Dec 012018
 

Yesterday, British broadcaster, actor, producer and director Stephen Fry launched this 12-minute animated documentary. It shows how certain UK politicians have built their careers by stirring up fear of immigrants and fear of a ‘mythical EU dragon’ over the past couple of years.

The video opens with an illustration of an illusion known as ‘forced perspective’, which Stephen Fry suggests is how the politicians have convinced people that these fears are real. As he points out, and as I mentioned in my previous post, they and the mainstream media promoting their views have used propaganda techniques similar to those used by the Nazis in the 1930s.

In the US, Donald Trump brands all news stories and facts which contradict his narrative as ‘Fake News’. Similarly, these UK politicians have branded inconvenient facts and forecasts as ‘Project Fear’.

Thanks to this approach, facts are unlikely to convince supporters of these politicians to change their minds. Stephen Fry explored this phenomenon in a previous video about the Dunning-Kruger effect … and explained how to tackle it.

In his excellent new book How to be right … in a world gone wrong, Radio talk show host James O’Brien describes how the media have fuelled the rise of this type of politician.

As with climate change, media organisations like the BBC have attempted to preserve ‘balance’ by interviewing people who have opposite views for the same amount of time. However, even if 95% of scientists are convinced that climate change has happened, this attempt at ‘balance’ gives disproportionate exposure to the 5% that do not.

James O’Brien suggests that his approach of asking people ‘why?’ (rather than the ‘what?’ asked traditionally by interviewers) obliges those he is interviewing to explain why they believe what they do, often revealing their misconceptions. However, he lays the blame for this at the door of the politicians who have misled his callers, not his callers themselves. Here is his recent RSA discussion about his book, which inspired me to buy the book.

Another impressive, recent initiative is the podcast series Dial M for Mueller, with award-winning investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr (who revealed the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook data scandal) and Peter Jukes. The latest episode explores why Nigel Farage is a ‘person of interest’ for the FBI investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

As I have mentioned before, Rabindranath Tagore attempted to warn the world about the dangers of nationalism over 100 years ago. His 1939 dance-drama Shyama , written in the context of growing tensions of pre-Independence India and the rise of nationalism in Europe, opens with a foreign merchant who is falsely accused of theft by a repressive regime.

I was happy to see that French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated this in his speech on Armistice Day. Fortunately, there are still a few politicians around who are brave enough to stand up to the real Project Fear.

Oct 292018
 
Notice on the door of the Poundworld shop in our local High Street

This week’s UK Budget is expected to reduce business rates, to reduce costs faced by shops and businesses on UK High Streets, but not by their online competitors. Media reports about recent closures of shop chains have mentioned reduced sales in High Street shops due to people buying online. Few dare to mention any loss of interest in shopping (in general) due to uncertainty faced by many households, particularly low income households, as a result of the UK Government’s seemingly incompetent handling of the UK’s departure from the EU.

Yesterday, I took a walk along our local High Street, in Sutton, which is in the suburbs of London. I took these photos of all the abandoned shops and businesses, many of which have closed in the past couple of years. Of course, there are other recent arrivals (mainly cafés, restaurants, vaping shops and nail parlours) which allow the High Street to retain some life. Nonetheless, I was left feeling quite sad about the state of what was a vibrant High Street not so long ago.

If this is happening in the relatively affluent South-East of England, I suspect that the situation is even worse in other parts of the country, particularly further North – often forgotten by Westminster parties and political leaders. In any case, the impression of decay in our own High Street is far more intense than in other parts of Europe we have visited over the past couple of years. The UK is apparently more heavily into online shopping than other countries but, even so, that cannot be the only explanation.

The owner of our favourite kebab shop confirmed to me on Saturday night that the costs of his raw materials (particularly vegetables) had already gone up significantly as a result of the 18% fall in the value of the pound since the Referendum was announced. So far, he has been absorbing this increase without raising his prices – he knows he would lose business if he increased his prices.

A significant proportion of his customers are from low income families and they have been telling him that they are uncertain about the future and are trying to spend as little as they can now. Yes, they are fed up of hearing about Brexit but that is because it is not at all the simple process they were led to believe it would be by certain politicians – instead, we now hear the Government warning that people may need to stockpile medicines and that lorries may need to be parked on the M26 (several miles from the coast) while waiting to cross the English Channel. This could explain the popularity of online shopping and the state of the High Street, which is far less busy than it used to be (and those that are there seem to be window shopping rather than buying).

Last Christmas, my holiday reading was the disturbing book Alternative War by James Patrick, a former police officer turned investigative journalist. The book tackles Russian interference in the UK’s EU Referendum and the US election of President Donald Trump, suggesting that these are elements of a ‘hybrid war’ Russia has launched using fake news and sophisticated disinformation campaigns. The book documents how ‘detached and deniable assets’ and ‘useful idiots’, such as Wikileaks, the far-right (including UKIP and Republican officials), were engaged by Russia to subvert two of the world’s superpowers and install managed democracies as part of a strategy to enhance Russia’s position and destabilise its perceived enemies.

One of the key claims of the Leave campaign was that £350m contributed per week could be spent on the NHS. However, it is now emerging that, in the event of ‘no deal’, there may be cancelled NHS operations and staff shortages.

Via Cory Doctorow, I came across this 15-minute short film American Psychosis featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges. In it, he draws parallels with totalitarian regimes he has reported on and a culture dominated by ‘pervasive illusion’ which he now finds in the US. Perhaps this is also the situation in the UK?

Lord Adonis has been travelling around the country arguing in favour of a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal (or no deal) which Theresa May is negotiating. In this article for The New European, he explains why we are now in a similar situation to the 1930s. He recommends the new book by Paddy Ashdown Nein, Standing up to Hitler 1935-1944 about the German resistance, and how it was undermined by the appeasement of the British and French Governments.

Today’s appeasers of the far right similarly recreate the weak and demoralised liberals and conservatives of the 1930s, from Germany’s Catholic ‘centre’ party which voted with Hitler in 1933 to Neville Chamberlain treating so disastrously with the German dictator thereafter. Theresa May is eerily Chamberlainite in her stubbornness, her deep ignorance of the extreme political currents swirling around her, and her appeasement of an English far right – Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the puppet Boris Johnson …

Andrew Adonis, Yes we are back in the 1930s – The New European, 25 October 2018

Meanwhile, the number of people sleeping rough in the UK has increased by 169% since 2010, with increases every year for the past 7 years. The conditions would appear to be ripe (again) for populist politicians to offer the fantasy of an easy solution: nationalism. But, as Tagore pointed out over a century ago, this approach comes with risks for the society we live in.

Throughout history, demagogues rarely need to direct the violence. They set the tone – they focus the blame, ridicule, rage and hate — and leave the violent acts to others. That way, they can always say “it wasn’t me. I don’t have blood on my hands. The culprits are out there.”
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) October 28, 2018

Robert Reich, Berkeley professor and former US Secretary of Labour

A few weeks ago, I was dismayed but not surprised to see James Patrick suggesting that the real objective of the UK Government is a ‘no deal’ Brexit, with all the harmful consequences its own documents now predict. I did find it shocking though that the reason would be to justify Ministers using their powers under the Withdrawal Act to by-pass Parliament.

In effect, this ’emergency rule’ would take the UK out of a democracy and into dictatorship. I would invite you to follow the link below and read the rest of his thread on Twitter. I hope this is not the real objective of the UK Government (whose official line is still that it is working towards an agreement with the EU27). However, as time goes by, and as the UK missed the opportunity of the recent Summit in Brussels to sign any agreement, perhaps his analysis seems increasingly likely?

With this in mind, here are some of the speeches from last Saturday’s People’s Vote march. Note particularly the comment from Tom Brake that the UK Government and Parliament have spent the past two years being so focused on Brexit that they have not tackled the real problems affecting millions of people, such as the housing crisis, reform of the education system and the state of the NHS. Maybe, in time, the people who spoke at the march will be seen as the ‘resistance’.

 Posted by at 2:54 am
Oct 222018
 

Yesterday, Kaberi and I were among the estimated 700,000 people marching for a People’s Vote on the outcome of the negotiations between the UK Government and the EU27. These comments summarise our impressions.

Yesterday’s march, which was led by young people, was a moving reminder that humanity is still a strong force in the UK. We saw people of all ages in the march, ranging from senior citizens marching for their grandchildren to children wrapped in the EU flag.

There were also many, original placards which people had made. Here are a few examples.

Meanwhile, the BBC continues to boost the profiles of politicians like Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson by quoting them ‘for balance’ every time anyone dares to question the wisdom of the UK leaving the EU.

The scale of the March felt amazing, as we stood in it. Before we set off, we heard a series of stirring speeches. Our friend Tom Brake, Brexit spokesperson for the Liberal Democrat’s, pointed out how much of a distraction Brexit has been for both the Government and Parliament. There are many other pressing issues, such as homelessness, which they could have been doing something about.

The speeches included Vince Cable uttering the most popular slogan of the day: “Bollocks to Brexit”. The rhythmic pattern of this slogan was repeated from time to time during the march using whistles.

By Sunday morning, news of the march (which eventually became the top story on BBC News on Saturday afternoon) had been removed from the BBC’s top stories. Even while the article was the main story, the first person quoted in it was Nigel Farage, who was speaking at a pro-Brexit event in Harrogate attended by 0.17% of the number of people attending the march. That there has been no follow-up of the March at all by the BBC suggests censorship rather than balance.

As we approached Downing Street, we could see many marchers heading in the opposite direction. We learned from them that access to Parliament Square had been blocked as there were too many people.

On our way to finding something to eat in Chinatown, we passed the statue of Shakespeare in the middle of Leicester Square. The quote on the lectern he is leaning on reads “There is no darkness but ignorance”. It seemed somehow appropriate for the occasion.

 Posted by at 12:51 am
May 082018
 

For this year’s celebration of the birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, we chose to highlight Tagore’s educational philosophy. I will write in more detail about this in a later post.

Of course, we also sang a few Tagore songs which are traditionally sung to celebrate his birthday. Our thanks to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, particularly to Birthplace Manager Hannah Jones for making the arrangements and to Emily Ireson not only for taking care of us on the day but also for volunteering to hold the camera during our performance.

Singers & musicians from Prantik:
– Anindita Sen Gupta Saha (also playing the tanpura)
– Chhaya Biswas
– Farzeen Huq
– Kaberi Chatterjee
– Mousumi Basu
– Obhi Chatterjee (who also wrote, narrated & directed the programme)
– Sudakshina Roy
– Tirthankar Roy (playing the esraj)

They were joined by Shakespeare Aloud actor Kelly Hale.

Jun 082017
 

On 6 June 1944, the largest seaborne invasion in history began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front. Just over 73 years later, courtesy of Theresa May triggering the Article 50 procedure to leave the EU and calling today’s General Election, Britain now finds itself looking over the precipice, away from most of its allies.

The official exit poll predicts a hung parliament: 314 seats for the Conservatives and a possible 314 seats for a ‘progressive alliance’ of Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrats. The Brexit negotiations are due to resume next Tuesday and the UK already lost 4 weeks’ preparation time due to the General Election. The deadline to complete the negotiations remains 29 March 2019.

If the exit poll is close to being correct, the Conservatives could lose 16 of the 330 seats they had won in 2015. This is rather more than the condition Theresa May had set for leaving Jeremy Corbyn (or rather, in practice, Keir Starmer) to lead the Brexit negotiations.

Of course, the exit poll after the UK Referendum on 23 June 2016 had predicted the opposite result to the Leave vote which emerged by the morning. Still, for now, this does not appear to be the resounding mandate Theresa May had called for to enter the negotiations with the EU27 for the UK to leave the EU.

Some thoughts from Tagore:

Man loses his true stature when he fails to unite fully with his fellows. A complete man is one who has this capacity for union, a lone individual is a fragmented being. We know that a child dreads ghosts only when he is alone. This is the lone person’s fear of his own weakness. Most of our fears are replicas of this fear of ghosts. — The Co-operative Principle, 1928.

Jun 082017
 

As you will have understood from this series of blog posts, I will be dismayed but not surprised if Theresa May and the Conservatives win this General Election, in spite of all the gaffes and scandals which emerged during the election campaign. The song ‘Liar, Liar’ in the video above reached Number 2 in the UK music charts on Monday, in spite of being banned from being played by radio stations.

The future based on hate that Theresa May promises is not only outside the EU Customs Union without freedom of movement but also with a clampdown on the internet, a collapsed NHS, an unworkable approach to social care and an inadequately resourced approach to dealing with extremism and terrorism. In short, it is a dystopian future which few would want to be part of.

So why would people vote for it? I was reminded today that people’s level of trust in Government, judiciary and media has fallen sharply, particularly in the past year. They need someone they can believe in who could lead them through this. Hence Theresa May’s repeated use of the phrase ‘strong and stable leadership’ and branding the opposition as the ‘coalition of chaos’, whether in interviews, speeches and in campaign literature. She has also promised to fight injustice and make the UK ‘a country that works for everyone’. Although this encouraged some to refer to her as the ‘Maybot’, these repeated soundbites were no doubt deliberate from a psychological perspective.

As with the UK Referendum last year, we all suffer from three intrinsic biases: personal bias (influenced by our own experiences as we grew up), education bias (since western education focuses on reading, writing and arithmetic instead of opening the mind to learning) and media bias (where only extraordinary activities receive the attention of journalists). Unconventional ideas are rejected without analysis. This is how those who stir up people’s anger against the establishment gain their popularity. Of course, in this case, it is ironical that Theresa May is the establishment!

Perhaps the only unknown factor is whether young people will actually go and vote. If they do, they might save themselves (and the rest of us) from the authoritarian rule without human rights that Theresa May would like to have a mandate for.

In addition, with so many other problems facing people in the UK, it could have done without diverting scarce resources to negotiating Brexit – an expensive activity which I am sure will be regarded in years to come as an act of self harm by the UK. All to settle a catfight within the Conservative party that got out of hand, as the European Parliament’s Chief Negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, put it.

Maybe the UK will recover from the experience, one day sooner or later. Here is a poem from Tagore, as I near the end of this (almost daily) series of pre-election blog posts.

Through the troubled history of man
comes sweeping a blind fury of destruction
and the towers of civilisation topple down to dust.
In the chaos of moral nihilism
are trampled underfoot by marauders
the best treasures of Man heroically won by the martyrs for ages.
Come, young nations,
proclaim the fight for freedom,
raise up the banner of invincible faith.
Build bridges with your life across the
gaping earth blasted by hatred,
and march forward.
Do not submit yourself to carry the burden of insult upon your head,
kicked by terror,
and dig not a trench with falsehood and cunning
to build a shelter for your dishonoured manhood;
offer not the weak as sacrifice to the strong
to save yourself.

Jun 082017
 

Long-standing followers of this blog will remember that I started to take a special interest in healthcare and particularly dementia after my father started to decline towards what was eventually diagnosed as frontotemporal dementia. I was so shocked by what I discovered that I made the feature-length investigative documentary You must be nuts! – The business of dementia. So, even though the topic of the day remains security, I will turn my attention in this post to an issue which came up much earlier in the election campaign: the dementia tax and the state of the NHS.

What emerged from my research into how best to treat my father was so distressing that I included animated sequences to ensure that viewers would make it to the end of the film! Over 8,000 people have watched it so far on YouTube, after around 1,000 had watched its initial appearance on Vimeo. Thanks to the contacts I made when making my film, I now find myself among an active but occasionally frustrated community of scientists and researchers who have joined the quest for a holistic approach to healthcare.

If you have been watching the ‘Doctor in the House’ series on BBC 1, you will know that my namesake Dr Rangan Chatterjee uses such an approach to treat families after visiting them in their homes and experiencing their lifestyles. You may also have seen cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra on TV. Dr David Unwin is a GP who became the first to publish a paper demonstrating how lifestyle changes could reverse Type 2 diabetes and have saved £20,000 per year in diabetes medication costs in his practice. He recently argued in a paper in the British Medical Journal that GP practices should be able to keep the money saved from putting patients on a low carbohydrate diet.

So what is stopping the NHS adopting a holistic approach to healthcare? Unfortunately, this is where you need to ‘follow the money’. I detailed my concerns and called for a formal investigation in a letter to the Chair of the Commons Health Select Committee in February 2015. I have given up hope of ever receiving a reply, let alone seeing a formal investigation. As others who had raised similar issues before me have found as well, the problems I identified seem to lead right to Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health since 2012.

In essence, I believe that certain Government policies may have increased the risk of dementia and other modern chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer). Over several decades, under successive Labour and Conservative Governments, the NHS has been pursuing unscientific practices such as:

Meanwhile, since 2012, the city of Amsterdam has reduced child obesity by 12% by banning fast food sponsorship and fruit juice at schools while encouraging parents to allow their children to get enough sleep. In contrast, child obesity in the UK is rising.

The third problem area is the reluctance to regulate the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides on crops and indeed domestic gardens. Each of us can try to protect ourselves from this by buying organic and eating only real, unprocessed food. Still, it does raise the question of why the consequences of poor nutrition and dietary advice are being ignored while the NHS suffers increasing costs of treating the resulting illness.

As if this was not enough for the NHS to cope with, thanks to the ‘people-have-decided’ anti-immigrant mantra of the Brexiteers, there is also the imminent potential departure of tens of thousands of non-British EU nationals working in the NHS who now feel unwelcome in the UK since last year’s Referendum result. Nick Clegg highlights this in the video above.

Almost all of my father’s carers were non-British EU nationals. We gathered that British carers preferred to stay on benefits rather than continue as carers and earn only marginally more – it is a very tough but low-paid job.

This brings me to the ‘dementia tax’. In the UK, the NHS looks after treating people who are ill while local councils are responsible for social care – as they were before the creation of the NHS. Based on our experience with my father, this setup is totally dysfunctional. Elderly patients are often left for weeks occupying hospital beds while the doctors treating them remain to be convinced that their patients will be able to survive with the care they will get after they leave. Moreover, hospital doctors have different IT systems from community health practitioners such as GPs. In my father’s case, that meant that, although a hospital doctor had signed a paper advising that my father should not be resuscitated in case of breathing problems, this meant nothing to ambulance staff and paramedics without his GP signing a similar paper!

In case you had not realised, local councils have very tight budgets. Social care funding is means tested, although based on their disposable income, not their total assets. This already gives local councils an interest in assessing elderly people as ‘self-funders’. A few weeks ago, Theresa May announced a manifesto commitment to include the cost of people’s homes in this calculation. According to the announcement, their homes would not need to be sold until after their deaths.

However, this seems to be unlikely in practice if the system continues to work as it did when I was managing my father’s carers. He was a ‘self funder’, which meant that he received a monthly contribution from the local council towards his care costs but it was he who was liable to pay the care agency/carers – not the local council.

Under Theresa May’s proposal, his share of our house would have been included in the calculations, presumably reducing considerably the monthly contribution made by the local council. Nonetheless, he would still need to pay the care agency/carers. At £15 per hour, this adds up very quickly – especially if care agencies insist that their carers cannot attend the person alone and need to have two carers in attendance (which is very disorientating for anyone with dementia).

Even with a cap on care costs that was eventually extracted from Theresa May after an outcry by other political parties, the carers have to be paid each week and, somehow, the councils need to find the money to fund the difference. I cannot imagine how an elderly person would avoid having to sell their house during their lifetime (and hence move into a care home) to pay the care bills if the value of their house is included in the means testing assessment.

From what we have seen, there are ways for the NHS to save money provided people are given the right (non-commercially-funded) dietary advice and treated holistically by their GPs (instead of doctors and medical journals being sponsored to encourage daily drugs being prescribed for the rest of people’s lives). In addition, it would be useful if the Government would ban two processed foods which are known to increase the risk of heart disease (margarine and highly processed vegetable oils, such as sunflower oil), as well as glyphosate – the key component of the most popular domestic and industrial weedkiller which is known to be an endocrine disruptor.

However, this would need politicians with the guts to take on Big Food, Big Pharma and Big Ag. Given his performance over the past 5 years, Jeremy Hunt doesn’t seem to be one of them.

 Posted by at 12:39 am
Jun 072017
 

After the London Bridge terrorist attack, Theresa May found the culprit – the internet:

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed,” May said. “Yet that is precisely what the internet and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide.”

“We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremist and terrorism planning,” she continued. “We need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.”

As I mentioned in my previous post, she seems to have found the need for more investigative powers rather than providing more police resources to investigate the information available with their existing powers. Maybe she should read the investigation into funding of extremist groups whose publication she appears to have blocked for the past two years … .

Seven years ago, media companies had the same idea to propose laws for the UK to control the internet and block disruption of their rather old business model. My contribution was to draft and submit a motion to the Spring conference of the Liberal Democrats on Freedom, creativity and the internet. Thanks to the support of a dedicated group of Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidates and activists led by Bridget Fox, Julian Huppert and Mark Pack, the motion was passed unanimously and remains the party’s policy. Subsequently, as MP for Cambridge, Julian Huppert successfully blocked Theresa May’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’ during the last Parliament. However, it became law after the Conservatives won the 2015 election.

Science fiction writer, journalist and digital rights activist Cory Doctorow has written this article for Boing Boing called Theresa May wants to ban crypto: here’s what that would cost, and here’s why it won’t work anyway. It says more eloquently than I could what I had intended to say about this. If you click on the image above, you can sign up to support the Liberal Democrats’ campaign to ‘Save the Internet‘ (again).

Tagore’s most famous poem from the English Gitanjali expresses why Theresa May’s ‘Thought police’ idea is the antithesis of what he believed:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Jun 052017
 

In my previous post, I asked whether controlling immigration would make the UK and better, safer place.

The other belief stirred by certain UK politicians and media is that controlling immigration from the EU would reduce the risk of terrorism. Really? 52-year-old Khalid Masood, who carried out the Westminster Bridge attack in March, was born in Kent. 23-year-old Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who attacked the Manchester Arena last weekend, was born in Manchester. Both had been reported to the security services for their beliefs. This analysis illustrates how Salman Abedi fitted the profile of other terrorists.

In the wake of Saturday night’s London Bridge attack, Theresa May said yesterday that “terrorism breeds terrorism“. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that extremism breeds extremism.

Most of us cannot imagine how anyone could attack fellow human beings with vans, knives or bombs. However, in Tagore’s Nationalism in the West speech a hundred years ago, he noted that:

When we are fully human, we cannot fly at one another’s throats; our instincts of social life, our traditions of moral ideals stand in the way. If you want me to take to butchering human beings, you must break up that wholeness of my humanity through some discipline which makes my will dead, my thoughts numb, my movements automatic, and then from the dissolution of the complex personal man will come out that abstraction, that destructive force, which has no relation to human truth, and therefore can be easily brutal or mechanical.

Take away man from his natural surroundings, from the fullness of his communal life, with all its living associations of beauty and love and social obligations, and you will be able to turn him into so many fragments of a machine for the production of wealth on a gigantic scale. Turn a tree into a log and it will burn for you, but it will never bear living flowers and fruit. This process of dehumanising has been going on in commerce and politics.

It seems to be time to ‘follow the money’ on this issue. Last week, Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, called on Theresa May to publish a report into the foreign funding of extremism in the UK. He reminded her that Saudi Arabia “provides funding to hundreds of mosques in the UK, often espousing a hard-line version of Islam”.

Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary

He said, “The Conservatives have broken their pledge to investigate funding of violent Islamist groups in the UK, seemingly because they were worried about upsetting their dodgy allies in the Middle East.” Home Secretary Amber Rudd had said during last week’s Leaders’ Debate that arms sales to Saudi Arabia were good for industry.

Tom Brake added, “This short-sighted approach needs to change. It is critical that these extreme, hardline views are confronted head on, and that those who fund them are called out publicly.

“If the Conservatives are serious about stopping terrorism on our shores, they must stop stalling and reopen investigations into foreign funding of violent extremism in the UK.”

After the Brussels attacks just over a year ago, our friend Leo Cendrowicz investigated in this article for the Independent how Saudi Arabia’s influence and a deal to get oil contracts sowed seeds of radicalism in Belgium. According to Belgian opposition politician George Dallemagne, Salafist clerics at the Great Mosque of Brussels have tried to undermine attempts by Moroccan immigrants to integrate into Belgium.

“We like to think Saudi Arabia is an ally and friend, but the Saudis are always engaged in double-talk: they want an alliance with the West when it comes to fighting Shias in Iran, but nonetheless have a conquering ideology when it comes to their religion in the rest of the world,” he said.

Mr Dallemagne has sponsored many resolutions in the Belgian parliament aimed at loosening ties with Saudi Arabia, and reducing the Salafist influence in Belgium. “We can’t have a dialogue with countries that want to destabilise us,” he says. “The problem is that it is only recently that authorities are finally opening their eyes to this.”

As Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has pointed out, Theresa May rejected warnings from the police that cutting police numbers would increase the risk of terrorist attacks and that her Prevent anti-terrorism community engagement strategy is not trusted. And, of course, when all else has failed, the superficially easy solution is to propose to control the internet.

To return to Tagore’s Shyama, with which I ended in my previous post, after Shyama hears why Bojroshen has been imprisoned, the Companions sing about the oppression of the innocent:

The locking up of the good at the hands of the cruel – who will stop it? Who?
The flow of tears from helpless, distressed eyes – who will wipe them away? Who?
The cries of distressed people sadden Mother Earth.
The attacks of injustice are poisoned arrows –
Under persecution from the strong, who will save the weak?
Whose generosity will call those who have been insulted into his embrace?

Jun 052017
 

News of Saturday night’s terrorist attack on London Bridge emerged just as I was finishing this post. I decided to defer its publication and return to the topic of terrorism in my next post.

UK Border Control at Eurotunnel Calais

This was the UK Border Control at the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais on Friday night. Every single vehicle is stopped and passports of all the occupants are checked and scanned. For over 20 years, I have crossed this border many times when driving between Brussels and London.

However, for most Europeans, this type of border post is an unusual sight.  Since the Schengen Agreement was signed over 30 years ago, between most of the other Member States, you hardly notice the border as you drive through it on the motorway. The Schengen Area now covers 26 countries including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Only Ireland and the UK have opted out of the Schengen Area, which is why this border post exists. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania are currently preparing to join the Schengen Area. This video illustrates what it is like to jog between two countries without border controls: Belgium and the Netherlands.

The experience at Calais has changed over the years and became especially sad in 2014-15 when refugees camped at the nearby ‘Jungle’ would try each night to smuggle themselves onto a Eurotunnel Shuttle. Several of them lost their lives in the attempt and there was a time when we would see some of them (usually men) making the two-hour trek in small groups in the dark along the motorway hard shoulder as cars and lorries whizzed past them, sometimes jumping into slow moving lorries. We have not seen any of them for over a year but the triple fencing topped with barbed wire and bright floodlights around the Eurotunnel terminal area are still there.

It seems hard to imagine that this border could be any more difficult to get through if the UK were to leave the EU. The only thing that might happen is that this border control, complete with the No Man’s Land between it and the French border control, might itself be sent back to the UK by France’s newly-elected President. The squalid conditions of the Calais Jungle have been an embarrassment for France and Calais in particular.

One of the main arguments of Leave campaigners was that the UK needed to “take back control” of its borders. Take another look at the photo above. The UK already has control of its borders. What they meant is that the UK should be able to refuse entry to whoever it wants. And it cannot do that to EU citizens … although benefits to EU citizens face some restrictions if they are unemployed for more than 3 months.

In September 2015, Hugo Dixon analysed whether or not the UK would have better control of its borders inside or outside the EU. He drew attention to the Dublin Regulation, under which “the country where asylum seekers arrive has to process their applications. If it grants them asylum, it is responsible for looking after them. The refugees are not free to travel where they like. But if they do end up somewhere else in the EU, that country can then send them back to the country where they first sought asylum.”

Nonetheless, Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have both advocated excluding the free movement principles of the EU. The remarkably united reaction of the EU27 has been to refuse access to the Single Market without the free movement principles.

If the UK is outside the Customs Union, the Calais border control would shift to Dover and there would be no possibility to send refugees back to another EU Member State where they had claimed asylum – something which the UK had done with 12,000 refugees between 2003 and 2015. Regarding another border between the UK and the rest of the EU, EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has said he will try to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, this may prove difficult as “customs controls are part of EU border management”.

Thanks to Leave campaigners, many people in the UK have been given the impression that controlling immigration would reduce pressure on the NHS and other public services, make more jobs available to Brits, avoid taxpayers’ money being abused by immigrants claiming benefits and reduce the risk of terrorism. Each of these beliefs is not supported by the statistics. In addition, the eligibility rules for benefits for EU nationals were tightened in 2014 and confirmed by the European Court of Justice as being in line with EU law.

And yet, for some years even as Home Secretary, Theresa May has been pushing an arbitrary and hitherto seemingly unachievable target for net migration. Could it be that the anti-immigration rhetoric of certain UK politicians has fanned the flames of terrorism?

My first feature-length film was Rabindranath Tagore’s dance-drama Shyama. In it, Tagore addresses a number of issues which are as topical today as they were in 1939, when he wrote Shyama. A year earlier, Tagore had written Prayashchiththo (Penance), which reflected his deep concern with both the increasingly turbulent atmosphere in pre-Independence India and the rise of Hitler in Europe.

In Shyama, in casting the character of Bojroshen as a foreign merchant, Tagore may have been referring to the persecution of Jews by Hitler at that time. When Shyama asks why Bojroshen has been imprisoned, the King’s Guard replies:

There has been a theft in the Royal Treasury.
We need a thief, no matter how, we need a thief.
It doesn’t matter if it’s just any man, we need a thief.
Otherwise we will lose our honour.
Who better to accuse than a foreigner … ?
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