night? They did not lash out at politicians, the military, religious leaders, members of their own communities they felt had abandoned them. They lashed out at regular people, civilians, the young. This was the third attack in three months. And like their fellow extremists, these three men had no arguments, no thoughts, no ideas. They had only weapons and a worthless desire to die.

You do not destroy us with your hateful acts of violence. You bring us together, in all our astonishing diversity. You do not make us hate you. You make us question what has made you hate yourselves so much.

We feel sorry for you. You feel alone, persecuted and desperate.

Your acts are upsetting to us primarily because they are pointless. Six civilians dead? In a city like London, probably not even all British? You gave up your lives for that?

For what?

A bit of back channel applause on Twitter?

Killing a handful of people in this glorious city does nothing for you or your cause. If you want to effect real change, you should stop attacking us – and try talking to us.

I defy anyone – whatever their history – not to find an open ear in London.

Thank you, Mr President

I have been thinking a lot about prejudice. Brexit, and now the election of Donald Trump, have made me really question what prejudice is, what I experience in my life, and what it means for others around the world.

I live in a melting pot of a city. I don’t describe London as a tolerant society; tolerance implies you don’t like something but you’re not going to throw your toys out of the pram about it. It’s a diverse and largely integrated society.

I know for a fact that there are people in London who experience racism; there are women who experience sexism; there are members of the LGBTQ community who experience homophobia or transphobia; there are disabled people who experience discrimination. But in London, a vast and populous city, prejudice pretty much goes down like this:

99% of the population is fine. Doesn’t discriminate. Doesn’t care about something as inconsequential as your skin colour or accent or who you fuck or how you walk. At worst they’re unclear how to help you in a particular circumstance, or speak to you about a particular issue, in case they inadvertently do or say something you find offensive. But confusion is not the same as prejudice.

But every now and then, someone is a dick. You see it, and a lot of other people around you see it too. Sure, what the dick said or did hurts you for a time – but all those other people, they’re on your side. And the person who comes off worst in this scenario is the dick.

That’s my experience of prejudice. I see it happen, but far more often I see it not happen. When it does happen, the vast majority finds it unacceptable. And if we don’t give the words or actions of the dicks amongst us credence, they don’t have all that much of an impact.

Prejudice is something that happens infrequently, and can be shaken off.

In a city as populous as London, ‘infrequently’ can mean fairly frequently in a chronological sense, of course. Someone might experience racism once a day – but in a city where you encounter literally thousands of people every day, that’s a statistically small part of your life. That’s a different subject, for a different time.

Right now I want to talk about the sort of people who elected Donald Trump as president – a man who calls Mexicans rapists and wants to ban Muslims from entering the US. They don’t experience prejudice in the same way as I do. For these people, prejudice is pathological. They are not isolated dicks – they’re the majority. They are not challenged and ignored – they have the popular vote. The people they abuse don’t experience prejudice infrequently – they experience it habitually.

And no one wants to be the only gay (or black, or Muslim, or woman, or disabled person…) in the village, if they can help it.

So the persecuted Muslim man leaves his bigoted home town – leaving no one there to challenge prejudice and show the bigots that there are more similarities than differences between him and them and there’s nothing to be afraid of. The bigots’ lack of experience grows, and turns to a lack of understanding, then fear, then intolerance, then inexplicable anger and violence. Meanwhile the Muslim man has moved to an integrated society such as London – where his existence changes nothing – or to a less diverse community such as a suburb of Birmingham but where he is in the majority – where his existence changes nothing, and the very existence of that community seems to feeds the fears of the society he left.

But on a personal level the Muslim man feels safer and happier. And the bigots in the town he left also feel safer and happier. So it’s win win.

Only it isn’t. It clearly isn’t.

I don’t understand the bigotry of people who don’t live in an integrated society expressly because I do live in an integrated society. And this is why events like Brexit and the US presidential election have taken people like me by surprise. I had no idea how the disenfranchised masses felt. I could not and still really cannot conceive of irrational prejudice on such a massive scale. I am stunned that white middle class men – for they are the astonishing majority here – could ever feel they were being treated like the underdogs. I cannot wrap my brain around the selfish nationalism that has allowed this to happen. Here. In the US. Across Europe.

People have made associations between Donald Trump and Hitler; between Trump and various African dictators; between Trump and Putin. And with pretty good cause, if you listen to their rhetoric.

I understand that some people desperately wanted change. But I cannot grasp a desperation so deep that they would vote for Donald Trump.

But I believe that the key now is not vilifying people for their prejudices, but trying to understand where they’ve come from. Instead of building a wall, Donald Trump should be travelling through Mexico. Instead of banning Muslims, he should be sitting down and talking to Muslims.

Instead of dividing societies we should all be trying to come together.

Not all differences of opinion can be overcome. But the ones born simply of ignorance can.

If anything good comes from the current global political shift, I hope it’s greater communication. I don’t think I am alone in wanting to understand.


Breast practice

There are lots of good things about breastfeeding. It’s scientifically proven to be better for the baby, and to help prevent certain infections in infants. Unicef UK recently claimed that if 45 per cent of new mothers breastfed exclusively for just four months – as opposed to the 7 per cent who do currently – it could save the NHS £11 million a year. It’s also the most convenient method of feeding; mothers may be caught short without a bottle from time to time, but they’re never going to leave their own breasts at home. And, let’s not forget, breastfeeding affords teenage boys a welcome glimpse of boob.

We all grow up with an exclusively sexual outlook on breasts. If we could actually remember being breastfed, we might feel differently about them – but we can’t. Well maybe some of those kids who are breastfed until they’re five can – but that’s just weird. For most of us, breasts are sexual appendages, and in our western society we feel their exhibition should remain private – unless you’re a stripper or a hooker and you’re being paid to put your wares about. If the average woman walking down the street lifted up her top and flashed her breast, responses would range from titillation to disgust. No one would think it a normal and natural thing to do. It would be the same if a man adjusted his jeans and got his cock out to do it. He’s not doing anything sexual with his penis, it’s not an exclusively sexual organ anyway and half of the world’s population has got one – but it’s not pleasant behaviour.

So why does having a baby on your hip alter the acceptability of exposing your sexual organs in public? It doesn’t.

And most young mothers I know don’t want to flash strangers. Breastfeeding is a task they willingly perform, but the more discreet they can be about it the better; they’re trying to feed their child, not give a restaurant a thrill. They too appreciate that their breasts are a sexual organ in the minds of every single person on the planet except for the small baby about to suck on them – and getting them out might be necessary, but no one else is going to enjoy seeing it happen.

A young mother in Claridges recently started to breastfeed at her table. The management didn’t ask her to stop. They didn’t relocate her to a corner, as UKIP leader Nigel Farage suggested would be seemly practice in this sort of case. They simply asked her to up the modesty level and cover up a bit; they even provided her with a napkin. The woman took her outraged story to the press; shortly afterwards an angry mob of new mothers congregated outside the restaurant on a freezing cold winter’s day, got their tits out in protest and began to breastfed their babies. Breast milk might be full of all sorts of lovely nutrients, but it’s not Kryptonite – regardless of how much breast milk your baby is getting, you probably shouldn’t be standing around in Arctic temperatures with it just to make a point. A poor point. Poorly.

Was Claridges right? Hell yes. Ladies – the only person who wants to see your swollen milk-ridden tits is your baby. If there’s anyone else in the vicinity who’s in the mood to see a pair of lady breasts, they’re going to want to see much nicer ones than yours – and in a frankly sexier scenario. Covering up is not being prudish –  it’s common decency. We as a society have agreed that certain parts of our bodies – namely the sexy parts – don’t get exposed to the general public. We don’t urinate or defecate in public. We don’t shower or bathe in public. We don’t get dressed in public. We don’t wander the streets naked for the fun of it. It’s hardly going back to Victorian times to uphold standards of decency which say don’t flash your bits.

No one is suggesting that women shouldn’t breastfeed, or that they shouldn’t breastfeed in public places. Simply that they should be aware of their surroundings – like normal people.

And if they’re caught short with no way of covering up, and someone offers them a napkin – the correct response is “Thank you.”

AS 07-12-14