Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
I was recently asked, “Who were the winners and losers in Occupy?” That question came from a young man in the UK, who takes his information from the Guardian website. Thus his limited-frame of information distorts his perceptions. That’s not a partisan statement or being pompous, but a mere fact. This blog is an attempt to respond to that valid question.
The causes and machinations of Occupy got scant regard in the overseas media. It's portrayed as a simple confrontation between freedom-loving types and China. In reality, most people are coming to the subject with a half understanding a best. Occupy was a complex beast and rendering all its dynamics takes time.
I had an encounter with a British reporter that summed up the attitude. "If you guys don't do something soon, I'm heading back to London." They wanted another Tian A Men. They wanted heavy-handed police action to fulfil their repression narrative. In his boredom, the Sky News's reporter ran around rehashing stories about the red light district. With no massacre to report on, then at least let's have faux disgust at hookers and their punters.
Getting back to the subject. At first, I was thinking “that’s a naive question.” To some extent, the ball is still in play with the full impact of Occupy impossible to discern. Court cases are ongoing, appeals underway and policy responses evolving. In that sense, any judgment is a snap-shot. Also, I’m tempted to assert nobody won, and most players lost (something). But again, it’s a position that doesn’t address the nuances of the fall-out, as the ripples spread forth. Anyway, let's give this a try because the question deserves an answer.
If the Occupy leaders are honest, they'd admit gaining nothing beyond brief world-wide publicity. Their aim to force Beijing into granting concessions is further away. In that sense Occupy back-fired. Alas, Benny Tai and his cohort, appear incapable of stepping back to take a rational view. In any case, Tai abandoned the field of play in the first half to rush back to his office at Hong Kong University. Hardly the actions of a robust leader. A full timeline of events is here.
With brave Benny running away, a motley crew of students and activists stepped forward. Any cohesion in this cluster of groups soon fell apart. The usual group tensions surfaced, as each jockeyed for control.
For the occupiers, they had their moment. Then overstaying a welcome, public support drained away. As predicted, violence crept in, and the whole show collapsed as the momentum ran out after 75 days. By that time, only a few remained on the streets.
Several of the activists are now either in jail, facing a sentence or awaiting trials and appeals. Distracted by prolonged legal cases, some are running out of money. Others have surrendered to disengage from political activity. The reality of making a living is now the focus of their energies.
Campuses are much quieter these days. Student bodies are disentangling from politics as the tide of activities recedes. Student Unions have distanced themselves from the traditional protests groups. For example, they no longer support the June 4th movement. This change of focus is a complicated dynamic. At the core, the students have no affinity for the old guard, plus local identity politics is a factor. On that, the old guard and the new boys differ.
Thus, the base of support is weakening. Meanwhile, the government is stepping with care, so as not to inflame sentiments.
Times have also changed. Trump is transforming the landscape of international relations. It’s unlikely he will tackle China on Hong Kong issues unless it touches on trade. In the past, local pro-democrats relied on US support to get their message to the broader world. They held the USA up as a beacon of freedom. Surprisingly, that show has left town. With Trump busy rolling back on human rights, the US has forfeited the moral high-ground.
The police force came through Occupy institutionally bruised and role-confused. It pains me to this day to reflect on how events unfolded. Under common law, the police have a ‘duty’ to preserve the peace. It’s not an option or a choice that they may act on. It’s a duty. That’s something my tutors drilled into me. As a young inspector, I'm told to get control of a situation, restore order and then investigate. Many felt that ‘duty’ fell away.
To some extent, the police were prisoners of their own success. Their measured and proportionate public-order tactics evolved over the decades. These are well-taught and executed with restraint. In the context of disorder through the 1960s to 1990s, these tactics worked. Also, they enjoyed general public support. Plus, few objected when Vietnamese refugees or protesting Korean farmers were on the receiving end. That's another story.
There is no doubt the police could have cleared the occupiers. But that’s not the point. In 2014, the public wasn’t willing to see its police officers firing tear smoke on young protesters.
The evidence of the threat to public order was not in the public eye, and thereby many people perceived the police as over-reacting. Thus the firing of tear smoke in Central produced an immediate adverse reaction. The police action stopped. Rumours abound about who and why the police sweep halted. The truth remains elusive.
In the end, the Occupy movement drifted away. A series of civil legal-actions hastened its departure. It’s arguable that the outcome was satisfactory as the occupiers departed. A hard-core resisted, as a few staged stunts to gain the last sliver of publicity. Included in that where old-time pro-democrats. They'd stayed away for much of the time, but couldn't resist a bit of media coverage. In early December, the police were able to resume control by opening roads, with token resistance at most. By the 15th December, it was over.
CY Leung had a win of sorts. Occupy went away. No one died, plus the mayhem and violence were contained. Yet, it’s a pyrrhic victory. He’s now out of office. Besides, his family paid the price. The media spotlight fell on the antics of one daughter. Her clueless social media comments opened her to abuse. The pro-democracy media was willing to forego ethical standards to attack CY, including hounding his kids.
To many, the government looked weak. While front-line police officers bore the brunt of the protests, the rest of the administration sat back.
There is no purpose or merit in declaring a winner. Occupy remains part of an evolving situation. That includes Beijing's response. In that sense, Benny Tai misjudged the likely outcome. The rule of 'unintended consequences' is something Tai would do well to study.
Tai deserves the most significant criticism. His naive and child-like plan for the Occupation was destined to fail. As an academic, he'd failed to study similar protests, and he ignored the history. His fancy words and clever plots can't hide the fact the man is delusional. It's irresponsible that he led the students to the streets, then abandoned them to suffer the consequences. That he remains on the staff at Hong Kong University is a disgrace.
So, in the end, the disobliging result of Occupy is a divided society. It also birthed radical minority groups, such as the farcical independence movement.
Meanwhile, I reckon these days indifference hangs over a majority of the population. They’d rather forget Occupy. Who can blame them?
Sorry, no apology for preaching today as I get all eco-warrior. I’m afraid we can’t go on like this. Justin Hofman took the above picture. It went viral. As he stated, “a photo I wish didn’t exist.” But it does exist, as a graphic example of the terrible spread of human activity into the oceans. Shot in the once pristine waters off Sumbawa Island, Indonesia; those waters are now debris ladened.
How did we get here? Well, consider this; each year we dump nine million tons of plastic into the oceans. Drink bottles, food boxes, plastic toys and about everything else ends up in the sea. And 40% of it is single-use plastics. Of that single-use stuff, most have a 15-minute working life before its gone. It then hangs around for 100’s of years. More on that later.
Half of all the plastics we’ve made came about in the last 15 years. We first produced the stuff over a century and a half ago. It’s a brilliant material. Versatile, long-lasting, with near universal applications. Plastic has a role in every aspect of human existence from health-care to space flight. Without plastic, we'd compromise our very existence. So let us be clear; plastic is not the problem, it's human behaviour that’s the issue. It’s what we do with plastic once it's finished a useful role.
In 1950 we made 2.3 million tons of plastic. By 2015 that figure rose to 448 million tons. Over 161 million tons of that is packaging material for one-time use.
In 2016, 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold worldwide. That's 65 bottles per person. If placed end to end, this would reach halfway to the sun.
The success of plastic is also its downside. It’s resilient stuff. Some plastics never degrade. Instead, it breaks up into tiny particles that enter the ecosystem. A typical plastic water bottle will last 70 years. If you’ve bought a bottle this week, it will around in some form long after you’ve gone.
Most of the plastic reaches the sea on a journey from streams and rivers, then out through estuaries. The Pearl River estuary, next to Hong Kong, is one of the worst. Each year an estimated 30 thousand tons of plastic floats down from the hinterland. The direct impact is habitat disruption for many creatures. Then you have birds eating the plastic, which clogs their digestive systems. Likewise, fish suffer a similar fate.
It's seen that hermit crabs altered their behaviour to adopt discarded bottle tops as homes. You could argue its a recycling of sorts. Except seeing a crab carrying a ‘Coke’ top on its back is hardly the world we want to leave our kids.
Only a small proportion of the plastic is visible on the surface of the oceans. A fair amount gradually sinks, as the rest remains semi-submerged. The infamous garbage patch of the Pacific is a multilayered beast of churning debris. Less well-known are its Atlantic cousins.
As plastics break-up under the action of waves and sunlight, a new menace arises. Plankton consumes the fine particles. In turn, the plankton carries the plastic through the food chain to us. That plastic we dumped is coming back in our food. And here’s the thing, we don’t know how that impacts our health. Although, studies have shown liver and kidney damage in other animals. This suggests we may suffer the same.
So what’s the answer? What's needed is a broad approach to prevention, habit changes and stringent enforcement. Recycling is at best a partial solution. In the USA only 10% of plastics enter recycling. Globally the figure is 18%. Norway is showing the way with a 97% recycling rate on plastic bottles. That's achieved by incentives for the return of the plastic containers rather than disposal.
Some plastics are easier to recycle than others. PET (polyethylene terephthalate), used in drink bottles and toiletries, is simple to process. Likewise, heavy plastics that typically make garden furniture or crates. Polystyrene, used for coffee cups and lunch boxes, is problematic. It’s best that we reduce its use because recycling is not viable.
It’s possible for us all to make a contribution. First, stop putting stuff down your toilet that didn’t come out of your bum (other than toilet paper). Used cotton buds, makeup wipes and all that other paraphernalia of the bathroom need to go in a bin. That should stop it from reaching the sea.
Forgo soap in a bottle. After all, a bar of soap is just as good, while it produces less waste.
Give up on plastic bags. Hong Kong is making welcome progress in that area. Likewise, plastic straws and bottles. There is no need for plastic straws as paper is a reliable alternative. As regards plastic bottles, it is harder. On a hot day carrying a reusable water bottle is the answer. If you need to rehydrate with an isotonic, then buy the powder form.
Don’t litter. Put discarded material in bins. Anything dropped on the street gets carried by the rain into the sewers and then out to sea. It will then come back. Unbeknown to you it will reappear in your seafood meal. Is that what you want?
Governments have a leading role to play. We need legislation to encourage the use of biodegradable plastics. Let's not forget that poisonous lead got removed from the environment by changes to the law. We need the same for plastics.
As I pointed out in my last blog, we aren’t getting off this planet soon. Thus we need to tidy up our home to sustain the species and protect the broader biosphere. As the only intelligent life-form in the world, we have stewardship of the place.
Data suggests that half of this mismanaged plastic comes from our region. China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam top the list. Hong Kong is also at fault. One estimate has Hong Kong disposing of 5 million plastic bottles a day!
Remember; the problem is not the plastic, the problem is how we handle it. If you do nothing else always think where will this plastic end up as you throw it out.
Here’s the thing, we’re stuck on Planet Earth for the foreseeable future. We aren't going anywhere. Our technology is pretty smart and getting better. Yet it’s some way off granting us the ability to go outside our solar system. For example, the nearest habitable planet we believe is Proxima Centauri B. I say near, its four-light years away. With our current technology, it's going to take 6,300 years to get there. Then what happens when we arrive to find it's not inhabitable. Bugger.
Human recorded history is about 5000 years. That gives you an idea that 6,300 years is a long time when lots can happen. It won’t be easy to make such a trip. In fact, it’s going to be extremely tough.
Why the rush to leave? Well, biologist Erst Mayr's research indicates that most species last 100,000 years before disappearing. Modern humans have been around for between 100,000 to 200,000 years. If Mayr is right, we are overdue extinction. Environmental factors are the prime cause of a species disappearing. Habitat destruction, with food and water all gone or competition wipes you out.
Also, it's not clear that our intelligence will help us through this critical period. It may be that this very intelligence is the cause of our demise. Nuclear weapons, a product of our smart monkey brains, remains a significant threat. An atomic winter taking out the sunlight would push us to starvation. Some think climate change presents a similar risk.
Assuming we could construct a craft for a journey to another planet, other factors come into play. Scientists have calculated to sustain the human race you need as few as 98 people. Although to give a degree of resistance against disease, 500 is a safer number. We know that the human race has recovered from population sizes in the thousands. The genetic record pointed to this when our hold on survival proved tenuous at times of drought and famine. But we came through.
It's possible that most of the spacefarers would be women. To keep the species going a stock of sperm for artificial insemination will be needed. Plus, a few men to undertake specific roles such as getting spiders out the showers. What we don't know is how an imbalance in the sexes could impact the mission. How would the culture change, would this be beneficial or a disaster?
To travel vast distance in space, we’d need certain things. That includes shielding from radiation. Space is not empty. There is a lot of nasty stuff zipping around, radiation being amongst the worse. We evolved on a planet shielded by a magnetic field and an atmosphere to filter or deflect radiation. In space, we’d need similar protection, or the consequences are unthinkable.
The psychological aspects of deep space travel remain unknown. Although, the physical impacts are understood. Without artificial gravity, our bones and muscles weaken. Body fluids don’t move around as physical systems go out of kilter. To counter this at least two hours of intense exercise a day must be undertaken.
How the mind deals with deep-space is a different matter. We don’t know the likely impacts. Isolation for long periods cut-off from society produces depression and pushes up suicide rates. Thus, for success, deep-space travel will need to involve a community aspect with people working together to support each other. Other then that, we are in unchartered territory.
How about going into stasis to wake-up on a new planet? How about seeking to mimic the tardigrades? These creatures can survive in space and other harsh environments. They undergo a series of processes that includes removing all the water from their tiny bodies. Also, tardigrades change their chemical makeup and shape. This gives them protection from heat, cold, pressure and radiation. Then when conditions are right, they reanimate from their death-like sleep.
Tests have shown that tardigrades can survive radiation doses like those found in space. Although, extreme doses will kill them off. Suggesting some shielding will be necessary.
We are centuries away from having the technology to adapt the mechanisms of the tardigrade to humans. And, in any case, is it a desirable option? I’m not sure. The tardigrades are not handsome creature, as shown above.
Even if we went to space in the search for a new home, in the long-term, it's a time-limited option for the human race. Space is expanding. All the galaxies are rushing away from each other. Eventually, they are so far apart that travel between them is impossible. Even at 10% of lightspeed, it would take the entire period of civilisation to get to anywhere.
Our species die out unless we can harness knowledge to bend the rules of space/time. For all we know, we are the only shot the universe has at intelligent self-organisation. And thus protecting that demands our utmost attention.
On a positive note, human population numbers are levelling off. By 2100, the population should stabilise and then fall. That may ease the burden on the biosphere depending on our habits. Looking ahead energy is not an issue because the universe is full of it. It’s everywhere.
We have a massive fusion reactor sitting close at hand that can provide all our needs. It has 5 billion years of hydrogen to fuse into helium. That should keep us going. The challenge is harnessing the Sun in a useful and harmless way to our purposes.
Long-term, and I’m talking centuries, we may venture out there. In the meantime, we’d better look after this place.
Common sense in an uncommon degree, is what the world calls wisdom. - Coleridge
The Food Environmental Health Department (FEHD) took another kicking this week. In the face of mounting pressure, they waived a HK$1,500- fine against a 70-year-old. She worked collecting waste-paper. It's a terrible indictment of Hong Kong that the elderly need to do this to maintain a living.
The lady stood accused of placing waste paper on the pavement. This thereby created an obstruction. The case should never have been brought.
These old folks are independent types, who provide a valuable service by recycling stuff. It’s tough work that on average generates about HK$700- a month. This supplements their small pensions and any meagre government help.
Cardboard collectors are a manifestation of the ‘Lion Rock Spirit’ - tough, resolute people who make their own way in the world. The very backbone of Hong Kong. Most don’t want to rely on government handouts. Regrettably, they’re also an easy target for the FEHD.
Without political clout, little education nor understanding of the law, the elderly are a stress-free case for FEHD enforcers. Plus, operating in large squads, the FEHD intimidate by their numbers. They sweep in, seize the exhibits, then convey the victim to a police station for processing. It’s not unusual to see teams of eight picking up one elderly person.
I’ve seen it, time and time again. It’s a dispiriting saga, that's a blemish on Hong Kong.
And yet, the FEHD appears reluctant to tackle other types of obstruction. Garages, shops and parallel traders are also guilty of causing blockages. In the public mind, FEHD is lenient to these people. Is it because their pugnacious in their response, and less likely to cooperate? You guess. After all human nature, is too take the easy option. Moreover, there is another dynamic at work that doesn’t make the headlines. Processes and systems that drive FEHD to operate in this way.
As one commentator recently noted, FEHD can exercise discretion. They do this when dealing with large supermarket chains piling boxes on the pavement. Yet, the perception is the elderly have no such favour. Discretion itself is problematic. It's created as a consequence of the way offences are defined. This applies across the law.
What forms obstruction? It’s ill-defined and subjective. Does a tired lady shopper who rests her shopping bag on the ground qualify for prosecution. Clearly, not. No court would accept that.
How FEHD teaches or controls the exercise of discretion by its officers is unclear. Here is some insight. The stated policy is that officers exercise reasonableness and sensitivity. Also, the department makes it clear it does not use arrests as a performance measure. It asserts it's not chasing figures. That is arguable. It's figures and data which form the basis of its reporting to District Councils.
In fairness, the FEHD is between a rock and a hard place. Every interaction is fraught with emotion and claims of bias. At the same time, the public and District Councils demand action. The job is not popular because it brings direct conflict with the public.
Community consensus through consultation at District Councils is the norm sought before enforcement action starts. In Tsuen Wan, a year-long debate rumbled on over the shop-front occupation of pavements. Conflicting opinions held enforcement action in check until a sort of agreement emerged. Officials and Councillors settled on an approach. Then FEHD finally acted after many warnings and much cajoling of the shop-keepers.
In the process, I heard lame claims from FEHD bosses of triad involvement, with threats made to their officers. On investigation, this proved embellished. Nonetheless, Police officers hovered in the background during operations as tacit support.
Underlying the challenges of keeping our streets clear is culture and society's attitude. This is not unique to the work of the FEHD. Individual FEHD officers may feel constrained by procedures and a bureaucratic system. Layered atop that are anti-corruption strategies that shape their approach. Front-line staff, even when sympathetic and recognising the triviality of a case, feel compelled to act. And at the end of the day, the fairness of the action is subjective.
Moreover, such is the extent of obstruction of public space in Hong Kong, enforcement action won’t address the issue. The same applies to illegal parking.
Without public support, like all enforcement agencies, the FEHD loses its legitimacy. In turn, that brings them into greater contention with the society they serve. Reading the online reaction to the latest case, you can see the public has little sympathy for the FEHD. Yet, the same public demand unobstructed pavements.
Unfortunately, the FEHD creates the impression of going for the painless options. Elderly waste collectors; rather than stroppy garage owners occupying pavements to repair cars. This case suggests some form of justice is at play. The fine is dropped, and I believe everyone welcomes that. Nonetheless, it a shame that the lady had to suffer awaiting a decision.
In the end, the FEHD will continue to face a thankless task. Perhaps they could help themselves by less focus on the venerable. Take on the garages and shop-front occupation of pavements. We’d all welcome some action there. There’d be wisdom in that approach.
Britain’s moral authority to comment on Hong Kong affairs is wobbly at best. Recently evidence emerged that the UK pressured Portugal not to grant citizenship to Macau residents. The Brits feared it would create a similar demand in Hong Kong. Why is this significant?
Well, British politicians make much of standing by Hong Kong with their sweet words. Yet, when it comes to providing tangible actions, all that ‘hot air’ evaporates. Anyway, the time long passed when Britain was in a position to influence matters. In any case, with Brexit looming, Britain needs to keep China on-side. Otherwise, those lucrative trade deals may falter.
British stinginess over citizenship rights in the UK is well documented. In a series of law changes in the 1980s, the Brits laid the ground for denying Hong Kong folks access to the UK. The British National Overseas (BNO) passport is proof. Yet, the Macau episode reveals deep-seated deceit. The people of Macau played as silent pieces in a game that serves Britain’s self-interest. Undertones of racism run through this approach.
UK politicians asinine utterances against China and its rule over Hong Kong don't help matters. Grandees like Chris Patten venture here to make statements, usually when they've got some product to sell. But let's face it, Britain had its chance to do the right thing. Instead, it played a tricky game.
Let's not forget the history. In broad terms, European merchant warriors, aided by armies, forced their way into China’s functioning trading system. They demanded access to markets (sounds familiar) and when they didn’t get their way, in went the gunboats. Force was brought to bear. The British led the way to take Hong Kong, and then Kowloon. Some of that trade involved opium. Nice.
In its first form, the colony of Hong Kong was run with one purpose. It’s a port and base for the British to trade, with expanding influence throughout the region. The Chinese population is incidental to this process. They provide manpower and support services to the colonial regime. In the early days of the 1800s, the Chinese and Expat communities existed apart. Even the nascent police force didn’t cover the Chinese areas, focusing on Expat parts of the colony. In any case, a curfew was in place to keep the Chinese off the streets at night.
Such was the approach to running colonies. The British co-opt nationals from elsewhere to police the locals. Then it grants a few indigenous people roles as representatives. This template was applied across the colonial empire.
So why the rush of blood to the head in recent years? Why are so many British politicians expressing concerns about Hong Kong people? Britain ran a system of status quo in Hong Kong for the vast majority of the time. British politicians remained mute. None pushed hard for democracy, accepting that China wouldn't countenance such a move.
Only at the last minute did Chris Patten reverse that approach in a ham-fisted effort. He ended up doing more damage than good. It's hard to conclude that UK politicians making noises about Hong Kong are motivated by an interest in the well-being of the people here. There was no sign of that for decades.
It’s more likely the motivation comes from other factors. Maybe one is guilt. Indeed, Chris Patten has tacitly acknowledged Britain could have done more to secure Hong Kong people’s future. Lord Paddy Ashdown is in the same boat. He’s on record expressing embarrassment at Britain’s actions.
After guilt, comes China-bashing; using Hong Kong as an issue with which to berate China. It’s an easy one to adopt. Merely state that China is clamping down in Hong Kong, restricting freedoms. With your overseas audience ignorant of the facts, it’s lapped up. The truth, as usual, is more complicated and nuanced. You could argue the freedoms enjoyed by ordinary citizens have increased since the departure of the Brits. But, that doesn’t make headlines.
Anyway, neither guilt nor China-bashing is honourable in the context of the history. Hong Kong’s status was a hard-won compromise by sensible men on both sides. Hong Kong was always ‘Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time’ as eloquently put by journalist Richard Hughes. In effect, China consented to allow a British presence on a temporary basis. The stance was always ‘Hong Kong will be taken back when the time is right.’
China would have been within its rights to take back the place at any time. After all, Hong Kong is indefensible, as the Japanese proved. In any case, just cut off the water and sit back. Likewise, Hong Kong is dependent on the mainland for food and electricity.
That China allowed Hong Kong to keep its freedoms under the elegant ‘one country, two systems’ solution speaks of a pragmatic attitude. Meanwhile, a common law judicial system operates intact. Yes, there have been bumps along the road; yet, none of these has derailed the fundamentals.
British politicians need to reflect on history before wading into criticism of Hong Kong or indeed China. Britain’s own failures including to former colonial subjects is a national embarrassment. Although this is something unrecognised by the majority of Brits. After all, there is no affinity to Hong Kong people such as the Gurkhas or Falkland Islanders enjoy.
Any British moral authority has evaporated. The stoic Hong Kong people recognise the situation for what it is. 'Britain says no' is the Hong Kongers name for the BNO passport. Thus the majority seek to work within ‘one country, two systems.’
Granted 'freedom of speech' means British politicians may say whatever they like. Moreover, the existence of the Joint Declaration as a UN-registered legally binding treaty confers on the UK government a monitoring role. But, the reality is the UK has no power to intervene. That's a nuance lost of British politicians. Therefore they must exercise care with their words. Otherwise, their remarks echo the patronising sentiments of yesteryear with Hong Kong people played as pawns in a bigger game.
Boris Johnson is either a reckless or a savvy political operator. Maybe he's a bit of both. In a recent article, he compared Burka wearers to post boxes and robbers. His comments have drawn outrage. He’s accused on racism, Islamophobia and inviting attacks on Muslims.
Most of this synthetic anger is coming from within the Tory party. Muslim groups have also expressed concern. Demands for an apology, including from Prime Minister May, have met with silence.
If it’s a poor-taste joke, then Boris is repeating what many are thinking. Although, they daren’t say it. The PC culture shuts down such comments, except behind closed doors. Yet, it may well be that something else is happening here. Could it be that Boris is using this trigger-issue to garner public support? Indeed, he’s seen a bounce in his popularity. He's adopted Trump's tactics.
For clarity, it's necessary to be clear that the Burka is full coverage including the face. The Niqab is a veil that covers the face, showing the eyes only. The diagram below illustrates the variations. When people talk about the Burka, that usually includes the Niqab.
In a free society Boris, and indeed anyone is entitled to have a view on the Burka. Moreover, they can express that view as long as it doesn’t incite violence. Let's face it, you can’t have a proper public debate if every time someone decides to take offence, you shut it down. In mature open societies, people have the right to say things that may offend others. Police chief Cressida Dick has stated that Mr Johnson did not commit a hate crime. “What Mr Johnson said would not reach the bar for a criminal offence,” she said. Well yeah, obviously. Anyway, Mr Bean found it funny.
Also, I suspect Boris is playing an expansive game of challenging Prime Minister Teresa May. She now faces calls to expel him from the party. That may be the worst of outcomes for her. Once out the party, freed of any constraints, Boris is the natural rally point for a campaign to unseat May.
Nonetheless, the Burka issue raises a host of questions that are not easy to address in liberal nations. Denmark, France, Belgium and Austria have acted to ban the Burka in public places. Partial bans apply in Spain, Italy, Turkey, Switzerland and Holland. Other nations are mulling bans or partial bans.
Whether this is desirable or wise is debatable. To me dictating what women should wear or shouldn’t wear is a slippery slope. The counter-point is that these women don’t have a say. Some would argue that male-dominated Islam is forcing the ladies to wear the Burka. Moreover, coercion through violence and threats of violence is on record. In this argument, the Burka is a demonstration of female subjugation. Thus, banning grants them freedom. That is a rational argument, except that devote ladies, adopt the Burka willingly. As such, a ban infringes their liberties. And so it goes.
Other arguments put forward for a ban include public safety and the protection of women. Countries, where the Burka is commonly worn, have higher rates of domestic violence. In Pakistan, it's suggested that 90 per cent of women have experienced domestic violence. In 2003 a French survey found that 77 per cent of girls who wore the hijab did so because of threats.
Is there a middle ground? If there is I’m struggling to find it.
In Hong Kong, we can see that ladies from Indonesia wear their religious clothes at the weekends only. Rarely do you see them with the full face veil instead they opt for the hijab. On a trip to Dubai, I saw ladies enjoying themselves in a disco. As the evening came to an end, the Burka re-appeared as they departed. From this, you can conclude what you may including wearing the Burka full-time is not a rule. A degree of latitude exists.
None of this changes the fact that people in western countries see the Burka as a symbol of a failure to assimilate. To them, it’s a visible manifestation that people are not prepared to adopt the open culture of the country. The clustering of Muslims in certain cities drives that narrative. Then you have the separation. As recently reported in the UK, some Muslim kids are not allowed play-overs with non-Muslim children. Muslim parents are imposing a system of segregation outside the confines of schools. This is a worrying trend.
That being so, Johnson is tapping into public sentiment. His timing is interesting. Last week came confirmation that Salman Abedi, who killed 22 and himself with a bomb at the Manchester Arena last year, was rescued from the sea by the Royal Navy. Picked up off the Libyan coast by HMS Enterprise, he was conveyed to Malta, before flying to the UK.
Abedi, a radicalised Muslim, detonated a bomb in the foyer of the Manchester Arena on 22 May 2017. His targets were children mainly girls. Abedi used student loans to fund his attack, including paying for trips overseas to learn bomb-making. Let me spell it out … a man who’d fought with militants in Libya gets conveyed home by the British military. He’s then given a place at university, although he diverts the money provided to make a bomb. That bomb he uses to kill children.
People see a pattern emerging as part of a broader phenomenon. A failure of the government to address integration to curtail the radical religious killers. Behind closed doors, on the sofa across the country, Middle England has no issue with Boris's comments.
For my part, banning the Burka achieves nothing. In the past, England banned Catholic symbols as part of a drive against the influence of the Holy Roman Empire. It didn’t work, nor will banning the Burka. Such an approach will further alienate a minority and prove counter-productive.
In the end, there is no easy answer. Boris has brought the subject into the open for debate, and that's healthy. The best I can offer is recognising that “core culture” takes precedence over “multiculturism.” For example, we don’t allow honour killings or mutilation of young girls genitals. Likewise, liberal countries must understand that closing down the discussion under the veil of a PC culture is a recipe for disaster.
O dear. The “Hi Guys” greeting is now verboten according to a self-appointed language adjudicator. She's also a feminist, who objects to and gets offended by the term “Guys”. I also object. She can’t dictate how I should talk. Moreover, I’m baffled that she believes such silly actions will help her cause.
The lady in question is the BBC Radio 4 presenter Jane Garvey. This week she tweeted “New rule- “Hi guys!!” NEVER say this. Unless you are the daringly informal guest speaker at the annual meeting of The Society Of People Named Guy.”
Garvey helpfully points out that she is a woman, in case you missed that. Fair enough. Except that “guy” is a gender-neutral term according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Yes, it can refer to a man. But in common use has no gender meaning. For Garvey, in the vernacular of the feminist movement, “guy” reinforces the patriarchy by imposing a male term on females. Is your head spinning? Mine is.
In fairness, Garvey attracted a fair bit of support for her stance. Other ladies also took exception. Yet, this is the kind of batshit nonsense that gives feminism a bad name. Only a professional offence merchant could get annoyed by the term “guy”.
Is this part of a broader trend of man-loathing feminists seeking to weaponise language in support of their agenda? I’m reluctant to go there because such a belief would lend legitimacy to this nonsense. Anyway, congratulations to Garvey. She has confirmed her position as a signed-up member of the acquired victimhood club.
It’s worth remembering that language evolves. In the past, the term "man" was gender neutral as “mankind” referred to all humanity. In the USA, its common for women to address groups of females as “guys”. They might not appreciate having their language policed by a minority of Puritans. I don’t know … what do you guys think? Sorry, I’ve done it again.
Meanwhile, the craziness continues on campuses. The policing of speech, art and even facts march on behind the SJW flag. Rudyard Kipling, the British writer and poet, is the latest target. His poem “If” has sage advice in the tone of the stoicism that typified the British “stiff upper lip” of the Victorian era. “If you can keep your head when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on you...”
The delicate darlings at Manchester University took exception to the poem on the wall of the Steve Biko Union Building. They obliterated “If” with white paint. To them, Kipling was a racist, who supported the British Empire by suppressing the coloured folks. In place of “If” is a civil rights poem. The university failed to deal with this act by explaining Kipling in the context of his time. Instead, the adults rolled over to capitulate to a bunch of ideological kids.
Fatima Abid, the general secretary of Manchester’s Students Union, wrote on Twitter: “Today, we removed an imperialist’s work from the walls of our union and replaced them with words of Maya Angelou. God knows black and brown voices have been written out of history enough, and it’s time we try to reverse that, at the very least in our union.”
What next Ms Abid? Burning books, maybe purging all whites from the campus? Ms Abid and her crew have many bedfellows, who adopt the same tactics. Hitler, Stalin and, in more recent times, ISIS engaged in destroying art.
To Ms Abid The merits of the poem count for nothing. Nor does the fact that Kipling was a product of his time. Are we to tear down everything that grew from our history as an Empire building state? Let's take this approach to a logical conclusion, curry must go from the British diet and tea. These products came to our shore through the avarice of conquering Empire builders. These men, it was mostly men, strode across the world being nasty to other races and earning riches. After all, earlier this year Manchester University banned a Sabra Hummus from the campus because of its connection to Israel.
I suspect the students won't be rushing to such actions. After all, its all about finding a cause to gain some attention and buff up your PC credentials. In the process, the students shouldn't suffer genuine hardship, because the underlying arguments are peripheral.
The power of these antics works both ways. Alt-right activists are trawling the Internet for offensive statements made by liberal types. Much of this stuff got uploaded years ago in a more innocent time by juvenile posters. These people have now risen to positions of influence. Even teenage nonsense gets resurrected.
One victim is Hollywood director James Gunn. He directed Guardians of the Galaxy plus other films in the Marvel genre. Gunn invited the wrath of Alt-right loons because of his anti-Trump stance. In revenge, they surfaced tweets he’d written years ago joking about rape. A couple of transphobic words added weight. Disney fired Gunn within hours of the tweets re-surfacing.
I am guessing most of us have said and done things we regret. Much of it was not captured by the Internet to be re-broadcast out of context in a different era. Meanwhile, it’s entertaining to see the snake eating its own tail. Liberal types in Hollywood have used such methods against people they perceive to be right-wing. Thus, to get one of their own caught in the whirlwind of manufactured outrage is a cruel irony.
Perhaps the message will finally sink in. The things people said and did in the past need viewing with context. Applying today’s standards as a yardstick is plain absurd. Otherwise, Diana Abbott must go from the Labour Party for her racist comments made in the 1980s. Likewise, Jeremy Corbyn for giving support to terrorists and antisemitic activities. I'm sure with a bit of effort you dig up stuff on most public figures. Suddenly, the sauce for the gander is not so tasty.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.