Thinly-veiled Racism or Genuine Objections?

Last year a planning application was lodged with the local council to convert vacant premises in the South London suburb of Worcester Park into a mosque. For those that don’t know this part of the world, Worcester Park needs another reason for more cars in the same way that Custer needed more Indians. (Sorry – the comparison just doesn’t sound the same if you use the term ‘Native Americans’!) For various reasons the main road that runs through the town seems to be at a virtual standstill for most of the day. Road works have been present almost continuously for a number of years and parking is extremely limited. The obvious assumption by most residents therefore was that a mosque would create more traffic in the town. Analysis of those that supported the scheme also revealed that most lived well outside the relevant postcode. So objections to the planning application were made and it failed.

I have to admit I didn’t take a lot of notice of the events last year as I broadly agreed with those objecting. However it did occur to me that a few of them may have racist objections too and they were hiding behind the congestion issue. Worcester Park Cricket Club, in the same road as the proposed mosque, holds junior nets every Thursday evening. Having dropped off and collected my son there last season I can honestly say it creates complete and utter traffic chaos and I have never heard or read a word of objection by local residents to that.

Well, this month the same applicant has submitted similar plans but this time for a ‘Green Mosque’ where those attending would either walk or cycle. So you might assume, that the persons who previously objected solely on the basis of traffic congestion would have no objections now and the application would go through unopposed.

Sadly that isn’t the case. Judging by the comments on the Worcester Park blog (http://www.worcesterparkblog.org.uk/) and by those who follow it on Facebook, a mild form of hysteria has broken out. One correspondent immediately wrote:

” If mosque gets go a head i promise you 100 % I will leave the area” (sic).

With a reply:

” Thats (sic) exactly what they want so they can move in and overtake. Stay put and object I say.”

Another has commented:

“I’m half way through the application and start having goose bumps…”

Huge assumptions have been made regarding the mosque’s ability or otherwise to restrict attendees to walking or cycling. I have to admit that enforcing such a restriction would be difficult but I don’t see how anyone can write it off quite as easily as many seem to have done.

If contents of the Worcester Park blog are accurate (I accept they might not be) then between applications the owner of the property was served with a planning contravention notice by the local authority as it was already being used by some as a mosque. This in itself does not bode well for his second application but is apparently being ignored by many potential objectors.

The attitude I find most distressing however is the one taken by those who seek to link the application to the appalling incident in Woolwich last week. They have used the brutal murder of a soldier by extremists as a reason for a mosque not to be opened in Worcester Park. One parent has typed:

“…we do not want this on our door step after what happened to that poor guy, this could happen again, do you really want to risk our children getting hurt.”

Does anyone really have any evidence that the same thing will happen in Worcester Park if a mosque opens there? Is there proof that extremists will start worshipping or be recruited there? As Russell Brand wrote in his blog last week when referring to one of the Woolwich suspects:

“In my view that man is severely mentally ill and has found a convenient conduit for his insanity, in this case the Quran. In the case of another mentally ill and desperate man, Mark Chapman, it was A Catcher In The Rye. This was the nominated text for his rationalisation of the murder of John Lennon. I’ve read that book and I’ve read some of the Quran and nothing in either of them has compelled me to do violence.” (http://www.russellbrand.tv/2013/05/woolwich/)

I agree with Russell.

If the examples I’ve already given don’t convince you that there’s a racist undercurrent in the objections to the planning application I cite one further comment – this one from Facebook :

” Support them! Give them bacon sandwiches and pork chops, park outside and continuously blast your car horn to show your approval, pat them on the back as they leave…………..with a club hammer!”

My view, for what it’s worth, is this – if there are genuine reasonable objections to a mosque being opened in Worcester Park, and I suspect there are, then so be it but leave racism and the tragic event in Woolwich out of it.

Enough is enough!

I accept that part of the role of the media is to keep us informed of current events. In a previous post I even went so far as to admit that I’m a ‘news junkie’ and I thrive on catching up on the latest news from here and abroad. However there has to be a limit where the news reporting ceases to be informative and becomes excessive, prurient, sensationalistic and offensive even to the keenest of its followers. In my opinion the television, radio and newspapers have crossed that boundary in the last 48 hours in their reporting of and around the sad and tragic murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

I have no idea what induced some of the witnesses on Wednesday to get out their mobile phones to video the suspects parading around the murder scene brandishing their weapons whilst the victim’s blood still dripped from their hands. I believe the men were asking to be filmed (after all publicity is one of the purposes of a terrorist act) but did those who were there really have to comply with that request?

There is one obvious motive and that’s the money such a video or just a still photograph is worth. One witness has admitted on Twitter that he saw what happened and has been approached by all forms of media for an interview. He has turned them all down despite the biggest offer being £75k. If that’s what he was being offered for an interview imagine what ITV paid for the exclusive video they obtained from which many a still was extracted for publication on the next day’s front pages.

Even if you accept that members of the public did film at the scene, the media don’t have to offer obscene sums of money for them and buy them. If they get hold of them they certainly don’t have to show them on national television or publish stills from them in newspapers. I did not need to see the footage taken at the scene to understand what happened or to appreciate the horror of it all. The next day I found photographs showing the victim’s body lying in the road (albeit blurred out in some) repulsive and equally unnecessary to my comprehension of the facts.

If I found all that offensive imagine how the soldier’s family felt when they found out who it was.

Today, in furtherance of the media’s apparent lust for more coverage, they have moved on to profile the suspects, the poor victim and his family. I suppose some detail of the suspects and a little understanding of what motivated them to commit such a crime is in the public interest. It may help us to recognise early warning signs in others and even lead to the prevention of such an atrocity in the future. What does dragging the victim’s family in front of television cameras achieve though? Most of them where in tears and hardly able to speak. Who on earth convinced them that such a press conference was a good idea? Could it possibly have been the television companies who thought it might make good viewing?

Finally there’s the criticism that has been levelled by the press at the Security Services: It was good to hear the Communities Secretary defend them today. We live in a free society and we should treasure that fact. Identifying those that have turned from members of a radical group to violent extremists is almost impossible without losing many of the freedoms we hold so dear in this country. Recent proposed legislation to increase the amount of communications data that agencies can obtain has met with opposition. In my estimation we would have to give up a lot more than that if we want to prevent incidents like the one on Wednesday.

Homework at Primary School – Good or Bad Idea?

Some months ago I commented on Facebook about how much I’d like to meet the educationalist (I was rather less complimentary in my description of them then) who decided that primary school children should do homework. The status post drew comment from several parents of primary school aged children and I sensed there was a general agreement with me that homework at primary school is, on the whole, a bad thing. Fuelled by the belief therefore that I might not be alone in despising the entire concept, I have decided to express my experiences and views in more detail here to see if I can gather any momentum around the subject.

I went to three schools before taking my 11 plus exam – one infant school and two junior schools. I am sure that I did not get set homework at any of them. A very unrepresentative poll of my work colleagues has failed to find anyone, even amongst the youngest of them, that recalls getting homework before they went to senior school either. I have even challenged some friends who are teachers and they cannot help me with when or how it started. I am forced to deduce therefore that it is a recent development and was introduced by someone who either didn’t have children at the time or whose children were too grown up for it to affect them!

I don’t know if the homework setting at my children’s school is typical but it has four regular parts: a project of some sort; ten words to learn how to spell and write into a sentence; a maths task and the recommendation that the child reads for at least 15 minutes a day. This workload is obviously designed to be spread over 7 days but the children rarely get their homework books back from marking before Wednesday reducing the real time to 5 days. Then, unless they are the type who would prefer to do homework rather than Cubs or Brownies, play in the garden, swim, watch television or play computer games, they don’t remind us of the need to do the work until Sunday (occasionally Saturday) when it dawns on them that it has to be handed in shortly.

It would of course be helpful if we, as conscientious parents, made a point of grabbing the homework sheet on the Monday when it’s usually published and get the child working on it from day one. Sadly with all the other responsibilities that come with parenthood, policing homework every night of the week for under 11s isn’t very high on our list of priorities.

 So invariably it gets done at the weekend. Often with weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth but it is always done.

Then there’s the tasks themselves. This week’s project for my son was to keep a daily diary. The instructions asked that entries “look to the future at the end of your diary entry” and “share feelings”.  Look to the future? If I asked my 9 year-old son what he was hoping would happen the next school day and to share his feelings he’d say: “Lots of snow and the school being closed Daddy. I’ll be disappointed if that doesn’t happen”. In addition to the daily diary, he had maths work to do (fast addition of two digit numbers) and the ten usual sentences. This all on top of the 15 minutes a day we should make sure he is reading for.

This week’s words to learn and put into context were actually words that I felt a young child might use but in the past we’ve had words that even we grown-ups, who have a reasonable vocabulary, have struggled to put into a sentence. The one that we both had the biggest problem contextualising recently is ‘tradeable’. Not only is it a difficult word to put into a sentence whatever your age but it isn’t in my ageing (1990) version of the Concise Oxford Dictionary. For those without such weighty tomes to refer to Microsoft’s 21st century spell-checker doesn’t recognise it either!

 Our children’s primary school isn’t unique in setting difficult tasks. This weekend a colleague’s ten year-old announced that they had been asked to write a poem as part of their homework. Having decided on the subject the parent was beginning to list some related words that rhymed when the child proudly declared that the poem had to be 30 lines or more! Isn’t that a minimum of 15 pairs of words that rhyme on the same subject?

I have absolutely no qualifications in children’s education but I have to wonder about the value of getting those so young to work outside of school hours when so many of them seem to find the standard school day so tiring. Perhaps a project or two during the school holidays to keep their brains active but homework every night? 

Petrol prices

Apparently now we have been ripped off by petrol companies ‘price-fixing’. Really? The only two things I find astonishing about this allegation are firstly that the whole thing didn’t come to prominence a lot earlier and secondly that anyone is surprised about it.

Months ago, during yet another hike in petrol and diesel prices, I saw someone representing the petrol companies being interviewed on television. He was asked: “Why is it that prices at the pump always go up immediately after a rise in the price of a barrel?” He defended the principle saying that profit margins were small and even the slightest rise in the price of crude oil just had to be reflected on the forecourt as soon as it happened. However when he was asked why the same thing didn’t happen when the price dropped he responded; “It isn’t a linear connection between the two you know. Just because the price drops at source we are still selling the fuel we bought at the higher price. This, by necessity, means the prices stay higher until we start to sell the cheaper stock.” Sadly the interviewer failed to pick him up on his blatant contradictory answers.

The other overwhelming factor in the whole sad affair, assuming it’s true, is that this isn’t the first time that ‘Joe Public’ has been had over financially by large organisations. In the recent past our hard earned cash has had its buying power curtailed by a least two other big industries – namely the banks and the energy companies.

So what have petrol, banking and energy all got in common? That’s simple – we need all three of them to live. Even if you don’t have a car, your life is dependent on deliveries of goods to your local shops, buses and coaches. In the 21st century you cannot really survive without a bank account as so many financial transactions and transfers are done electronically. Every home, whether owned or rented, needs a method of cooking, heating and light.

There can hardly be a more powerful position to be in therefore than to be the CEO of a company who sells something or provides a service that everybody has to have. You can raise your prices knowing that some of your customers might defect to a rival but generally there will be just as many of your rival’s disgruntled customers preparing to come to you. All you have to worry about is increasing company profits so that shareholders get a big enough dividend for them to ignore your and your fellow directors Brobdingnagian pay rises and bonuses.

Given the above, why would anyone on the board of a petrol company, bank or energy supplier worry about ‘Joe Public’ and metaphorically how much they have left in their pockets at the end of the week? They are all, in my opinion, the modern equivalent of Marie Antionette when she said: “Let them eat cake”. They have no idea what their customers think of them and their company and just don’t care!