This week evidence has emerged of a LibDem parliamentary candidate sexually assaulting a lap dancer. The indifference of the culprit, his party, and the political class at large to this behaviour epitomises the establishment’s toxic attitude towards women and sexual abuse, argues Jennifer Izaakson.

via Comment | The Maajid Nawaz Scandal: With ‘Feminists’ Like These, Who Needs The Patriarchy?.

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Film review I wrote for the RS21 blog.

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Where does fear come from? Jen Izaakson, PhD student and revolutionary socialist, examines this question through a psychoanalytic review of new horror film, The Babadook. Jen tweets at @izaakson.

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If we accept the psychoanalytic stance of a ‘continual return of the repressed’, ghosts and demons offer a way to battle unconscious psychic constellations of horror that would otherwise torment us with little recourse. It’s far easier to combat a physical monster than transform our own inner treacherous and debilitating states, to which we are truly vulnerable.

One of the ‘horror movies’ released in time for Halloween this year is Australian film, The Babadook. The content is about far greater fears than a boogeyman. Of course, The Babadook, is literally a creepy monster who comes to scare you at nighttime, but the film shows just what being afraid of ghosts or monsters is – projection, paranoia and attempt to externalise…

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On Saturday 17th of May several women campaigning in Tower Hamlets received sexist abuse, harassment and later physical assault by campaigners for the Labour Party. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? How has Tower Hamlets has become such a battleground where grown men think they’re actually in a war and anything goes? This article gives an account of what took place, based on the victim’s testimony and the witnesses to what happened. It is also a call for a transformation in political atmosphere in Tower Hamlets and the standards some campaigners are stooping to.

I was there the day these events happened. I’m not a member of any political group, but after watching the BBC Panorama documentary, for me, the Mayoral Election in Tower Hamlets has become a referendum on racism. I’ve got lots of friends in the Labour Party, some Tory mates even and I’m seriously considering joining the Green Party after the elections this week are over. So, for me, I think political activity is worthwhile and to be honest, it was a sunny day and I thought walking round with some friends in Tower Hamlets chatting to local people would be fun.
First Incident- verbal abuse
The day began with a group of young people, both men and women, joining other supporters of Mayor Lutfur Rahman at Chrisp Street Market at around 12PM to hand out leaflets and talk to local people. I was one of them.

At around 1PM a white male in a blue shirt and dark coat, of average height, walked past our group (circled in a photo linked to at the bottom of this article). He singled out S (I’m not sure it’s a good idea to fully reveal names so will use initials), the only girl in the group wearing a hijab, pointed at her head scarf and shouted she/it was “disgusting”. Later he returned and shouted that I was a “cunt.” I thought he was simply an abusive passerby who likes to harass women. Unfortunately, abuse towards women (he didn’t verbally abuse any of the men present) is all too common as young women particularly are seen as vulnerable, easy targets. I assumed the bloke was a nasty random stranger, but later found out he was a campaigner for the Labour Party.
Second incident- verbal abuse

In the late afternoon whilst returning home from campaigning a group of around 4 young activists spotted the abusive man on Vesey Path outside the Ideas Store handing out leaflets for Labour candidate John Biggs. This setting is where the photograph was taken.

The abusive man recognised the group from the Chrisp Street campaigning session and as they approached began shouting at a third young woman, calling her an “Islamofascist.” The young woman, M, is in fact a Catholic. The abusive man also called her a “slag” and stated: “Lutfur Rahman hates women” and “sexism is about equality so I can call you a slag.” The abusive man appears to have singled her out as she was the only one in a group wearing a skirt.
Third incident – physical abuse
The woman and her companions complained to other Labour Party campaigners, asking them to intervene to stop the abuse and to get an apology from the man. Her precise words were “how is it acceptable to speak to me like that?”

At this point another Labour campaigner, a tall white male in a white t-shirt began physically ramming the woman backwards, shoving her hard down the road and telling her she needed to leave.

The male in the black coat/blue shirt continued to shout at the young woman, saying she was a “fucking slag on drugs”.

Several members of the public then approached the young woman, who was now in tears, to comfort her whilst several Labour Party campaigners looked on and did nothing.
Going forward

The police are being contacted. If any witnesses can help identify the ‘man in the white t-shirt’ who physically assaulted the young woman on Vesey Path or the man who harassed and verbally abused her and others, please do as we wish to pass their details on to the police. In the aforementioned photo is Labour councillor Shiria Khatun speaking to one of the men. Many people have Tweeted Shiria to ask who the man is she is speaking to. Shiria has blocked all the concerned women on Twitter who have requested his info to pass on to police. We will therefore be directing the police straight to her.

It is a great shame if politicians in the Labour Party are going to turn there back on their responsibility to condemn violence against women, simply because it was one of their own campaigners committing it. Women should be able to campaign openly in our society for whatever party or candidate they wish. There should not be a culture of intimidation allowed to go on unchallenged. When women are given sexist abuse or assaulted, regardless of the political persuasions of the perpetrators or victims, it is never acceptable.

On Monday 19th of May, in response to this weekends unfortunate events, there will be a rally/organised presence to say Tower Hamlets should be a safe space for all women. We’re meeting at 12pm outside the Ideas Store (the one near Chrisp Street – nearest station All Saints) in Tower Hamlets tomorrow. This is the exact location where the young woman was physically assaulted. This action is a direct response to that. Please bring banners and anti-violence against women material etc. To be clear: anyone from any political party can attend! This is about reclaiming public space as a safe place for women.

To be clear: we are inviting anyone from any political party. Anyone can attend and unite against violence against women and street harassment. Yesterday I Tweeted Rachel Saunders, Deputy Leader of the Labour group in Tower Hamlets, who assured me she would investigate. She has now deleted that Tweet and with it her email contact for me to get in touch. I want to explicitly invite Rachel to the rally tomorrow.

 

 

Why is a united response needed?

This could be vital for how safe women feel in Tower Hamlets. Already a Labour council candidate for St Katherine’s and Wapping ward, Robbert Scott, has openly on Twitter encouraged myself and the victim of assault not to go to police, saying all that took place is “rudeness” and it would be a waste of their time. Scott also said he would not identify the man in the photo and thought others pictured with him should not.

Any sort of cover-up or attempt to brush harassment or violence under the carpet sets standards for what people think is acceptable. This is why it’s so important for political representatives to not minimise violence against women. I’ve also contacted East London’s Labour organiser, James King, to enquire who the perpetrators are and so far King has refused to answer calls, but did text, “we continue to liaise directly with the police on this and other matters”. What other matters are the Labour party in East London involved with the police in? The victim of assault telephoned King directly and he ignored her calls and has refused to state what action the Labour Party will take over this incident. If the police don’t act, will Labour not bother investigating? Labour cannot remain silent over this. Refusing to condemn what happened would be a huge signal that violence against women is something to be got away with. I expect all political parties to condemn what has taken place.

Photo: https://twitter.com/Izaakson/status/467753561745813504/photo/1

<em>Email J.Izaakson@gmail.com for more information about the rally/orangised presence taking place on Monday (19th May) or any comment on what happened over the weekend.</em>

Originally published at the Huffington Post in September

The Sun newspaper, that bastion of tolerance and intellectual thinking, has advocated a ban on the veil (the full length face covering some Muslim women wear). I’d prefer to follow the Students’ Union at the London School of Economics and ban The SUN, but of course that would be seen as an attack on freedom. Why is the veil and the rights of women to choose what they wear so different?

Whether forcing readers to view half naked women on Page 3 or advocating banning women’s ability to cover up, The Sun is leading the battle to control women’s bodies in twenty first century Britain.

Some MPs have said there should ‘be a debate about it’. Maybe parliament can then debate what underwear men wear. So lads, is it boxers or briefs? Ah yes, it’s nothing to do with anyone but the wearer. So why can’t that standard of autonomy and respect be applied to Muslim women? Why only their subjectivity and dress choices to be pathologised, fetishised and legislated over.

This ‘debate’ we busybody, non-veil wearing people are concerning ourselves with was kick started last week when Birmingham Met College issued a statement that it would be banning veils because of ‘security reasons’. The veil covers the faces apart from their eyes. So, why hasn’t the college also issued a statement banning over-sized ski goggles?

Imagine the scenario: term starts, Autumn weather sets in and students receive notification scarves must stay clearly below on the chin. A sea of blue-noses soon to appear at Birmingham Met, as security guards begin shouting at the college entrance, “we must be able to see your faces! It is for your own security! Hipsters, keep your snoods under control!”. The annual Halloween disco cancelled due to fear of fancy-dress masks threatening the ‘security’ of the college and baseball caps confiscated if they creep too below the brow.

The idea people can decide for Muslim women what to wear is rooted in racism. There’s been a long history of typicall white Christian people thinking they can tell brown non-Christians how to make better decisions and live better – it’s called colonialism or more specifically to us, the British Empire. Racism doesn’t exist in a vacuum or arrive out of nowhere. As it happens, Birmingham Met College itself has a long history of islamophobia. In 2005 the same Principle who advocated banning the veil, Christine Braddock, suspended two Muslim students for the horrifying crime of writing a letter requesting an Islamic Society (a type of Club most Universities have).

Christine Braddock, Jeremy Browne MP and the Sun newspaper are not just attacking Muslims when they attempt to control what women wear; it’s an attack on the rest of us. Women, of all religions and none, should not be told what they can and can’t do. If airports allow the wearing of the veil why did Birmingham Met College leap ahead in the mass-security stakes? Strangely, I’m more concerned about security at Heathrow than a Sociology A Level class. Thankfully due to a nation-wide backlash and mass-demonstration backed by the NUS, the college backed down.

After the veil was banned in France during 2011 what did this lead to? Far-right and fascist groups such as the Front National (National Front) then called for yarmulkes (Jewish head covering) to also be outlawed in public places.

“but, Islam is a religion, not race”, a thousand confused souls cry. Only in European Christian conception of religion can culture and faith be separated. How many races are there? 5? 7? 31? Race doesn’t exist in of itself, it’s a social construct. But then we still have the problem of racism and distinct ethnicities certain exists. The point is race is constructed through such things as ethnicity, culture and religious practices. If the veil was mainly worn by white people outlawing it wouldn’t be being discussed because it’s white people who control the social power system. The attack on the veil is just another way for the establishment to take a swipe at Muslims.

Another claim of the open-mouth-breathing brigade is, “but, I can’t wear a balaclava in a bank!”, actually you can legally wear a balaclava in a bank, they’ll just think you’re about to rob the place because everyone has seen Hollywood heist movies. Not all clothing items are the same. A balaclava is not part of anyone’s religious practice, the veil is. Let’s not pretend all clothing is of the same meaning and worth or shoulder-pads could return.

The proposed veil ban goes to the heart of our democratic secular society. Religious freedoms are enshrined in our society, that’s actually what secularism was originally conceived as. Secularism is not simply about separation between church and state, but ensuring equal freedom for religious expression, protecting members of minority religions, whilst also ensuring the rights of people to not practice religion.

Let’s defend a woman’s right to choose. Women should not be told what to do with their bodies, whether that’s regarding abortion or what they want to wear, regardless of whether we agree with why they want to wear it.

Originally published in the Huffington Post in September

Footage has emerged on YouTube of a non-white staff member at Selfridges refusing to serve English Defence League leader (EDL), Tommy Robinson, and an associate. The EDL is a fascist street-movement in the UK, diminishing greatly in the last twelve months, with dwindling demonstration numbers and public relations mishaps.

Just last week the EDL ensured a Love Music Hate Racism gig in Ipswich, organised by a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl, had to be cancelled after threats of violence. When they’re not buying trousers from Selfridges they’re opposing music nights celebrating multi-culturalism. Life for the average EDL member is clearly fantastic. Or if you’re Tommy Robinson, glorious incidents occur such as attempting to enter North America illegally and getting ironically deported as a fledgling illegal immigrant.

The staff member at Selfridges should be commended for his actions. There needs to be maximum opposition to fascism. Whether that’s turning up for a protest, denouncing the EDL online as the Nazi scum they are or refusing to sell them designer underwear, to take a phrase from a far more down-market store than where Tommy Robinson shops, ‘every little helps’.

Twitter has been awash with confused comments in support of Robinson’s efforts to get the Selfridges staff member sacked. Some choice gems are a paraphrasing of, “but isn’t it fascist, what the staff member did, refusing to serve Tommy because of his beliefs?” These people seem to equate not bagging someone’s items because they’re a racist with a system of oppression based on racism. Anti-racism and racism – they’re actually opposites (the clue is in the word ‘anti’). Anyone would think that six millions Jews weren’t murdered under fascism and were actually only banned from upmarket clothing stores. There is a fairly large distinction.

Others rely on cries of, “but it’s company policy to serve everyone!” Ah, terms of employment, the new “I was only doing my job”, said by every extermination camp guard, Gestapo member, or typist of the Auschwitz departure timetable. Actually there is no obligation to serve someone as a staff member. You simply cannot be refused service on the basis of gender, sexuality, race, disability or religion. You can be refused service for being rude. Or if you’re Tommy Robinson, an individual that wants the staff member at the till, his parents, siblings and children, to be discriminated against. That’s quite rude.

Workplaces are inherently political. This goes beyond customer service, to the very heart of what it means to live in society. Workplaces are not outside society. So, when we say racism and fascism should be challenged throughout society, we mean at work.

If you agree that the staff member should be supported, please email customerservices@selfridges.com telling them you now think more of their store values and commend the young man caught on video, showing Tommy Robinson that he won’t be treated like everyone else because he isn’t like everyone else. Robinson is a fascist and I hope all Nazis get refused service everywhere they go, even in clothes shops, in order to highlight intolerance based on race/sexuality/religion won’t be tolerated. Though, the entire EDL in dressing gowns at their next demonstration might make me regret such a scenario.