If you live in London and have to commute every morning, you may find yourself coming across something more than the usual dour faces and endless queues on the underground. For in recent weeks, a new graffiti artist has taken to the walls of London to leave their powerful messages and they’re simply incredible. First spotted a few months ago, when commuters started posting them online, they have now appeared in all sorts of places, even on the tiles of the Underground, on pipes and on door frames. So if you come across any more, please let us know! Or if you have your own artwork you want to show off, send that in too!!
Last week’s revelations that Lawrence Jones MBE, (Manchester’s answer to Bill Gates), had been accused of sexual assault by two women during a painstaking investigation by the Financial Times came as no shock to many who know the serial tech entrepreneur and those who work in the tech sector in and around Manchester. The likes of Jones, and other powerful, rich and connected men like Sir Philip Green and Harvey Weinstein all hid in plain sight, with their insidious predatory behaviour an open secret to everyone around them. Did anyone think of blowing the whistle? Probably, but then they would have to face the wrath of these men, enabled and supported by our legal system that allowed them to systematically use non disclosure agreements (NDAs) to cover up allegations of abuse, sexual harassment and bullying.
Two years also, I wrote about Jones after my alma mater, the University of Bradford, returned an award after attending a ceremony that featured misogynist jokes and barely clad go-go dancers. Many of the local people I spoke with back then told me that there were more serious allegations about his conduct with women, and that his ‘sexist’ ceremonies were just the tip of the iceberg. In January 2018, a young woman contacted me after she was threatened by Jones’ legal team for posting comments about his unsuitability as a speaker for an event at a local high school on Facebook. She was alarmed that he had been invited to speak at a ceremony at Manchester Girls High School, a school with close links to the Pankhurst family. The story was later picked up by the Mailonline after it appeared on my blog.
Since the FT article, a former employee of Jones has also alleged she was raped by him while working at one of his businesses. She further alleges she was paid to keep quiet, and although police reports were filed, no substantial action seems to have been taken against Jones. On Friday 1stNovember 2019, Greater Manchester Police confirmed they had indeed invited Jones to attend a voluntary interview in January and March 2019 as part of an ongoing police enquiry. Why was this information not made public sooner? Surely the public and those who work with him should have been made aware so as to safeguard themselves better when in his presence?
And why did it take nearly two years for the more serious allegations of sexual assault and rape to come out?
Well, as can be evidenced just by taking a few minutes of Googling, Mr Jones does not like any criticisms of himself. There is hardly anything negative about him online, with articles and social media posts that have tried to expose him before mysteriously disappearing. I have recently learnt that Jones has a team of in-house lawyers on permanent retainer whose main job it seems to be is to send bullying cease and desist letters to anyone that has dared to speak the truth about him. Those of us who have taken on misogynists with deep pockets in the past know how difficult it is to fight back when you are being snowed under with legal bullying and threats to make you homeless. It is easier to pull your head under the parapet and try to get on with your life. Victims who dare to do so knowing the impact of the legal reprisals are to be commended and protected, especially if they suffer from mental illness brought on by having to deal with such traumatic reprecussions.
Lawyers who behave as the personal thugs of such men need to be named and shamed too, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority needs to take a stronger stance in order to protect citizens from such nefarious individuals.
Back when Weinstein was exposed, we all said ‘no more’, that these types of men ‘had nowhere to hide’. And yet, year on year, we seem to allow such powerful men to get away with their awful conducts until such a time when publications can convince their legal teams to allow them to publish the truth. This is why we need to change the NDA laws that benefits these men- until then all victims of sexual harassment and abuse will never be free of their legally binding shackles. The petition Afsana Lachaux and I set up last year demanding this stands at nearly 150,000 signatures. We cannot stop campaigning on this which is why I am calling on whoever is in power after 12thDecember 2019 to make it against the law to use NDAs to silence victims of sexual harassment, assault and abuse. Until that happens, unscrupulous employers such as Jones and his like will continue to exploit our legal system’s inability to hold them to account fully.
Lawrence Jones has been hiding in plain sight for years. How many others?
It would seem that those lovely folk at the University of Bradford, my alma mater, provide not only a world class educational service, they also strive hard to fight misogyny and deep rooted sexism.
The story unfolded last week when the University won an award for one of the categories in the Digital Entrepreneur Awards, described as the UK’s longest standing national technology awards by the Guardian. However, when representatives attended to receive the award on behalf of the University, they were shocked to see scantily clad women dancing in skimpy corsets and a slew of sexist jokes directed at the guests by the evening’s compere. This was clearly not something that the University’s external affairs director, Mark Garratt, had expected nor wanted to see. “We thought afterwards and we couldn’t possibly keep the award. The whole ceremony didn’t sit comfortably with what, as a university, we are trying to…
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Last week I attended a private dinner as the guest of a long-standing friend. The venue was grand, the location stunning. I had already met many of the other guests due to my work in the local community and was looking forward to spending a few hours in the company of educators and change makers from all backgrounds.
I found myself sat a table with a number of people from the higher education sector as well as a director of a national museum and their partner. It should have been like all the other dinner parties I have attended, but sadly, it turned into something entirely different. I was sat at the same table with Dr Peet Morris, who, with his wife Dr Harriet Dunbar-Morris at his side, would spend the latter part of the dinner subjecting me to racist comments, refusing to listen and then shouting at me and the other guests who tried to intervene in his bullying of me. I now know that Dr Morris is a researcher and lecturer at the University of Oxford and his wife a Dean of Learning and Teaching and a Reader in Higher Education at the University of Portsmouth, two senior positions involving direct contact with young adults at two separate higher education institutes. It is for this reason I have decided to come forward and share my experience of that evening.
It started when I introduced myself as an activist and campaigner, and referred to my recent change.org petition, which called for Boris Johnson to apologise for his burka comments. Dr Morris responded with ‘Johnson had said nothing wrong’, ‘Muslim women should not be allowed to wear the niqab or burka’ and that the UK should follow in the steps of some European countries and ‘ban the burka’.
When I pointed out that we, as a nation, had always been inclusive and tolerant of other religions and cultures, I was told to ‘go home’ if I wanted keep hold of ‘barbaric practices that subjugated women’ and if didn’t want to assimilate. Even after I pointed out I do not support the burka but respect everyone woman’s right to dress as she wishes, and that my own mother wore a burka despite my father’s wishes against it, Dr Morris refused to listen and kept repeating his offensive language. In short, I felt singled out and victimised but could not express my anger or hurt.
Initially, his response was bafflement (‘but everyone I know think like me so how can I be wrong’) then indignation (‘How dare anyone, especially this woman of colour dare to question me’) The more I and other guests on the table pushed back against his racist tropes, the angrier and loud he became. I remember him shouting ‘British values’ at me as though I was slow of learning when I said the UK was a tolerant society and women should be allowed to dress as they please. At this point time, Dr Dunbar-Morris, interjected in the conversation. However, it was only to tell him to quieten down (“you’re being too loud, darling”) It seemed to me she was entirely in agreement with his views. Or at least, she didn’t feel any need to stop him or disagree despite the fact that he was making both myself and the female guest (in her sixties) next to me feel deeply uncomfortable. She would do this at least two more times (at one point, when he began shouting ‘Londonistan’ at me, even guest on the other tables could hear him) The final straw for her seemed to be when I said to Dr Morris ‘you have spent the evening imposing your views on us’. This seemed to finally draw Dr Dunbar-Morris’ anger. She refused to let me finish my point and instead told me to ‘stop’ and further accused me of ‘being rude’ to her husband. Well, if you happen to read this article, Harriet and Peet, here is the point you refused to let me make that evening;
‘You have spent the entire evening trying to impose your views on this table yet you complain that Islam is a barbaric religion that controls women and tells all of us how to think. You are no better than the extremists you (falsely) claim are trying to take over the UK’.
Some of you have asked me why didn’t I kick up a fuss then and there and tell him he was a racist bigot? What can I say? I couldn’t very well lean across and pour a jug of water over him (it isn’t my style to waste precious resources, anyway). What I did instead was to try and offer counter arguments and eventually tell him outright that he was wrong to suggest Islam was taking over and ‘soon we will have gays hanging from lampposts.’ But I was wrong to do so.
Those who have been subjected to this type of insidious and casual racism know how difficult it is to pinpoint and nail down. The perpetrators are usually very skilled at using the type of language that allows them to wriggle out of being held accountable for their views (‘but I don’t like seeing women being repressed’) and if and when victims try to raise it, it is usually passed off as ‘banter’ or friendly jokes.
Racism in private settings is still racism
Some people on twitter have claimed it happened at a private dinner hence I should not make a complaint to both universities. The ability for racism to cause offense and humiliation doesn’t depend on the setting in which the incident took place. Yes, in-your-face-racism is easier to distinguish and therefore more straight forward to call out. There is very little ambiguity when someone calls you a dirty p*ki compared to “of course you can use the library, as long as you have a bomb in your bag” (this was from a fellow teacher at my first ever teaching placement)
I have given up on the number of times I wanted to speak out but felt I couldn’t. sometimes, you have to pick and choose your battles, because otherwise you can spend your entire life fighting against a society that prices itself for being based upon the principles of tolerance and inclusivity.
So many people of colour, and especially women and men who are visibly Muslim, are being subjected to racist micro- aggressions daily that we as an ethnic community have become used to it. From the ‘I smell curry’ comments whenever a Pakistani friend of mine walked into her boss’s office at the VW garage in Bradford (she felt it was easier to leave than bring disciplinary action that could lead to her being blacklisted in the industry) to the ‘why do you like raping white underage girls’ to the father of my son, it would seem British society has become less and less tolerant, a trend that was already in ascendancy well before Brexit, and in my opinion, a significant contributory factor to the outcome of the referendum in 2016.
What do I hope to achieve from coming forward?
As an educator myself, I know how easy it is to influence young, impressionable minds. I want answers from both University of Portsmouth and University of Oxford as to how they could have employed these individuals with such bigoted views, whether complaints from students and others have been lodged against them in the past and the nature of these complaints. It is only by taking a strong stance wherever we come across such racism will we be able to eradicate it. And I am by no means the only one who has ever faced racism or prejudice.
A quick glance at twitter shows the extent to which WoC have been forced to become ultra- aware of their surroundings when in public in case they attract the ire or attention of a racist. “Is it just me or are any other hijabis scared to stand close to the tracks in case a racist pushes them in?’ And in other race-related news, Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One team was forced to admit that they sacked four men and disciplined three for their racial bullying of a Muslim colleague. (The seven being the only ones who were stupid enough to sign their names on a chart trying to guess when he would break his fast- how many others shared similar views but were careful not to prove their racist credentials?)
However, in the past week or so since I initially shared my experiences, I have been inundated with supportive comments and messages, along with students and women sharing their own experiences of racism on campus and horror dinner parties. This in itself has been uplifting and reaffirming. If we can start calling out racism as and when we see it, as those people on the table did, and not just rely on the only brown person to do so, (yes, BBC, I am looking at you and the shameful way you have treated Naga Munchetty when she called out Donald Trump’s racism) then hopefully we can move together and finally help the past years of divisions heal.
And that, for me at least, would be worth going through that dinner party from hell.
Why I am calling on Boris Johnson to apologise for his anti burka comments.
Last year, Boris Johnson wrote a column for the Telegraph newspaper, discussing the recent banning of the niqab in Denmark. Boris was against the ban, citing that he did not believe it would work because a ban could run the risk of ‘simply stiffening resistance’ of Muslims who wanted to keep wearing it.
Unfortunately, he also referred to women who wore the garment as ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letterboxes’- hardly a ringing endorsement of a cultural practice that some Muslims view as a religious requirement. In the investigation that followed by the Conservative Party, Johnson was cleared of any wrongdoing, despite the fact that many Muslim women were and are still offended to this day. That is why I have started a new petition demanding Boris apologise for his comments- you can sign it here.
Before I go any further, let me reiterate my position on the niqab. I do not believe it to be a religious requirement but I know of many Muslim women who choose to wear it as an expression of their individual faith and commitment to our religion. Indeed, my own mother wore one for nearly all her adult life I am against the niqab or indeed the hijab being forced on anyone; it should always remain an individual and informed choice. However, I believe that everyone should be allowed to wear whatever they want and practice their faith in whatever way they want to and I therefore will defend the rights of anyone and everyone to do so.
To date, Johnson has not apologised for his comments. When Tan Dhesi MP stood up in the House of Commons earlier this month and demanded an apology from Johnson in light of Islamophobic incidents increasing by 375% following his derogatory comments, he spoke for all of us. Johnson responded with “If he (Tan Dhesi) took the trouble to read the article in question he would see that it was a strong liberal defence of everybody’s right to wear whatever they want in this country and I speak as somebody who is not only proud to have Muslim ancestors but to be related to Sikhs such as himself.”
In what way could Johnson’s article be ever construed as a strong liberal defence of everyone’s rights to wear whatever they want in this country when he also states that he “should feel fully entitled to ask her to remove it so that I could talk to her properly.” Given Johnson’s justification for demanding female Muslim constituents remove their face veil (a direct violationof the Human Rights Act 1988) are we to assume that he conducts all of his communication in a face to face setting? No, of course not. These types of outrageous demands are only placed on Muslim women, along with completely untrue and unrealistic representations of same Muslim women in mainstream media.
The only way forward now is for Johnson to apologise for his careless, offensive and degrading comments-he also called the wearing of the burka “weird” and further describes it as “odd bits of headgear”- and accept he got it wrong. After all, the sign of a truly great leader is also humility and accepting when one has made a mistake. Johnson should try it; maybe the very same ethnic minority communities that he is descended from might even respect him for it.
In the past few months we have seen Princess Haya, the 6th wife to the current ruler of Dubai, Sheikh bin Rashid al Maktoum, escape from her marital home and marriage and seek refuge in London. Divorce proceedings were subsequently launched at the High Court Family Division, with the Princess seeking full custody of their children because of fears they could be coerced into forced marriages and endure other human rights abuses if they are returned to their father and the UAE.
Those of us who have been following Dubai’s track record over the treatment women, especially those of Royal birth, will know that Princess Haya is not the first Dubai princess to leave the oil rich city-state. Both Princess Shamsa and Princess Latifa, daughters of Sheikh Maktoum from a previous marriage, tried and failed to leave the UAE. They have since all but disappeared from public life, with Princess Shamsa being seen sporadically at family gatherings in recent years. Princess Latifa was last seen in December 2018, after images showing her with Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Irish president, were shared with Sky News.
In the fallout that followed the release of the images and a car crash radio interview with the BBC’s Mishal Hussain, Robinson reiterated that she was asked to meet with Latifa by Princess Haya to reassure the world that she was save and in the “the loving care of her family”. So in other words, Robinson was asked to manipulate the world into believing that Princess Latifa was a ‘troubled’ woman and that Sheikh Maktoum was a nice guy after all, by her friend Princess Haya.
Don’t get me wrong, I am very pleased that Princess Haya managed to escape and is now ‘safe’ in the UK (or at least, a lot safer that she was while she lived a gilded life in Dubai) But what is still worrying is that, despite happily answering questions about Princess Haya, Robinson has failed to mention Princess Latifa or demand answers about her whereabouts and safety from Sheikh Maktoum. As a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Robinson track record in fighting human rights abuses speaks for itself, which is perhaps why she was asked to meet and pose with Princess Latifa in the first place. Now that world has been shown (yet again) the true, brutish face of Sheikh Maktoum and how he treats his womenfolk as his personal possessions, why is Robinson still refusing to condemn him? After all, in a recent interview, Robinson took great pains to distance herself from the ruling family by claiming her friendship is with Princess Haya only. She also claimed she would not be commenting on her meeting with Princess Latifa despite calls from #FreeLatifa campaigner David Haigh as she is “respecting Princess Haya’s privacy in what is a private matter.” Since when did the disappearance of a grown woman (and royal princess) who has repeatedly tried to escape and released videos of her plight through her best friend Tiina Jauhiainen, count as a ‘private family matter?’
This ‘selective amnesia’ and ‘selective care for breach of human rights’ has damaged Robinson’s credibility more than it has helped either Princess Haya or Princess Latifa. Now may well be the best time for Robinson to finally come forward and tell us the truth about what happened during that obviously staged meeting with Princess Latifa in December. This is the very least Princess Latifa, Princess Shamsa and those of us who have been campaigning for their safe release, deserve.
By Tasnim Jara
I walked into my wedding reception wearing grandmother’s white cotton saree with zero makeup and no jewellery. Many asked me why. So here is my reason.
I was troubled by the singular image of a bride that our society has – with tons of makeup, a weighty dress and mounds of jewellery weighing her down. Don’t be fooled, this lavish image of a bride does not represent the financial well-being or agency of a woman in the family. This sometimes rather happens against their will. As if the society has decided that if we really have to spend money on women, we spend it against their will and for a cause that won’t do them any good.
I have hardly attended any wedding where I didn’t overhear people gossiping: “Is the bride pretty enough?” “How much gold does she have on?” “How much did her dress cost?” Growing up listening to these questions, a bride feels pressured to look for the best makeup artist in town, pays a hefty amount in time, money and energy, and ends up looking nothing like herself; because the society constantly reminds her that her actual skin colour isn’t good enough for her own wedding.
She has learnt from her aunties, peers, and the corporates that a bride is “incomplete” without ornaments; that her and her families’ status depends on how much gold she puts on on the day. She can hardly afford to question if the amount of jewellery she puts on can indeed determine her and her families’ dignity. Because the society keeps pushing with, “You’re a girl. Why wouldn’t you wear gold on your wedding?”
Again, to look like a bride, she needs to wear a crazy expensive dress, which ironically makes walking difficult for her (due to its weight) and never comes of any use after the wedding. But the society won’t accept it any other way.
Don’t get me wrong, if a girl wants to use make-up, jewellery and expensive clothes for herself, I am all in for that. But it is a problem when she loses her agency in deciding what she would like to wear on her wedding day. When the society forces her to doll up and look like a different person, it gives a message that the authentic look of a girl isn’t good enough for her own wedding.
Personally, I feel that we need to change this mindset. A girl should not need a whitening lotion, a gold necklace or an expensive saree to be accepted as a bride or to make her feel confident. So I arrived at my wedding venue wearing my dadu’s saree, with zero makeup and no jewellery. People may call it simple, but it was very special to me, for what I believe in and what it means to me.
I faced a lot of resistance from many quarters after making this decision. Certain members of my family even said that they won’t take any photo with me because I didn’t dress like (they imagine) a bride. Shoutout to the few family members who have supported me in this, and special shoutout to this person beside me, Khaled, who has not only supported me unconditionally but also beamed at me with so much pride, for taking a stance against the stereotypes.