Ah! But is it racism?

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

The recent poll claiming to reveal “what Muslims in Britain really think”:  claiming to have identified “a community within a community”, and a proliferation of attitudes unpalatable to what we assume to be predominantly liberal Britain.  On the one hand, I am sceptical that a poll conducted on 1081 adults can really tell us what 2.71 million Muslims in England, and 80,800 in Scotland and Northern Ireland (2011 census), all think.  Among these adults, we have different ethnicities, different generations, different countries of origin, different degrees of religiosity/secularity.  If we break up the 1081 “polled” adults equally into different generations alone, we have approximately 360.33 young adults, 360.33 middle aged adults, and 360.33 elderly adults.  Is it valid to treat these “polled” Muslims as representative of their generations of co-religionists in Britain, let alone their entirety?

On the other hand, this news item drew me back to a certain memory.  We may assume that some more unpalatable, unliberal and violent views may be held by those who dress differently from liberal Brits, segregate the sexes more; attend their place of worship more regularly; etc.  In other words, those who look less acculturated.  So, my memory….

At some point while I was completing my thesis in Oxford, a photo competition was organized in my college, and winning photos were blown up, mounted and displayed in the college common room. I shortlisted a few photos from my doctoral fieldwork in Israel, and from a subsequent visit to Ethiopia, to submit, and asked my neighbour to help me choose from among them.

Above, is one of the photos I chose (which also appears in my book, Gondar’s Child). The period of my fieldwork in Israel included the first Gulf War, and these children are in a shopping mall with their gas masks. Saddam Hussein was threatening to use mustard and nerve gas in attacks on Israel – a prospect which terrified me, as there was a precedent: he had already murdered whole villages of Iraqi Kurds using these chemicals. Everyone was issued with a gas mask, which we had to take with us everywhere at all times, and children had all decorated the boxes containing their gas masks at school.

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Back in Oxford, I was living in postgrad student accommodation, and my neighbour, in the next room, was a science doctoral student of Iranian descent (“Y”). We were in and out of each other’s rooms most days, and I considered her to be a warm and supportive friend. When she saw this photo, she thought I shouldn’t submit it for the competition because she considered it to be “controversial”, because “there are people who think that Israel shouldn’t exist!” Why is it controversial that Saddam Hussein wanted to gas these children? – I asked her. But she just repeated her assertion as if it were self-evident. This caused a lot of tension between us. A few days later, I brought up the subject and gave her the chance to take back what she had said, but she just repeated it again, and I let her know in no uncertain terms that it was an anti-Semitic view. After this, I did not feel that we could continue being friends, but of course, how could she ever have been a friend if she considered it “controversial” that Saddam Hussein had wanted to gas me?!  Having an enemy, once considered a “friend” who is still a neighbour, living in the next room in the same house is not something to be recommended!

Perhaps if I had told her these children were not Jewish, she might not have thought it controversial? After all, these lovely children who let me take their photo might have been Muslim or Christian. Would she then have minded that they too were threatened by Saddam’s chemical weapons, which he had incidentally used against Iran?!

It was such a mindless assertion by a British-born entirely secular Muslim of Iranian descent! So we can’t necessarily judge people’s views and values – for example, the extent to which they may justify extreme violence and evil against a certain religious, ethnic or national group – according to whether or not they are wearing the religious gear!  Other Iranians who have come into my life – Iranian-born secular Muslims – do not appear to hold such views! One only has to look at the Israel Loves Iran and Iran Loves Israel Facebook pages to see that there are plenty of people living in Iran who do not hold such views! I have read that there are a number of Iranians who are supportive of Israel especially in defiance of their own government.

To return to Oxford, two former housemates, one a Jewish doctoral student from Germany (whom I characterised as having a mouth like a sledge hammer, before Y showed me a true sledge-hammer mouth!), another a Norwegian PhD (“K”), (yes – we were a diverse lot! – probably unlike most of the undergrads!)  both commented that Y “isn’t political”, but, K wrote to me from Norway, she should know what she’s saying and who she’s talking to!  Surely she should have known what she was saying whoever she was talking to!  So:  “not political”, highly educated (in science), but expressing the view that the threat or use of chemical weapons on a group of human beings is “controversial” – i.e. “open to debate”, and having obviously come down on the side of the “controversy” that would state that this might be valid in the case of Jews in Israel, since there are people who don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist!  (So if we apply such a conclusion to the aforementioned poll, could it be that there are some “non-political” Muslims who  nevertheless find the threats and actions of Islamic extremists to be “controversial”, possibly justifiable?!)

Shortly after this incident, another housemate and friend, a British doctoral student of Nigerian descent, “L”, came into the kitchen one day, agitated and perturbed.  A stranger had stopped and asked directions, addressing her query to L’s “white” friend. L helpfully gave directions, but the stranger refused to acknowledge her, and asked further questions, continuing to address them to L’s friend, and to ignore L and her further attempts to be helpful. (It could not have been that she could not see or hear L, blessed with a resonant voice and a tall stature.)  This was offensive enough, but what troubled L perhaps even more was that her own friend had unconsciously cooperated with this, and then questioned and doubted whether the stranger’s behaviour had in fact been racist.

L was in a grumbling mood for which she apologised. I said it was OK – she was angry, and she was right to be, and this acceptance of the validity of her anger, and acknowledgement that she had in fact been subjected to racism, seemed to lift some of the burden away from her.

I then told her that Y and I were not speaking because she had said something anti-Semitic, and related the incident to her. “Ah!  But is that anti-Semitism?” L asked.  My expression must have been full of indignation and outrage.  As I opened my mouth to respond, she quickly answered her own question: “Of course it is, because it can never be right to use chemical weapons against anyone!”

I submitted the photo of the children with gas masks to the competition, and it was not selected to be displayed in my college common room!  These two photos were, however, displayed:

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH
Ethiopian Jewish boy who had just arrived in Israel in Operation Solomon in 1991, posing for me when he saw me with my camera!
Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH
Shoeshine boy, Addis Abeba, 1992.  The colours in this photo are not right – when I had jpeg files created from the 21 year old negatives, I was told this is because the negatives had become “magenta” with age, but I don’t think that’s true!  I have the original photo somewhere…


2016 Olympic Games – The world condoning the mass-murder of Brazil’s Street Children

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Street children in Rio de Janeiro, sniffing shoemaker’s glue from plastic bags


As we know, Rio Janeiro has been elected to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in August and September this year. This right was granted by the 121st Session of the International Olympic Committee and won by 66 votes as against 32 votes won by Madrid, its final competitor in the bid to hold the games.

According to www.rio2016.com, one decisive factor in the election of Rio Janeiro to hold the Games was: “the fact that the Olympic Games had never been held in South America and the Brazillian people [are] well known worldwide for its special way of celebrating sport. Additionally, the International Olympic Committee understood what the power of transformation of these Games would mean to Rio, Brazil and South America. To the Olympic and Paralympic Movements this decision represented …. the possibility of inspiring 65 million youths under 18 years of age in Brazil and 180 in the whole continent.”

It is ironical that Brazil was elected to host the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics, largely on the grounds of benefitting youths, when it is no secret that the systematic mass murder of children has been taking place on Brazil’s streets for decades. Between 1988 and 1991, in just 3 years, more than 7000 children were murdered in Brazil. This scale of murder really does amount to a “war on children”, and a book bearing this accurately descriptive title has been published by Gilberto Dimenstein: Brazil: War On Children, (1991).

The perpetrators of most, but not all, of these murders are death squads comprising of off-duty police officers. Theirs are the fingers that pull the triggers, but it is ordinary civilians – shop-keepers, restaurant owners who call them out – who hire them. The evil is entrenched in Brazillian Society. The media refers to the impunity of the death squads, together with the corruption of the policing and legal systems.  But what about the people who summon the death squads?

Following the Candelária Church massacre – the massacre of eight street children, the youngest of whom was 11 years old, outside the Candelaria Church in Rio on 23rd July 1993, a hotline was set up for information on the murders.  A great many calls were received expressing support for the murders, rather than offering information.

A number of sources, including Amnesty International, report the torture of street children, as well as sexual violence against them.  Apart from that, there are allegations regarding the harvesting of their organs.  The evil perpetrated against these children knows no bounds.

The question on the minds of charity-workers and others concerned with Brazillian street children has been: How is Brazil intending to “clean” its streets in preparation for the Olympics? What is the fate of the street children?

The answer can be found in a report published by the United Nations in October last year on the treatment of youth in a number of countries. Included in this report is an accusation that, as anticipated or feared by many, the Brazillian police were “killing street children to ‘clean the streets’ ahead of the Olympic Games…”  

These United Nations findings were reported in non-mainstream sources such as “Telesur”, but strangely, surfing the internet, I have not found them reported in mainstream British or CRN news sources. (Why would this be?) A UNICEF report published in July last year, states that the murder of children and teenagers has more than doubled in the last 20 years.

“In 2013, 10,500 homicides of adolescents were registered in Brazil, compared to 5,000 cases in 1993 – an increase of over 110 per cent.  In 2013, an average of 28 children and adolescents were killed every day, making Brazil the country with the second largest number of homicides of boys and girls under the age of 19 in the world.”    http://www.unicef.org/media/media_82554.html     (This report does not inform us on the nature of the murders, or how many of these were murders of street children by adults.)

The term genocide is employed to refer to the mass murder of a large groups of people characterized by being of a particular ethnic, national or religious group. There does not seem to be an equivalent term to refer to the mass murder of children. However, if any other kind of genocide were occurring in any country, would the “civilized world” be attending their Games?  Would they even be nominated today?  Notably, ahead of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, boycott movements protesting against the forthcoming Games on the grounds of Nazi Germany’s appalling human rights record failed, and the Games went ahead. This seems to have set a precedent!

Children who are unconnected to adults are politically the most insignificant group: without voices, without votes, without political representation. They are of no economic consequence, and therefore the world is not prepared to try to save their lives.

Before the Football Cup which took place in Brazil in 2013, the public were urged to contact social services to report any child abuse they may have witnessed. This may have served to some degree as a deterrent against sex tourism which many street children are objects of. But it seems the mass murders take place before the tourists arrive.

At the same time as the Olympic Games, the charity Street Child United will be hosting Street Child Games 2016 – including Street children from different countries, and a Street Child Congress. We can but hope that this will address the problem of the mass murder of Brazillian street children to some extent, although late in the day.  http://www.streetchildunited.org/street-child-games-2016/

Children continue to be murdered on the streets of Brazil.  If the world participates in the Olympics while this evil is still going on, surely this amounts to condoning this ongoing mass murder, torture and abuse of Brazillian street children.  This continuous atrocity which has spanned decades.  There is a fine line, if any, between condoning something, and complicity.  It is up to our governments and the International Olympic Committee, to put pressure on Brazil to ensure that children are safe; that there are appropriate consequences for crimes against them, and to put pressure on Brazil to tackle in a humane way the causes of child homelessness.


Two petitions were started up to protect street children in Brazil ahead of the Olympics. One achieved 7 signatures:

The other achieved 8 signatures and was closed:

A petition demanding that the FA boycott the 2014 World Cup because of the mass-killing of street children achieved 3 signatures and was archived.

However, a petition to protect stray dogs in Brazil ahead of the World Cup achieved 84,424 signatures.

There is still this petition which has only received 300 signatures to date.  It is too late for the World Cup, but not too late to save some lives before, during and after the Olympics: