Can Nasty Nick compete with Dirty Desmond ?
MY eye was caught by a newspaper headline the other day:. "Brit Kids Forced to Eat Halal School Dinners: Muslim Meals for Primary Tots of All Faiths".
Shock! Horror! The vision of five year-olds being force-fed Karahi Gosht was almost enough to make me forget that the fundamentalists in our government wanted to take away nursery kids' milk, following in Margaret Thatcher's tradition. Not that I'm suggesting that was the newspaper's intention, of course.
It was also almost enough to make me wish I was back at school.
But what was it about? Muslims, like Jews, are required by their religion to eat food that conforms to certain dietary rules. Pork is out, of course, and animals must be slaughtered the right way to be halal, or kosher. When I was at primary school we Jewish kids ate in a separate half of the canteen, if I remember rightly, though the meals were the same. Later, in Salford, we went to a central kosher canteen situated in the basement of the Rialto cinema. My favourites were the meat loaf, and the roly poly pudding.
In the London borough of Harrow, where many of the primary school children come from Muslim families, schools decided that, rather than go to the trouble and expense of separate ordering and facilities, they would write into the contracts that all meat supplied for their school meals is halal. It is no hardship for non-Muslim children, and the schools always have fish and vegetable alternatives anyway.
But it was front-page news for the Daily Express, and its sister paper the Daily Star. (Just as I suspect it would have been I suspect if they had been able to report "Muslims demand separate canteen). Once again we were seeing political-correctness-gone-mad, Muslims and foreigners imposing their ways (note that reference to "Brit kids" as supposed victims - you can't be a Muslim and a Brit, whatever that birth certificate or naturalisation paper says). It was a story of cruelty to animals too, even if parents going for a curry or kebab probably had not worried before about the meat being most likely halal.
Cue for stuff about animals being "bled to death", slowly, and in agony. The Express passage below is among the less sensational:
"Islamic law requires slaughter with a single cut of the throat while a religious verse is recited. The animal – which is not stunned beforehand – is left until all the blood drains out. Each year more than 114 million cows, goats and chickens are killed under halal rules in Britain. Halal is exempt from legislation requiring animals to be numbed before slaughter.
The Government’s Farm Animal Welfare Council found that animals could remain fully conscious for up to two minutes. It called for all animals to be stunned before slaughter.Last night, parents in Harrow said they had not been consulted. Steve Hilton, a quality assurance technologist, said: 'I don’t mind people having dietary requirements as long as they don’t force it on someone else. I wouldn’t force a Muslim to eat pork'.
Very noble of you, Mr.Hilton. If there's any quality assured pork going you can send it my way, with or without apple sauce, though you can keep the crackling. But so far as I know, eating pork is not actually required in any religion, so there your analogy falls down. Still, I know it's not easy to be at your best when some newspaper wanting something snappy is on the line. And assuming you were accurately quoted.
This claim that animals are cruelly "bled to death", in agony, is one I've heard before about Jewish ritual slaughter, shechita. Defenders say it is not the case, if the throat is cut the correct way, because the carotid arteries are severed. The animal's brain is deprived of blood, and at the same time the jugular veins are severed, so the brain shuts down with total loss of consciousness. It takes two seconds, according to the experts. Whereas in ordinary slaughterhouse killings the beast that is supposedly stunned can scramble around in pain and terror for some time before it is finally killed.
I'm no expert, and I would not even know if there is any difference between shechita and halal methods of slaughter (both require the blood to be drained to remove possible impurities before the meat can be fit for consumption). Nor, I suspect do the reporters, and to judge from the comments they received, readers who condemn one condemn the other equally. There was already an anti-Shechita campaign being waged by some people, one suspects a mixture of animal-lovers and Jew-haters, and it has already been banned in some countries. The newer anti-Muslim, anti-Halal wind could lift the less fashionable older prejudice out of the doldrums. Which means that the owner of the Express and Star, Richard Clive Desmond, is venturing on to thin ice, assuming he is behind his newspapers in their crusade against Muslims.
Richard Desmond has come a long way since he left school young and got a job on classified ads with Thomson Newspapers. By the time he was 21 he owned two record shops. From there he was into publishing, and in 1983 his company obtained the license to publish Penthouse in the UK, thence moving on to produce such enlightening publications as Asian Babes, Horny Housewives, The Very Best of Mega Boobs, and Spunk Loving Sluts. He acquired once prestigious and ever patriotic Express Newspapers in 2000. When his company moved to Docklands the Princess Royal opened the offices (I don't know if she had ever made it into his magazines). When they moved to Northern and Shell Tower, Prince Philip performed the job.
"Dirty Desmond" , as Private Eye has had fun calling him, hails from a Jewish family. I don't know whether he keeps kosher or is religious, but he has apparently put enough of his money around to acquire respectability and status. In 2006 he was appointed head of the chidren's charity Norwood, though not everybody was happy or thought him suitable for the post. Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard once left the Express, and to celebrate his departure wrote an editorial in the Times in which the first letters of sentences spelt out FUCK YOU DESMOND. But since then it appears they have been reconciled.
Of course the Halal food story is just a small part of the daily diet of Islamophobia, xenophobia and stirring you get in newspapers like the Express and Star. Here was one front page last month:
It turned out to be the installation of two squattee type toilets, such as are favoured in many countries, in Rochdale Exchange, a business place that does not belong to the local council. They are not "Muslim-only" of course, and nor were they paid for by public money. But stick to the facts and you're left with a news item for Sanitation Review, hardly the stuff of front-page headlines.
Besides producing stories for the thickos and obsessives who might support the English Defence League (EDL) and its offshoots, the Express and the Daily Star have been given to accepting the EDL's claims that it is not violent or fascist (posed picture burning a Nazi flag), and to exagerrating the importance of little provocative Muslim groups whom the EDL claims to be fighting against.
'Making matters worse is the role played by the Daily Express and Daily Star. Both right-wing papers have happily given huge publicity to the antics of al-Muhajiroun, and just last week the Express ran a cover story with the headline "Now Muslims Demand Full Sharia Law", thereby very mischievously attributing the demands of a minuscule outfit to an entire faith group. The story improbably claimed that "up to 5000 extremists" would march in support of al-Muhajiroun's demands. Unsurprisingly, a Daily Express editorial denouncing Muslims because if you "give them an inch they will take a mile" was reproduced word for word by National Front News.'
As it was the demonstration which the Express anticipated might draw 5,000 did not even happen. The leader was poorly.
The accusation of a link has also come from the far Right, from an embittered Nick Griffin of the British National Party, who initially suspected the EDL was some kind of state-sponsored 'honey trap', but then changed his mind: “Spelling it out in simple terms, you look at the owners of the Daily Express, the Daily Star and their interests. The EDL is a neo-con operation. This is a Zionist false flag operation, designed to create a real clash of civilisations right here on our streets between Islam and the rest of us.”
This is rich! The EDL has proved an attraction for some of the BNP's activists, which may be why Griffin appears resentful. But the BNP itself under his leadership has gone from Holocaust revision to supporting Israel in its wars, if only to emphasise the anti-Muslim line, and sent its much-boasted Jewish councillor from Epping to mix with US neo-cons at a conference. Could be that Griffin was expressing sour grapes at support from over the Atlantic going to the rivals who have stolen his thunder, as well as the BNP's disappointing election results.
I think Griffin was probably nearer the truth the first time. That elements within the state may be co-ordinating the EDL, and not just the EDL but the provocateurs who served as pretext for its operations.
The EDL does wave Israeli flags and boast a Jewish wing now, and it can draw encouragement from the anti-Muslim bigotry which has erupted in the United States, to which some Jewish organisations appear to be sucking up. However this has not been repeated here. The Zionist Federation accepted the EDL demonstrating alongside it in support of the flotilla attack, but the more mainstream (albeit Mossad-linked) Community Security Trust advised Jews to have nothing to do with the EDL.
That leaves Desmond...
While he makes his mind up, his news papers are keeping up the anti-Muslim stories. But people are starting to get wise, and treating them with ridicule. Here's an Express story (though one shared by all the tabloids) analysed on the BBC Now show:
I loved the idea of that Belfast woman telling Black Country folk how to confront religious division and prudery! But this story amounted to Walsall council in the West Midlands replacing torn fabric on some windows at the swimming baths with some plastic sheeting instead. Hold the front page! Don't know what the 'Express' 's once-famous owner Lord Beaverbrook would have said. His papers were always in to flag-waving and the Empire, and readers may not mind being thought old-fashioned jingoists. But do they really want to be considered stupid?
We mustn't sneer. downmarket as his papers, particularly the Daily Star, may be, Dirty Desmond's Northern and Shell has taken over Channel Five television, adding it to Portland which owns 'adult' channel Television X, and pay-for-view pornography service Red Hot TV. Perhaps this unhappy marriage could give birth to a new classic series - Porn and Prejudice?