Amina Filali: Culture of shame a victim for honour

Guest blog by By Hanane Eve Spayne -Bensalah

It is time to lift the veil of secrecy that surrounds the systematic abuse of women’s rights in Morocco North Africa. The case of Amina Filali only highlights the failure of the law that instead of protecting a person’s human rights assists a dark aged wicked tradition in further violating any sense of justice. Amina Filia (16) committed suicide by consuming rat poison in a desperate act of protest against her marriage to man that raped her a year prior.

Being of Moroccan ethnicity I am no stranger to the penal code article 475 which empowers a “kidnapper” of a minor to marry his victim to escape prosecution. In order for the honour of the family to be preserved. I first heard about this law from my mother many years ago and stories of further abuses .What shocked me the most was that their seemed to be an approval of this law in the Moroccan community. How can this be?

Misogyny is so ingrained in Moroccan culture and traditions that there are few willing to speak out. To do so means that not only do you face extreme persecution you must face being ostracised form your community. With no support network many women have no choice but to suffer in silence. Rape is often blamed upon the woman even if it is an act of violence she is considered impure.

This concept of purity which is essential in marriage may seem backwards to any enlightened society but in Morocco few men would be willing to marry a woman that was not a virgin it would be considered shameful. Not only does the rapist get away with his crime he gains an unwilling bride. A woman so beaten down not only by what she has suffered but by family members that are so fixated by this idea of honour .That they are willing to sacrifice their child’s sense of justice and any shreds of happiness that she might be able to piece together for an uncertain future.

What can be done to stop this vile practice? Firstly I do admit the law has come a long way in Morocco with the amendment to the family code 2004,yet it is simply not far enough. It is the responsibility of us that live in free nations to put pressure upon the Moroccan government to make amendments to this barbaric law. Women are literally dying to be free it is our responsibility in the west with the freedom that we have gained to be agents of change and not fear treading upon cultural sensitivities.


Sorry but love is a right; jewellery isn’t

Comparing not having the right to wear a cross to not having the right to marry the person you love is actually almost as idiotic as comparing gay marriage to slavery.

Well, not really. Obviously, comparing gay marriage to slavery – yes, in any kind of context, drawing any kind of a parallel, before someone inevitably pipes up with “but he wasn’t saying it’s exactly the same as slavery!” – is about as sensible as comparing it to the union of a salt dish and pepper dish, or a pair of socks. We can all hopefully see this, and we’ve all had a good laugh about it. Yet, comparing same sex marriage to not being allowed to wear a cross, pray at work, or discriminate openly against gay people in your B&B, is being argued and debated as if it’s a lot more reasonable. These debates are, on the surface, about the conflict of different minority rights, and there is a debate to be had about which right trumps which. But even though it’s less emotive than the slavery parallel, these kinds of comparisons in rights are almost as much of a logical fallacy.

When a cross-party group of Christians examined whether the things LGB people ask for get more recognition in law than the things Christians ask for, they found Christians’ requests being discarded, and gay people’s requests being granted. So the report declared that “gay people have more rights than Christians.”

This is ridiculous for one glaring, huge reason: Christians – or straight ones, at least – already have the rights gay people are asking for. The right not to be discriminated against by the hospitality industry, for example, or to marry the person you love, or to adopt a child. And gay people – Christian or otherwise – do not have the right to do any of the rights Christians are asking for either.

This is one of the most important arguments in modern politics and it hardly ever gets said: everyone has the same human rights. Human rights are always talked about by those who oppose them in terms of “group A’s rights vs group B’s.” It’s a brilliant way of making everybody disown their own rights because they are only applicable to other people. We hear about the rights of the criminals or accused criminals versus the rights of the victims; the rights of religious people versus the rights of gays.

It’s a nonsense; a complete failure to understand the whole concept of rights, freedoms, and the law. The argument, ultimately, comes down to this: just because you’ve never had to call upon a particular human right in a court of law because you are automatically granted it every day without you having to even think about it, it does not mean that you don’t also have those exact same rights. Just because you’ve never had to call upon the right to a fair trial because you’ve never been accused of a crime, it does not mean someone else getting a fair trial has more rights than you do. Just because you’ve never had to take a B&B to court for kicking you out in the middle of the night because of your sexuality, it does not mean you don’t also have the right for that not to happen to you. And just because you’ve never had to fight tooth and nail for your right to marry the person you love, it doesn’t mean you are being discriminated against when other people get that same right, just because you personally don’t like them having it.

Gay people would have more rights than Christians if, say, on account of being LGB, you magically get the legal right to wear jewellery, headscarves, turbans, or veils to work or school, even if it violates a dress or safety code. But you don’t. Nor can LGB people pray during work hours, discriminate against guests at a B%B on the basis of sexuality, or preach hate and incite violence.

On the other hand, gay people don’t have the right to marry the person they love. But straight people do.

Discrimination means being treated differently from everyone else, not being treated the same as everyone else. Loss of privilege is not discrimination nor is it oppression. Freedom cannot possibly work if we’re not all equal under the law. And most people agree that while love, and the right to marry the person you love, is a sensible thing to consider as a human right, the right to wear a piece of jewellery because it’s symbolic of something you personally find special to work, is not. How many Christians would give up their right to marry in exchange for wearing a cross? Perhaps some. But probably not many. Yet they think the rights LGB people have are somehow better than the ones they have? Please.

The fact is, there really are no sensible arguments against allowing two consenting adults in love to marry. One of the funniest things is that so many of the anti-gay marriage voices like Janice Atkinson (UKIP) and Roger Helmer (a recent UKIP convert) try to paint themselves as being interested in “freedom” and the “role of the state.”

The “it’s not the role of the state!” argument is, of course, as silly as a banana pudding in a hat. Not the idea that the church shouldn’t be part of the state. But the idea that it isn’t already. The Church of England was set up by the state, for personal, political reasons. Christianity was only brought over to this island for political reasons in the first place. Religion and politics are completely intertwined up, and pretending otherwise is just factually incorrect.

If they really want more freedom to be applied to religious institutions though, I’m all for it. No more state support. No more special tax privileges. No more automatic seats in the House of Lords. No more Head of the Church and Head of State being one and the same. No more panic about preserving each and every religion; just like any other business, political party, charity, or pressure group, if enough people choose any given religion, it survives, and if they don’t, it doesn’t. Surely that’s freedom. What is freedom, I’m sure conservative “libertarians” like UKIP will agree, without the freedom to fail?

And of course, no more immediate megaphone being handed to them whenever they have an official view on something: their views can get coverage and agreement or dissent based entirely on their own merit, nothing else. How’s that for freedom of faith?

In fact, this is perhaps the most insidious thing about all this “religion under attack” nonsense being bawled out in Cardinal Keith’s favourite red crayon in the Sunday Telegraph, and in other news outlets like the Daily Mail. The only reason someone like Cardinal Keith is listened to at all is because of the reverential attitude we have to religious opinions, as opposed to secular ones, no matter how unsubstantiated they are, and because of the privileged place religion is given in our society. Without a religious basis for them, would any of these arguments from organisations like the Coalition for Marriage seriously even be put forward, purely on their own merit? Just for fun, let’s have a look. The first argument is this:

Marriage is unique. Throughout history and in virtually all human societies marriage has always been the union of a man and a woman. Marriage reflects the complementary natures of men and women. Although death and divorce may prevent it, the evidence shows that children do best with a married mother and a father.”

Well, this one is quite easy, because no it isn’t, no it hasn’t been, no it doesn’t, and no it doesn’t.

So what’s the next argument?

No need to redefine. Civil partnerships already provide all the legal benefits of marriage so there’s no need to redefine marriage. It’s not discriminatory to support traditional marriage. Same-sex couples may choose to have a civil partnership but no one has the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us.”

This is such a wonderful blob of logical jelly circles it’s actually rather impressive in a terrible, modern-art kind of way. The argument goes like this: marriage is so special, so unique, it cannot ever be changed. But, also, civil partnerships are exactly the same as marriage, they’re just called something else. And the only reason they have to be called something else is because they are between same sex couples, and marriage is not suitable for same sex couples because it’s tradition. And that isn’t discriminatory, even though by its very nature it discriminates, but it’s not discriminatory because it’s always been that way. And obviously, as we all know, anything which has been happening for a long time is automatically not discriminatory on account of how long it’s been going on. Yes, that’s absolutely the way it works. (Apart from anything, how long does something have to go on for it to qualify as a “tradition”? Five years? Ten years? A hundred years? Is Facebook a tradition yet? Because if so, someone had better tell Mark Zuckerberg as he keeps updating it.) And since when was “tradition” automatically more important than progress?

Okay, reason number three:

Profound consequences. If marriage is redefined, those who believe in traditional marriage will be sidelined. People’s careers could be harmed, couples seeking to adopt or foster could be excluded, and schools would inevitably have to teach the new definition to children. If marriage is redefined once, what is to stop it being redefined to allow polygamy?”

The best one. Have they actually just given up by this point? Because you could apply this to any law that’s ever passed. They’re all potentially the thin end of some random scary wedge. Stating that one of the best reasons you can think of to be against same sex marriage is because of hypothetical things that could, in theory, happen at some unspecified point if we legalise same sex marriages is doing very little more than admitting how little there is actually wrong with same sex marriage itself. In other words, even the Coalition for Marriage couldn’t think of four whole reasons why same sex marriage itself is a bad thing.

The closing, rallying cry:

Speak up. People should not feel pressurised to go along with same-sex marriage just because of political correctness. They should be free to express their views. The Government will be launching a public consultation on proposals to redefine marriage. This will provide an opportunity for members of the public to make their views known.”

Er, people are speaking up, and most of us either support gay marriage or don’t really give a toss. It’s only a minority – even within religious groups – who are having kittens about it. Why don’t the public share in the rage? Because, frankly, the chances are that if same sex marriage was legalised tomorrow but nobody reported it in the news, most of the people opposing it would hardly even know it had happened. That’s how little difference it will make to your life, Cardinal.

Minority opinions, which do not stand up to the faintest scrutiny, are given a megaphone in the media because they are founded in religion. Yet the anti-marriage campaigners – for that’s what they are; they are, after all, actively discouraging a huge number of couples from getting married – still think religion is being discriminated against. Why? Because they’re not always allowed to wear their favourite necklaces. Enough of dancing about in a fake pretence that these are equal issues of conflicting minority rights. It’s time to tell any Christian who sees this as “discrimination” or worse to be glad they have so little experience of discrimination and oppression to think that this is it. And then to stop whining and grow up.

When did I become the left?

It’s not just me who’s asking this question: a lot of centrists feel alienated, whiplashed, and winded by finding ourselves suddenly derided as “the militant left,” “Trots,” and “crusties” for what is, in fact, a simple lack of radicalism. 

Most of the Conservatives' policies would be good ones, if the things they believe were true. Closing Remploy factories would be a good way to foster integrated employment if their welfare to work programmes really were successful at getting more disabled people into secure employment. Cutting public sector jobs would be fine if the private sector really was picking up all the slack. Cutting housing benefit would be a good idea if rents really were only high because of subsidised rents, and if rents would definitely drop when benefits were cut. But none of this is happening, none of its true. Like a socialist believing in, say, ever-higher tax rates because it satisfies their sense of justice even if a high top rate of tax generates less revenue, so the coalition seem to believe in cutting, and privatising, the most random public services like the NHS and, now, it seems, the police, in face of all pragmatism, just because it appeals to theirs.  

Does realising that mean I’ve become more left-wing? It certainly feels like it. I end up on the “leftist” side of the debate almost every time I discuss politics these days, unless I’m talking to the hard left. But I don’t feel like my views have changed. So the other day I did something I haven’t done in years; I took the good old ‘Political Compass’ quiz. 

I am still exactly – exactly – where I have been (which is a centre-right fairly moderate libertarian, if you’re interested), ever since I dabbled in the Tory society at uni, and then went off to work in the private sector. Because I still believe free markets help keep people free. I believe the top rate of tax is too high – especially since the 50p rate was put in place. I believe strongly that private property rights, and private ownership, are important civil rights. I believe that the profit motive can have benefits for society. I believe in strong law and order, and I want taxes to be as low as possible – without sacrificing the basic things that make us civilised, of course. I believe state spending on luxuries like arts, humanities, and even some environmental projects, should be fairly minimal, especially at a time of cuts in public spending elsewhere.

But I also still believe that a legal minimum wage which is more or less in line with inflation, and which more or less covers people’s living costs, keeping them above the poverty line (which ours doesn’t) is a really important part of a successful economy, to say nothing of it being an important part of a civilised country. Businesses are nothing without customers; people need money in their pockets to buy things. Dirt-crunching wages shouldn’t be shrugged off as “part of the medicine.” Low wages and high unemployment are not part of the medicine; they are symptoms of the illness. I believe health, education, welfare, legal aid, and policing need to be kept away from the market, because they are, unfortunately, incompatible with the profit motive. I believe when you work you should get paid, and when you’re sick you should get support. These are not controversial viewpoints, not in this country. Or at least, they weren’t, last time I checked.  

And this brings me back to my original question: how did this happen, this dragging of the entire political narrative to the right? How did backing a state-subsidised “wage” of £1.60 an hour for doing a job that profits someone else become a moderate view? How did outsourcing police duties to private suppliers become the sensible centre? How did opening up the National Health Service to EU competition law and allowing 49% of hospital beds to be occupied by private patients* become the common sense option for public service reform? How on earth have the decent, hard-working people of Britain let this happen? And we have years left of this; how much more can happen before we get furious?

Why aren’t we furious? Is it me? Perhaps the political centre was never where I thought it was. Perhaps I’ve always been a “socialist,” and “socialism” actually just means not letting families become homeless because they’re poor to pay their rent. Is that what socialism is? Chris Grayling seems to think so.

But I think not. If it was, we’d have a lot more socialists, and “socialism” wouldn’t be used as a way to invalidate someone’s position. I think working for profit and being paid a wage that you spend within the economy to profit other businesses is a pretty important part of capitalism. I know a lot of socialists, and none of them think I am one.

Perhaps that’s the trouble with blind ideologues. They think everyone else is also a blind ideologue. When people polarise or simplify the arguments that oppose their policies or opinions, all they do is demonstrate how polarised and simplistic their own perception of the world is. It doesn’t matter when it’s Alexandra Swann writing in the Guardian, but it does matter when it’s the people running the country. They are supposed to be accountable to, not dismissive of, the public. 

Tony Blair calmly ignored the million protesters who marched through London in opposition to the war in Iraq but at least he never derided them as a bunch of “crusties” or “Trots.” He talked to them, listened to their arguments – with his eyebrows politely raised in that way he had mastered to make it look like he was taking something very seriously indeed – and then respectfully disagreed with them. He did not mock them for drinking at Starbucks, or for whether they sat, stood, or slept as means of protest – something David Cameron seemed to think was a valid criticism of the Occupy London protesters.

This is not unlike when, being corrected on a point of fact in the House of Commons, our PM told the MP in question to “calm down” and mocked her for, well, doing what she’s paid to do, which is hold the government to account when they get things wrong. 

It’s not just the Conservatives, of course. Career politicians in all parties are quick to mistake privilege for authority. If you’ve heard of “mansplaining”, you’ll know what I mean. (“Mansplaining” is basically just when a man assumes an automatic position of authority when talking to a woman about something she actually knows more about, usually without even realising he’s doing it, just because he’s a man and naturally sees himself as authoritative). The government seem to be guilty of, well, “affluent-splaining,” and “able-splaining,” and a whole load more besides.

So, for example, when sick or disabled people, who are regularly subjected to Atos tests which find them “fit for work” when they are plainly not, or find themselves losing access to benefits they badly need, in, you know, real life, and they tell this to government ministers, they get told it they’re wrong because isn’t happening and they’re being protected. When people say they are told by the Job Centre that workfare is mandatory, and show a letter which describes it as such, Chris Grayling irritably insists that they’re wrong because it’s definitely voluntary. When Bill Gates tells the government that we should back a “Robin Hood” tax, George Osborne explains that we can’t do this because the business world won’t wear it. That one is actually my favourite: George Osborme (a public sector worker with inherited wealth and a degree in Modern History), telling Bill Gates, about business! And, astonishingly, when an HIV-positive voter – a successful self-employed businessman called Andrew Scholfield – writes to all the Liberal Democrat MPs to express fears about the Health and Social Care Bill, Stephen Williams MP and Andrew Stunell MP (according to Unite) send him this: 

Andrew Stunell, MP for Hazel Grove, emailed Mr Schofield: “Consider just how counterproductive it is likely to be to send an unsolicited bar-room rant to a load of very busy people at the end of a long day.” And Stephen Williams, MP for Bristol West, told Mr Schofield, who lives in Salford: “You win the prize for my most nonsensical email of the day” and that he was writing “complete drivel”.

These career politicians think they can tell us what we, the public, think; what “normal people” (as Iain Duncan-Smith charmingly put it) think. They forget that we are normal people. We talk to each other. We tell each other what we think. And they seem to have forgotten that “normal people” – I give IDS the benefit of the doubt, and assume he meant most people – did not vote for the government.  

The last general election result is what really highlights the level of arrogance being displayed here: Labour catastrophically lost the last election, the Conservatives did not win it. Most of the public who didn’t vote Conservative gave their reasons as being that they “didn’t believe the Conservative party had really changed” and, more specifically, they “didn’t trust the Conservative party with the NHS.” Far from being a “prejudice” against the Conservative party, as David Cameron laughably described it in a Guardian article during the run-up to the election, these suspicions turned out to be rather well-founded. Actions speak louder than party political slogans, and the coalition’s actions have been very clear. I’m not judging them on anything but the detail of their own bills and policies. How can that be a “prejudice”?

The thing is, the Conservatives are playing a risky political game with this strategy. Every time they sneer that only socialists and “Trots” can believe in even the most moderate principles of a civilised social democracy, they are telling people like me not to bother voting for them, ever. They could not make it plainer that I am not welcome in their political discourse and they don’t want my vote. Not just mine: despite their constant insistence that conservatism is for everybody, it seems, from their policies and their attitude, that they don’t want the votes of an awful lot of people in the political centre. People with rent to pay, people with aspirations, working people who hope to send a kid to university one day or own a home; people who expect the rule of law to be enforced properly and there to be enough police around to protect them from crime. Anyone who wants to live in a sensible, civilised, meritocracy. If they don’t want our votes, that’s up to them. But they may find that, astonishingly, Iain Duncan-Smith’s grasp of what “normal people” think is even more distorted than mine is. 

*It should be noted that Shirley Williams has said that this is not what the bill will allow but almost everyone else seems to be in disagreement with her about that.

2 MINUTE RANT: Tax cuts and the work ethic

If a 50% rate of tax is enough to disincentivise work, what will low or non-existent wages do?

There seems to be an accepted consensus amongst business leaders and many senior politicians – at least, the right of centre ones – that the 50p rate of tax is harmful to economic growth. The 50p rate is serving as a disincentive for wealth creation, we are told. Top earners are creating fewer jobs, moving assets abroad, generating less wealth, and in general taking extra pains to avoid their taxes. In short, taxing incomes over £150,000 at 50% instead of 40% is enough to make people fail in their patriotic work ethic.

While this may well be true, and cutting the 50p tax rate may be a good idea for a whole myriad of reasons, not least because it is possible that it actually brings in a lot less revenue, although this is still up for debate, let’s not let the government get away with this open acknowledgement about the reality of the work ethic. If it is true that people earning, say, £160,000 a year (hard-working people by nature, surely, George Osborne would argue?) flounder in their work ethic when asked to pay an additional 10% tax on the top £10,000 of their income – because the first £149,000 is still, of course taxed at a lower rate; we are only talking about paying an extra 10% on any earnings over £150,000 – you must, surely, also believe that people on the lowest incomes in the country are going to struggle with this whole work ethic thing if they’re not actually being paid enough even to live on?

Yet the work ethic principle is, of course, applied differently to the poorest than it is to the richest. Undercutting the minimum wage with workfare schemes will make people work harder. Cutting housing benefit and time-limiting ESA will incentivise work. Letting the minimum wage tumble desperately below the basic costs of living, like housing and heating, will encourage aspiration. How can you simultaneously believe that this will work, yet also believe Stephen Hester needs a bonus written into his contract, guaranteed regardless of his bank’s share price performance, in order for him to work his hardest and perform well?

There is no real need to compete for the labour pool at the low end of the pay spectrum, especially these days, with around 3 million unemployed, so it’s obvious why we bother to make a job like running RBS attractive to a range of candidates, while stacking a shelf in Asda doesn’t need to be made to look all that attractive to potential shelf-stackers, as there are so many of them to choose from. But the point is, the difference is about economics, and who holds power, and what they can get away with in order to profit. It has nothing to do with aspiration, work ethics, personal responsibility, or morality.

But people are starting to genuinely believe that the harder you kick poor people in the teeth, the more aspirational they will somehow feel, whilst also believing that the more you reduce risks for businesses like Tesco by subsiding their employment costs, and the more you cut taxes for top earners and corporations, the harder they will work. The arguments put forward over the 50p rate of tax shows this double standard up clearly for what it is: a nonsensical attempt to intellectualise any moral justification that can be found for policies which basically amount to rewarding only the people who need help the least for being lucky enough not to need it.

We need to remember that the work ethic is not automatic. It goes both ways. You will have a work ethic if you respect your job and respect your employer, and your employer respects you. If you employer treats you abysmally, you probably won’t have much of one. Work can be good for if you’re doing something healthy and constructive, that you can take pride in. Work can help your self-esteem and mental wellbeing if you’re valued and have a regular sense of achievement, but if you’re undervalued, or overworked, or made to feel worthless, or your job is derided by society, it absolutely won’t. There are too many people criticising “job snobs” for daring to point out that cleaning a floor in Tesco is, in reality, not much fun, and as it profits Tesco, it should be paid, whilst simultaneously rewarding the people who have often never cleaned a floor in their lives with tax cuts, because they are “aspirational” – not like the floor cleaners, who deserve to be punished with a sub-standard minimum wage, if that. Too many people are criticising a flailing work ethic in British society without considering how they themselves behave towards shop staff, cleaners, waitresses and even higher paid professionals like teachers and social workers, and wondering whether the scorn they heap on these workers might be a factor in that supposed declining work ethic.

So cut the 50p tax rate, by all means. Go ahead and incentivise the wealth creators to create wealth and jobs. Just stop lecturing people on a fraction of that income about how hard they should be working in order to eat and have a place to live. Because the work ethic is not an innate moral quality that people either have or lack. And if it was, then a 50% tax rate wouldn’t be enough to demotivate people earning north of £150,000 for doing something they are good at, paid handsomely for, and have almost certainly chosen to do.

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