Saturday, 30 March 2013

Janet and John and the Dead Dog

BFTF was walking into town with No1 and No3 sons recently when, suddenly, BFTF called everyone to a halt and said "Look at that poster !!"

Dog Is Dead - It's the 1970's, here today!

"What about it?" the boys asked.

"It's in the style of Janet and John books from the 1970s" exclaimed BFTF

"?" said the boys

"Look at the styling, the colours, the characters - it looks like it is aiming at people like me" explained BFTF

"OK. Can we...er... carry on now?" said No1 son, clearly not that impressed.

Realising that this particular horse was dead and lying in a mobsters bed (a reference which would also have gone clean over their heads), BFTF carried on with the journey.

But for the rest of the day, the poster kept on popping into BFTF's head and it was fascinating to see how powerfully it relit schooltime memories from decades previously.

And BFTF also wondered what messages adverts had been going over BFTF's head when he was a child...

Note : You probably already know this, but "Dog Is Dead" is a West Bridgeford based indie band

Piero Gilardi and John Newling at Nottingham Contemporary

BFTF was picking Sons No1 and 3 from a Scouts trip to Notttingham Contemporary recently and was fascinated by the rather wonderful exhibitions Piero Gilardi and John Newlings work that were being shown.

But before talking about the exhibition, it is perhaps worth mentioning something about the architecture of the gallery itself.

On this particular occasion, unusually, BFTF approached the gallery from the south side and noticed that the concretework on the sides of the gallery had a beautiful lace pattern. If you haven’t seen this, it is worth passing by the gallery next time you are in the town centre just to see the beautiful and intricate design.

Nottingham Contemporary

Close up of panel

Even closer up on lace detail

Piero Gilardi
Gilardi was a key figure in the development of “Arte Povera” (poor art) which attacked the corporate mentality with an art of unconventional materials and style.

Much of the work at Nottingham Contemporary was made of brightly coloured Polyurethane Foam, carved and formed into the shapes of everyday natural objects.

'Angurie'/'Watermelons', 1967

BFTF liked it tremendously. In particular the technical skill of making the cartoon-like artifacts, the brightness of the colours used and the playfulness of the works really entranced BFTF.

A relaxing rock and pebble artwork

Domestic Totem, 1964. Apparantly, when originally exhibited, people were encouraged to lie under the work, with the rock swinging gently above them

Nature Suit

The staff explained that the works had originally been designed to be touched and that people were even encouraged to lie down on them. Whilst this was no longer allowed, due to the fact that the works were now quite valuable and the artists wasn’t making them anymore, the gallery did have one piece that was specifically designated as being “playable” do BFTF did !

This "hands-on" piece could be taken apart and the rocks arranged to your hearts desire

Gilardi was a very political artist and in the 1960’s he became a “creative facilitator” for a range of radical causes.

A political artwork used in demonstrations

Angela Merkel not happy

John Newling
Nottingham based Newling is interested in public art with a social purpose and has recently retired as Professor of Installation Sculpture at NTU.

The “Miracle Trees” exhibit particularly attracted BFTF’s attention. In this work, Newling is growing Moringa Oleifera trees - these are plants that have the potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development, and support sustainable landcare.

Miracle Trees growing in a sealed environment

But some of the other work rather went over the head of BFTF, For example the piece “Common Sense” (2011) is described as being :

"…A pyramid of “constructed soils” is stacked on top of a pile of copiesof the Rights of Man. The soils are made from composted copies of the same book…by composting Rights of Man… Newling suggests that it can nurture the groth of new ideas. The work also addresses an idea fundamental to his most recent body of work - that of humans co-existing in greater harmony with nature. Perhaps another revolution is needed, he seems to imply…"
"Common Sence" - didn't work for BFTF

New architecture 1991 (casts from cash points)


Other Art related content
Non Sign II
Jeffer M Garib
Pictures of the Sky
Nottingham - Tiltshifted
Some Wonderful Artists
Graffiti Walls
Shonaleigh at Nottingham Storytellers
Great programme describing how some of Turners paintings covered key changes in the Industrial Revolution.
Piero Gilardi and John Newling at Nottingham Contemporary
God bless our libraries
Light Night 2013
The Chair
Himmah Eid Festival
Great Comedy on Radio 4
How art can affect you
Tour of the Theatre Royal
Fantastic Snow Art by Simon Beck (see also here)
Jean Genet at Nottingham Contemporary
Rick Davies and Michael Hansmeyer


God bless our libraries

Many, many years ago, when BFTF was perhaps 7 years old, BFTF's father came home one day with a small brown card and told BFTF that this was BFTF's card for the mobile library that parked by the school once a week.

"Wow !" thought BFTF, and was very soon a regular visitor to the mobile library, and particularly recalls going through every single Doctor Who and Asterix book that it held, and noted there seemed to be a disproportionate number of large print books, which BFTF ignored.

Eventually BFTF outgrew the mobile library and started using the proper local library, which was perhaps a mile and a half away. Again, BFTF was a regular visitor, reading a mix of fiction and non-fiction, and can remember lugging quite a heavy load of books - either on foot or by bike - to the library every two weeks. Roddy and the Roadmen featured heavily, as did Doctor Who and anything to do with planes, trains or automobiles or space.

Ok, so I lied about the trains.

BFTF also recalls reading every childrens geography book that the library held (perhaps you can recall the ones, that had agricultural maps with icons for wheat production, beef farming etc, and industrial maps with icons for coal mining and centres of manufacturing activity)

BFTF kept reading the likes Leon Uris, Isaac Asimov (The Bicentennial Man is one heck of a novella), Beryl Bainbridge (somewhat surprisingly) as well as a lot of non-fiction right up to the moment of entering University, when, for reasons that are still unclear, BFTF lost interest in reading books (although still read newspapers etc) and didn't really start reading again for some 15 years.

Weird eh?

Although, to be fair, there was a brief but intense flirtation with Terry Pratchett at some point along the line.

Second time around, BFTF really wasn't that interested in fiction, feeling that no politican ever changed their policies because of what some fictional book had to say, which takes us not far from the present day.

Aside from their wonderfullness as a place of learning and imagination, libraries are also a great indicator of tolerance, of a society that is confident enough to allow the voices of many points of view to be heard.

To take the story full circle, BFTF was recently reading Asterix and Cleopatra with No3 Son. We both agreed that Cleopatra did indeed have a very pretty nose.

God bless our libraries

The difference between girls and boys

BFTF is the parent of three wonderful boys, each with his own very distict character.

And BFTF is also uncle to two nieces.

And the differences between these two groups never cease to amaze BFTF !

In particular, two incidents caught BFTF's attention

Firstly, BFTF long ago realised that books were not the ideal gift for any of the boys, and that getting them to read anything is always a challenge. But was delighted to find that No1Niece was pleased with a Jacqueline Wilson book that BFTF bought for her and that she started reading, entirely voluntarily, the very same day!

And secondly, BFTF also realised long ago that (with the possible occasional exception of No3 Son), the boys are unlikely to write any kind of prose of story unless they have to. So it was with amazement that BFTF watched No2 Niece writing a short story, just because she wanted to, about a trip to the park.

BFTF was so amazed that it took a picture as evidence....

A story! by No2 Niece!
 

Dear reader, you will not be at all surprised to hear that both nieces are doing very well at school and have impeccable handwriting.

Now of course, the difference between the the boys and girls shown here may be due less to their respective genders than to quality of parenting that they have received.

We can test for this by watching what happens to the toddler brothers that the neices have.

Expect an update sometime in 2019

Friday, 29 March 2013

JK Rowling on Tax

A quote from JK Rowling on Tax:
"I chose to remain a domiciled taxpayer for a couple of reasons. The main one was that I wanted my children to grow up where I grew up, to have proper roots in a culture as old and magnificent as Britain’s; to be citizens, with everything that implies, of a real country, not free-floating ex-pats, living in the limbo of some tax haven and associating only with the children of similarly greedy tax exiles."

A second reason, however, was that I am indebted to the British welfare state; the very one that Mr Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, that safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major’s Government, was there to break the fall. I cannot help feeling, therefore, that it would have been contemptible to scarper for the West Indies at the first sniff of a seven-figure royalty cheque. This, if you like, is my notion of patriotism. On the available evidence, I suspect that it is Lord Ashcroft’s idea of being a mug"
That is all.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Campaigns to protect the NHS

BFTF has written a lot on the 2011 NHS Health and Social Care Bill, which has dramatically raised the risk of the NHS becoming a two tier Health Service - one tier for those who can pay, and one tier for those who can't.

For example:
Interview with Prof Ian Shaw on the NHS Bill
Report on a Broxtow Save the NHS meeting
Falsification of data at SERCO
Report on a talk on Financial Incentives for Healthcare
Challenging the BBC on their coverage of the NHS Bill
This is what is wrong with the NHS Bill

This post aims to look at some of the campaigns that have been run to protect the NHS.

Mar 2014 : A petition from 38Degrees directed at NHS England (who run the NHS) to get them to make public conflicts of interest and meetings with lobbyists.

Which is all well and good, but the main piece of evidence presented is an article in the Independent which claims that :
"NHS England commissioned a group called the Specialised Healthcare Alliance (SHCA) to consult with patients’ groups, charities and health organisations and produce a report feeding into its future five-year strategy for commissioning £12bn of services. But the SHCA has confirmed to The Independent that it is entirely funded by commercial “members”. Its director, John Murray, is also a lobbyist whose company lists some of the world’s biggest drug and medical device firms as clients."

The article goes to imply that there is a risk that drug companies are shaping NHS policy.

BFTF notes, however, that the SHCA is chaired by Baroness Wheeler (Lab) who appears to be a strong defender of the NHS.

Disappointed that 38 Degrees, and the Independent did not mention this fact.

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Jun 2013 : An e-petition calls on the Government to protect the NHS from being included in the US-EU Free Trade Agreement:

The NHS changes have been both promoted and fought as a national issue. However, they are actually part of the preparation for a corporate-interest US/EU Free Trade Agreement.

Healthcare has been specifically mentioned as a form of trade to be included in the “harmonising regulation” of the Agreement, which aims to prevent “future trade barriers” in keeping with the demands of transnational corporations.

Including the NHS in such a deal will effectively turn a globally-respected universal health service into a cash cow for transnational investors. Once such a trade deal has been agreed, the resulting privatisation will be irreversible.

We call on the government to ensure the NHS is exempted from the US/EU Free Trade Agreement as a condition of the UK’s agreeing to participate.

Clive Peedell of the NHA Party has also commented that :

"The NHS is being primed for transnational investors to buy up the most lucrative parts of the healthcare system, under a legal framework which also permits them to sue the UK government in the case of any 'backsliding'...

"..Canada has exempted its health service from trade agreements that its government has signed and has safeguarded its public health system. We need to do the same."

Dr Peedell called on the Prime Minister and the Laour Party to oppose the inclusion of the NHS in the trade deal adding that Labour's promise to repeal the NHS and Social Care Act was "meaningless and hollow" without opposition to the trade deal.

As well as signing the petition, BFTF has emailed the local MP and Conservative Party asking what committment they are making to exclude the NHS from the forthcoming trade deal.

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Mar2013: 38Degrees delivered a 350,000 signature online petition to Health Minister Norman Lamb MP protesting at the privatisation of the NHS. The petition (to all MPs and Lords) said:
Our NHS is precious – we don't want it privatised. Jeremy Hunt's plan to force local doctors to open up almost all NHS services to private companies is anti-democratic and breaks government promises made last year. Please ensure his plan, contained in the NHS Competition regulations (SI 257), is subject to a full debate and vote, on the floor of both Houses of Parliament. Please do all you can to ensure that they are defeated or withdrawn.

The petition was accompanied by a survey of peoples views (See here). The survey gave the Health Minister a very clear message and asked people which of the following messages the wanted to be passed on to the Health Minister:

We are pleased that the regulations have been rewritten, but we are worried that the new ones still don't properly meet earlier promises to not force GPs to privatise NHS services.
Strongly Agree 82%
Agree 14%
Disagree 1%

We would like the government to consider a further rewrite, to address these concerns fully.
Strongly agree 87%
Agree 10%
Disagree 1%

Failing that, we would like the government to address our concerns in the guidance it produces alongside these regulations this guidance must make it clear that GPs are free to choose to keep the NHS public.
Strongly Agree 87%
Agree 8%
Disagree 2%

Friday, 22 March 2013

NIFC and the Health and Wellbeing Board

The Nottingham Inter Faith Council recently hosted a talk by Colin Monckton, Head of Commissioning and Insight at Nottingham City Council.

Colin spent some time describing the Health and Wellbeing Board, which has the responsibility for reducing health inequalities and improving health and wellbeing. The board publishes the “Health and Wellbeing Strategy” (currently in a draft form) and one of the messages that Colin wanted to get across was that the HWB were keen for people to read the strategy, and feedback during the consultation process on whether they thought it was addressing the right issues.

The Draft Health and Wellbeing Strategy has four main priorities :

1) Prevention
Reducing the number of people who are drinking alcohol at harmful levels by 30% by 2020

2) Integration
Improving the experience of health and social care services for older people or those who have long term conditions

3) Early Intervention
Identifying more children with significant behavious problems earlier so that they can receive specific help

4) Priority Families
Effectively engaging with 1,200 targeted families with the aim of seeing improvements in school attendance, levels of ASB, levels of offending and levels of worklessness.

Other Comments
Colin described how the Board was trying to work more efficiently and more effectively, giving the example of how, previously, there were 6 (!) different support mechanisms for carers in the city and that these will be integrated into one single city-wide agency.

Another example given was the case of first-time homeless people. These had previously been housed with long-term homeless people and had often come out of the experience with more issues than when they went in, due to a “transfer” of problems from the long term homeless - so now the Board will commission accomodation which separates the first time homeless and those with low needs from those with complex needs.

A word of warning was sounded by Colin as he pointed out that increases in the need for some kinds of expensive interventions (e.g. taking children into care, which costs some £2k/wk per child) could make a big dent in the budget that the Board had to work to. Other challenges that the city faced included the high level of poverty in the city (65% of children in poverty) and the disproportionately adverse effect changes in local gov funding levels have had on the city

Penultimately, it is worth mentioning that the strategy linked to a number of other initiatives, such as the Vulnerable Adults Plan and the Children and Young Peoples Plan

And lastly, an important point that was mentioned was the existence of Healthwatch, which will be the “ the independent customer champion for the public, locally and nationally, to promote better outcomes in health and in social care”

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Oops, BFTF made a boo-boo

Contrary to the original edit of the "Newcastle and Wonga" post, BBC Radio Nottingham did not cover this story in their asian magazine programme.

BFTF thought that they had but, basically, got it wrong.

Apologies, need to be more careful in future.

Petitions

Just a list of petitions that BFTF has signed, with the occasional item of, as it were, added value.

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Nov 15 : Appalled that the government is AGAIN trying to allow private companies access to peoples health records - something that risks private companies selling on data; using it to personally identify specific patients and then target them for drug sales; or using that data to deny people insurance, mortgage and other products because they are deemed "high risk". Selling patient data is a six lane highway to a dystopian future. The government knows this, of course.

So happy to take part in a 38 Degrees survey on the issue.

See also here for more background on why private company access to health records is a bad thing.



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Sep 15 : Following a story on SKY that funding for the free school meals for infants program (a manifesto committment) was not ring fenced, and that the government was looking for significant cuts in non-ringfenced funding, 38degrees stepped in with a campaign that amassed some 58,000 signatures to demand that the FSM program be protected. Within a few weeks the government made noises that suggested the program was safe.
NB: Disclaimer - BFTF isn't sure he actually signed this petition.



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Nov 14 : National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill 2014-15 (petition here)

According to 38Degrees, this bill will "amend some of the most controversial bits of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and exempt the NHS from the EU-US trade deal TTIP.

On the other hand, Dr Allyson Pollock, who is professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University of London and has taken a keen and detailed look at recent NHS reforms, has some reservations.

Whilst Dr Pollock welcomes the bill as "a step in the right direction of reducing procurement and tendering procedures", she also comments that it :

"As well as not abolishing the commissioner-provider split, it would for example:
• appear to defer unnecessarily to EU competition law;
• leave untouched the power of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to arrange services they consider appropriate;
• not reverse the 2012 Act’s prospective abolition of NHS trusts, and their transformation into NHS foundation trusts or take over by private companies;
• leave Monitor in place with the same main duty, without a statutory purpose and continuing to licence private providers."

At the time of writing the Bill has passed its initial hurdles in the Commons and has moved on to the House of Lords. It is also known as the "Efford Bill"

The vote was 241 MPs in favour, 18 MPs against. The Conservatives largely boycotted the vote.



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Oct 14 : FCUK suppliers ripping the fur from screaming Angora rabbits
"The UK-based global retailer says it buys angora fur “only from approved suppliers” and tells customers who complain that it ensures angora rabbits are not mistreated. But we know the conditions that these rabbits really endure -- workers in China were secretly filmed by PETA plucking angora rabbits while they scream. Plucking a rabbit without causing harm takes up to two weeks of gently removing the loosened hair, but here it takes only a few, violent minutes.After this torturous experience, which the rabbits endure every three months, many of them appeared to go into shock, lying motionless inside their tiny, filthy cages."

Also Tweeted and emailed FCUK.

Update: Oct 16th : FCUK announces it is stopping the use of Angora.



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Mar14 : Egypt: Stop the Mass Execution
A kangaroo court in Egypt just sentenced 528 people to death. This is likely the biggest mass execution ruling this century, but one man can stop the killings.

Egypt’s most important religious figure, Grand Mufti Allam has 10 days to reject the decision (from 27th Mar). Religious leaders are already condemning the ruling, and as the first Mufti to be elected by his peers, he has a legitimate mandate to be the nation’s moral leader. If 1 million people sign this petition, religious leaders in Egypt will deliver our call for compassion directly to the Mufti

After the hope of Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands took to the streets to overthrow decades of dictatorship, the Egyptian people democratically elected a Muslim Brotherhood government. But last summer the military staged a populist coup, Brotherhood supporters rioted, and then the military declared the party a terrorist organisation and violently cracked down.

The trial was a joke -- on top of charges of rioting and destruction of property, the 528 are all accused of killing one police officer, and defense lawyers were barred from the sentencing session, which lasted less than an hour! Now if the world looks away and allows this cruel mass execution to happen, a dangerous message will resonate across the globe that the world will stand by democracy, except for political Islam. That will empower one small but very dangerous group that can hurt us all: the extremists.



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Feb14 : For sale: your private medical history?
"Starting this year, private companies will be able to buy information on us from the NHS’s new universal patient database -- including everything from mental health conditions, sexually transmitted infections and diseases like cancer -- all linked to your postcode, gender and ethnicity.

We’ve all been opted into the scheme by the government without our knowledge. And the clock is ticking -- the government has said they will upload our private data in a matter of just a few weeks. If we’re going to stop this, we have to act now.

The government claims that individuals won’t be able to be identified. However, many experts have warned that under the current plans, we could easily be singled out through simple cross-referencing of other databases -- especially if you have a rare or unusual condition. Imagine your employer finding that you might have had an abortion when you were a teenager. Or your insurance company finding out you are HIV positive. The consequences for us as individuals could be huge."

BFTF will be opting out of the database in a few days.



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Feb14 : UK: Hope from the floods
"As concerned citizens, we urge you to live up to your claim to lead the "greenest government ever" by supporting a 50% target to reduce carbon pollution by 2030. Scientists say the extreme floods happening now are being fueled by climate change. We must move beyond quick fixes and get to the root cause of the problem with deep cuts to our pollution. Europe will set its targets in the next month, your leadership now can bring hope from the floods and set the pace for others to put us on course for a clean, dry and safe climate future.."

See also the dangerously misleading chart on page 9 of the 2013 Infrastructure Plan, which is more realistically shown in this FT article.



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Jan14 : Fructose marketed as a "healthy" sugar
"...companies like Coke will be able to claim their products are 'healthier' thanks to a new EU regulation on using fructose. There’s only one small problem -- high levels of fructose is a leading cause of obesity around the world. The decision was made by EU Food Standards Agency based in Parma, Italy. The agency is very close to the food industry and operates far away from public scrutiny. We need to push back on food industry lobbying by demanding the EU Food Standards Agency thinks again."

Also, a Guardian article states that:
"...the EU has now ruled that food and drink manufacturers can claim their sweetened products are healthier if they replace more than 30% of the glucose and sucrose they contain with fructose...The decision [by the EU] was taken on the advice of the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), on the grounds that fructose has a lower glycaemic index (GI) – it does not cause as high and rapid a blood sugar spike as sucrose or glucose. But, say obesity experts, fructose is metabolised differently from other sugars – it goes straight to the liver and unprocessed excess is stored there as fat, building up deposits that can cause life-threatening disease."

BFTF signed the petition and emailed East Midlands MEP's to ask what they were doing to reverse this decision.

LibDem response
Rather short response from Bill Newton Dunn MEP that said simply: "No, I can not explain that for you. I (nor are any MEPs) am not a member of the Foods Standard Agency."

Labour Response
Rather awesome response from Glennis Willmott MEP:
… I share your concerns about promoting the use and consumption of fructose in this way. Last October, after hearing from health and nutrition experts, I wrote to the European Commission asking whether they would monitor the consumption and health effects of fructose across Europe, whether they would revoke the claim if it led to negative health effects, and whether in the future they would take into account the long-term negative health consequences of promoting certain nutrients.…

All health claims have the potential to be used inappropriately as marketing tools, which is why I am a strong supporter of the EU Health Claims Regulation. This ensures that health claims are pre-authorised and based on substantial scientific evidence. In the past it was up to individual consumers or trading standards bodies to challenge baseless claims, but the Health Claims Regulation has led to a huge number of dubious and misleading claims being taken off the market. However, each claim still needs to be examined very closely to ensure that it will not mislead consumers or actually encourage unhealthy consumption of some foods. I have objected to a number of health and nutrition claims authorised by Member States and the Commission in the past. In some cases I have managed to stop claims, in others I have failed. In this specific case I will continue to keep pressure on the Commission to monitor how the claim is used and what effects it has on fructose consumption, and will call for the claim to be revoked if needed.

Bounced back that the key thing seemed to be to "whether in the future they would take into account the long-term negative health consequences of promoting certain nutrients" as, in this case, the science seems to be pretty much there, the questions is whether the marketing will reflect the long term downside (for everyone) as well as the short term upside (for diabetics)

Conservative Response
Emma McClarkin responded by saying that she has been in touch with her Conservative colleague Julie Girling MEP who has been following this on behalf of the Conservative delegation of MEPs. Her very informative response included relevant links to :

EFSA's Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies in June 2011
Formal adoption in the EU's Official Journal in June 2013.
The relevant legislative process

Ms McClarkin added that "..you are not the first person to have had issues with the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation. In fact during my time as a MEP I have had many discussions with the European Commission about it. This is therefore something I intend to bring up with the next Commissioner after the elections as I believe it will continue to be a ‘hot issue’ into the next parliamentary term."

Further Comments
EFSA seem to have done their job, and mentioned adverse effects in their verdict.

The EU seems to have done their job, allowing a very specific claim only : "Consumption of foods containing fructose leads to a lower blood glucose rise compared to foods containing sucrose or glucose"

BFTF still has two concerns:
i) That soft drink producers, say, will say "healthier*" where "*" is the whole claim written as smallprint no-one reads.

ii) Why this specific claim was sought, and by who. Why, for example, was the focus not on the adverse liver problems caused by fructose?

iii) Why there is such a discrepancy between the SumOfUs statement that the claim allowed is that fructose laden foods are "healthier" and the EU claim which is much more restrictive. BFTF has challended SumOfUs on this.

At the end of the day, however, the real problem is not fructose v glucose. The real problem is too much sugar full stop. And changing that is not just the problem of the food producer, it is the responsibility of the food consumer too, BFTF included!



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Jan14 : Threat to net neutrality
To EU and US decision-makers: We urge you to use your power to stop a two-tiered Internet for the rich and ensure that all data traffic is treated equally. Allowing service providers to prioritise certain content and act as gatekeepers will undermine the democratic and open nature of the Internet. We count on you to show true global leadership and stand strong for Net Neutrality.
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Jan 14 : End the detention of women who seek asylum
Every year, hundreds of women who come to this country to seek safety from persecution are being detained in Yarl’s Wood detention centre in Bedfordshire...The impact of detention on women is devastating. Many become depressed and suicidal...We are asking [the Government] to ensure the government stops detaining women who have come to this country to seek asylum. Women’s asylum cases can be considered while they live in the community.
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Jan 14 :England’s precious ancient woodland is being forsaken, sold out and betrayed
"Following the latest comments made by the Secretary of State for the Environment, we would like to make it absolutely clear - biodiversity offsetting does not work for ancient woods, the planning system doesn’t work for ancient woods and this government doesn’t work for ancient woods."
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Jan 14 :Terminator seeds could mean a few huge corporations totally control the global food supply.
Under pressure from big commercial farms, the Brazilian parliament is about to hold a vote that will allow companies like Monsanto, Bayer, and others to start selling so-called ‘suicide seeds’ to farmers. The genetically modified seeds can only be used once, forcing small farmers into buying seeds from Monsanto or others over and over again -- literally forever.

The use of these seeds is essentially prohibited under a UN treaty on biodiversity which over 193 countries, including Brazil, have signed. But if Brazil overturns its own ban then this will have huge consequences. Poor, small farmers could be locked into a cycle of endless debt and dependency -- and the rest of the world could be handing control of the global food supply to a handful of companies. The stakes couldn’t be higher.


Also mentioned on FB and Twitter and Tweeted to @monsanto, @bayer,@dilmabr
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Dec 13 : A note to Petitioning orgs such as Change, 38 Degrees, Act.One, Avaaz etc
BFTF would like to sign many of the petitions that come from organisations such as Change.org, Avaaz etc

. But BFTF believes that to sign them blindly devalues their worth, so always wants to know the following information before signing:

i) What - specifically - is the issue? Are there case examples?
ii) What legislation / change in policy - specifically - is being requested?
iii) Which people - specifically - are the target for the campaign?
iv) What (and this is where they orgs often fail) is the timescale? If the campaign refers to legislation currently being debated, how long before it is too late?

It often takes BFTF several HOURS to dig out all this information, which is a real WASTE OF TIME.

BFTF does not want waste other peoples time, so is reluctant to share petitions if it is not clear what their "shelf life" is- this applies particularly to petitions asking for the lobbying of MPs / MEPs in relation to legislation this is being debated in the UK or EU parliaments.

In particular, dear orgs, telling me that some undefined debate is going to happen at some undefined time "soon" makes me want to punch you. So please, for the love of God, stop it.

Just give me all the key information, on the same page as the petition. If it makes sense to me, I'll sign and also email government / companies directly.
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Dec 13 : Tell MEPs: Stop allowing criminals to stash the cash
David Cameron is clamping down on "phantom firms" in the UK, with One.org urging the govenment to:
"...deliver on the Prime Minister’s ambition, committing to make public information about who owns and controls companies, trusts and similar legal vehicles established in the UK, its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. This information should be available as open, machine-readable data, available free of charge, in line with the G8 Open Data Charter, in a public register, maintained by Companies House"

Meanwhile, in the international arena, Act.One.org comments that:
"Evidence from the World Bank demonstrates the role that such elusive entities play in facilitating corruption and money laundering, with more than 70% of corruption cases analysed found to involve anonymous shell companies. At a country level, by way of example, the Africa Progress Panel found that the Democratic Republic of Congo lost over $1.3bn – the equivalent of almost twice its combined health and education budgets – between 2010 and 2012 as a result of five dodgy deals in the mining sector, with those deals facilitated by Phantom Firms incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, along with other companies based in Bermuda, Jersey, Gibraltar and the UK."

What Act.One.org's petition is campaigning for is for MEPs to support the introduction of transparency legislation (to show publically who owns and controls companies and trusts) into the 4th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive:
* Give citizens and journalists in developing countries access to the data they need to follow the money and root out corruption;
* Help to improve data quality by enabling more people to scrutinise the data, identify, check and correct inaccuracies;
* Enable banks and other financial institutions to perform due diligence more effectively;
* Ensure that businesses know who they are doing business with; and
* Contribute to more effective law enforcement – investigations, prosecutions and the return of stolen assets.

Apparently, France is also a supporter of these measures whilst Germany is against them.

BFTF signed the petition, emailed local MEP's asking for their stance on the issue, emailed the French Embassy to say thank you; and emailed the German Embassy to ask what they were playing at.

More info here


BFTF contacted the East Midlands MEPs, and you can click here to see what responses were received.


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Dec 2013 : Stop the TTP and TTIP
Tobacco giant Philip Morris is suing Australia for billions of dollars in lost profits because the government took action to reduce teenage smoking. Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly is suing Canada for $500 million, just because Canada has laws to keep essential drugs affordable. Worst of all, these cases are happening in secret international courts to which only corporations have access.
Read more here

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Oct 2013 : ASDA and the Bangladesh Safety Accord
"Yesterday, a deadly factory fire broke out at one of ASDA’s supplier factories in Bangladesh. Already, 10 bodies have been recovered, and it’s unknown what the ultimate death toll will be...For months, ASDA and its parent company Walmart have been refusing to take action to prevent disasters like this by signing the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord. And now, Bangladeshi workers are yet again paying the price with their lives."
BFTF also sent a message to ASDA simply saying "Why is ASDA refusing to sign the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord".ASDA responded with the following:

"As I’m sure you know, Bangladesh is currently experiencing a crisis relating to worker safety. Asda remains committed to safe conditions in all of the factories that supply our clothes to our stores. As part of that commitment, Walmart, along with a group of other leading clothing retailers and suppliers, announced the creation of the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety.

The Alliance has been has been signed by 17 leading US clothing companies and suppliers including Gap, Macy’s, Nordstrom and JC Penny. This initiative will lead to safer conditions for the people who work there. As part of the Walmart family, George at Asda is a part of this Alliance.

As part of the Alliance the founding members will adopt common, comprehensive safety standards for factories in Bangladesh and conduct inspections of 100 percent of factories in order to enforce those standards. This will also provide safety training to factory workers and solicit feedback from workers and activities and other causes such as compensating workers who are temporarily displaced due to safety-related remediation

I would like to assure you that the Alliance builds on the series of commitments that Walmart continues to be a part of to improve worker safety. Included in these commitments, we’re paying for teams of engineers to conduct inspections of all Bangladeshi factories that produce directly for our company, and requiring suppliers to remediate any safety issues that are found. In addition, our colleagues at George continue to work closely with suppliers to increase wages, improve working conditions for factory workers and support the communities that we source from. We’re incredibly proud of the work they do and if you’d like to find out more please visit your.asda.com for our Doing The Right Thing report. "


Asked the petitioners what they thought of this reponse.
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Aug 2013 : Paying MP's Interns
Failing to pay interns means that these placements - which are often the gateway to pwerful jobs and networks - are accessible only to those rich enough not to need to earn a living. As well as signing the petition, BFTF also emailed the local Labour and Conservative Parties to ask them whether they paid their interns.

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Aug 2013 : Release of WHO data on birth deformities in Fallujah
The WHO has undertaken research on the high level of birth deformities in Fallujah, Iraq - but has not released the data. This petition challenges the WHO to publish the data so that it can be analyzed.
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Aug 2013 : Zero Hours Contracts at Sports Direct
BFTF supported this campaign by signing the petition and sending a separate email to SportsDirect saying that they had lost all my business.
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Mar 2013 : Children Society "Fair and Square" campaign to ensure all children in poverty are given free school meals
BFTF supported this campaign by sending an on-line email to the local MP, but then had some second thoughts afterwards.

Clearly, children in poverty should get free school meals. No child should have to go through a school day hungry. But a little digging reveals that the Childrens Society of poverty is a household with earnings below 60% of the median wage (see note 6). On that basis, it is likely that there will ALWAYS be lots of poverty, no matter how much people are paid.

It seems to BFTF that the line should be placed on an absolute basis, and notes the following :

According to the DWP, in 2009, 60% of median income (before houseing costs) was £248pwe week

Meanwhile, in 2008, a living wage outside London was £6.88 an hour, which equates to £258per week.

BFTF assumes that families earning a living wage should not need free school meals, and with the two measures being so close together, it seeems that the Childrens Society is being reasonable in its campaign.

Incidentally, the 2013 living wage outside London is £7.45 per hour.
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Mar 2013 : Horror in paradise (Avaaz)
"It's hard to believe, but a 15-year-old rape survivor has been sentenced to be whipped 100 times in public! Let's put an end to this lunacy by hitting the Maldives government where it hurts: the tourism industry. The girl's stepfather is accused of raping her for years and murdering the baby she bore. Now the court says she must be flogged for “sex outside marriage”!..."

Also sent to this to The Presidents Office

"I have been shocked to hear that a 15yr old VICTIM of sexual violence is to be flogged for "sex outside marriage". This is utterly contrary to any notion of justice. I urge you to put laws in place to stop this happening in this case and ever again."

This World - Iraq: Did My Son Die in Vain

BFTF recently watched a very sad BBC programme entitled This World - Iraq: Did My Son Die in Vain which looks at the story of Geoff Dunsmore who travels to Basra to see how the city has progressed in the years since his RAF reservist son Chris lost his life there in a rocket attack on a UK military base in 2007.

Geoff does not flinch from talking to people from all sides of the conflict.

A number of people comment on how brutal the Saddam regime was and that it opporessed large sections of the population.

A civilian witness to the arrival of British Troops in Basra commented that if the troops had seen a person on top of a building "they would see you as the enemy and they would shoot at you...we were screaming, we were so scared" while another described what happened next as being a situation where "There was no electricity, there was no Police force, the government has vanished, everything was destroyed, everything was looted"

Soon after the insurgency started, hard line militas were fighting each other for control of the city and thousands of civilians were dying each month in assasinations and suicide bombings. Mazin's brother in law was an Imam who spoke out against the killings - and was killed in that same violence.

Geoff's guide, Mazin Altayar, was a journalist at the time of the invasion and believed that the milita soon believed that the UK formces were trying to impose values on the Iraqi population and that this was was caused them to begin attacking the UK troops. Mazin commented that "They got rid of lots of the skilled people in Iraq, the scientists, politicians, religious, cultured people" while the narrator adds that some 2,000 doctors and 800 academics and students were killed in the violence.

For BFTF this seems to be the most stomach churning part of the whole disaster.

Incompetence, anger, revenge, bullying, mob violence - all these BFTF can understand, they are part of human nature in extreme circumstances.

But it takes a special kind of evil, a special kind of hatred for society, a special kind of arrogance - to deliberately target doctors and teachers.

The programme then follows Geoff (a retired schoolteacher) as he visits a local school, which he finds is still not fully built. Geoff comments that "I was absolutely speechless when I looked at the environment... the classrooms looked liked a derelict school you would find in Britain" and yet the potential of the young boys and girls at the school is clear, they are full of energy and yet well behaved during the classes. Across Basra, a quarter of schools in Basra have yet to be re-built.

Chris's diary provides a sense of what it was like for the UK troops, and it can be seen how the intensity of the insurgency increased during Chris's time in Basra. And comments from Chris's sister and parents give some insight into the size of hole that the loss of Chris has left in their lives.

Geoff talks to many people who tell of how brutality and trigger happy behaviour of some coalition troops cost the Iraqi civilians dear and it can be seen that, while Geoff has lost a son, many Iraqis lost whole families.

He also visits a water distribution project started by the UK troops - which was then sold to a private company who started charging for the water but did not maintain the plant until eventually there were too many faults to deal with and the company folded. The local population now have to use bottled water and suffer many diseases from their inability to access safe clean water. Geoff comments that "the British had started something off that was immense here for he Iraqis and then we have left them high and dry, literally."

The narrator comments that much of the oil revenue of Iraq is lost to the rampant corruption in the country.

Towards the end of the programme, Geoff meets a group of young Basrans who are cleaning up their neighbourhood and trying to hold their local government to account for the corruption and poor services that they are receiving.

The programme was just heartbreaking.

BFTF recalls that it was a Labour Government that took the UK into that war and asked the local MP whether, if it had been the current leadership in place back in 2003, whether they would also have taken the UK into Iraq and precipitated the disaster that Basra then suffered. After chasing up on 6th May, received a response on 28th May which said:

"...Much has been said about Britain's involvement in the war and important lessons have been learnt. It is important that everyone takes those lessons on-board"


Not exactly a "No, they wouldn't have taken the UK into that war" that BFTF would have liked to have heard, and BFTF wonders what exactly are the lessons that were learnt. But this is now perhaps an argument to park for another time.

But, dear reader, please feel free to challenge your MP on this issue as it is only when MP's receive comments from multiple people that they perceive an issue to be important.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

First they came for the ....




First they came for the Ahmadis,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't an Ahmadi.

Then they came for the Shia,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Shia.

Then they came for the Sufis,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Sufi.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.


Update 12th May 2013
A post about an incident in London where a Salafi group appears to have printed out hate-filled leaflets against Shias. With friends like the people who drafted this flyer, the Muslim community has no need of enemies.

Monday, 18 March 2013

So, what did the Muslims do for the Jews?

BFTF was surprised to see a Twitter feed link today that pointed towards an article in the Jewish Chronicle entitled "So, what did the Muslims do for the Jews?". The eye-opening article begins with the startling words:
"Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth. The argument for it is double. First, in 570 CE, when the Prophet Mohammad was born, the Jews and Judaism were on the way to oblivion. And second, the coming of Islam saved them, providing a new context in which they not only survived, but flourished, laying foundations for subsequent Jewish cultural prosperity - also in Christendom - through the medieval period into the modern world. "

and goes on to point out that :
"Within a century of the death of Mohammad...almost all the Jews in the world were now ruled by Islam. This new situation transformed Jewish existence. Their fortunes changed in legal, demographic, social, religious, political, geographical, economic, linguistic and cultural terms - all for the better."

as well as :
"...The result of the conquests was, by and large, to make the Jews second-class citizens. This should not be misunderstood: to be a second-class citizen was a far better thing to be than not to be a citizen at all. For most of these Jews, second-class citizenship represented a major advance. In Visigothic Spain, for example, shortly before the Muslim conquest in 711, the Jews had seen their children removed from them and forcibly converted to Christianity and had themselves been enslaved. "

Fascinating.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Did the Ottomans give food aid during the Irish Potato Famine?

By the magic that is Twitter, BFTF recently became aware of a post at Hotter Than A Pile of Curry which describes how, in 1845, the Ottoman Sultan Khaleefah Abdul-Majid I supplied financial and food aid to Ireland, which was at the time in the grip of a devastating potato famine.


The Sultan Abdul-Majid
According to the article, the food aid arrived in Drogheda harbor and was left there by Ottoman Sailors.

As port records of the time have been lost, evidence that the ships actually arrrived has to come from third parties, which has been hard to come by. So it was great to read articles in the Drogheda Independant (see here, and here) which states that :
"During the week of May 10 to May 14, 1847, there is a reference in both the Drogheda Argus and the Drogheda Conservative newspapers to ' foreign ships' that docked at Drogheda (close to Dublin) that week. These included three ships from the Balkans, two of which arrived from the Ottoman Port of Thessalonica, which today is known as Salonika."

BFTF has been surprised to see that the Ottoman navy at the time had some of the most powerful warships in the world, such as the Mahmudiye.
The Mahmudiye
Lastly, it is perhaps worth mentioning that, so far as BFTF can tell, the Star and Cresent in the Drogheda Civic Arms (and in the Drogheda football club emblem) predate the famine by several hundred years. The star and crescent are the personal royal seal of King John, who gave the town its charter.

Image Sources
Mahmudiye, Sultan Abdul Majid

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Emergency 999 on the move

BFTF's brother, Zaf, is part of a team that is taking 25 ambulances on an adventurous challenge. 10 days, 6,000 miles, 8 countries and one goal.

Zaf comments that "I am so touched by the way so many want to help in anyway that they can. Family, friends, work colleagues, neighbours, as well as complete strangers - it is so humbling!"

Read more about Zaf's amazing story here : http://www.justgiving.com/anambulance

Challenging the Saudi Government on their policies

The Saudi Arabian government, or rather the country's King, claims to be the "Custodian of the Two Holy Places". In addition, its visibility as the home of Islam, and as a country that wears its faith on its sleeve, means that the policies and practices of its leaders and government reflect not only on the citizens of Saudi Arabia but also on Muslims across the world. BFTF is increasingly finding itself having to challenge the Saudi government on some of its policies as described below :

Mar2013: Saudi Gov plans to destroy historic parts of mosque around the Kaaba
A report in the Independant recently described how development to increase the area of the Masjid Al-Haram around the Kaaba in Mecca. According to the article "workers with drills and mechanical diggers have started demolishing some Ottoman and Abbasid sections on the eastern side of the Masjid al-Haram" and points out that many of these old columns are inscribed with intricate Arabic calligraphy and that one column believed to have been destroyed is supposed to mark the spot where Muslims believe Muhammad began his heavenly journey on a winged horse. Moreover, the plans seen by the Independent show that the Bayt al-Mawlid, an area containing the site of the house where Muhammad was born in, will have to be removed unless plans change.

The article quotes Islamic Heritage expert Dr Irfan al-Alawi as saying “It matters because many of these columns signified certain areas of the mosque where the Prophet sat and prayed...The historical record is being deleted. A new Muslim would never have a clue because there’s nothing marking these locations now. There are ways you could expand Mecca and Medina while protecting the historical heritage of the mosque itself and the surrounding sites.”

BFTF has sent an email to the Saudi Embassy challenging them on this issue:
"I have been disturbed to read that beatifully decorated Ottoman era columns are being torn down and destroyed during the renovation of the Masjid Al-Haram. This is unacceptable and a shocking abuse of your position as the "Custodian of the Two Holy Places". This desctruction should stop now, as should any work to obliterate the Bayt al-Mawlid area. Why are you destroying the Muslim Ummah's heritage in this way?" Ref no CWM-17032013-74632

Also sent an email to the MCB challending them on what they were doing to stop this desctruction of Islamic Heritage. The MCB responded with :
"The Muslim Council of Britain is a British organisation speaking primarily on matters that effect British Muslims...We do not support the destruction of heritage sites anywhere."

And bounced back to the MCB with :
"I am aware that the MCB speaks PRIMARILY on UK based issues, but the MCB does not EXCUSIVELY do so. Indeed, some 20% of the MCB's press relesases over the last year have been on international issues - so I am sure that the MCB could challenge the Saudi Embassy on the issue of destruction of Islamic Heritage if the MCB wanted to.

But I also understand that the MCB can only do so much, and if the wanton destruction of the Islamic architectural heritage around the most holy place in Islam is not, in your eyes, sufficiently high up on the list to warrant taking any action over (not even sending an email to the Saudi Embassy), then so be it."


Feb2013: Saudi Gov lets child murderer off with a fine
Like everybody else (apart from the Saudi Arabian judiciary system it seems) BFTF has been sickened by the fact that the celebrity Saudi preacher Fayhan al-Ghamdi has been let off with a fine after torturing his 5 yr old daughter to death. According to media reports (here, here and here) al-Ghami had an agreement with his ex-wife to share the parenting of their daughter, Lama. Recently, he took his daughter from his mother for an agreed two week period. But, within this time, he inflicted the injuries (including a crushed skull, broken back, broken ribs, a broken left arm and extensive bruising and burns) that lead to Lana's death. Fayhan al-Ghamdi was arrested, charged and admitted the crime.

None of the above is why this story is being posted here. Al-Ghamdi is clearly an evil man - but there are many of those around the world. The reason this story is here is that the juidicial system in Saudi Arabia claims to be Islamic but, in this case, refused to give any kind of severe sentence, instead insisting that Al-Ghamdi should only be fined (with the money going to the Lana's mother). THAT is what has made BFTF angry. Very very angry indeed. Which resulted in this email to the Saudi Embassy in London :
"I have been sickened by the lenient sentence that has been handed down to Fayhan al-Ghamdi for the crime of torturing his daughter to death. Saudi Arabia claims to be goverened by Islamic Law, but this case makes a mockery of that claim and is an insult to the values you profess to uphold. The Saudi Government should be ashamed of itself. "


Update Mar 13: The negative publicity and, presumably, emails challenging the Saudi Embassy on this issue have resulted in the Embassy issuing a statement saying the the trial is not complete, that Al-Ghamdi can be senteced to death and that, even if blood money is accepted, a convicton will still result in a prison sentence. You can read the whole statement here, and if you were one of the people who emailed the Embassy about this, then you are part of what forced them to react an issue these comments. Well Done!
Statement from Saudi Emabassy (click to enlarge)

Update Oct 2013 : A BBC report states that Al-Ghamdi has been sentenced to 8 years in jail and - this is the bit BFTF really likes - 600 lashes. A life sentence was ruled out as the mother of the murdered child had accepted blood money in order to provide for her other children.

Campaigners told the BBC that the "I am Lama" campaign had been key in pressuring the governemnt to introduce new legislation aimed at preventing domestic abuse, and that the outrage generated by the judges earlier comment that Al-Ghamdi might go free without sentence had also been important.

Nov2012:Plans to destroy historic Mosques in Medina
BFTF was disturbed to hear about a report in the Independent that described how the Saudi government is preparing to demolish some of Islam's earliest mosques around that Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina. The articles states that the mosques dedicated to Abu Bakr and Umar, as well as the Masjid Ghamama are under threat in the proposed development plans and that the authorities have announced no plans to preserve or move the three seventh century mosques. Dr Irfan al-Alawi of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation comments that "...they could expand which would either avoid or preserve the ancient Islamic sites but instead they want to knock it all down..."

Indeed the Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of the 1,000-year-old buildings in Mecca and Median have been destroyed in the past 20 years. Dr al-Alawi adds that "...Muslim silence over the destruction of Mecca and Medina is both disastrous and hypocritical...The recent movie about the Prophet Mohamed caused worldwide protests... and yet the destruction of the Prophet’s birthplace, where he prayed and founded Islam has been allowed to continue without any criticism.”

BFTF has spoken to some local Imams, who feel that they cannot speak out on this issue or challenge the Saudi Embassy on what the government there is doing. With options limited, the only avenue that seems to be available to ordinary Muslims who are concerned by this is to email the Saudi Emabassy directly, which BFTF has done as follows :

I have been disturbed to read reports that the Saudi Government intends to destroy some of Islam's earliest mosques during the redevelopment of the Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina. Can you confirm to me that these reports are untrue and that these mosques are safe from destruction at the hands of the authorities? I have talked to a number of local Imams about this and they have told me that there is no point in contacting you as the Saudi government does not listen to anybody and only wants to destroy all of Islams heritage, but I want to give you the chance to show that this is not the case.



Update 6th Dec 2012 : No response so emailed again.

Update 16th Mar 2013 : A report states that "However new plans approved by King Abdullah last week appear to show a change of heart with the bulk of the expansion now slated to take place to the north of the Masjid an-Nabawi"

Jul2012 : Destruction of Muslim Shrines in N Africa BFTF has been disturbed to hear about the latest in a series of attacks by Muslim extremists on Muslim shrines (often shrines that are hundreds of years old). In the latest incident (reported in Dawn.com), a group called Ansar Dine have attacked and destroyed several shrines in Timbuktu, Mali, at least one of which (the 500yr old tomb of Sidi Mahmoud Ben Amar) was on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites. According to an journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity, "There are many of us watching them destroy the mausoleum. It hurts but we can’t do anything. These madmen are armed, we can’t do anything ...". Sanda Ould Bourama, spokesman for Ansar said that the group would “destroy every mausoleum in the city. All of them, without exception”.

BFTF wondered what the organisations representing British Muslims were doing about this kind of arrogant vandalism, so sent the following to the MCB and the ISB.

"It has been distressing to read reports of attacks - unbelievably, by Muslim groups - on shrines and mausoleums across the Muslim world. This kind of descruction robs Muslims of their heritage and represents the height of arrogance. Already, much of the heritage in Saudi Arabia has been lost. I would hope that organisations representing Muslims in the UK would be active in preserving that which is left across the world. To this end, could you please advise whether you are doing anything, domestically and internationally, to stop these kinds of attacks."

UPDATE 02Jul12 : Having calmed down a bit, modified the email to use some gentler language. Also would have added MAB to the list if had been able to find an email address for them on their website.

UPDATE 29Jul12 : Discussed this issue with my local Imam, who agreed that national Muslim organisations should be making a stand on this issue. Chased up MCB and ISB as had not received any response from them.

UPDATE 18Aug12 : Chased up MCB and ISB as had not received any response from them.

UPDATE 08Sep12 : Contacted MCB regional representative to ask why central MCB were not responding to emails.

UPDATE 16Sep12 : Discussed with a local Imam who suggested that I should contact MINAB (which BFTF has now done), and that he could raise this at the next meeting he had with his colleagues. Also wrote a relevant post about the contect to this issue. And here are two relevant reports (report one, report two),the first showing how the Salafis attacking the shrines have even tried to dig up the body from its grave.

UPDATE 04 Oct 2012 : Received the following response from MINAB:"Please accept our apologies but we do not engage in question and answer sessions."

UPDATE 04 Oct 2012 : Also sent an email to the Saudi Arabian Embassy saying:
"I have been dismayed and saddened to see the destruction of Muslim shrines across North Africa by Salafi groups, who are widely believed to be supported by Saudi Arabia. What is the Saudi Arabian Government doing to condemn this destruction and to stop it happening in the future"

UPDATE 04 Oct 2012 : Also asked a local Mosque (who are a member of the Muslim Council of Britain) to challenge the MCB on what they are doing on this issue, and gave them a draft email that they could use, if they wanted to:

"As an organisation, XXX is deeply concerned by the destruction of Muslim shrines in North Africa. A concern that is shared by many Muslims in the UK - who are only too aware of what has happened to Islams heritage in Saudi Arabia and fear that a similar "cleansing" is being undertaken in North Africa. It is the duty of national Muslim organisations to lobby and protest against this destruction and we would like to ask what XXX is doing to bring this destruction to Islams heritage in North Afirca to an end. We hope that you can respond, so that we can, in turn, inform our congregation about what is being done in their name."

UPDATE 13Oct12: Talked to an Imam at a local mosque (note: there are several mosques that BFTF classes as "local", please do not assume that it means the same place each time)about this issue. He commented that, whilst he was sympathetic, he felt that Muslims should concentrate on those issues where physical harm was being done and that the reason BFTF had not got any meaningful response from the MCB or MINAB was that these organisations were controlled by people who actually supported the destruction of these historical sites in North Africa. BFTF responded that it is possible to do two things at once, and that as things stood, these organisations were under the impression that no-one cared about what was happening -because no one was challenging them on it.

UPDATE 02Nov12 : Talked to another Imam about this recently, he said that none of the bodies claiming to represent Muslims in the UK could do anything about this and that they had no staff to respond to any ordinary Muslims who contancted them. The Imam did not feel it was useful to challenge governments (e.g contacting the Saudi Embassy) on this issue. BFTF finds this rather heartbreaking - Muslim heritage is being destroyed wholesale and while people are happy to whinge about it, Muslim organisations do not appear to wat to lift a finger to do anything to stop it, or even to speak out to Governments in the region that what is happening is unacceptable.

UPDATE 06Dec12 : Chased up Saudi Arabian Embassy and MCB via email.

UPDATE 04 Mar 2013 : Chased up Saudi Arabian Embassy and MCB via email.

Related links
How Islamic thought is context based.
Attacks on Muslim Shrines.
Wikipedia page on destruction of early Islamic sites

Friday, 15 March 2013

Positive portrayals of Muslims in the Media

Comic Relief-BBC1-Thur 14th March
A sketch by Peter Kay featured himself doing his bit for Comic Relief by travelling the country while sat on a Sofa that was pulled, somewhat unexpectedly, by a team of dwarves. In one part of the sketch, when he was feeling low due to the toll his excertions were taking on his body, he was given a pep-talk by his wife - who was portrayed as an Urdu speaking Muslim lady who wore the niqab (face veil).

BFTF is not a fan of the Niqab but it was great to see a characters "Muslimness" being simply part of who they were and not some kind of plot point that leads to a story about domestic violence, extremism or illegal immigration.

And so it was with happiness that BFTF sent off an email to the BBC saying well done for this.

EastEnders - Winter 2012/3
A story that ran through the Winter of 2012/3 was that of Ayesha Rana and her potential arranged marriage to suitor Rashid. It says something about the typcial portrayal of Muslims on TV drama that, in this case, it was a relief to see that the marriage was not used as a lead into a story about a manipulative male, illegal immigration or forced marriage. And it was good to see some aspects of Asian-Muslim culture getting some air time, including, if BFTF is not mistaken, the traditional Islamic greeting "Assalamu alaikum" (Peace be upon you).

Keen to encourage the Muslims as human beings and not as terrorists, BFTF sent an email to the BBC saying thank you for this storyline