Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Confused homosexualities? Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe and the UK

(c) Nick Clegg
Republished in full from The Pryer.

In Africa, homosexuality is often talked about, and identified, as being un-African. The other day, Morgan Tsvangirai claimed that he would support the inclusion of gay rights in the new Zimbabwean constitution. The Herald quotes Tsvangirai thus:
 “It’s a very controversial subject in my part of the world. “My attitude is that I hope the constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation, for as long as it does not interfere with anybody,” he told the BBC. “To me, it’s a human right,” he added.
Yet this alleged support for gay rights appears contrived. First off, this represents a u-turn for Tsvangirai who has previously supported Mugabe’s staunchly hostile stance on homosexuality. Tsvangirai has a history of changes of heart, including on recent policy proposals for indigenisation and a negotiated constitution.

More telling is a press conference held just two days later. When questioned on his defence of gay rights, Radio Vop Zimbabwe reports:
Tsvangirai drew wild laughter from the house when he suggested, “perhaps I am speaking here kuda mumwe musi mungangodai muringochani panapa (we may be talking while some of you may be gays here). What you do in your private sphere is your private problem.”
By mocking “gays” and their “problems”, he seems to be drawing on cultural 'attitudinal' norms to re-establish his credibility through the national media. These are not the words of someone overtly in support of gay rights. Interestingly, his website contains no news on his recent pronouncements. Given his propensity to about face, I doubt that this will be Tsvangirai’s final opinion on gay rights.

Lest I castigate Tsvangirai too harshly, let us look at the UK’s role in current homosexual discourse in Zimbabwe. In his piece in New Zimbabwe, Dr. Munya Munochiveyi traces the history of homosexuality from the practices of ancient tribes of Africa, through to the rituals of warrior societies of Zimbabwe, to the colonialism of the Victorians and Rhodesia. He posits that homosexuality is not un-African, and that it only became a cultural taboo, and norm, as a result of British colonial rule. Of course, the paradox of this is that the anti-colonial, anti-British Robert Mugabe espouses the same homophobic attitude as the colonials he despised.

(c) theodoranian
Coincidentally, The Independent claims that Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has instructed its Ambassadors not to fly the ‘gay flag’ as “it opens up too many potentially difficult and divisive questions”. This follows praise that three British Ambassadors had received from local gay communities for doing just that in support of local gay pride marches. 

One of the FCO’s stated priorities is to:
Strengthen the Commonwealth as a focus for promoting democratic values, human rights, climate resilient development, conflict prevention and trade
On a week when Stuart Walker was allegedly killed for being gay, and when it was reported that there has been an increase in homophobic hate crimes in the UK, the above does not strengthen the UK's human rights position.

Returning to Munochiveyi’s article in New Zimbabwe, it is noteworthy that the accompanying photograph features two white women; the press still seem uncomfortable with ideas of being African and homosexuality. Looking through the comments following the article, it appears that Zimbabwe has some way to go before it will accept homosexuality as being normal. 

The evangelical posturing of our colonial ancestors has left human rights scars all over Africa, and this is a further example of it. As much as we would like to see a change in African attitudes, they would like to see a change in ours.  

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Surveillance society: visibility and accessibility

(c) oogiboig
I have published a post on the use of CCTV as a situation crime prevention mechanism on a new blog site, Blinkered Justice Xtra. I am using this site to muse on criminological theory and research, and to promote a sense of collaboration and partnership amongst those interested in criminology. 

Please feel free to check out this new site and to join in the discourse. 

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Bystander Apathy 2.0 - Chinese edition - A reply

(c) VollwertBIT
The Global Sociology Blog published this post on the sad death of 2-year old Chinese girl, Wang Yue. I have commented on the article as I believe it ignores the local context. 

I have not watched the video, and so I can comment on the 'bystander apathy' referred to in the article. My argument is for a broader understanding of the cultural relativity in this particular crime. My comment, published on The Global Sociology Blog, is on the same page. I now see that The Guardian printed this piece a few days ago. 

Quite apart from my comments on the cultural contexts, there are flaws in the original Darley and Latane experiment and findings that gave birth to this term. The experiment lacked ecological validity; the victim was male, the victim was not murdered, the bystanders could not see the victim, or each other, are among the most obvious. 

However, it is the social psychological elements that are missing from the study and findings that need to be taken into account for future research. 

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Putin and the stereotyping of Russia

Kremlin Wall (c) Mark Gee
Latest article re-published from The Pryer. 

The Hindustani Times reports that Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, has appeared on three national television stations refuting suggestions that he is reviving the Soviet Union. Recent articles on the BBC and The Guardian have noted Putin’s designs on establishing a Eurasian union from amongst former Soviet Union republics.
Notions of a re-constructed ‘Soviet Union’ are evident in the stories. Lazily, western critics have submitted to it and the negative stereotyping associated with it. Must we always refer to Putin as ‘former KGB agent’? For the west, ideas of a re-constructed Soviet Union represent a threat. Whereas the threat once emanated from diffuse ideological philosophies and nuclear war, now it comes from the west’s need for energy to fuel its economy, and by default, its way of life.
For Putin, the stereotyping has positive connotations. As my time in Russia drew to a close in 1998, many Russians decried the end of the Soviet Union; pensioners knew that they would receive their pensions, the general public knew that they could afford food, even if they had to wait in line for several years, and crime, in its local context, was non-existent. For the Russian people, ideas of the Soviet Union represented stability and security, after the mid-90s free market chaos that former President Boris Yeltsin and the oligarchs had wrought upon them. Consequently, they became disillusioned with perceptions of the west, and its way of life. Putin brought stability and order to their lives when he succeeded Yeltsin.

(c) Ivan Vasilyevich Simakov

At the end of last month, Putin confirmed that he will be standing for the presidential elections again in 2012. The recent announcements on the Eurasian union are the first that he has made on foreign policy since declaring his intentions to run for president. Although the context of this succession is markedly different to the last, I think that the use of stereotyping works on two levels. There is the western view, as highlighted above, that affects international affairs, and there is the local stereotype, which I think that Putin is using in terms of national security. More than that, I think that Putin is playing with this stereotype. His pre-empting of criticism of a ‘new’ Soviet Union was meant to concern us, as much as it is meant to reassure and order the Russian populace.
The Eurasian union is currently based around a customs agreement between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan expected to join shortly after. This is a far distant cry from the original formation of the Soviet Union. As the editor of Russian Global Affairs, Fyodor Lukyanov, points out:
"The logic behind it is primarily economic, and in this sense it is different from previous attempts, which were political or just decorative, to show Russian leadership."
Russia faces its own economic problems. Russian blogger, Alexey Navalny, believes that the current Russian political system is unsustainable and will collapse at some point in the future. Moreover, Putin has noted the Occupy Wall Street movement. Unlike his western counterparts, he will use public funds to maintain the Russian economy and internal security. Hence, his use of a ‘Soviet Union’ that brings order and stability, at least in the short-term.
Whilst the west fears a future ‘Soviet Union’, modern Russia is a unique geopolitical space that we have to learn to interact with on its own terms. As the western media remind us, there are civil and political human rights concerns, but we have always prioritised these rights over economic, social and cultural rights that the likes of Russia and other countries put first. I am not dismissing these problems, but it would be contradictory not to engage with modern Russia, when we interact with other oppressive regimes with scant regard for the same issues.  

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Drugs possession: A shot in the arm for punishment

(c) Cycle~
Last week, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) advised the UK government against criminalising drugs users. Instead, they suggested that offenders attend treatment and education programmes, and face alternative sanctions, such as the confiscation of driving licenses. Rather than imprisoning someone, which in turn may lead to less repeat offending, the government could save an estimated £45,000 a year.

Despite the potential benefits, The Guardian reported that the Home Office had quickly rejected ACMD’s proposal. A Home Office spokesman is quoted as saying:
"We have no intention of liberalising our drugs laws. Drugs are illegal because they are harmful – they destroy lives and cause untold misery to families and communities.
"Those caught in the cycle of dependency must be supported to live drug-free lives, but giving people a green light to possess drugs through decriminalisation is clearly not the answer.
"We are taking action through tough enforcement, both inland and abroad, alongside introducing temporary banning powers and robust treatment programmes that lead people into drug-free recovery."
I am shocked by this statement. Companies push their legal drugs onto the market every bit as hard as criminals market their illegal products. They can lead to the same harms. Alcohol is freely available over the counter and every bit as harmful, if not more harmful, than other drugs. Cigarettes, and the large profits that the UK carte….sorry, government, earns from it, has led to burgeoning competition from illegal tobacco traders.

(c) Trexer
More pertinently, addiction needs to be discussed. Recovering addicts attend the likes of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to rid themselves of their addictions. More and more people are becoming addicted to gambling, with the majority coming from more disadvantaged backgrounds, and yet the UK government actively promotes gambling. Why?

Besides, the government does not appear to be basing their objections on any evidence that might suggest that current policy is working. In 2001, Portugal adopted a similar approach to their drug problems as that advocated by ACMD. The Cato Institute (2009) studied the effects of this policy and produced a white paper for creating fair and successful drug policies. Whilst Time critiqued the likelihood of it working in the USA, it does not contest its findings.

So why is the UK government failing to respond to their own experts’ advice and evidence? 

If the Conservative party are trying to placate those MPs and party members who are politically right of centre through a robust approach to law and order, then they need to take into account what it is the British public wants. Not what they think it wants.

In their recent study, “Custody or community? Exploring the boundaries of public punitiveness in England and Wales”, Roberts and Hough (2011) found that the public were far less concerned with imposing custodial sentences when mitigating factors were relayed to them. They found that a significant number of people would accept community penalties as retribution, even for fairly serious offences. The Transform Drugs Policy Foundation also has links to a number of opinion polls and studies that have been conducted in this field. Much of the evidence reveals that the public do not support punitive measures.  

At a time when austerity measures are beginning to exert additional financial pressures on the public, and at a time when individuals, families and communities are expected to economise, the UK government’s decision to reject this proposal out of hand is duplicitous. 

The government are happy to make cuts to public services, yet on this occasion, despite the financial savings, they will not reconsider this policy for their own political whims. Not only are the government harming those whom they imprison, and their families, but equally, the government is harming you and me. 
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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The reconstruction of education

(c) Ricardo Stuckert/PR (AgĂȘncia Brasil [1]) 
I was asked to write an article on education, and the problems posed in its reconstruction in post-conflict states with specific regard for Libya. This article has now been published in The Journal. 

Feel free to post any comments here or on The Journal. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A load of rubbish: Oliver Letwin, surveillance and justice

File:Surveillance quevaal.jpg
(c) Quevaal

The news last week that government minister, Oliver Letwin MP, had been discarding official papers in the dustbins of St James’ Park brought to mind notions of surveillance and justice.

Ideas of surveillance are based on the 18th Century notion of the ‘panopticon’. Jeremy Bentham considered building a prison with a watchtower in the middle, where prison guards could keep an eye on detainees in cells that surrounded it. The idea being that inmates would regulate their behaviours accordingly as if they were being watched, regardless of whether they were or not. Michel Foucault’s thoughts on panopticism lead us to believe that in an increasingly surveilled society (e.g. CCTV) that we regulate ourselves more vigorously; we discipline ourselves so that the state does not have to.

Power is prevalent in concepts of surveillance. Those considered ‘risky’, including those from particular ethnic and poorer socio-economic backgrounds, are subject to greater surveillance. We regularly see stories in the press that castigate ‘benefits cheats’. At about the same time last week, Jake Preston was secretly recorded winning a Motocross race. It is normally at the behest of state institutions that ‘risky’ individuals are monitored.

In Letwin’s case, it was the Daily Mirror that uncovered his trashing of papers, although presumably they found out from another source. Had the Daily Mirror, a reasonably powerful media player, not reported this story, I wonder whether it would have surfaced had a park attendant passed on the information directly to the police.

National security is the main focus of Letwin’s neglect. There were concerns that sensitive papers were amongst the documents that he disposed of, but it seems that none of the papers that he binned were that sensitive. He acknowledges that he was replying to constituents’ letters in the park and may have thrown these manuscripts away. Therefore, for his constituents, the papers may be sensitive.

(c) Cabinet Office

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is looking into whether Letwin breached the Data Protection Act (DPA). The ICO has a guide that de-clutters the legalese of the DPA. I understand that many letters were torn in half, but that some were not. Regardless, I am presuming that the name and address of the constituent is visible. If that is correct, then Letwin is in breach of Principle 7 of the DPA, on several counts.

Following Foucault’s line, it appears that Letwin, who does not come from a disadvantaged background, had no reason to believe that he too should be observed. For him, CCTV is something that follows ‘others’. However, it seems that ‘others’ are also ignorant of the prevalence of surveillance. So has surveillance brought about a more equitable system of justice?

Those who believe that the powerful face the same (synoptic) levels of surveillance miss the point. The powerful are rarely the target of surveillance operations. The state did not seek to stop Letwin causing harm because they do not track people like him. The justice system is still geared towards tracking the likes of ‘benefits cheats’, a term for which I have previously argued for a wider understanding.

Moreover, it remains to be seen how justice is to be administered in Letwin’s case. The harm that he has caused is, at present, unknown. Harms such as identity theft can take time before an individual becomes aware that his/her details have been misappropriated. For the state, retribution is swift and punitive, because the harms that ‘benefits cheats’ caused are already out there.

Power is implicit in surveillance and whilst it is mainly top-down, it can be turned on its head and used to bring about the fall of the mighty. However, in a culture where surveillance is now omnipresent, from the CCTV on our streets to the YouTube on our personal computers, it appears to have saturated itself, and diluted its own power to turn us into the model, self-disciplining citizens that it would have us become. 
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Friday, 14 October 2011

Sky's the limit

(c) illarterate

A couple of days ago, Liverpool FC Managing Director, Ian Ayre, stated that he only felt it fair that his club should have the right to negotiate its own overseas TV deals. Whilst this is not usual fayre for a criminology blog, notions of social harm come to mind.

Ayre is concerned that his club, along with the other more powerful Premiership clubs, will struggle to compete with their illustrious Spanish counterparts if they do not receive a greater share of overseas revenue. He contends that it is not the Premier League per se that attract overseas viewers, but the more well-known teams. At present, the deal is that all 20 premiership clubs receive an equal share of the Premier League’s foreign rights TV deal.

Football finance expert, Geoff Mesher, and Wigan Athletic Chairman, Dave Whelan, have pointed to the damage it could cause to competition within the Premier League. Whelan suggested that it could lead to its demise, as very few clubs could challenge for the top honours. Spain, they say, is evidence of a league in which there are only two genuine title contenders.

Whilst it is very likely that it would kill competition within England, it is equally likely that it would have wider-ranging effects. In order to compete, these less glamorous clubs would have to find some means of increasing their revenues, such as through increased tickets prices.

Matchday ticket prices have soared by up to 1000% in the two decades since the inception of the Premier League. It has priced many traditional fans out of stadia. Many fans are local to the team that they follow, and to commit to following their team already requires a vast amount of money. If Ayre’s proposal were to go through, and the less glamorous clubs increased ticket prices, local supporters are going to be less likely to pay more money to watch games that are meaningless in terms of winning honours.

Clubs now operate competitively in the commercial and sporting market places. Although modern football clubs are more commercially minded than they used to be, they are not commercial businesses. The majority are not brands. They do not attract passing customers. They belong, and rely on, the support of their local communities. If competition is killed off on the field of play, it is equally likely to kill off financial health. Clubs may well end up going bankrupt. 

And it is in the context of competition that I am reminded of the effects that the closure of coal mines had on their local communities. If these clubs were to go to the wall, it would have a significant impact on local communities. Not just in terms of the passing of the hopes and dreams of fans, but in terms of loss of revenues and jobs for other local businesses that work in and around these clubs, and the community projects that clubs invest in. The social harm caused would be palpable.

Fortunately, this proposal is unlikely to go through the next time that foreign overseas television rights come up for discussion. But that does not mean that it will never happen.

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