On Milkshaking

The recent EU parliamentary election campaign saw the birth of a particular form of political expression: milkshaking.

The practice began when a man in Leeds, irate at having to talk to UKIP candidate and race-baiter Tommy Robinson, threw milkshake over him.

Other people started throwing milkshakes at other right wing candidates. Nigel Farage refused to disembark his campaign bus in one location, having been ‘milkshaked’ at a previous stop.

The phenomenon prompted a wave of political discussion, hot-takes ans hang-wringing. Was it akin to ‘punching a Nazi’ or other types of political violence? Or was it in the tradition of that time-honoured tradition of throwing eggs at politicians? Continue reading “On Milkshaking”

Why Are Goldsmiths’ Feminists Applauding the Silencing of Women?

There was another free speech skirmish on a UK university campus this week, when the ex-Muslim activist Maryam Namazie was heckled by students at an event at Goldsmiths College.

East London Lines, a online newspaper run by students including many from Goldsmiths, reported the incident after it happened, and have written a follow up in which I am quoted for English PEN.

I want to say a little more in a personal capacity.

The video of the event is available online. Continue reading “Why Are Goldsmiths’ Feminists Applauding the Silencing of Women?”

No, Ambassador: It’s Not ‘Meddling’ to Call for Free Speech in Saudi Arabia

Vigil outside the Saudi Embassy, London

First posted yesterday on Huffington Post UK.


Today is the third anniversary of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi’s arrest, and thousands of activists around the world are demanding the reversal of his conviction on charges of blasphemy and ‘setting up a liberal website’. Many gathered at Downing Street today as a letter signed by hundreds of writers and politicians was delivered to Prime Minister David Cameron.

But the Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in London is not amused. Last week, it issued an indignant response to the ongoing campaign for Badawi’s release.

‘…the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia wishes to state that it has no tolerance for foreign entities meddling in the Kingdom’s internal affairs,’ said the statement. ‘The Kingdom will not tolerate such outrageous, ridiculous interference in its sovereign criminal justice system.’ Continue reading “No, Ambassador: It’s Not ‘Meddling’ to Call for Free Speech in Saudi Arabia”

Cinefilm Footage of the 2003 anti-war protests

I have just uploaded some digitised super 8mm cinefilm footage I took in 2003, of the anti-war demonstrations in London.

I sent the original reels to the producers of the We Are Many documentary. They have crowd-sourced footage of the biggest mobilisation of people in history. Sadly, my footage did not make it into the final cut (too much panning, maybe!?) but they provided me with the digitised footage anyway. I am making it available online under a Creative Commons Licence.

Watching the footage a decade after I took it, I am amused by how the vintage cinefilm adds an extra sheen of history to the images. Its also serendipitous that I received this footage back just as Instagram launched its video service. The quick cuts and grainy film in my clips are mirrored in the new content being produced today by social media enthusiasts. I was using Instagram Video before it was cool!

I am also reminded of these wonderful lines from Karo Kilfeather in her essay ‘The Art of Narcissism‘:

The impulse to create art is as powerful as any other thing that drives us because art connects us to experiences and to one another. Good is besides the point when the need behind it is to create something honest and true to the way we see the world. It’s not about realism. The vintage-tinted Instagram filters are derided for adding a nostalgic cast to the mundane, but what they do is allow users to share their world in the same emotional shades they see. The photo becomes not just a document of a moment, but a story told from a point of view.

This speaks to why I chose to document the protest with Super 8mm cine-film in the first place. The political mobilisation of early 2003 felt historic, and I wanted to convey that in my personal record of the day.

Blasphemy and Cynical Plays for Power

I really shouldn’t let the weekend start without jotting a few notes about the ongoing unrest in the Middle East, provoked by the YouTube video “The Innocence of Muslims” and fuelled by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The protests have sparked another round of analysis of the the Muslim faith, with the predictable indictment of Islam as uniquely intolerant. The Onion published a very funny NSFW cartoon, blasphemous to all religions except Islam, with the headline ‘No-one Murdered Because of This Image’. Funny, yes, but not actually accurate as satire. The fundamentalist Hindus of India are not above threats and riots when their sacred images are appropriated. The internationally acclaimed artist MF Hussain spent his twilight years in exile because of threats made by his own countrymen, such was their dislike of his Mother India paintings. And Richard Gere’s effigy was burned by an angry mob after he kissed Shilpa Shetty.

The fact that Hindus riot too is instructive. When they do, it is at the encouragement of nationalists groups like Shiv Sena, who seek political power through demonisation and division. When Muslims riot, it is similarly due to local leaders seeking to win political support. Even the Salman Rushdie fatwā (also in the news this week due to the publication of Rushdie’s autobiography, Joseph Anton) was raised by Ayatollah Khomeini as part of a power-play. The old Ayatollah had been losing political support in the months leading up to Valentine’s Day 1989, when the infamous decree was issued. Continue reading “Blasphemy and Cynical Plays for Power”

On the Paralympic Boos

Apparently, the booing of Conservative politicians as they present medals to Paralympians has become a bit of a Thing. First George Osborne, then Teresa May (apparently, Boris Johnson got a big cheer, but then, he’s a Veblen Politician to which normal political rules do not apply).

I’ll say first off that it makes me a bit sad. It must be uncomfortable and odd for athletes receiving the medals. Not what they imagined when they set out on their Paralympic journey.

However, that does not mean that the jeers were wrong or should be condemned.

First, is there not a cynicism to the politicians presenting the medals in the first place? It feels like they are trying to piggy-back on the goodwill that the Olympics generated. If this is the case then they deserve whatever reception they get!

Second, I think it is an example of people using whatever means are at their disposal to dissent. I am reminded of a couple of things: Obama 2008 supporters misusing the features on the My Barack Obama website to protest his FISA policy. Or, the Jeff Goldblum speech from Jurassic Park: “Life Finds A Way”. In the absence of a good method to express disapproval of a Government, people will use what ever means are available, be that the arrangement of Teddy Bears, the licking of ice-cream, or the shouting of a common religious phrase from roof-tops.  I am not saying that the British political system is comparable to the authoritarian regimes in Iran or Belarus, but even in an advanced social democracy people can still feel alienated and disenfranchised by the political system.

Finally, these boos cannot be dismissed as the co-ordinated actions of an already partisan group (as a slow clap at the Women’s Institute or the Police Federation or at the TUC might be described). These are a diverse group of citizens from every demographic in the country. The jeers are part of a real and widespread sentiment: that they happen to the extreme discomfort of both the politicians and the Paralympians is part of the message.

More thoughts on the Tahrir Square ‘think-tank’

One protester made a helpful explainer for President Mubarak. It says "Mubarak leaves. Yes: Parliament dissolves. No: Protests, disobedience. strikes." Photo: Al-Jazeera English on Flickr, creative commons.
One protester made a helpful explainer for President Mubarak. It says “Mubarak leaves. Yes: Parliament dissolves. No: Protests, disobedience. strikes.” Photo: Al-Jazeera English on Flickr, creative commons.

My earlier idea about publishing the thoughts of the protesters in Tahrir Square seemed to cause confusion. Sunny said:

@robertsharp59 so, er, we’re publishing blogposts by people within the square…after the event is over?

Well, that was not quite the intention.  The blogposts I have read from people ‘on the ground’ in Cairo and elsewhere seem to focus on the movements of the security forces and pro-Mubarak counter-protests, or other ‘in-the-moment’ stories.  The use of the word ‘think tank’ to describe the discussions taking place within the square caught my eye, because it implies discussions of policy and new political structures: More forward looking, and less reactive.

It may be that such discussions and ideas have already found their way online, but I’ve not seen many, and in any case they are scattered around the web.  Such ideas that are coming out are filtered, either through journalists or by experts who are not part of the protests.  These reports and analyses are valuable, of course, but I think primary accounts would have a certain value at this precise political moment.  As The Bee said

@robertsharp59 @sunny_hundal Would be really good to get the view from the inside & not “retold” by someone else

(More thoughts in response to my idea on The Bee’s website, which awesomely is in English and German.)

On Facebook, Sophie Mayer was enthusiastic, and reminds me of the We Are Iran project.

I see something on the model of We Are Iran crossed with a conference proceedings… Would be an amazing record of a moment and an opportunity to organise ideas and information. Oh for a mimeograph!

Update

A couple of PEN members may be putting this together with their contacts in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Libya!  Get in touch via the comments if you would like to help.

Update 2

Someone did it.