Thursday, December 21, 2006

Old friends and new...

A special report in today's Guardian newspaper highlights how a journalist became the British National Party's central London organiser. What he reveals is an inside account of the paranoia, the clandestine meetings, rendezvous, secret lists and more at the heart of an extremist organisation pushing for electoral credibility.

The BNP, for those who don't know, is an extreme Right organisation with links to violent racists. However, it is steadily climbing in the polls in the UK (though still well behind other small parties, such as the Greens, and way behind its French friends in movements such as Jean-Marie le Pen's Front National).

Anyone who has read Homeland cannot fail to see the background to the party and its members, many of whom have been involved in white supremacist movements for many years.

In addition, news from the New York Times that Iran has hosted a Holocaust denial conference. No wonder, really, given President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's desire to see Israel wiped off the face of the Earth. Strange times make for strange bedfellows and no stranger chap there is than former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who put in an attendance. Reminds me of the invite I got to a similar event in Lebanon five years ago. Plus ca change, eh?

Seems like the season of good will to all men is truly upon us!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Me & Gorgeous George

Somehow or other, yours truly managed to spend a Sunday afternoon as an extra in a new George Galloway pop video (the things I do for book research...)

The re-make of the Edwin Starr single 'War (What Is It Good For?)' is out on 1 January. I'll write more about the experience in my articles and book.

Respect link here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

In the Shadow of the City

A little introduction to a new story of mine...

The call for the dead rings out. It is a haunting, lonely sound. The Kaddish rasps from the throats of the shuffling, elderly men: perhaps the last time that Rosh Hashanah, and ceremonies handed down for over 3000 years, will be celebrated here. The last time, too, that long-dead relatives, their names inscribed in fading gold leaf, will be remembered in the ghetto they made so famous.

Yet step outside the peeling grandeur of the Congregation of Jacob, one of the last surviving synagogues in the East End of London, and another song is calling. That song lies west, down the Roman-straight expanse of the A13, past the Blind Beggar pub and its faded Kray Twins infamy, towards the glittering chrome of the Gherkin. The beat of its heart is contained in the tongues of a hundred nations; its rhythm the call to prayer, lilting and hypnotic, mixing with the rough hip-hop of its sound systems.

As dusk draws down during the Ramadan evenings, the streets and alleyways around the massive East London Mosque swarm with the faithful. Arab, Bangladeshi and African flow like a river into the great building, ready for their iftar meals of water and dates, and for i'tikaf, the 10-day show of penitence and prayer undertaken by the ultra-pious. For here, in the centre of so-called 'Banglatown', the masjid (mosque) is now the centre of life, not the shul (synagogue); tawhid (oneness with God) and the ummah, the worldwide Islamic brotherhood, the lifeblood of the community.

Further to the east is Essex. The forgotten Britain some joke. Home, too, to flights of those same immigrants – Cockneys, Irish and Jews – that once dominated East End life. Sprawling interwar suburbs then the sea, and the age-old escape from the ghetto. Over the last two generations, it has become a haven to those whites who venerated the traditions of the East End: pie and mash, the Blitz spirit, and an England that once was.

More recently, though, it has become a housing mecca: to Bangladeshis moving from Banglatown on the first step towards prosperity. And to literally thousands of Africans and East Europeans, flooding into the area since the last census in 2001. A tide of peoples attracted by the cheapest private accommodation in London, in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Barking and Dagenham also boasts a government Minister, Margaret Hodge. It has been a Labour stronghold since 1919. A home to the Ford Motor Company in Britain, and the birthplace of (among others) protest songwriter and anti-racist icon Billy Bragg. It is barely a stone's throw from Stratford, gateway to the Olympics.

Just four miles separates Tower Hamlets from Barking and Dagenham. A short hop on the C2C from Fenchurch Street or quick drive down the A13 linking the East End to Essex and the sea. Two worlds connected by the same peoples and the same history, watched over by the looming spires of the City. Places of unprecedented regeneration and pockets of wealth; places of rapid change and dire poverty, among the poorest in the country.

Read the edited version up at The Observer Magazine [full version to come on my own website].

You can read some initial comment to the piece at Harry's Place.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Death after football match connected to anti-Semitism

This in from The International Herald Tribune last week:

Violence that broke out when Paris Saint-Germain fans ganged up on a Hapoel Tel Aviv supporter — culminating in a shooting death — shows the need to crack down on racism and anti-Semitism among soccer fans, the Paris mayor said Friday. The brawl Thursday night ended with a plainclothes police officer shooting into the crowd to protect the Hapoel fan, killing one person and injuring another, police said. "The seriousness of this event confirms the absolute necessity of fighting racism and anti-Semitism among PSG fans," Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said in a statement. Delanoe said he would contact the Paris police chief and the president of PSG, which plays in the French first division, to come up with a plan to fight the problem. "I want to make sure that Paris' image and values are respected under every circumstance — there is no room for the slightest form of intolerance," Delanoe said. Hooliganism, overt racism and fan violence have plagued PSG and, more generally, French soccer — even as other countries like Britain have had considerable success in combatting such problems.

Tougher punishments for hooligans and repeated vows from French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and other politicians that soccer violence will no longer be tolerated have failed to eradicate the problem. The incident at a McDonald's fast food restaurant near the Parc des Princes stadium occurred after Hapoel Tel Aviv's 4-2 victory over PSG in a UEFA Cup match. The officer, who was not identified, was trying to protect a Hapoel Tel Aviv fan set upon by some 150 PSG supporters, police said. He lobbed tear gas when the crowd went after him then fired two shots, "having been driven into a corner," police said. The Paris prosecutor's office and the National Police General Inspection unit, which probes incidents involving law enforcement officers, were investigating, police said. French Sports Minister Jean-Francois Lamour denounced the "climate and tension at certain soccer matches." In a statement, he said the incident was "unacceptable and tainted the image of sports."