Sunday, 28 October 2012

Saturday, 27 October 2012

30,000 page views

Thank you, dear reader, for taking the blog hit count to 30,000 !! A small number in absolute terms, of course, but still something of a milestone.

It seems like a good time to remind readers that the blog has quite a few posts that are updated after initial publication, usually because some kind of feedback has been received from an organisation (see here for an example). The only way of being aware of these updates is if you follow the blog via Facebook or Twitter, so if you want to stay up-to-date with developments, social media is the way to do it.

And to give a feel for what people are reading, here are the most popular posts over the last month:

Moustafa Ismail and his biceps No one is more saddened than BBYF that this shallow post is at the top of the list.

Piano Busker

Schools no longer need to have kitchens

The MCB, Newcastle and Wonga

Muslim Communities in Nottingham

German Support for Hitler in the 1930s

Sustainability and Fairness

FSC in some toys at Tesco

Tour of the Theatre Royal Nottingham

Food Banks in Nottingham

Recipe - Easy Coconut Macaroons

At BFTF's workplace, just as in workplaces across the country, people occasionally bring in home made biscuits and cakes to share, often on birthdays etc.

Recently, at BFTF's workplace, someone bought in some Coconut Macaroons.

They were delicious. But it was not until BFTF enquired about the recipe that they true USP became clear.

The Macaroons contained just TWO ingredients. Wow!

So, dear reader, read on to see how to make the easiest, and quite possibly best tasting biscuits on the planet.

BFTF is genuinely not sure it gets any better than this, baking wise.

Seriously Easy Coconut Macaroons
Delicious Coconut Macaroons, so easy to make, so easy to eat!

400g (i.e. one can) Sweetened Condensed Milk
200g Desiccated Coconut

a) Preheat an oven to 180C
b) Mix the desiccated coconut into the condensed milk in a bowl.
c) Place a sheet of greaseproof paper on a flat baking tray
d) Place heaped teaspoon sized dollops of the mixture on the tray, leaving a little room between each one for the mix to spread slighly during baking.
e) Place in the oven and cook for 11-15minutes
f) Serve.

As a slight aside, below are two pictures of some macaroons made to this recipe by BFTF's niece (admittedly with the addition of a glace cherry on the topof each one). But there is some disagreement over which picture shows them to their best advantage. It would be great if you could leave a comment saying which picture you think looks nicer !

Do the Macaroons look better here in Picture 1. . . .

...Or here in Picture 2?

The dish rates as "EASY" on the BFTF Washing Up Index

See also the RECIPES post for other easy recipes to try, both sweet and savoury.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Challenging bigotry in social media

There is a famous quote from Edmund Burke that goes something like this:
"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing"
and this is someting that often comes to BFTF's mind when confronted by bigotry and hate speech in the news or social media. Surprisingly, BFTF has found that when one challenges people making these kind of comments, pointing out that they are portraying grossly unfair stereotypes and that they would not like it if they were themselves protrayed in such a negative manner, they often back down very quickly, sometimes deleting their comments. It is as though they suddenly realise the arrogance, unfairness and damaging nature of what they have written. Indeed this happended earlier today, when a Facebooker posted a stereotypical image of a Jewish person along with the following words :
"Look at this conniving face! These fools exude arrogance and ignorance in equal proportion and theirs is asinking ship, whomsoever who boarded it would surely drown, whomsoever jumps deck is saved!"
BFTF responded with this :
"I don't think it is acceptable to post pictures that portray Jews as having bad characters. It is a grossly unfair stereotype. You would not like it if someone portrayed Muslims in similarly negative terms."
Another Facebooker backed up this comment, and within a few minutes the whole post had been deleted by the original poster. So you see - we can ALL make a difference.

Monday, 15 October 2012

German support for Hitler in the 1930s

Recently watched a fascinating, but rather frightening, episode from the "Nazis - A warning from History" series.

It was the second programme in the series and looked at the ways in which the general population reacted to the Nazis rule in the 1930s.

The programms began by describing how, once they gained power, the Nazis began imprisoning their opponents in concentration camps. There was no significant public outcry against this becasue, as Manfred Von Shroder (Nazi Party Member 1933-45) commented, people knew of the concentration camps and thought that "so what, the communists would have done the same, and this is a revolution...the English had invented them [concentration camps] in South Africa with the Boers"

Lizzie Van Zyl was a child inmate of a British concentration camp
in South Africa during the Second Boer War

The programme also looked at the way the government was run in Nazi Germany, with Prof Ian Kershaw commenting that the country was unusual in being one where there was "No collective governemt yet where the head of state does not spend all his time dictating"

The narrator comments that Hitler was surrounded to acolytes who knew that their future depended on being able to please him. So ambitious Nazis would listen to Hitlers vision and, on their own initiaive think of ways his vision could become reality, making up detailed policy and claiming they were acting "on the will of the Fuhrer"

As far as the general population was concerned, life improved under the Nazis, not least because they printed money to finance large infrastructure projects (such as the autobahns) and a re-armament programme.

The programme also described how Jews were systematically discriminated against and banned from any jobs in the public sphere.

Front Page of the Nuremburg Laws Legislation which
banned Jews from participating in public life.

Johannes Zahn (Economist and Banker since 1931) was asked what it was like to work in a system that was so discriminatory and responded, rather frighteningly, that "Well, the general opinion was that the Jews had gone too far in Germany, that out of 4,800 lawyers in Berlin, 3,600 were Jews" and that "there was hardly a theatre director who wasn't a Jew. And one day it became just too much. The general feeling that the Jews should be driven back was not opposed"

A Nazi anti-Semitic cartoon, circa 1938--showing Churchill as an octopus with a Star of David
over its head and its tentacles encompassing a globe

Nazi propaganda hugely exaggerated the number of Jews who were in professions like the Law or the Theatre and didn't mention that the Jews had been banned from other careers for hundreds of years.

Surprising information about the Gestapo has come to life in the town of Wurtzburg, where US soldiers prevented the destruction of Gestapo files. Recent research on these files has revealed that, far from their being a pervasive Gestapo network, there were only 28 secret police officials for a region of nearly a million people

As Professor Robert Gellately comments "I think the Gestapo could not have operated without the co-operation of the citizens of Germany...there were simply not enough Gestapo officials to go around", adding that around 80-90% of the crimes reported to the Geatapo came from ordinary citizens.He goes on to say that it was previously thought that the German population had been brainwashed from above but that now the view was that the system was manipulted from below by lots of people for all kinds of reasons.

As the narrator points out "the citizens of a town like Wurtzburg didn't have to fear the Gestapo as much as what their neighbours might tell the Gestapo

Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia being marched away by police at
Croydon airport in March 1939 prior to being deported to Warsaw.(see also here)

Update : 16 Oct 12
Sent a webform to the BBC saying thank you for airing this programme.

Image Sources
Lilly Van Zyl
Jewish refugees at Croydon Airport
Nurenburg Laws

When pitches go bad...

As you might expect from the content of this blog, BFTF occasionally finds himself asking organisations to take part in activities or to change their practices.

Sometimes it goes well, sometimes not so well.

This post is a home to those instances where things didn't go to plan, with the aim of learming some lessons and perhaps showing how things shouldn't be done.

14 Oct 12 : Bring a Tin at a local Mosque.
BFTF had talked to the chair of the mosque committee a couple of times about the possibility of holding a "Bring a Tin" event there and had been told that it needed to be raised at a committee meeting and that BFTF should come back in a couple of weeks. So BFTF did exactly that and the chair said that this was not something the mosque was interested in because their congregation was struggling economically and could not afford to donate anything. BFTF pointed out that, firstly, whether people gave or not was a different issue to whether the event should be help at all; and secondly it didn't seem to be stopping the mosque from asking the congregation to donate to the mosque every Friday.

The chair also said that the mosque often had people coming and asking from London and elsewhere asking for donations. To which BFTF responded that this was an issue relating to the poor here in Nottingham, not elsewhere, that it was a Muslims duty to look after their neighbours and that the event was only asking people to bring in a 30p can of beans. When asked if they did anything to help the poor in Nottingham, the chair said that they DID help people by collecting for the poor in Kashmir.

BFTF pointed out that a key argument of the far-right was that Muslims only wanted to look after themselves and did not care at all about anybody else and that what BFTF was hearing was that, as far as this mosque was concerned, the far-right were correct.

The chair also said that that did not believe there was anyone in Nottingham who was short of food and asked for the names and addresses of the poor people (but changed the subject when BFTF asked whether providing names would result in the mosque helping them directly).

So what went wrong?
Leaving aside the fact that, had BFTF been in the chairs place, he would have signed up to a "Bring A Tin" event in a heartbeat, some reflection suggests that BFTF went about this all wrong.

BFTF didn't build up a relationship with the Chair first, but essentially went straight into the pitch.

BFTF challenged the chair when he said "no" - which made him very defensive and led to the unproductive dialogue described above. Instead, perhaps BFTF should have taken it on the chin and said simply "thank you for taking the time to thing about this" and left it at that.

14 Oct 12 : Bring a Tin at (another) local Mosque.
Had talked to the relevant person at this mosque about "Bring a Tin" a couple of weeks ago and they had discussed it with their committee before responding that the mosque didn't want to do this at the moment and that BFTF could perhaps contact them again in a couple of months..

Trying hard to learn the lessons of the item above, BFTF responded with a simple "That's disappointing, but thanks for getting back to me"

Details in news stories simply don't get read

An article in the Daily Mail recently was headlined "Drunk man who threatened to slit pregnant girlfriend’s throat with Stanley knife unless she converted to Islam is spared jail" which reports on how one Kuldeep Chail, commented to Mohammed Malik, a complete stranger, at a bus stop that he was "going to kill her if she won't listen'. Mr Malik was so concerned that he alerted Police.

The more ethnically aware amogst you will already have noticed that "Kuldeep" is not a Muslim name, and indeed the story actually points out, about half way through, that "at Snaresbrook Crown Court today it emerged that Chail is himself a Sikh, not a Muslim"

All pretty clear then?

Not for many of the Mail Online commenters it wasn't, as many of them believed that the accused WAS a Muslim, as shown by their comments, jsut a few of which are shown below :

"See what I mean? It's time for a ban on these extremists..."

"... if this 'man' is so passionate about his religion, then why does he drink and smoke as he is holding a packet of tobacco.. two things which are prohibited in his religion. Hypocrite."

"A Muslim that gets drunk. What another wonderful example of Islam."

"A drunk Muslim, threatening somebody with a Stanley knife and he gets off. Good job he was not a person of no faith, his feet would not have touched before being landed with a stiff jail sentence - are we going barking mad as a nation?"

"Which just goes to show how small riders and caveats in articles simply are not read by many readers, and allow articles to give these readers a message that damages community cohesions and generates ill-will and distrust."

The irony, of course, is that it was a Muslim, Mr Malik, who was the good guy in this story!

15 OCT 13- Malala ariives in the UK for Treatment
An article entitled Touchdown: Malala, 14, arrives in UK from Pakistan with her family for life-saving treatment after being shot in the head by Taliban for going to school in the MailOnline today reports on the story of Malala Yousafzai, who had been shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to campaign for the right to a school education. The article describes how Malala has arrived in the UK for treatment, which will take several months.

One question that people might legitimately ask is who is paying for the flight to the UK and subsequent treatment. The article answers this question with a quote by a Pakistani Army official who says that "'All expenses including transportation of Malala by specially equipped air ambulance and treatment abroad will be borne by the government of Pakistan"

But many readers simply did not see this, with the result that the feedback section was littered with comments like the following:

"A British medical team has flown to Pakistan to help doctors looking after 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai and will now transfer her to the UK for 'prolonged treatment'. ------------------- WHO IS PAYING FOR THIS?"

"I thought the NHS was under funded - or is that just for its British patients?"

"While people are waiting for operations, let's just fly someone over to get priority treatment! this country has it all so very very wrong."

"I've just collected my daughters proscription and it cost me fifteen pounds do I need to say more."

23 NOV 13- "Children of 8 are 'racist' if they miss Islam trip"
An article entitled "Children of 8 are 'racist' if they miss Islam trip: School's threatening letter to parents is met with outrage" describes how a primary school in Staffordshire sent out a ridiculously worded letter regarding a trip to Staffordhire Uni to see some Islamic artifacts as part of their RE course. The school, idiotically, chose to bully the parents by using the following text as part of the letter:
"Refusal to allow your child to attend this trip will result in a Racial Discrimination note being attached to your child’s education record, which will remain on this file throughout their school career."

The school backtracked very quickly, but the message that many of the MailOnline readers heard was that this was an example of Islamic intolerance (despite no Islamic institution being involved). For example :
"Then tell all the Muslim schools THEY will all have to do the same regarding Christians ! This is a two way street remember......what's good for the goose."
"Outrageous behaviour by this head teacher (by the way, what is she teaching?). Perhaps she could kindly tell us when the Muslim children at her school last attended an Anglican church service as part of their education"
"So I trust same applies to the Muslim/Hindu kids attending a Christian Workshop?"
Which received the reply :
"Please leave Hindus out of it. I guarantee that 99% of them would have no problem attending a Christian workshop. Let's be clear about this, this is an exclusively MUSLIM problem."

BFTF sent off this to Staffordshire County Council:
"Just read the MailOnline report on the proposed Littleton Green School regarding a trip to see some Islamic artifacts. I am sure that the trip itself was a great idea, and that many people worked hard to make it happen. Indeed, as a Muslim, I personally curious to find out more about the artifacts that Staffordshire University has available. It is a shame that their efforts were undermined by an idiotically worded letter to parents, whose media coverage has now had the effect of making life just that little bit harder for Muslims across the UK. I hope schools in Staffordshire have learnt a lesson from this and do not try to bully parents in this way again."

And this to the Nottingham Community Cohesion Team:
"Just read a report of how a school in Staffs sent out a bullying letter to parents which had the effect of breaking down community cohesion between Muslims and wider society. Could you please make sure schools in Nottinghamshire don't do anything as stupid and counter-productive."

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Muslim Communities in Nottingham - Reports

BFTF recently became aware of two fascinating reports on the Muslim Communities in Nottingham.

Firstly there is as report on the "Muslim Diversity in the City of Nottingham", commissioned by Nottingham Council and published in 2009.

And secondly there is a report entitled "Understanding and Appreciating Muslim Diversity in the City of Nottingham", again commissioned by Nottingham City Council and published in 2009.

It is perhaps worth looking at these reports in a little more detail...

"Muslim Diversity in the City of Nottingham"
This report contains a SPECTACULARLY complicated schematic map of Muslim communities in Nottingham, broken down by ethnicity and school of thought.

"Understanding and Appreciating Muslim Diversity in the City of Nottingham"
This report is pretty much worth its weight in gold as it comprehensively describes the issues facing the Muslim communities in Nottingham, together with the dysfunctional way they operate and recommendations on what should be done to rectify the situation.

Some of the most interesting points are shown below:

Religious Leaders and Muslim Community Engagement...In general, Nottingham‟s Muslim religious leaders provide an effective channel of engagement into the communities they serve. However, we found particularly amongst local religious elders, a general reluctance and in some cases a refusal to engage with Muslims outside the confines of their respective Muslim Maslaq or practice...

Biraderi...These systems traditionally play an instrumental role in arranging marriages, conflict resolution, organising joint commercial activities, selecting community and Masaajid leadership, and vitally in consolidating support for sponsorship of Local Councillors and community leaders...However, when associated with other factors such as deprivation, alienation, and poor socio-economic expectations, these systems can be exploited in a negative context

Muslim CouncillorsOf the Muslim councillors we interviewed, most were keen to disassociate themselves from Nottingham‟s Masaajid, religious structures and groupings. Many were critical of faith-based schools and highlighted theologically based divisions to explain their preference for a secular based mainstream approach to tackling issues effecting Muslim communities...However, as we heard overwhelmingly in feedback gathered during focus groups and interviews, most Pakistani heritage Muslim councillors were perceived by their respective communities as being sponsored and elected through Birardari based support networks...Further, due to the perception that Muslim councillors‟ primary allegiances were determined by their personal Birardari affiliations, almost all were viewed as being self-serving and unrepresentative of wider Muslim opinion and needs.

Support for younger people...amongst religious, community and civic elders [there was] a reluctance to give up their positions to younger generations. The common response from both religious and civic elders was that the young were not “ready” to take up leadership positions. When asked to identify any prospective young leaders, most “couldn‟t or wouldn‟t”, despite some being involved in projects or programmes supporting the development of young Muslim leaders...

Community Centres...We heard suggestions that some centres were run as a “one man show” – precipitating rivalries, conflict and accusations of corruption and pilfering. Another commonly expressed concern was related to the appointment of family and fellow Birardari members onto management committees and other positions of influence

Exclusion of Women...As in other parts of the country, we heard from Muslim women in Nottingham who feel that their voices are not heard. They seemed to distance themselves from mainstream society, the Council in particular. And they are excluded from the majority of Masaajid in the city. They have no confidence in the traditional community leadership, nor that of the Council.

Council Consultation...[community] leaders were highly critical of the Council‟s current approach. There was a general distrust, suspicion and doubts about the Council‟s sincerity and commitment in relation to engagement with Nottingham‟s Muslim communities.

Some of the Recommendations: The Council needs to...
i)ensure it is aware of (and has up to date contact details for) all the key groups and individuals across Nottingham‟s Muslim communities. Of particular concern is the lack of information held by the Council at present and this needs to be remedied urgently;
ii) encourage individuals from groups not currently actively engaged in civic life to become more involved by setting up new channels of communication and engagement and other initiatives.
iii) work with the faith communities in the City to encourage Imams (and other faith leaders, where appropriate) to speak English and become more closely engaged with the wider life of the City.

Update 15 Feb 2013
Following a dialogue described here received the following response from Nottingham Council on how the reports recommendations had been implemented (response has been edited slightly for conciseness) :
Community Engagement:
Community Development Workers (Previously 3, now 1) worked with a huge range of groups from women’s groups providing sewing classes to mosques doing work with young men. Work with many of these groups, particularly ones with a focus on women’s issues continues.

The Muslim Communities Steering Group (MCSG), and sub groups on Youth and Women did a lot of work to look at the different parts of the Muslim community and to look at ways to engage with them.

We now have a central database (Digits) which includes both Mosques and Community Groups and can be searched by relevant ‘fields’ (e.g. Faith) to enable the Council to mail out to a targeted groups.

We are currently working to improve our relationship with groups providing services to young men in particular and to broaden our reach across all faith groups both directly and through Nottingham Interfaith Council.

Training and Development
Imam Training was part of the MCSG action plan. Diversity training for staff is part of the induction, and additional training is provided by the Equalities Team.

Schools and Community Cohesion
The Cohesion Team and Schools Support service have worked closely to provide a range of training to schools and teachers, on Cohesion, Hate Crime, Understanding Diversity, the 2010 Equalities Act and most recently ‘new arrivals’

The MCSG funded some leadership training, for women and community leaders. The Cohesion Team continue to support new community groups and empower those involved to take on other roles in the city, including on advisory and consultative groups, interviews and mystery shopping.

Grants were reviewed and funding given in both small and large grants for cohesion in 2009 for 3 years. The Community Development Officers have supported a wide range of groups to ensure they understand how to fill in application forms for funding and to build their organisational frameworks and capacity to obtain funding.

Preventing Violent Extremism Funding from National Government was ring fenced,

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Recipe - Gently Sauteed Potatoes

Whilst the rest of this blog is, admittedly, a bit "do-gooder", the recipes section is here for a very different reason - BFTF appears to be utterly incapable of keeping track of the recipes that it has tried, especially the ones that seemed to work. So putting them here will hopefully ensure that BFTF can find them when required.

I suppose you could call it an "Appetising App. . ."

Gently Sauteed Potatoes
BFTF loves spuds. Being cheap, low fat and versatile they tick all the boxes. BFTF recently discovered that there is an easy way to make delicious sauteed potatoes...

New Potatoes
A little Oil/Fat of your choice

a)Boil Potatoes for for 15-20mins until just cooked

b)Drain water and either keep potatoes in their existing pan or transfer to something non-stick

c) Add a little salt, pepper and oil. Put back on the heat and cook, stirring as required to keep from sticking to pan, for 5-10mins.

d) Serve.

The dish rates as "EASY" on the BFTF Washing Up Index

Sustainability and Fairness

BFTF had the chance to give a short talk to some Scouts at the 92nd Scout Group recently on the topic of "Sustainability and Fairness".

Having put the effort into into devising it, thought it might be an ideal to bung it on the blog in case it was of use to others.

BFTF started of by explaining that the talk was about how people could take care of the world around us to protect it for future generations, and that "Fairness" could relate to the treatment of the Envirnment, of People and of Animals by taking a few specific examples. In each case, two of the Scouts pretended to be farmers with very different approaches to farming. Whose produce would the rest of the Scouts want to buy?

Free Range Eggs.
Farmer 1 : Keeps their hens in tiny cages all the time.
Farmer 2 : Allows their hens to wander around freely, according to Free-Range standards
The Scouts want to buy from...Farmer 2 (Winningly, they all said that their parents already purchased Free-Range eggs!)

FSC / Recycled Paper
Paper Producer 1 : Buys wood from forests that are sustainably managed to FSC standards.
Paper Producer 2 : Buys wood from forests that are clear-felled without care for the eco-systems or indiginous people living there.
The Scouts want to buy from...Paper Producer 1 (and were interested in the FSC logo on a FSC prodcut that BFTF took along)

Fisherman 1 : Takes as much fish as possible from the ocean, without care for whta happens to the seabed or the future fish population.
Fisherman 2 : Fishes to MSC standards, ensuring that fish populations stay at healthy levels and that bycatch is minimised.
The Scouts want to buy from...Fisherman 1 (and were interested in the MSC logo on a can of tinned mackerel BFTF took along, although some were dubious that the logo had a fishy element to it).

Chocolate Producer 1 : Buys cocoa from the cheapest source, without regard to the wages being paid to the farmers or farmworkers.
Chocolate Producer 2 : Buys cocoa under the FairTrade scheme, which gives farming communities a fair wage and allows them to invest in schools and other infrastructure.
Inevitably, the Scouts unanimously plumbed for Chocolate Producer 2, and were more than happy to eat the FairTrade chocolate that BFTF had brought along!

We can't do everything.
Of course, we can't all do everything - and there is seemingly an endless list of things that we are asked to consider when purchasing products, from sustainable palm oil to human rights issues to the safety of specific ingredients. BFTF certainly can't keep track on everything, not can BFTF "do the right thing" in every case.

But what BFTF can do, and perhaps what we can all do, is to pick a few issues and make a difference in those areas. Indeed, all the Scouts had already done this by buying Free-Range eggs.

Another approach that can be taken in cases where "doing the right thing" is significantly more expensive is to buy the ethical product occasionally - say one time in two or three (and approach that BFTF takes with Tuna and, sometimes, chocolate)

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The MCB, Newcastle and Wonga

BFTF was surprised to see that, according to media reports, the MCB had suggested that Muslim players at Newcastle United Football Club should not wear the logos of the clubs sponsors, Wonga. The article in the Independent states that:
"Newcastle United's £24m shirt sponsorship deal with Wonga was engulfed in fresh controversy last night when the club's Muslim players were warned that wearing the new shirts would infringe Sharia law. The intervention from the Muslim Council of Britain will heap further pressure on the club as it seeks to deflect widespread criticism after unveiling a four-year deal with the short-term loan company."

However, a later press release from the MCB and from Sheikh Mogra explain that, far from going after the players, Sheikh Mogra and the MCB were merely responding to some questions on the Islamic view on loans and interest in Islam from the Independent (respect to commenter Jabbar in the comments section for pointing this out).

As Sheikh Mogra points out:

"We did not contact the Independent. They contacted the MCB by sending a request through an email from Mr Martin Hardy asking for assistance on the issue of financial loans and interest in Islam. I repeat neither I nor the MCB ever contacted the Independent to raise this issue.

The MCB’s media desk then asked me if I was able to help with this request. I said yes and waited for Mr Hardy to contact me. He interviewed me over the phone and I explained to him the position of Islam in relation to interest and the promotion of things which are harmful. He told me what I was telling him confirmed what he had already learned about Islam and interest before contacting me. . He also wanted to know what the Muslim players at NUFC should do about wearing shirts with, their new sponsor’s name. The quotes attributed to me in the article are indeed mine and are all accurate."

The Public Reaction
This story received a lot of coverage in the media (invariably without mentioning that the Mogra's words has been twisted to the point of fracture) and entirelty predictably, many of the readers comments asked why there was a complaint about Wonga when it was, presumably, ok for the players to wear the logos of other companies who charge interest on loans, such as Virgin Money or Northern Rock, or any company that sells alcoholic drinks. Guess Mattersons are also out. So, once again, Muslims are being portrayed as being inconsistent people who demand special treatment - that is not a good thing.

UPDATE 05 Dec 12
Somewhat to BFTF's surprise, received the following from the MCB:
You do raise some important points in your email, unfortunately the interview that Shaykh Mogra did for the Independent was taken out of context and was made to look like the MCB 'intervened' which is totally untrue. Shaykh Mogra, whilst doing the interview only highlighted the Islamic rulings as regards to interests/loans and did not in any way comment specifically on what the players should or should not do. He provided the journalist a general overview, who then turned the story around.
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What are the MCB doing to stop the destruction of Muslim history in N. Africa
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NB: This story has been heavily modified to add information and improve conciseness since the, at the time very sensible, comments below were received.

Follow BFTF via social media for all the updates

Just a note to those who receive BFTF via email that Blogger only sends out each post once (when initially published) so if a post gets updated, the revised version isn't sent out.

As some posts can get updated a lot (see here, here, here, here and here), you may wish to also follow the blog via Facebook:

or via Twitter:

Just a thought.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


Boycotts sometimes seem to be the first port-of-call of the angry person.

A product or publication you don't like? Clearly the first thing to do is to boycott the store or magazine! Boycott the whole organisation!! Boycott the entire country and all its exports!! And have an angry march about it !! Grrrr!!

That'll learn 'em!

But let us just pause there for a moment and think about the breadth of what "boycott" may mean.

Ethical Boycotts
One form of boycott is where people avoid a specific product (or type of product) because these is an ethical concern with it, or with one of its ingredients. Examples of products that might be targeted in this way of this include type of boycott is Some people boycott companies, or indeed countries, because of specific, long standing issues. Examples of this are the the boycott of Tuna (concern about bycatch) or Eggs laid by caged hens (concern about animal welfare)

Religious Boycotts
One could argue that when Jews avoid pork products, or Hindus avoid beef they are essentially boycotting these products on religious grounds. Now, while a steakhouse may view Hindu custom as essentially a lost cause, other food producers may choose some of their ingredients, such as gelatine, with an eye on how the Hindu community might react in terms of purchasing or not purchasing the final product.

Political Boycotts
Perhaps the most publicised form of boycott is that where an entire company is targetted becasue of what one part of it has done. Perhaps the most famous of these is the boycott of Nestle because of its promotion of baby formula milk as being better than breastmilk. In other examples, boycotts can take a political, with a big "P" dimension, when whole countries are boycotted, usually for the actions of the government. The boycott of Apartheid South Africa (or Sith Ifrica, as BFTF feels he ought to pronounce it) in the 1970s and 1980s is a classic example of this.

Geoffrey Boycott
Of course, the repeated use of the word "Boycott" does rather remind one of the legendary English opening bat Geoffrey Boycott and he perhaps deserves a mention at this point - however, since he was largely a grumpy right wind Yorkshireman, BFTF is going to instead give you the opportunity to watch a clip of the equally legendary, contemporaneous and rather wonderful Viv Richards...

So what DO you want to buy??
It is noteworthy that those who call for boycotts do not generally say where people should buy their products from instead. For example, while their is not doubt that Apartheid Sith Ifrica was run by a vile regime, why didn't its detractors ever say which countries had really good records on equality, perhaps suggesting that we should promore trade with Sweden, or Dominica?

Why not let them know?
Another thing that BFTF find surprising is that people will sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to organise boycotts - but then fail to tell the company concerned what is being done. How is the company supposed to know that their sales are falling because of a boycott unless people write in and tell them why they are taking their custom elsewhere?

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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Schools no longer need to have kitchens.

A number of media reports are stating that there have recently been changes that water down the provision in law for schools to have adequate facilities for the preparation of school dinners.

Previous legislation, in the form of the The Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 states, in section 7 :

"The buildings provided for a school shall be adequate to permit the provision of appropriate ancillary facilities, in particular... for the preparation or serving of food and drinks and the washing of crockery and other utensils"

However, The School Premises (England) Regulations 2012, contain no such requirement, saying merely, in Section 6 that :

"School premises and the accommodation and facilities provided therein must be maintained to a standard such that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of pupils are ensured."


That rather sounds like a charter for cheaper, inadequate, buildings - which will have no option but to buy in food rather than cooking it on the premises.

If I were a producer of cheap meals that had to be transported long distances before being reheated at the school I would certainly be in favour of this change in legislation. In fact I would pay good money to ensure that the 1999 requirements were omitted from any future legislation, as indeed they have been.

That's if I were such a person, of course, which I'm not.

To see how important good quality school meals are, one can loook towards the 2005 Turning the Tables report by the School Meals Review Panel, commissioned by the Secretary of State for Education. The report states that :

"The health advantages of well-cooked, well-presented meals, made from good-quality ingredients to accepted nutritional standards, by school caterers who are confident in their skills and valued by the school community, are inestimable. The benefits of good school meals go beyond high quality catering. They also produce social, educational and economic advantages. . . The Panel repeatedly heard head teachers and others from schools where food had already been improved speak of associated improvements in behaviour: of calmer, better behaved children, more ready to learn. Improving food in schools may contribute to improved attainment and behaviour."

And perhaps the most relevant of their recommendations was that:

"Schools should aspire to achieve the highest quality of provision, which is a hot meal, cooked on-site, from fresh and seasonal ingredients. Whilst we accept that this level of provision is not possible to achieve in all schools at present, we recommend that schools work towards this"

Inevitably, BFTF found himself asking the local Conservative party why the 1999 requirements had been omitted from the 2012 legislation.

Other links to this story:
Mail Online

See also:
School Food Trust

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Double Tap Drone Killings

A recent report by researchesr at Stanford Universtity entitled "Living Under Drones" (see summary at the end of this post) contained a section on the recent practice of "double tap" drone strikes, where people trying to rescue possible survivors of a first strike are hit by a second drone strike minutes later.

The report states that :

"... In a February 2012 joint investigative report, Chris Woods of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ) documented that: of the 18 attacks on attacks on rescuers and mourners reported at the time by credible media, twelve cases have been independently confirmed by our researchers. In each case civilians are reported killed...

...Those interviewed for this report were acutely aware of reports of the practice of follow-up strikes, and explained that the secondary strikes have discouraged average civilians from coming to one another’s rescue, and even inhibited the provision of emergency medical assistance from humanitarian workers.

...One interviewee told us that a strike at the home of his in-laws hit first responders: “Other people came to check what had happened; they were looking for the children in the beds and then a second drone strike hit those people.” A father of four, who lost one of his legs in a drone strike, admitted that, “[w]e and other people are so scared of drone attacks now that when there is a drone strike, for two or three hours nobody goes close to [the location of the strike]...

...Crucially, the threat of the “double tap” reportedly deters not only the spontaneous humanitarian instinct of neighbors and bystanders in the immediate vicinity of strikes, but also professional humanitarian workers providing emergency medical relief to the wounded. According to a health professional familiar with North Waziristan, one humanitarian organization had a “policy to not go immediately [to a reported drone strike] because of follow up strikes. There is a six hour mandatory delay.” ...

...The dissuasive effect that the “double tap” pattern of strikes has on first responders raises crucial moral and legal concerns. Not only does the practice put into question the extent to which secondary strikes comply with international humanitarian law’s basic rules of distinction, proportionality, and precautions, but it also potentially violates specific legal protections for medical and humanitarian personnel, and for the wounded. As international law experts have noted, intentional strikes on first responders may constitute war crimes." (emphasis BFTF's)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, BFTF will be challenging the local Conservative Party on why the UK's closest ally is routinely performing what may well be war crimes. The outcomes of this will be posted on the original "Drones Killing Civilians" post.

How to Disagree

The rise of social media and "user generated content" on on-line newspapers has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of people who can argue, in real-time, online.

But as people are not generally trained in the skills of debate and argument, the quality of these online discussions can sometimes (perhaps often) end up as a simple slanging match.

Which isn't helpful - and just leaves people angry.

So BFTF was chuffed to find out about a "Hierarchy of Argument", devised by Paul Graham, which describes the ways in which people argue, and how some approaches can be fallacious. It's shown below, together with some comments taken from Graham's essay on the subject, and also a short list of some common fallacies.

Unfortunately it's common for counterarguments to be aimed at something slightly different. More often than not, two people arguing passionately about something are actually arguing about two different things. There could be a legitimate reason for arguing against something slightly different from what the original author said: when you feel they missed the heart of the matter. But when you do that, you should say explicitly you're doing it.

To refute someone you probably have to quote them. You have to find a "smoking gun," a passage in whatever you disagree with that you feel is mistaken, and then explain why it's mistaken. If you can't find an actual quote to disagree with, you may be arguing with a straw man.

While refutation generally entails quoting, quoting doesn't necessarily imply refutation. Some writers quote parts of things they disagree with to give the appearance of legitimate refutation, then follow with a response as low as Contradiction or even Name-Calling.

Refuting the Central Point.
The force of a refutation depends on what you refute. The most powerful form of disagreement is to refute someone's central point.

Even as high as Refutation we still sometimes see deliberate dishonesty, as when someone picks out minor points of an argument and refutes those. Sometimes the spirit in which this is done makes it more of a sophisticated form of ad hominem than actual refutation. For example, correcting someone's grammar, or harping on minor mistakes in names or numbers. Unless the opposing argument actually depends on such things, the only purpose of correcting them is to discredit one's opponent.

Truly refuting something requires one to refute its central point, or at least one of them. And that means one has to commit explicitly to what the central point is. So a truly effective refutation would look like:

The author's main point seems to be x. As he says:

But this is wrong for the following reasons...
The quotation you point out as mistaken need not be the actual statement of the author's main point. It's enough to refute something it depends upon.

Other Common Fallacies

Ad Hominem (Argument To The Man):
Attacking the person instead of attacking his argument. For example, "Mr Smiths views that black people should be deported are worthless because he is a convicted benefit fraudster” (which may be true, but is not why his views are wrong)

A common form is an attack on sincerity. For example, "How can you argue that we should “Buy British” when you have a Japanese car?”

Another variation is attack by innuendo: "Why don't scientists tell us what they really know; are they trying to hide something?"

Straw Man (Fallacy Of Extension):
Attacking an exaggerated or caricatured version of your opponent's position. For example: "Mr Smith says that we should abandon Trident. I disagree and cannot understand why he wants to leave us defenceless”

Excluded Middle (or False Dichotomy):
For example, "We must deal with poverty before spending money on science ” - Why can't we do some of both ?

Appeal To Anonymous Authority:
An Appeal To Authority is made, but the authority is not named. For example, "Experts agree that ..", This makes it impossible to verify the information and it may well be that the arguer themselves does not know who the “experts” are.

Moving The Goalposts
If your opponent successfully addresses some point, then say he must also address some further point. If you can make these points more and more difficult (or diverse) then eventually your opponent must fail. Asking questions is easy: it's answering them that's hard.

It is also possible to lower the bar, reducing the burden on an argument. For example, some person might claim that eating sunflower seeds prevents colds. When they do get a cold, then they move the goalposts, by saying that the cold would have been much worse if not for the sunflower seeds they were eating.

Image Source :
Heirarchy of Argument

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Noor Inayat Khan

BFTF recently watched an utterly fascinating documentary from the BBC4 Timewatch Series on a Noor Inayat Khan, an SOE operative who worked behind enemy lines in France during World War II.

Noor Inayat Khan was the daughter of Hazrat Inayat Khan, great-grandson of Tipu Sultan, the famous 18th century ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. Hazrat Khan lived in Europe as a musician and a teacher of Sufism and was married to Ora Meena Ray Baker.

After his death in 1927, Noor looked after the mother and younger siblings. She studied child psychology and music before starting a career writing poetry and children's stories and became a regular contributor to children's magazines and French radio.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, the family fled to England where, she and her brother Vilayat decided to help defeat Nazi tyranny. However, their Sufi pacifist beliefs meant that they did not want to actively kill anyone.

Noor-Khan photographed in WAAF uniform between 1940 and 1942

Noor joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and became a proficient wireless operator. However, her ability to speak fluent French resulted in her being recruited to the french section of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) where she was trained to work as a spy behind enemy lines and adopted the name Nora Baker.

Although her supervisors were not entirely convinced of here suitability for the role, a shortage of agents meant that Noor was given the codename 'Madeleine' and sent to occupied France.

Joining the “Physician” network in Paris, she found that many of the other operators in the network were being arrested but Noor insisted on continuing to operate and transmit important messages back to the UK.

Eventually, in October 1943, Noor was betrayed and to the Germans, arrested and interrogated. Her stubborn resistance resulted in her being labelled as an “extremely dangerous prisoner”.

Although Inayat Khan did not talk about her activities under interrogation, the authorities found her notebooks which, against regulations, included copies of all her sent messages. This gave the Germans enough information to figure out how to send messages that superficially appeared to come from Noor. British failures to spot anomalies resulted in three agents being sent directly into German hands.

After a failed escape bid in November 1943, Noor was taken to Germany and kept handcuffed in solitary confinement for ten months.

In September 1944, she was sent to the notorious Dachau Concentration Camp where, early on 13 September 1944, Noor was executed by a shot to the head. She was 30 years old.

Memorial to Noor Inayat Khan in London

Image Sources :
Noor Inayat Khan
Memorial to Noor Inayat Khan

Peoples Stories at the BBC
BBC History

A final note:
It is a source of sadness to BFTF that he rarely, if ever, hears about Muslims, such as Noor, at talks or sermons at local mosques. This is a shame as their stories greatly inform the debate about Muslim indentity - something that is badly in need of examples from the recent past to provide a framwork for discussion.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Frustrating Fast Food Flyers

BFTF has seen a number of flyers from local fast food restaurants land on the doormat recently.

That, of itself, is no problem - but what DOES wind BFTF up is when flyers say that the food they serve is "Halal".

"But why?" I hear you say, "surely BFTF would be chuffed to see Halal food on the menu?"

Well, yes, you're right - but when I see the word "Halal" on a fast food menu I think (rightly or wrongly) it means that the establishment has Islamic values.

But BFTF knows that, almost certainly, the chickens used in the kebabs will have been raised in tiny cages rather than the humane conditions Islam mandates.

They are all Halal, but what about animal welfare and sustainable paper?

And the flyers themselves will, almost certainly, have been printed on any old paper rather than the sustainably sourced paper that Islam mandates (certainly BFTF has NEVER seen a logo or notice indicating that the paper is sustainably sourced on any fast food outlet leaflets)

Again, they are all Halal, but what about animal welfare and sustainable paper?

The frustration is magnified by the fact that the restaurants themselves are unaware of the bad practices they are using.

And the reason that don't know is that Nottingham's Muslim institutions have failed to give Nottingham's Muslim community examples of what is good practice in these areas. IF they are mentioned at all, it is only in the briefest way. Critically, there is never any mention of what specific practices people should be adopting.

So BFTF has sent a link to this post to some local Imams to ask what their views are.

Related Posts
FSC certified receipts
Sustainable paper at a local mosque.
Paper Sourcing at Orion Books

FSC and Fairtrade at JJ Beanos

These sustainability related posts are generally pretty much focussed on the issue at hand but, this time, BFTF would like to tell you a story (a phrase that BFTF feels obliged to say in a Max Bygraves kind of way)...

Back in 2005, BFTF was travelling down the M1 on a sunny July afternoon when he stopped at a service station for a cup of coffee to help stay alert on the rest of the drive. As is BFTF's tendency, it was a Fairtrade cup of coffee that he asked for - which the barista could provide but had to make specially.

Whilst it was brewing up, BFTF noticed that many of the people at the service station appeared to be heading for the "Live 8" concert in London - a concert that was billed as being an event to raise awareness of global poverty and achieve government level policy changes on issues such as aid, trade and justice - so BFTF asked the barista whether any of his other customers were asking for Fairtrade coffee or tea. He said that they weren't and that this was a surprise given that many of them were going to a concert that aimed to help combat global poverty and injustice.

A sad state of affairs, no?

End of story

Moving back to the current issue, BFTF was once again at a service station purchasing a cup of coffee, this time from a Self Service JJ Beanos machine - a brand that BFTF deliberately chose because their coffee is all Fairtrade - when BFTF started to wonder what the wooden stirring sticks were made of. One would hope that they were made from FSC certified wood and not just any old chopped down rainforest as illegal or indescriminate logging devastates ecosystms, plunges indigenous people into poverty and contributes to climage change.

So BFTF asked them what the source of the wood for their stirring sticks was.

A JJ Beanos cup of Fairtrade coffee -
but what kind of wood are those stirring sticks made out of?

Related Posts
FSC certified receipts
Sustainable paper at a local mosque.
Paper Sourcing at Orion Books

FSC in some toys at Tesco

BFTF had cause to buy some presnts for small children recently, and found himself at Tesco wondering what would fit the bill.

As a believer that you can't beat the classics, a Tesco own brand "Wooden Hammering Bench" seemed like a candidate for purchase...

Tesco "Carousel" Wooden Hammering Bench

... and seeing that it was made with FSC certifed wood was enough to make BFTF's mind up that this was a definite "buy".

Good to see that FSC logo!

But BFTF needed a second present too, and ended up buying this rather nifty Fire Engine...

A Fire Engine !

...whose packaging BFTF noted wasn't made from FSC certified or recyled paper.

But the packaging does not appear to FSC/recycled card. . .

All of which resulted in this email to Tesco:

"I have recently bought two toys from Tesco ("Carousel Press and Go Fire Engine" and "Carousel Wooden Hammering Bench"). I wanted to say thank you for ensuring that the Hammering Bench was made from FSC certified wood as this was a key factor in my purchase of this - I cannot encourage you enough to use FSC or recycled paper in as many products as possible as this is a sure way to attract my custom. I have one question, however. Is the card and paper packaging for Carousel toy products made from FSC or recycled material and, if not, when do you think it will be?"

By the way, watch your fingers when a small person is using the bench (which is part of the fun of it really), and the fire engine didn't run well on carpet.

Related Posts
How little can you buy at a supermarket?
Tesco Dried Apples
MSC Fish Fingers
Palm Oil in ASDA "Best for Baking"