There’s blue skies in between the random outbursts of hail here in Sheffield, and that can mean only one thing: Spring is on its way.

And that means that political activism is hotting up.

I’ve just had an email – which will have gone out to every member of the NUS – about a group called “HOPE not hate“. Apologies for the strange, unnecessary capitals, but it wasn’t me that thought up the name.

In their own words:

“HOPE not hate is Searchlight’s campaign against the British National Party and other racists and fascists. HOPE not hate recognises that people, communities and society as a whole face problems, but the BNP is not the answer and would only make everything worse. We work to expose the truth about the BNP and, by democratic means, to prevent it gaining electoral success. Our current campaign aims to increase turnout in the European election on 4 June 2009 so that the BNP’s percentage vote falls short of that needed to win seats.”

And Searchlight?

“Searchlight opposes racism and fascism in Britain and abroad. It was founded in 1962 and now has three components: Searchlight magazine, Searchlight Educational Trust and Searchlight Information Services.”

Now, I didn’t even know that the European elections were coming up. But if there’s even a modicum of a chance that the BNP might get in, we need to be voting, because a nastier group is hard to imagine since Robert Kilroy-Silk stopped heading  UKIP.

Bear in mind, it is the BNP whose London Assembly candidate, Nick Eriksen, was last year outed as a blogger who said things like this:

“The demonisation of rape is all part of the feminazi desire to obtain power and mastery over men. Men who go along with the rape myth are either morons or traitors.”

And, closer to home, Mark Collett, in Barnsley, was filmed at a meeting saying this:

“Next thing: the treatment of women.
Now, I like women [muffled cheers]
If I want to drive through Leeds on a sunny day and look at women walking down the streets in low-cut tops, that’s a pleasure. I don’t want to see those women being spat at and abused, for simply choosing to wear clothes, that these people who’ve been here five minutes [muslim immigrants] don’t approve of. [loud clapping]
And this isn’t just my opinion. This is Western culture. Look back, as far as you want to go – the Rennaissance, Roman sculpture, Greek art – central to all those things was the depiction of the female form. It is part of our culture, our heritage.
It even goes beyond human rights – it’s part of what we are. It’s part of what we fought for, part of what our ancestors died for, and these people want to take it away from us.”

In all honesty, it’s quite a shock to find the BNP mentioning women at all, given that a search for “woman”, “women”, “girl” and “female” in their 2007 manifesto turned up… absolutely nothing. Women are also not mentioned in their policies tab, and nor are any of their leaflets specifically about women (although unsurprisingly, they are given a fleeting mention in the “Islam issue” leaflet). Why, if I didn’t know better, I could almost think that they didn’t really care about women!


Sarcasm aside, this is important. The BNP are a serious threat, specifically because they don’t hide the fact that they’re a party comprised of just about every “phobia” you can imagine. I’ve put up a link to the HOPE not hate campaign in the sidebar, in the form of a pretty picture, because I’m a sucker for happy-looking graphics.

Less fluffily, this is my call for everybody who can vote in the European elections, to vote. Please. I seriously don’t care who you support, as long as it isn’t this lot of fascists. Or UKIP, of course. Please register to vote. Please don’t let the BNP get in.


The HOPE not hate campaign has a number of local groups, which you can find here. Yorkshire seems a little less well represented than I would have hoped, but they do have a HQ in leeds, and there are email addresses for some other cities. The email address given for Sheffield, however, leads to Barnsley, so I assume that there isn’t a Sheffield-specific group at the moment.

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I know that, once again, I’m a little late with this story, but in my defense, I did see it unfolding during the week. In any case, I think it bears repeating.

According to the BBC,

“BNP members have told BBC News they have received threatening and abusive phone calls and e-mails after a leaked document was published online.

The membership list includes police officers, who are banned from BNP membership, teachers and soldiers.

It includes names, addresses, telephone numbers and jobs of 12,000 people.”

Before I start ripping into the party, I would like to say this:

No matter what these people think, there is no need to publish their addresses or phone numbers.

Names, yes. Jobs, yes – especially since some jobs are incompatible with BNP membership (or rather, it is unbecoming in some professions to have links to far-right nutjobs). But phone numbers? Addresses? That’s cruel and unnecessary.

And it’s still there. Not that I’m going to help anybody get to it, as such, but under ten minutes with Google and a bit of common sense, and I had a chance to get that list. I’m hardly a computer whizz-kid, and frankly, the idea that I could drum up a way into so many people’s lives like that is pretty scary.

Some people have also created “heat-maps” of the areas with most members, thanks again to Google – don’t you just love that handy map feature?! Although I won’t link to them, I will say that they, at least, have been appropriate with the data so far – in explaining the map, the creator says this:

“I deliberately only pulled out postcodes from the file, converted those to latitude/longitude, then stripped a chunk of precision off the end. It gives a vague location, probably to street level, but it’s certainly not accurate by any means.”

Because, you know what? Nobody deserves to have threatening phonecalls made to them for being a member of a political party. Not even Robert Kilroy-Silk, the most odious right-wing nutcase I can think of right now.

All of that said, this does give me an opportunity for semi-gratuitous self-reference. Because I don’t like the BNP. I’ve never liked the BNP and it feels nicely ironic that it should be the people who don’t agree with anything the EU does that have to invoke the Human Rights Act when something goes wrong.

I wrote about them back in May, fuming because they’d managed to get one of their candidates elected to the London Assembly.

In the interests of good writing, I went back to their website to check that what I’d written then still holds true. Unsurprisingly, nothing has changed, but in the course of my search, I came across the leaflets that they use when campaigning.


Which was nicely timed, in fact, because I see in the news today that 12 BNP members have been arrested, suspected of distributing racist material in Liverpool.

Their organiser says that “There was nothing unlawful in the leaflets – all the contents of the leaflets had been carefully vetted, or they would not have gone out.”

And, unfortunately, for most of those leaflets, he’s right. Although the underlying message shines through, they are – in the main – worded too carefully to be able to prove with quotes. Look at them together, though, and you start to see the pattern. There are 12 leaflets listed on the website, 3 of which have no racist content that I could find. They relate to Labour, the Lib Dems and crime. They’re revolting in other ways, but that’s not really what I want to think about right now.

Seven of the remaining nine leaflets mention – with differing levels of venom – immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees and the like, with the other two focussing on presenting Muslims in a negative light. Much of what they say is factually inaccurate, which already damns it in my eyes, but even those statements that are not technically untrue are disgusting.

For example, their anti-EU handout says that “millions of Eastern European gypsies… can now travel freely to Soft Touch Britain”. In the context of the leaflet, this is clearly being presented as a Bad Thing – but why? Could they be playing on people’s prejudices against gypsies, I wonder? Unfortunately, this is about the most obvious example I could find. And statements disguised better than this are very hard to call people out on.

Bizarrely, I find myself hoping that the leaflet that the 12 were handing out was as overtly racist as possible Forget what you’ve heard about “bleeding-heart liberals” – when it comes to bigotry, I’m about as intolerant as it gets!

First of all, thank you to Thefems, who have kindly allowed me free rein over their shiny new website. They are awesome.

Writing here has its own issues, though. On my own site, I can talk about the things that interest me in any way that I choose, secure in the knowledge that it is my own space. On a collaborative website, though, things get a little tricky.

Partly this is because the Sheffield Fems as a group don’t have one single collective opinion on anything. I cannot and will not ever claim to be writing on behalf of the whole group, because we always see things differently. Which makes us almost like a little model of what feminism is about, I suppose.

With that in mind, anything written by me as an individual will be just that – an individual response. And so, to business.


Islam

The BBC and the Guardian both reported yesterday on Professor Amina Wadud’s leading the Friday prayers to mark the start of a conference on Islam and feminism in Oxford. (The Guardian also has an interesting Comment Is Free article on the issue. Since it is in the CIF section, I’m issuing a Risk of Rage warning – you do always get the good, the bad and the ugly commenting there.)

It’s an intriguing situation all round, with the kind of quotes you might expect; on the one hand,

“This is something divine not human. We have to do it in the way it has been ordained by God to do it. Women can lead prayers before other women but for this very specific point, in this situation before a congregation of men and women, a man must lead.” – Mokhtar Badri, vice-president of the Muslim Association of Britain.

and on the other,

“We believe Islam is a gender-equal religion” – Dr. Taj Hargey, Chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre Oxford (MECO).

Dr. Hargey also cites an example in which the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) allowed a woman to lead a mixed-gender service.

Perhaps the most interesting point that was made was the reference to Catholicism made by Mokhtar Badri:

“I also don’t think this is a subject confined to Islam. Even in Christianity Catholics still don’t accept female priests”

Frankly, I’ve always had higher hopes for Islam than for Christianity. Although there is always room in religion for patriarchal norms to take over, at least Islam has a better starting point. You’d never find Catholics claiming that theirs was ‘a gender-equal religion’.


Abortion

Moving away from religion a little, and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is raising its head again. As mentioned in a recent meeting, now is the time to try to make a difference.

It’s interesting to note the different approaches to the story given by the Guardian and the Telegraph – not surprising, but interesting nonetheless. I was told recently that the USA doesn’t have newspapers that are so openly affiliated to one political leaning or another, but that they all seek to maintain a conservative status quo – and present this as being unbiased. Of course, this only makes me appreciate British newspapers more – how better to practice freedom of speech than to have a system whereby you can read whatever version of reality suits you best?!

I don’t really want to go into the minutiae of what each paper has said and why. Suffice it to say that where the Guardian categorises its article under Health, Politics and Women, the Telegraph categorises it under Religion.


USA

And lastly, a few days late but still worth noticing, given the topic above, is the American news on abortion, and other women’s rights, with pre-election dramas being played out everywhere you go online, and some pretty angry bloggers. I don’t want to try to regurgitate what’s been said, because there’s a hell of a lot of it, but have links:

From Hoyden About Town: Third Debate Thoughts, and Video of McCain’s air-scarequotes “health of the mother”

From Alternet: McCain Mocks Women’s Health

From Fourth Wave Feminism: Debate Summary

This last post wasn’t made in the context of the recent debate, but instead talks about two form letters that a woman recieved after writing to each of the candidates in turn. Although not strictly on-topic, it’s well worth a read (and indeed, I recommend Fannie’s Room in general for her “political, social and homo writings for which the first amendment may or may not have been intended”).

From Fannie’s Room: Maybe My Definition of Straight Talk is Different