Are you comfortably numb?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Editorial 2 - Schizophrenic Society

The burning debate over the niqab, the flames of which the press is fanning daily, has thrown up more issues than whether Jack Straw should never be allowed to write a newspaper article again. It has exposed the schizophrenia of our society when it comes to such controversial issues. And it has also revealed the intolerance of a self-righteously tolerant Left.

From the media reaction to Mr Straw’s original comments, one would have thought he had just asked the constituent in question to go on a killing spree with him before spending the night at Legs 11. Some of the more right-wing press was disgustingly prejudiced in its coverage of the issue, with the Daily Express running a lead entitled, ‘Veil should be banned, say 98%’. (98% of what, one asks? Nick Griffin’s family?) However, a reader of one of the more left-wing newspapers would be forgiven for getting the impression that the idea of someone politely asking a Muslim woman to remove the niqab during a conversation was, in terms of offensiveness, second only to the idea that the Iraq war can be justified, or that Mikey from the last Big Brother has an interesting personality.

I argue that this exaggerated indignation is evidence of a schizophrenic society. Until two weeks ago, discussing whether Muslim women should wear the veil was a taboo, hence why Jack Straw’s remarkable comments breaking it were plastered across the front pages of the nationals. Now everyone’s at it. But we’re all remarkably self-conscious about it. We want to grab hold of our own little piece of free speech, but at the same time we’re excruciatingly aware of the cultural and political sensitivity of the issue, especially in the current clime. My question is: why? When Julie Burchill can spit literary poison at anyone who dares to believe that dishing abortions out like Boots Advantage points isn’t a good idea, and Jerry Springer the Opera is heralded as a slice of artistic genius, why are these same protagonists of secularism slinging mud at one man who dares to question the niqab, which is worn by an extremely small section of our society? Why can the modern ‘Left’ praise a musical that is deeply offensive to Christians and depicts Jesus in the most irreverent of ways, whilst at the same time using a piece of black cloth as a silencer for anyone who hovers near the boundaries of ‘political correctness’?

My point is not that, instead of mocking just one group, we should mock everyone. Neither should we be exempt from critiques of our views. I am merely highlighting the gross hypocrisy that exists in the ‘Left’ today. The gospel of modern Leftists is that of tolerance. To be labelled ‘intolerant’ in today’s society puts you in a class of people so hated as to include Ian Huntley or maybe even Trisha. But, tolerant of what? When these Ivory Tower occupants are faced with those who don’t embrace the same beliefs as them, their tolerance all but vanishes. I have seen too many articles written by so-called left-wingers that damn religious groups with such vitriolic language that they completely undermine their own calls for ‘tolerance’. As Voltaire said, in one of my favourite quotes, “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it.”

I do not know what the answer to the veil debate is. I doubt Mr Straw’s wisdom in making his remarks when he did. I certainly think banning the veil is a ridiculous, and bigoted, proposal. But I am not saddened that this debate has been raised; rather, by the media hysterics that have surrounded it. I do agree with Tony Blair (savour those words; they will not appear often) when he remarked that it is necessary for these dialogues to occur in order to facilitate integration amongst different cultures in Britain. But for this to happen, the dialogue must be given a mature environment in which to take place. At the moment, it seems that the press is intent on stirring up emotions and prejudices on either side of the argument. Until this stops, we cannot progress.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Editorial 1

I haven't posted for a while because I simply haven't had time. Below is the first version of my editorial. It was slightly edited before going to print, but I'm not exactly going to type out the finished version, so here's the original. Enjoy...

The debris of pizza boxes, old mattresses and the occasional sofa lying around the streets of Selly Oak means only one thing: the students are back in town. If you’re a fresher, it’s the fact that you haven’t slept for a week and now own a ripped t-shirt covered in obscene words in various colours of marker pen.

Either way, it’s that time of year again. The seemingly endless expanse of summer which stretched before us so appealingly four months ago has disappeared faster than you can say ‘One True Voice’.

Those of you who aren’t here for the first time will be settling quickly back into the routine of squelching to introductory lectures only to find you got up at eight (eight!) to be handed a ‘reading pack’, informed the lecture notes won’t be on Web CT this term and then told you can leave. Pound a pint at the Gunnies, Jeremy Kyle, Pizzaland and The Simpsons will rapidly be assuming their rightful positions in the not so much rich, but threadbare, tapestry that is student life.

But for those of you that are here for the first time, I thought the first edition of the year should perhaps hold some handy hints for life as a student.

Number one: explore. It’s all too easy to get trapped in the sticky-floored cages of Risa, Forbidden Fruit and The Works with no visible escape. There may be some of you that actually enjoy these places and actively choose to frequent them. For the sane amongst you, I urge you to set your sights above the muddy plains of Broad Street (labelled ‘the Sodom and Gomorrah of Birmingham’ by my 1st year History tutor) and strive towards a higher peak. This peak could be Snobs. It could be the Custard Factory. It could be The Jam House; it doesn’t matter. The point is that all these places are devoid of Sunblock and Bon Jovi and this is reason enough to love them. The fact that Bowie, Zeppelin and 2 Tone feature heavily is reason enough not to go anywhere else, ever. So if you’d like to have a night out without being reminded that we are, apparently, livin’ on a prayer and half-way there (if being there means killing yourself in frustration and despair), neither being told that some bespectacled Scottish guy would walk 1000 miles, then head away from Broad Street, preferably towards Digbeth.

Number two: get involved. Some of you may be idly flicking through Redbrick, thinking, “hmm, I should really sign up to one of those society things at some point this year”. Believe me, this point is never going to come of its own accord, if you’re like everyone else I know who’s got to the 2nd year and said “hmm, I should really have signed up to one of those society things last year”. University is the only chance you have to be part of such a huge variety of different activities, cheaply and conveniently, with so much time to spare. There’s even a fetish society. And a pirate society! If you can’t find something to suit you amongst the 160+ societies we have here, I’d like to meet you. Probably to check you have a pulse.

Number three: enjoy your course. Okay, so this may be harder for some of you than others, especially if you’re doing one of those mysterious science degrees I hear about from time to time. But don’t feel that you must spend your time pretending that you are still in college, huffing around complaining about every piece of work and lesson disrupting your social life. You chose to do this course and you (or your parents) are paying the equivalent of a small African country’s GDP for you to do it, so enjoy it and get the most out of it. You could even admit you find some of it interesting. It’s not school any more. No one cares whether you wear both straps of your rucksack or have a Sainsbury’s carrier bag instead of an FCUK one. Apart from the Lifestyle section, anyway.

Just don’t pass up opportunities, whether they are chances to meet people, join the paintball society or visit Cadbury World. And don’t mention your ‘A’ Level results, because everyone will hate you for it. Apart from that, my only advice is to have a lot of fun. Oh, and to watch this space…


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Back to the Univarsity

And so a new term begins, and we all settle comfortably into the snuggly bubble that is student life. It's an infinite improvement on last year, as instead of flatmates that go home on a Thursday to Monday, don't let us use their draining rack and washing up bowl, and possess obscene tattoos involving angels having a bit too much of a good time, I am living with people I actually want to live with - my friends. In a nice house. In a road which is extremely close to uni. So no more early morning half-hour treks into lectures just to realise it wasn't worth getting up when they cancel them without telling you. Now it's only 10 minutes.

Really, though. Being a student is great. I mean, no matter how much I protest to all the cynical tax-payers that I have LOADS of reading to do despite my 8 hours of contact time per week (yes, you read right), there is a little secret I should tell you. As long as you don't tell anyone else. Ready? Okay.

We really don't have that much work to do. Or should I say, we really don't have to do that much work. Because in theory we spend 40 hours per week on our courses. Ahem.

I don't know whether it's always been an integral part of student life or whether education standards have fallen in the British system faster than Russell Brand's trousers, but you really don't have to do that much work to get a good mark in an arts degree... it seems.

I could be sorely mistaken. I hope I am sorely mistaken. But last year it did seem quite ridiculously easy to get a 2:1 given the amount of work I didn't do. A huge proportion of getting good marks seems to be the ability to simply play the system. And if you know how to do this, you're sorted. By playing the system, I don't mean plagiarising people or bribing your lecturers, I mean learning how to get 10 books and get 2 quotes out of each and then throw them into your essays to make it sound as if you are thoroughly acquainted with every book each author has ever written on the topic. It's easily done. The point is not many people know how to, so if you do you've already got a head start. The term 'reading list' is a bit of an inaccuracy really.

I'm probably going to have a very rude awakening this year and find that after the rose-tinted paradise of Year 1, doing work that actually counts towards your final degree result is a different kettle of fish entirely. But the fact remains that students do have a lot of free time. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, as long as you use it well. I love the fact that I have so much time to contribute to extra-curricular activities (and let's remember that this phrase can embrace a variety of 'activities', from sleeping to watching Trisha to working on the newspaper). After all, an important part of being at university is developing other more communicational and relational skills (such as the above activities... for example, sleeping is working on your relationship with your bed). In fact, graduate employers are now complaining that people are spending too much time studying rather than on extra-curricular activities and that this is diminishing their employability.

So at the end of the day, although the tax-payers can moan all they want, I say, bring on another 2 years of having some work to do, but not that much, and bring on the dancing like a fool to Stevie Wonder on a Wednesday night and wasting away in the Redbrick office. After all, if you're going to spend £12,000 on something you expect it to have its quota of fun don't you?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

This is really stupid but it seems to be catching...

Which theologian are you?
created with

The daddy of 20th Century theology. You perceive liberal theology to be a disaster and so you insist that the revelation of Christ, not human experience, should be the starting point for all theology.

Karl Barth


Martin Luther




John Calvin


Jonathan Edwards


Friedrich Schleiermacher




J�rgen Moltmann


Charles Finney


Paul Tillich


Which theologian are you?
created with

So I get the same for Barth and Luther, and Barth comes out on top? Yeah right! Luther would eat him for breakfast.

My tie breaker question was:

Which do you think is most true?

1) Justification by faith alone is the heart of the Gospel


2) All Christian theology must always begin with the relevation of Christ

Most true? I'm lovin' it...