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Not voting?

Friday, April 29, 2005
not apathetic
Some interesting (and often depressing) debate going on at www.notapathetic.com.

This is a site where you can record your reasons, either ideological or practical, why you're not going to vote on May 5.

Immigration and asylum policy is clearly one of the issues (if not the key issue) over which people are feeling alienated, enraged or confused, which just illustrates how badly we need a more reasoned and fact-driven debate.

Politicians, mind your language

Thursday, April 28, 2005
Michael Howard's still claiming that it's not 'racist' to talk about asylum and immigration. But doesn't that depend on the language you use?

Last week, The Guardian had a good article on the demonising effects of words such as 'abuse' which are now inextricably linked to the issue of asylum in this election.

It interviewed Moris Farhi, vice president of International PEN and a campaigner for freedom of expression in his native country of Turkey, who says: 'This word 'abuse' has become almost a mantra. It's a dehumanisation process of the unwanted. The weakest are always demonised and it becomes, perhaps unconsciously, a racist policy.'

The article also points out the psychological links being made between asylum and the language of war and terrorism. Terms such as 'strengthening borders', 'chaos', 'national security' all build a particular picture, as if, as Farhi says, we are 'about to be invaded by a formidable fifth column.'

But, hey, at least I'm free to write what I think about all this, unlike bloggers in Bahrain.

The human cost of asylum

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

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originally uploaded by lotsofbigideas.
So the Cost-to-the- Tax-Payer-of-Asylum-Seekers story runs on and on...

Whatever the costs might or might not be, and whoever is responsible for meeting them, what noone has mentioned yet is that so many of the asylum-seekers I've known spend months or, more frequently, years sitting in miserable hostel rooms, waiting in angst and fear for their claims to be processed.

All that time, they're desperate to work. They're humiliated by the indignity of having nothing useful to do, the accusations of being 'spongers.' Many of them are highly skilled and experienced people who could be contributing enormously to the new society they find themselves in. Most are prepared to do any kind of work just to regain some independence, some semblance of control over their lives.

I've been thinking about one young Bosnian man I met about two years ago. He was putting up a heroic struggle against depression and loneliness by volunteering in his local A&E department in inner-city London. I realised that he'd been a talented surgeon before he was forced to flee his home and community. The London hospital was so short-staffed that it was happy to let him 'help out'. He told me that, as people got to know his background, he was often asked unofficially for a medical opinion. But, of course, the rules meant that he wasn't allowed to earn any kind of wage.

I don't know what happened to this particular man. He got 'dispersed' somewhere else and I never saw him again. I just remember his despair and frustration and what he wrote in his notebook and showed to me at the end of one particularly long day of waiting: 'I'd do anything to remember what it feels like to be a human being again.'

There are many, many people like this man, people who really don't want to take tax-payers' money. They just want a chance to get on with their lives in a safe place. So how can keeping them on benefits, whilst someone loses their paperwork or takes months to make a decision, make any kind of financial sense?

The War Works Hard

Saturday, April 23, 2005
Dunya Mikhail
Dunya Mikhail,
originally uploaded by lotsofbigideas.
Not sure what the blurb writer means by 'telegraphic lexical austerity', but I think this is an amazing poem by Dunya Mikhail, another big voice to come out of Baghdad.

Not even the teeniest bit round the bend...

Friday, April 22, 2005

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originally uploaded by lotsofbigideas.
Big thanks to Scott Fannen who sent me this link to an interview with Iraq-based blogger, Riverbend.

Author of Baghdad Burning, which is now also a book, Riverbend says that she started blogging out of sheer frustration with the Western media; but also because 'blogging proved to be therapeutic. It was a way to vent fears and anger that I couldn't really express in front of family and friends.'

She didn't have a particular audience in mind. She just wanted 'to express my emotions and thoughts'.

I guess that's partly why any of us writes and why blogs lend themselves so well to different kinds of expressive writing.

And they can be as public or as private as we want them to be.

Ideas, little and big

Thursday, April 21, 2005

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originally uploaded by lotsofbigideas.
Yesterday I went to London, drank too much coffee and talked to Hoder about blogging. And Hoder is a good guy to talk to about blogging. (He now has over 9,000 readers of his Persian blog).

I, on the other hand, don't have many readers, but I do have all kinds of big ideas to bore people with about how blogging could be used to give people a real voice... especially in this election campaign.

After a lot of Maison Bertaux's best black stuff, I think we decided that it boils down to this. Get something started in whatever way you can...

Plant small things. Get people to help you water them. Watch them grow... I'm germinating...

Whose 'Britishness' exactly?

Friday, April 15, 2005
How can anyone respond to Howard's speech on so-called Britishness? Anyone who disagrees with him by pointing at the statistics, anyone who accuses him of fighting a single-issue campaign, just plays into his hands.

Because this is precisely his argument: that people who talk about Britishness and immigration are immediately 'attacked' as racist and scare mongering...

So, here we go again. We've got to listen to it all. The numbers games, the old vocabulary. We're being 'swamped,' our values 'trashed,' and, of course, everyone wants to come here. When are we ever going to have a proper, calmer debate based on hard facts? Not in the middle of an election campaign, that's for sure...

Writing as healing from war

Thursday, April 14, 2005
Voices in Wartime aims to create an active online community 'inspired by the belief that people can and do heal from the suffering of war.' Since 2004, they've been working to create 'a forum where people with widely divergent views can publish their artwork, meet, and exchange ideas in an atmosphere where it is safe to tell the truth.'

I found some of the poems and stories posted on this site very moving but they also gave me some new insights. Some of the contributors are people who have been exiled as a result of war, but also, interestingly, many of them are US soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In fact, The National Association of Poetry Therapy in the US, has set up an expressive writing programme to help returning veterans and their familes to cope with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Easy to forget sometimes that there are many kinds of victims of the 'war on terror'. Voices in Wartime invites anyone to submit a poem, story, essay or image to their site.

Is poetry a world of gangs and bullies?

Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Neil Astley of Bloodaxe was once described as 'less an editor than a lightening rod or a wind sock' (is that a criticism, then?).

In his 2005 StAnza lecture last month he claimed that the 'poetry police' are out of touch with grassroots readership and are 'censoring' new poetry - particularly from ethnic minorities and women.

The Guardian has rounded up responses from eleven leading poets including Moniza Alvi, who questions the lack of critical response to Choman Hardi's 'accomplished and important' first collection.

What do you think?

You write the news

Tuesday, April 12, 2005
South Korea's participatory news site, OhmyNews, invites everyone to become part of a 'history- making experiment' by becoming a 'citizen reporter'.

Register online to post your stories which will then be fact-checked and edited for style. You'll also be able to track readers' responses to your articles.

It's a great idea but I had a quick look at the online registration form which requires you to upload an ID document - passport, driver's licence or similar. This might create a few problems for some. I've contacted OhmyNews to find out more about their policy...

Illegal immigrants are bolstering US Social Security with billions

Saturday, April 09, 2005
Fake ID cards and work permits protect US employers and accumulate a massive stash of 'suspended' unclaimed earnings for the government. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act did nothing to deter illegal workers, who continue to be exploited whilst being pretty good for the economy. Would we see something similar happening here if the UK introduced the proposed ID cards?

Get it right

Friday, April 08, 2005
Factcheck is a great idea from Channel 4: a site which will monitor the factual accuracy of what politicians are saying in the run-up to the Election. There's a special focus on Immigration & Asylum where the factcheckers have already pulled apart Howards' recent comments about 'five Birminghams'. Useful stuff.

The Pope's Funeral

Thursday, April 07, 2005
Does anyone else find it more than a little strange that world leaders are falling over themselves to attend the Pope's funeral, thus aligning themselves with one of the most controversial and, arguably, tyrannical institutions of the century? In recent years the Pope has, among other things, advocated unsafe sex (whilst at least half of Africa is dying of Aids-related illnesses), and denounced homsexuality as evil. It strikes me that the massive public gatherings in Rome that we're now watching on our TV screens might be represented and condemned as 'fundamentalism' or 'religious fanatacism' if they were taking place in, say, the Middle East... At the very least, they would probably be regarded with great suspicion. Isn't this all deeply hypocritical?

Closing the Door? Immigrants to Britain 1905-2005

Tuesday, April 05, 2005
This looks interesting...

Don't believe everything you're going to hear...

So, as election fever begins, I thought I'd get in early with this new report from the UNHCR which shows a 66% fall in the numbers of asylum seekers in the UK over the last two years. According to the director of UNHCR's Europe Bureau: 'In most industrialised countries, it should simply not be possible to claim there is a huge asylum crisis anymore...'

Books, anyone?

Monday, April 04, 2005
Thanks, Dean, for the book recommendation. Does anyone else have suggestions for books about writers in exile, censorship and so on...? It's got me thinking that it might be useful to compile a list...