Imagine there’s no Sgt Pepper. It’s all too easy in the era of Trump and May | John Harris

13 hours ago

This great Beatles album is as thrilling a listen as ever on its 50 th anniversary: but its a melancholy day for the one-world counterculture the record soundtracked

At the time Sgt Pepper was released, the American writer Langdon Winner once recalled, I happened to be driving across the country on Interstate 80. In each city where I stopped for gas or food Laramie, Ogallala, Moline, South Bend the tunes wafted in from some far-off transistor radio or portable hi-fi For a brief while, the irreparably fragmented consciousness of the west was unified, at the least in the minds of the young.

How far away it all seems. On 26 May the 50th anniversary of the Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band( it actually falls on 1 June) is likely to be marked by the release of remixed and repackaged versions of the original album. With his characteristically jolly meeknes, Paul McCartney insists in the latest issue of Mojo magazine that its only a record but its gained in notoriety over the years. The truth is that Sgt Pepper might be the most confident, boundary-pushing record British rock musicians had already been generated, and it is worth revisiting again.

We might also think about the era the album crystallised, and its long legacy. Sgt Pepper is not quite the quintessentially psychedelic, love-and-peace artefact of historical cliche: streaked through its multicoloured astonish is a very Beatle-ish various kinds of melancholy, partly rooted in the bands decidedly unpsychedelic postwar childhoods. But the wider culture moment, and the Beatles place at its heart, were indeed replete with beads, buzzers and a wide-eyed optimism.

Three weeks after the album came out, the band were the biggest attraction in the worlds first global satellite TV demonstrate, singing All You Need Is Love to an audience of as many as 350 million. Meanwhile, on both the US west coast and in swinging London, young people on the cutting edge genuinely were trying to push into a future very different from the one their parents had envisaged.

The so-called counterculture may not initially have reached much beyond its urban nerve centres and campuses. But the basic ideas Sgt Pepper soundtracked soon acquired enough influence to begin no end of social revolutions. A new emphasis on self-expression was manifested in the decisive arrival of feminism and gay liberation. Countries and borders came a distant second to the idea of one world.

Such shibboleths as matrimony until death and a job for life were quickly weakened. Once the leftist unrest of 1968 was out of the way, the shift continued away from the old-fashioned politics of systems and social structures towards the idea of freeing ones mind everything coloured with an essentially optimistic position of the future.

Two years after Sgt Peppers release, a young alumnu at Wellesley College, a women-only institution in Massachusetts, dedicated a speech. Our persisting acquisitive and competitive corporate life, including tragically the universities, is not the way of life for us, she said. Were searching for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living. And so our topics, our questions about our institutions, about our colleges, about our churches, about our government continue.

Her name was Hillary Rodham, and her journey says a lot about where 1960 s values eventually resulted us. To quote the music novelist Charles Shaar Murray, the line from hippy to yuppie was not nearly as convoluted as some people subsequently liked to believe and once the love decades more ambitious alumni reached positions of power, the origin of many of their notions was as clear as day.

Their professed distaste for corporate values fell away, but the hippy individualism summed up in the future Hillary Clintons insistence on immediate and ecstatic ways of life lived on, as did a questioning attitude to tradition, and to the stifling the limit of the old-fashioned nation state.

After the anti-6 0s backlash symbolised by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, by the mid-9 0s such notions were shaping a new political establishment, exemplified by Bill Clinton, and Blair and Browns New Labour. I am a modern man, from the rocknroll generation. The Beatles, colour TV, thats my generation, said Blair. Clinton honked away at his saxophone and ended his rallies with a song by Fleetwood Mac.

It is not hard to read across from these legislators ideals to what they soaked up in their formative years. In 2005 Blair, who fronted a long-haired band while at Oxford University, told the Labour party conference that people should be swift to adapt, slow to complain open, willing and able to change. Collectivity was yesterdays thing; against a background of globalisation and all-enveloping liberalism, governments task was to encourage people to be as flexible and self-questioning as possible.

John Lennons response to the rebels of 68: the Beatles build Revolution rock

Go back 50 years, and you perhaps hear early stirrings of those ideas, soaked in patchouli petroleum and put to tape at EMIs Abbey Road studios. Try George Harrisons Indian-flavoured Within You Without You: Try to realise its all within yourself/ No one else can construct you change . Or what about John Lennons response to the rebels of 68 in Revolution( on the so-called White Album )? You tell me its the institution/ Well, you know/ Youd better free your intellect instead . As for a picture of globalised utopia, after the Beatles had broken up, Lennon released that saccharine anthem Imagine, with its key line: Imagine theres no countries .

And now? If youre a citizen of the world, youre a citizen of nowhere, says our new “ministers “. If we do indeed live in the post-liberal times endlessly analysed in academic papers, it is the inheritance of the 60 s that is in question. For sure, many of the changes that originated then have become irreversibly embedded in millions of lives. Positions to marriage, sexuality and matters such as race are seemingly more liberal than ever; wherever you go, youre never very far from the whiff of marijuana smoke.

But the dominance of post-6 0s individualism and globalisation is being weakened by the resurgence of collective identities meant to have withered away: class, nation, region. And if the events of 2016 and 2017 are anything to go by, political success now often goes to people whose values seem the polar opposite of the old counterculture.

Duty, nationhood, and regular trips to church: whatever values Theresa May affects to represent, they are surely redolent of a world that existed long before the 1960 s( consider also her parliamentary record, which includes votes against equalising the age of permission, lesbian adoption and the repeal of section 28 ).

Last year, a New York Post article contrasted Hillary Clintons embodiment of the campus 1960 s with the sense that Donald Trump was an unexpected throwback to the Rat Pack, those macho exemplars of everything the hippies wanted to sweep away. Trump, said the author, represented pre-Feminist Man, the guy who boasts about never having changed a nappy and expects subservience from his wives.

Sgt Pepper arrived two decades after the second world wars objective: approximately the same historical distance that separates the Brexit/ Trump age from the high point of the Clinton/ Blair era. Devote a 21 st-century polish, the albums music voices as thrilling as ever, though with a bittersweet sense of a credo abruptly falling victim to a counter-revolution.

On the last track of the old side two, the bell-like piano chords that begin A Day in the Life are applied to sound like the death knell of all the inward-looking, fusty, moralistic ideas the Beatles came to do away with. How strange to tune in half a century afterwards and find all that stuff back with a vengeance.

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ICC’s first cultural destruction trial to open in The Hague

4 days ago

War crimes trial of jihadi leader accused of destroying mausoleums in Timbuktu will begin on Tuesday

The international criminal tribunals first war crimes trial for destruction of cultural monuments opens the coming week with the hearing of a jihadi leader accused of demolishing ancient mausoleums in Timbuktu.

Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi is accused of levelling medieval shrines, mausoleums of Sufi saints and a mosque dating back to the 15 th century that formed part of the Unesco world heritage site in the northern Malian city.

The decision by the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to induce obliteration of heritage a priority in dealing with the aftermath of Malis conflict may demonstrate controversial in Africa but is likely to boost the ICCs international profile.

Since Balkan warlords were charged by the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia with shelling Dubrovnik, wrecking the ancient bridge at Mostar and damaging the national library in Sarajevo in the early 1990 s, those responsible for eradicating historical sites have largely escaped punishment.

No Taliban or al-Qaida leader was charged with the destruction of Afghanistans sixth-century Bamiyan Buddhas which were dynamited in 2001. Khmer Rouge genocide trials did not enter into negotiations with the looting of Cambodias Hindu temples. Nor have Islamic State leaders been indicted for destroying Assyrian statues from Nineveh or razing Roman ruinings in Palmyra.

The damage inflicted on Timbuktu, known as the city of 333 saints, followed the rebellion of al-Qaida-inspired Tuareg militias, armed with weapons from Libya, in the central African country in 2012.

Faqi, a local ethnic Tuareg, is said to have been a member of Ansar Dine and the head of Hesbah, known as the Manners Brigade, which considered the mausoleums built to pay homage to deceased saints to be blasphemous.

He is accused of directing assaults on 10 ancient mud-brick buildings in June 2012 and July 2012 which reduced them to rubble. One of the desecrated sites was the Sidi Yahya mosque, built in 1440 when Timbuktu was a regional centre for learning. It contained Prof Sidi Yahyas mausoleum.

Around 4,000 ancient manuscripts were also lost, stolen or burned during the course of its Islamists reign of terror. Ansar Dine was pushed out of Timbuktu in 2013 when French forces intervened. Faqi was arrested in neighbouring Niger and sent to the Netherlands last September.

At his first remand appearance, Faqi, dressed in a suit and affiliation, said: I am from the Tuareg tribe. I was born about 40 years ago. I am a graduate of the teachers institute in Timbuktu and I was a civil servant in the education department … beginning in 2011.

He told judges he wished to be addressed in Arabic and referred to by his full name. The confirmation-of-charges hearing, opening the trial, on Tuesday 1 March will be held in the ICCs new tribunal in The Hague.

There is growing resentment among African states that the UN-backed ICC has concentrated its prosecutions on the continent a development that is partially a consequence of the United States, Russia and most of the Middle East failing to join the court. The ruling ANC party in South Africa has voted to leave the ICC.

Faqi is the first person the ICC has put on trial for the Mali conflict. There has been criticism that no major figure in the Tuareg uprising has been charged.

Mark Ellis, chief executive of the International Bar Association who specialises in war crimes instances, said: Politically, there will be those who will question why Bensouda is focusing on ancient sites rather than running after rape, torturing and slaying convictions, but demolition of cultural heritage is not a second-rate crime. Its part of an inhumanity to erase a people. I hope it will act as a discouraging to similar is acting in other countries.

He described the trial as a courageous step.

The Open Society Justice Initiative in New York said there had been a previous example brought by the ICC for destroying houses following the conflict in the Congo. Bosco Ntaganda, the former Congolese militia leader, was charged, along with more serious crimes, with destroying a church and a hospital.

But this is the first time this has been the main charge against a suspect, or when the property destroyed has had global cultural significance, Jonathan Birchall, of the initiative, said. Al-Faqi is also the first is part of an Islamist armed group to appear before the court.

Legal authority for monument demolition prosecutions derives from a 1954 convention written in the aftermath of the second world war.

Although the 1938 Nazi-organised vandalism of Kristallnacht targeting synagogues and Jewish property across Germany did feature in the Nuremberg war crimes trials , none of the defendants were specifically charged with cultural destruction.

The convention cover-ups architectural monuments, archaeological sites, works of art, manuscripts, books, other culture objects and scientific collections. It has been ratified by more than 125 states.

Welcoming Faqis transfer to The Hague last September, the ICCs chief prosecutor said the people of Mali deserve justice for the two attacks against their cities, their beliefs and their communities.

The charges we have brought against Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi involve most serious crimes, he said. They are about the extermination of irreplaceable historic monuments, and they are about a callous assault on the dignity and identity of entire populations, and their religious and historical roots.

More than 350,00 people were displaced by the conflict. Unesco has already rebuilt many of the mausoleums that were destroyed in Timbuktu.

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Inner-city living builds for healthier, happier people, study determines

One week ago

Residents of higher-density areas are more active, more socially engaged and less obese than people who live in the sprawl of suburbia

Contrary to popular belief, busy city centres beat suburban living when it is necessary to human wellbeing, as socialising and walking make for happier, healthier people, according to a new report.

Downtown residents- packed together in tight row houses or apartment blocks- become active and socially engaged than people who live in the sprawl of suburbia, according to a report that aims to challenge popular beliefs about city life.

Its authors said their findings should encourage legislators to promote the benefits of built-up city living.

” If we can persuade policy makers that this is a public health possibility, we can construct well-designed communities, and in the long term you have made a big difference in the area of health outcomes ,” its co-author Chinmoy Sarkar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

” With evidence, we can scheme multi-functional, attractive neighborhoods that promote physical activity, promote social interaction, and shield from negatives such as pollution and impression unsafe .”

The examine- by Oxford University and the University of Hong Kong( UHK)- showed that in 22 British cities people living in built-up residential area had lower levels of obesity and exercised more than residents in scattered, suburban homes.

” As cities get more and more compact, they become more walkable. In denser residential areas they are better designed and most attractive destinations. We are less dependent on our automobiles and use public transport more ,” he said.

Sarkar, assistant prof at UHK, said policies and planning needed to catch up with the data, rather than relying on urban myths about what attains cities work.

The study showed that areas of suburban sprawl with about 18 homes per hectare- such as poorly designed neighborhoods near motorways, where driving is the only option- had the greatest rates of obesity and lowest rates of exercise.

Suburban areas with few homes- often privileged communities with big gardens and open spaces- were healthier than this but lagged behind the most densely populated areas in inner cities.

Walking constructed the biggest change, said Sarkar, and social interaction and physical activity flourished best in compact communities.

The analyse compared more than 400,000 residents of cities- including London, Glasgow, and Cardiff- and procured the best health came in areas with more than 32 homes per hectare, the average density for new building in Britain.

This level, typical of developments of standalone semi-detached suburban homes, is less than a one-quarter of the density of Georgian terraces of London’s desirable Islington and Notting Hill neighbourhoods.

Sarkar called into question British policies- such as statutes to curtail suburban homes from dividing their plots and filling in more homes in gardens- which have sought to preserve suburbia’s open and emptier spaces.

In January the government announced it would construct 17 new towns and villages across the countryside in a bid to ease a chronic housing shortage. But Sarkar said policy makers should think again before building on green fields.

Despite spiralling home costs and government targets to build a million homes by 2020, Britain’s restrictive scheming system has prevented high-density, urban planning due to fears that it would lead to high-rise, low-quality blocks of flats, according to a government paper released in February.

London remains one of Europe’s most sparsely populated major cities, with less than half the density of Madrid, Barcelona and Paris, and below the level of Milan, Berlin and Rome.

The paper recommended local authorities to reverse their long-standing opposition to built-up residential areas by highlighting London’s mansion blocks and terraced streets, all of which promote a strong sense of neighbourhood.

On Wednesday the prime minister, Theresa May, said the government would give PS2bn( US $2.6 bn) to local government authorities to build 25,000 homes for rental in the social housing sector, which urgently requires new properties.

The the administration has invest a further PS10bn in a strategy that aims to boost home ownership by helping people buy a new-build home with only a small deposit.

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On final Ukraine trip, Biden urges Trump administration to keep Russia sanctions

9 days ago

Comments while meeting with Ukraines president came after Trump indicated he could aim Crimea-related sanctions in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal

Vice-president Joe Biden, on a last foreign journey before leaving office, fulfilled Ukraines president on Monday and called on the incoming Donald Trump administration to retain Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia.

Bidens comments at a briefing with Petro Poroshenko came after Trump indicated in an interview with the Times and Bild that he could aim sanctions imposed in the aftermath Russias 2014 annexation of Crimea, in return for a nuclear arms reduction bargain.

Trumps attitude to Russia and praise for Vladimir Putin has been a consistently controversial feature of his rise to the White House, which will be completed with his inauguration in Washington on Friday.

US intelligence agencies believe Russia sought to covertly influence the US election in Trumps favour and against the Democratic nominee, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Trump has recently admitted that he believes Russia did orchestrate such hackers, but has nonetheless fuelled a bitter feud with intelligence officials over the issue.

The international community must continue to stand as one against Russian coercion and aggression, Biden told reporters, standing alongside Poroshenko, in remarks which did not include reference to Trump by name.

The Crimea-related sanctions against Russia must remain in place until Russia returns full control to the people of Ukraine.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Other US sanctions are connected to Russias involvement in the separatist war in eastern Ukraine.

Together with our EU and G7 partners, Biden said, we made it clear that sanctions should remain in place until Russia fully, emphasise fully, enforces its commitments under the Minsk agreement.

Poroshenko said Ukraine believed in good cooperation with the new US administration and urged sanctions to stay, without mentioning Trumps statements on a deal with Russia.

Andy Hunder, the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, said Kiev would have to put much time and resources into dealing with the new US administration.

On 20 January Ukraine will be waking up to a new reality, he told Reuters. There is a concern in Kiev about how the new relationship will develop. It will require constructing new bridges to the influencers, the gatekeepers and decision-makers.

Kiev has taken steps to win the very best favour of the those calling the shoots in the Trump administration. Days after the election in November, Poroshenkos office started planning an official visit to Washington in early 2017.

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Zanele Muholi’s best photo: out and proud in South Africa

11 days ago

She wanted to be a model, but not many South African bureaux accept LGBTI people as clients

This photograph is part of a series called Faces and Phases, which Ive been working on for a decade. Its about creating positive images of black lesbians and transgender people in South African society, and its dedicated to a close friend of mine who died in 2007 at persons under the age of 25. She was a so-called curative rape survivor. I felt I needed to remember the people that were growing up in front of me, and to find myself as one of us rather than one of them. The project is about us being counted in South African visual history. I think thats true photography to say that you were present.

Most of my subjects are friends or friends of friends, and often activists like me. I photograph people who are already out and fully understand who they are. I dont shoot people that are underage because I dont want them to danger their lives, especially if theyre still dependent on their parents. Its too dangerous.

I took this shooting of Sinenhlanhla Lunga at a friends place in the Katlehong township. I dont use a studio we just threw a blanket over the fencing as background. I think what defines this image is the gaze. Its beautiful; theres nothing superfluous. Sinenhlanhla wanted to be a professional model, but it never happened. You can have a dream of being a visible queer or trans model, but the mainstream hasnt reached that level of acceptance. When we last spoke, she was about to have a child.

Im so happy that were alive, living in a country that is so infested by hate crime. About three months ago, we had droughts in my hometown of Durban and a church leader said they had been caused by homosexuality and same-sex wedding. It was reported in the media, too. Its painful to me because the church should be preaching love. At the end of July, on the weekend of Durban Pride, there were blizzards, inundations and snow it was very strange. I said to a friend: I wonder what the church leaders are saying now?

In the same year this photograph was taken, lots of my photographic equipment and my computer was stolen from my apartment in Cape Town. It was a backlash against my work, and it was a double blow because I lost a lot of unpublished material.

One of the most challenging things about being a faggot visual activist in South Africa is not having access to spaces to exhibit my work here where it would be most important even as I gain recognition abroad. The position of politicians towards LGBTI people fluctuates a lot. When one of us has been killed or there are elections you find a lot of support, and then when its over they come up with a different agenda. Thats why its so important to have our own people in politics, in medicine and in the media.

Faces and Stage will carry on as long as I live we are growing up together. I also give workshops to young women and provide them with cameras to let them document their own lives. Some have even become photographers. That truly arouses me because I know Im not opposing alone.

Photograph: pr/ no credit

Zanele Muholis CV

Born: Umlazi township in Durban, South Africa, 1972.

Education: Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, and Ryerson University, Toronto.

Influences: The LGBTI someones I photograph.

High phase: Working on a project that has reached 10 years. Also, Faces and Stages being shown at Venice Biennale in 2013 one of the few queer projects that has built it to that stage.

Low phase: Being misunderstood.

Top tip: Collaborate, support one another projects, and devote credit where its due. Feed the passion of people who want to become the next generation of photographers.

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Canadian marijuana proponent detonations’ hypocrisy’ of ex-police cashing in on cannabis

12 days ago

Former public servants and police officer are observing opportunities in the countrys fledgling industry including some who were once adamantly anti-pot

One of Canada‘s most prominent marijuana activists has taken aim at former police officers who have entered the country’s fledgling cannabis industry, saying it was ” hard to stomach” that the individuals who expended years sending people to jail for pot offences are now poised to profit as the country moves towards legalisation.

” It’s a mix of hypocrisy and pure profiteering ,” Jodie Emery told the Guardian.” They made a living off taxation dollars for trying to keep people out of the cannabis business and now they’re going to stance themselves to cash in .”

Her statements come as legislation aimed at legalising recreational marijuana by 1 July 2018 was passed in the House of Commons. The bill will now head to the Senate, paving the route for Canada to become the first country in the G7 to fully legalise the drug.

Former public servant, politicians and law enforcement officers have gravitated towards the sector, which analysts say could eventually be worth somewhere between C$ 5bn and C $10 bn annually.

The most controversial of these would-be entrepreneurs is Julian Fantino, a former Toronto police chief who once likened the decriminalisation of marijuana to legalising slaying and, just two years ago, declared his complete opposition to legalisation.

Julian Fantino was opposed to legalisation- but now is aiming to profit from the likely billion-dollar industry. Photograph: Steve Russell/ Toronto Star via Getty Images

Fantino recently announced that he would helm a company that connects patients to medical cannabis among other services. Medical marijuana is already legal in Canada.

A former Conservative MP, Fantino was also part of a government that sought to crackdown on marijuana offences, passing legislation stipulating mandatory incarcerate period for those catch with six plants or more.

At the launch of his company, Aleafia, last month, Fantino waved off the issue of his past positions.” Day gone by, we all had a certain attitude and certain perception of things being what they are and what they were ,” he told reporters.

Fantino said he had embarked on a” fact-finding mission” after being approached by Afghan war veterans who wanted access to marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and pain. “[ I] learned a lot about this whole space and medical marijuana and that to me was the conversion, if you will, to enable us to be more helpful to people who are not presently attaining the kind of results from their medication, which is usually opiates .” Fantino did not respond to a request for an interview with the Guardian.

Emery described Fantino’s message as deeply offensive.” I’m always happy to see our adversaries admit that we were right by adopting our messaging and what we’ve been saying for so long ,” she said.” But it’s hard to belly when he isn’t saying that he’s sorry for apprehending people for cannabis, he’s not saying sorry for ruining lives and trying to prevent access to patients and veterans for all those years .”

Emery- who along with her husband Marc own the Cannabis Culture brand, which at one point included more than a dozen marijuana dispensaries across Canada- was arrested in March on charges of drug trafficking and possession.

Her arrest came amid warns by government and law enforcement officials that despite the legislation snaking its way through parliament, recreational marijuana remains illegal in the country.

The charges bar Emery, who has been released on bail but faces life in prison, from participating in the marijuana industry once it is legalised.” So it’s sad to think that not only are we not allowed to compete against the policemen getting in the pot business, but we’re still forever branded crooks ,” she said.

The government is currently mulling whether those convicted of minor narcotic offences should be allowed to work in key sectors.

Emery said at least 11 high profile former police officer were now tied to the pot industry, including a former second-in-command with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who had joined forces-out with Fantino to head Aleafia.

Others include a former West Vancouver police chief who has for years consulted for medical marijuana companies and a former deputy of the Toronto police who, after 38 years in law enforcement, began working with marijuana businesses in 2012. The Liberal government’s plans for legalisation are being led by Bill Blair, another former Toronto police chief.

Emery described the situation as unjust.” They not only enforced the law against people in a way that’s recognised as racially biased, targeting poor, marginalised people but they actively resisted reform to the law ,” she said.” It’s like a creationist being put in charge of teaching evolution in university .”

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How Islam took root in one of South America’s most violent cities

14 days ago

The Colombian port of Buenaventura is home to a small Muslim community who have successively embraced the Nation of Islam, Sunni and Shia interpretations

Blaring salsa music from a neighbouring bar does not perturb Sheik Munir Valencia as he bows in prayer at a family-home-turned-mosque in the poor, violence-racked Colombian city of Buenaventura.

His prayers finished, Valencia sheds his brown tunic, sits down at a plastic table and describes his role as the spiritual leader of an Islamic community like few others.

The small community of Afro-Colombian Muslims in Colombias main Pacific port city have over the years espoused the teachings of the Nation of Islam, mainstream Sunni Islam, and the Shia denomination.

First attracted to the faith by the promises of black power, Buenaventuras Muslims say that they have found in Islam a refuge from the poverty and violence that racks the city, which has one of the highest slaying rates in Colombia.

Islam first arrived here in the late 1960 s thanks to Esteban Mustafa Melndez, an African American sailor of Panamanian origin, who spread the training courses of the Nation of Islam the US-based group that mixes elements of Islam with black patriotism among port workers.

He talked about the self-esteem of blacks, and that philosophy had a big impact. Those teaches reached the heads and hearts of a lot of people, says Valencia, adding that the message came during a period of profound social change.

Melndezs visits came at a time when many rural Colombians were migrating to cities, losing in the process the social connections of their extended households, said Diego Castellanos, a sociologist who has examined different religions in Colombia, an overwhelmingly Catholic country.

The Nation of Islam offered an alternative identity and it was a way to fight back against the situation of structural racial discrimination in the port, he said. 90 per cent of the population of Buenaventura is Afro-Colombian.

colombia map

That first wave of converts tended to be more political than spiritual: they said their prayers in English or Spanish, read more political pamphlets than the Quran, and had a shaky understanding of Islams central tenets, said Valencia.

The appeal of the Nation of Islam gradually waned as Melndezs trip-ups came less frequently and the message of black supremacy began to sound hollow to a community that while victim of severe structural discrimination based on their race never suffered the same racial hatred and segregation laws that had existed in the United States.

Following the example of Malcolm X who broke with the Nation of Islam and embraced Sunnism before his death in 1965 the states members of the Buenaventura community travelled to Saudi Arabia to study Islam and came back to convince the group to embrace a more orthodox religion.

Just like that we were Sunni, says Valencia, who was raised Catholic and planned to become a clergyman before turning to Islam. We learned to read Arabic, we read the Quran, we no longer looked toward the United States and started looking toward Saudi Arabia, he says.

Buenaventuras Muslim community turned to other Sunni groups in the country for support, but their two worlds could not have been more different.

The Muslims from Buenaventura, defined between vast expanses of jungle and the Pacific Ocean in Colombias south-west, were black, poor and relatively new to the beliefs and traditions of Islam. The established Colombian Sunni community was of Arab heritage, made up of prosperous traders and based predominantly in Maicao, a bustling commercial township set in the north-eastern desert on the border with Venezuela.

A barge loaded with renders heads out to ocean in Buenaventura, Colombias largest Pacific port and home to a small Muslim community. Photo: Bloomberg/ Bloomberg via Getty Images

Aside from a few food donations from the Arab community, relations were distant.

The 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran inhaled new life into the Buenaventura community. Shia missions contacted the group and offered scholarships and financing support. Valencia won a scholarship to study at the At-Tauhid mosque in Buenos Aires and then continued his surveys at the University of Qom in Iran.

As Valencia tells his narrative, his mobile phone lights up, his ringtone a chant in Arabic. He answers: Salaam alekum , then launches into a conversation in the rapid-fire Spanish of Colombias Pacific coast.

Today, portraits of Malcolm X and the Ayatollah Khamenei adorn the walls of a back room in the home that serves as community center and mosque for the approximately 300 current members of the community. A colourful mural covers another wall, depicting a leafy family tree titled Islamic genealogy of the oracles. On any given Friday, between 40 and 50 show up for prayers.

Valencia says his links with Iran have been the target of secret and not-so-secret investigations by both Colombian and US intelligence services. I have nothing to hide, he says.[ The Iranians] supporting us. But we are not jihadists.

Valencia also operates two private charter schools where 180 children of some of the most severe neighborhoods of the city not only learn their ABCs but their alif ba ta s as well. Housed on the ground floor of an ill-maintained three-storey building, the Silvia Zaynab school is set in one of Buenaventuras most violent neighbourhoods, where criminal gangs fight over territory control and residents often get caught in the crossfire.

The school offers a small haven from that reality. Students greet guests with anthems in Arabic about the greatness of Allah. In Spanish, they sing about the five prophets of creation: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. One second-grader rushes to the chalkboard to proudly write out a random three-digit number in Arabic.

Only five of the children who attend the schools are members of the Muslim community. We are not trying to convert anyone, says Valencia. Were only proving the children to respect different religions and other traditions.

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The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness review- a narrative of disloyalty by the church

15 days ago

Graham Caveneys defiant, important memoir details how the Catholic establishment fails abuse victims

Pope Francis has taken great strides in challenging all sorts of entrenched attitudes and prejudices in the Vatican that have given the Catholic church such a bad name of late. Progression has been disappointingly slow, however, on the commission he appointed in 2014 to tackle the appalling scandal of clerical sexual abuse. In March of this year Marie Collins, the last remaining is part of the panel who was a survivor of abuse, resigned after a Vatican department failed to comply with the commissions recommendation that it respond to every correspondent who writes in with allegations that they have been a victim. If the curia is resisting such simple steps, how to have faith that they will tackle the bigger underlying issues?

Reluctance to face up to the consequences of clerical abuse remains hard-wired into the structures of the church: an instinct to protect the institution at the cost of the individual who has suffered, and a brick-wall resistance to addressing the profound questions about the nature of vocation posed by such abhorrent behaviour. And so church leaders not all, awarded; surely not Pope Francis tend to speak of historical allegations whenever victims find the gallantry to speak up 20, 30 or even 40 years after events that are not for them in any way historical, but are a psychological and emotional trauma they will live with until their succumbing day.

Individuals like Graham Caveney. The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness recounts with great courage and candour how, in the 1970 s, as the clever, awkward, nerdy, merely child of devoutly Catholic working-class parents in Accrington, Lancashire, he was groomed by a priest at his local grammar school in Blackburn, and then sexually abused by him.

A casual glance might indicate he has managed to set it behind him he has a successful career as a novelist on music( the voices of the 70 s are one thread of this well-structured, rounded memoir) and biographer of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. But as he describes, without self-pity, Caveney fell out of university, struggled to kind adult relationships, turned to beverage and drugs to blot out the trauma, and on occasion attempted suicide.

The abuse leads you to fuck up their own lives, he reflects bleakly but unsparingly, and a fucked-up life means that youre a less believable witness to the abuse that fucked you up in the first place. Its an ironic trick of memory and survival: abuse induces you want to forget the abuse.

John and Kath, his mum and father, had no idea what was wrong. They watched their beloved boy, in whom they had expended so much hope that he would have more life opportunities than them, change first into a sulky, angry adolescent who refused to go to mass, and then into a messed-up wreck, beset by panic attacks.

They died in 1998 and 2002, still none the wiser. They continued to direct their flailing son back towards his old headteacher for wise advise, never suspecting that Father Kevin ONeill had sexually abused him as a 15 -year-old and set off the downward spiral.

The Caveneys had believed that the youthful, relaxed Rev Kev the Catholic equivalent of a trendy vicar was doing their boy a favor by taking him to theaters, cinemas and restaurants, broadening his intellect. What they couldnt know was that on the way home, the priest they looked up to would turn his vehicle into quiet side-road and force himself on their son. Afterwards, where reference is invited young Graham to go on holiday to Greece with him and a group of others, John and Kath enlisted the help of relatives to scrape together the cost, but it was just a pretext for more abuse.

Its them that I cant forgive you for, Caveney writes, addressing his abuser in the pages of a book that must have cost him dear to complete, the route in which you stimulated their hopes and aspirations the tools of your own needs. Its them who expended their lives worrying if it was something they had done wrong to make their son turn out the way he did.

Given how much Catholic grammar schools from the 1950 s through to the 1970 s were the road by which generations of working-class Catholic boys and girls got to get in life the Irish Christian Friend in my own home township of Liverpool boasted that they took the sons of dockers and built them into physicians it is impossible to believe that the disloyalty of Graham Caveney and his mothers is an isolated incident. How widespread it is, however, remains impossible to know because every bit of information has to be dragged out of a compulsively secretive church that recoils from guessing in terms of deep-rooted, complex patterns of abuse.

And what happened when Caveney identified his abuser in the early 1990 s to Father ONeills religious order, the Marists? Id merely slashed up my limbs, he adds, by way of context. The clergyman was challenged, apparently confessed his crimes, but was referred to a US therapy centre rather than the police. In 1993, he retired with full honors as headteacher. Kath even sent her son a cutting about the celebrations from the local paper. You were always one of his favourites, she reminded him. The report told of ex-pupils lining up to sing the clergymen praises, little suspecting how they too had been betrayed.

ONeill died in 2011, the serious charges against him encompassed up to the grave. He still doesnt seem to appear on any register I can find of abusive clergy. What distresses Caveney almost as much as the churchs failure to involve the police and courts is that he now can never confront his abuser, save in this raw, defiant but important memoir. A part of him, he confesses, still thinks in his darkest moments that what happened was somehow his own fault.

What was it about me? he asks. You watch, theres a bit of me that still believes Im unique, that I genuinely was your prime number, indivisible merely by myself. I dont want to think of myself as part of a pattern, merely another victim.

ONeills old school, St Marys, Blackburn, today has a drama block named after him, an honour accorded despite the Marist order having been told about Caveneys accusations virtually 20 years earlier. Is it plausible that there is no one who knew of them who could have spoken up? Or did they consider that whatever good he had done at the school cancelled out sexually abusing a 15 -year-old in his care? It is part of the same impossible-to-fathom and offensive attitude that now apparently stops Vatican officials answering letters from those reporting abuse, in defiance of the pope.

Quite how long it will take for that prejudice to be defeated, I dont know. But after they have read The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness , the school governors might at least like to revisit the naming of their drama block, which scratch salt into open wounds.

Peter Stanford is a former editor of the Catholic Herald

The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness by Graham Caveney is published by Picador on 7 September( 14.99 ). To order a transcript for 12.74 go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over 10, online orders only. Telephone orders min p& p of 1.99

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Fifty tints of Xi: scores of volumes praising chairman published in China

17 days ago

Blitz on bookshelves comes ahead of next weeks political summit and includes tomes including Xi Jinping: Know More, Love More

” This is the first volume I’ve read on Xi ,” acknowledges software engineer Wu Huifeng as he leafs through one of the most recent tomes of China’s prolific president.

It need not be his last.

A Communist party publishing blitz ahead of next week’s political summit entails the shelves of Chinese bookshops are now packed with Xi Jinping-themed works designed to strengthen both his reputation and his rule.

Immediately inside the entrance to the state-run Beijing Book Building, one of the capital’s largest stores, a lately inaugurated showing features at least 50 runs by or about China’s scribbler-in-chief.

” The speech is simple and sincere – quite down-to-earth, I think ,” said Wu, 43, who was perusing one of the most recent publishings, a 452 -page paperback about Xi’s seven years of rural exile during the Culture Revolution that sells for 76 yuan( PS8. 75 ).

Nearby, Fan Yubiao, a 22 -year-old salesman, was examining another recent volume, Xi Jinping’s Discourse on Youth and the Work of the Chinese Communist Youth League.

” Xi’s quite a good person. He’s strict ,” Fan said, praising his leader’s populist anti-corruption campaign which has toppled some of China’s most powerful politicians since he took power in 2012.

The works of Xi- who some now suspect will seek to remain in power beyond the customary decade- boasting titles both stirring and sterile.

At the Beijing Book Building you can buy catchily named volumes including Xi Jinping: Wit and Vision, Xi Jinping: Know More, Love More and Xi Jinping Tells Stories as well as the president’s best-known opus, Xi Jinping: The Governance of China.

Other titles are less enticing: Xi Jinping: Statements on the Construction of a Clean Government and the Anti-Corruption Campaign, Excerpts from Xi Jinping: Comprehensively Managing the Party in Strict Manner, and, for environmentalists, Xi Jinping’s Discourse on Ecological Improvement.

Wu Huifeng, 43, studies a new book about Xi Jinping’s youth at a bookshop in Beijing, China. Photo: Tom Phillips for the Guardian

China’s party-run press asserts Xi’s writings have proved a hitting both at home and abroad. If you believe Xinhua, the official news agency, a recent book of Xi anecdotes sold nearly 1.5 m copies in under four months. The Governance of China has supposedly shifted 6.42 m transcripts in 21 different languages.

” These vivid tales … have opened a window to the essence of Xi’s statements ,” the president of party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, gushed in a recent interview.

Beyond the constraints of China’s heavily-censored publishing industry, rather more unconventional runs about Xi are also starting to emerge, including a 23-page work of erotic fiction called Xi’s The One.

The synopsis of the book, which sells on Amazon for PS2. 44, suggests it is unlikely to find a publisher in authoritarian China.

” She’s a lonely, overworked waitress in a downbeat Chicago pizza joint and he’s the President of the People’s Republic of China on a tour of the United States ,” it says.” Their stressful, bearing lives are about to heat up like a pizza …”

Here are some choice an extract from China’s Storyteller-in-Chief:

Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, 2014

” When I fulfill foreign leaders, one question they often ask in amazement is this:’ How can one govern such a large country as China ?’ Indeed, it is not easy to govern a country with 1.3 billion people … In such a big, populous and complicated country as ours, we the leaders must have an in-depth knowledge of the national conditions and learn what the people believe and what they want … We must cultivate an attitude of’ governing a big country is as delicate as frying a small fish ‘.”

Xi Jinping: Know More, Love More, 2015

” To love one’s hometown, one first of all needs to know about it. A profound love must be built upon a profound understanding. One can only know more about one’s hometown, by loving it more.

” Communists must hold clear stances as to what they subsistence and what they resist. Their flags must be clear and their postures forthright, especially when faced with major issues of right and wrong .”

Xi Jinping: Wit and Vision( Selected Excerpts and Commentary ), 2015

” Language has a magical power. In his speeches, President Xi Jinping often employs analogies and storytelling to express profound truths. His colloquial, straightforward speech clarifies ideas that many find puzzling, and his excerpts from China’s traditional culture well summarize his topics and thoroughly expound his propositions. His speeches express wisdom in simple speech that packs a powerful, penetrating punch .”

Xi Jinping’s Seven Years As An Educated Youth, 2017

” Xi Jinping’s Seven Years As An Educated Youth is a series of interviews planned and organised by the party school of the Communist party’s central committee[ with those who knew him in the early 1970 s ].

” Even though the events[ described] took place more than 40 years ago,[ the interviewees ‘] precious memories have by no means faded. Everywhere general secretary Xi Jinping left footprints, we have listened attentively to tales of how he went through thick and thin, along with the people[ and] of how he analyse assiduously …[ These narratives] penetrate people’s souls over and over again .”

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen

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Kenyan creativity broadens job horizons for disabled people | Kate Hodal

18 days ago

A digital tool that helps disabled people find jobs and a convertible electric wheelchair that solves access issues could foster greater diversity in the Kenyan workplace

Finding a undertaking has never been an easy task for Frederick Ouko. Despite university degrees and a can-do posture, the 34 -year-old Kenyan has detected himself turned away from job again and again, solely because he employs a wheelchair.

Just the act of getting on to public transport takes a long time: first you have to wait for a bus that has enough room for you and your chair, then finally you show up at the office for the interview, and you are turned away at the door because they think you are there to beg, says Ouko, who is from Nairobi.

There is a general notion that if youre disabled you dont need to work, because your family look after you or youre on government benefits. Not in their wildest dreams would an employer think you want to work and that you may be qualified.

Ouko was born able-bodied but suffered polio as a child, which left him with weak legs. In the eyes of most Kenyan employers, this rendered him unemployable. So he began thinking about how to reaching companies that might be interested in diversifying their labour pool, as well as how to explain the potential benefits of diversification to less progressive firms.

Government statistics concerning disability are unreliable, with the inclusion of albinism skewing numbers, but the International Labour Organisation suggests there may be as many as 3 million people living with a disability in Kenya.

Ouko began developing an online platform to match jobseekers with task providers. He named it Riziki Source, Swahili for livelihood. Users input their qualifications, skillset, locating and disability benefits, and are then matched with potential employers. Users qualifications and skillsets are visible to industries, but not their CVs; should an employer express interest in a specific nominee, they connect through Ouko and his colleagues.

Kenyas 2003 Persons with Disabilities Act requires both public and private firms to reserve 5% of their jobs for disabled employees. In practise, though, says Ouko, they dont even consider it. There is no monitoring. There is no coordinated effort by the government to provide jobs[ to disabled people ]. But there is all this unexplored talent you[ as an employer] may be missing by not hiring a person with a disability.

Riziki Source has been live for six months. So far it has helped 10 jobseekers to find employment in the hotel, IT, accounting and software industries. The program was recently shortlisted for the Royal Academy of Engineerings Africa prize for engineering innovation, and Kenyas department of labour has provided $30,000( 23,800) in funding.

Oukos goal is to change the narrative of disability in Africa.

We are important resources that our countries havent bothered investing in, he says. Can we normalise the challenges, and have the ability that we are qualified for, whether or not were disabled?

It is a question that fellow Kenyan Peter Mbiria, 26, has furthermore been asking for the past five years. After befriending a woman with crippling arthritis, Mbiria an able-bodied electrical engineering student in Nairobi recognised the limitations of existing technology for disabled people.

I could see how much she was struggling to do her daily tasks, and I wanted to make a wheelchair that would really suit her requires one that would build her independent and mobile, comfy and happy, he says.

Here in Kenya surfaces are very uneven, largely rocky and pretty difficult for people who utilize wheelchairs. In fact, even around Nairobi there are no ramps for wheelchairs.

Mbiria points out that most wheelchairs are limited to a single function. Some are best suited to a flat surface, others to rough terrain or moving in an upright position. Few, though, are able to combine all three functionalities. Mbiria decided to change that. Blending a military tank concept with the capacity of a 4×4 and the design of a normal wheelchair, he made the E-Con: an all-terrain wheelchair that allows users to stand upright, climb up or down stairs, and self-navigate.

Peter Mbiria is seen with a scale model prototype for his all-terrain electric convertible wheelchair. Photo: Brett Eloff/ Royal Academy of Engineering

Similar to a Transformer, the wheelchair morphs from its standard shape into a vertical upright posture, and can handle flat surfaces as well as bumpy terrain. Each wheel consists of three smaller wheels, allowing for greater movement and balance.

The E-Con is still in prototype form, but Mbiria, who was also shortlisted for the Africa prize, is in talks with a Kenyan organisation over funding to build the first model, which he says will cost about $9,000. Many of the components will have to be sourced from abroad, as they are not available in Africa.

Mbirias arthritic friend passed away before he was able to present her with his invention, and he took her death poorly. I was very sad because I was making this for her in secret, and she left without knowing what I was preparing for her, he says. For a while I was heartbroken, and then I supposed Well, there are many people like her who would like a wheelchair that would enable them to be independent and mobile.

Encouraged by that gues, Mbiria is now pushing for such wheelchairs to be made available to those in need without delay.

Once people are mobile and independent, they can focus on their dreamings, their goals in life, themselves, he says. These other challenges have been taken away from them. Now they can ask themselves, Can I start my own business? What can I do for my community? What do I want to be?

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