Pro-life & Pro-choice

In the UK, a bid to relax abortion laws was recently thrown out. Should women be allowed to take the second pill at home? Yes, absolutely. In the comfort of their own space, perhaps in the company of their loved ones… This is preferable to a cold, sterile clinic.

In America, pro-lifers are campaigning for abortion to be totally outlawed, and pro-choicers are campaigning for abortion rights. The latest in this is conflict is that the House have voted to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, America’s “leading sexual and reproductive health care provider and advocate.” And there is very little chance of a compromise between the two.

Statistically, suicide rates are higher in women who have had abortions. There is very little statistical evidence for mothers who give their children up for adoption. But there are statistics for children who have been adopted – again, a higher suicide rate in adoptees.

In the first instance, it is difficult to directly relate this to the act of the abortion itself – who knows why people choose to end their lives? Perhaps due to social stigma created by pro-lifers. Perhaps due to natural hormones, that occur when a woman is carrying a baby. Perhaps guilt. It’s difficult to quantify an action and say that one thing caused it – I would argue that just as many carry out suicide out of the social stigma, as much as feeling guilt for the loss of life. Therefore, it would be narrow-minded to see the correlation between abortions and suicide, and cite the act of abortion as the only cause, when there are a plethora of variables involved.
In the second instance, doesn’t this prove that adoption (as an alternative to aborting unwanted pregnancies) is a bad thing? Mentally damaging for the child, who has to go through life feeling unwanted – questioning themselves.

It’s a tricky situation – there are different circumstances that arise. And in order to cater for this, laws need to be flexible. I would guess that nobody wants to have an abortion. It is a traumatic, stressful and harrowing experience for the mother.

From a feminist point of view, I obviously am pro-choice. Not only because I don’t think any law should force people to do things with their bodies against their will – but I know people who have been in that situation, and I understand that there are many varied reasons for wanting to abort children … All of which must, in my mind, be catered for.

1) Rape – this is the most pressing reason I think abortion should be allowed… It could happen to anyone at any time, and despite what some people may have you think, rape is never about sex or attractiveness – it is not about whether you are wearing a mini-skirt, if you are drunk, or if you are wearing a suit… Anyone can be raped, at any time, and the only ‘justification’ and explanation for it is ‘wrong place, wrong time’. Not only is rape a horrific psychological experience that many women lose a lot of time recovering from – but imagine how awful it would be to give birth to your rapist’s baby. Awful. And then having to explain to your child that they were not born out of a relationship, but because the law would not allow you to abort. I can think of few things more distressing.

2) Medical reasons. If a woman will likely die during childbirth, or if there are complications in the pregnancy, then is it right for the pregnancy to continue? Is the baby’s life worth more than the mother’s? Pro-lifers claim abortions are like murder and against the human rights of the fetus. The counter-argument is that one isn’t a human until one is born.. Though in America there are certain rights applied to a fetus. At which point does a fetus change from being a bundle of cells to an actual life-form, living, feeling pain and existing inside the womb? Scientific evidence has been found to quantify arguments both for and against fetus’ feeling pain. Most abortions are carried out before 8 weeks, and it is widely accepted that a fetus can feel pain between 20-28 weeks (although that article backs up the 28-week argument).

3) Incapacity to provide a good life for the child. If the mother is young, financially insecure, or mentally ill – is it right that she be forced to have a child that she cannot look after? Of course, adoption is an alternative after birth, but there are issues with this too, not least, the suicide rate in adoptees – as shown above – is higher than average. What about the mental state of the mother after she gives birth and has to part with her baby?

There’s a lot of contention about when a fetus becomes an actual baby, or can feel pain – and the pain/harm aspect is, as I have seen, a key argument for pro-lifers. In order to feel pain, one must have a nervous system, and a brain that can process the signals from the nervous system, to  pain. It is thought that a fetal nervous system begins forming at the 3rd week and by the 24th week, the nervous system is complete, and the brain starts to control bodily functions. So it could be argued, it is then that the fetus becomes a life form in its own right – though babies have been known to survive after being born at less than 22 weeks.

In the UK, abortion is allowed up until 24 weeks, and in the US abortion laws are slightly more complicated – though this PDF file lists the states and the law regarding abortions. My view is, abortion should be legal until the point that the baby feels pain, as is scientifically proven. And the women that go through it should be supported – both emotionally and financially if necessary – not shunned.

Egypt & Multiculturalism

A guest post by Saadaab Janab.

Recently, discussions of politics and world issues have centred around fears that if given democracy, the Middle East and North African region of the world will become destabilised. Apparently the primitive foreigners who vote in the likes of Hamas and Mahmoud Ahmedinajad will allow their political process to be hijacked by “extremists” or “fundamentalists” – or whatever convenient umbrella term people are using these days. They usually come from the same sneery short-sighted right-wingers that kept Margaret Thatcher in Number 10 for 11 years, elected George W Bush for two terms and are giving the Tea Party a sniff of getting into office. Can you think of two more extremist threats to world peace than Dubya and Sarah Palin? So when we have the likes of Melanie Phillips and Damien Green appearing on Question Time talking about Egypt, they’ll first give some wishy-washy nonsense about how they’re inspired by the uprising, say something patronising about how they worry for the “radicalisation” of the state, follow it up with some more 60 year old crap about Israel’s right to exist (of course, no mention of Palestine’s right to exist), and end with that fantastic buzzword, ‘stability’. The freedoms and democratic rights of the Egyptian people are the most important consideration in this whole affair. Not Israel, not Vodafone and not “American interests”. I’m sickened by anyone that disagrees.

Who else sickens me? How about David ‘dishface’ Cameron? I can’t be the only one insulted by his “Multiculturalism has failed” speech. He must have known – even from Munich – that there was an EDL march on the same day. What was he even doing giving a speech like that in another country?! How are we ever supposed to progress as a society if we don’t have the opportunity to understand each other?

Where I come from, you don’t see any white people, and when I was a kid we’d be fed some pretty unsavoury myths about “other people” who were “different” from us. I’m not just talking about white people, black people, Jews or Hindus, but even other Muslims: if they were Bengali, Pakistani, African, or even other Indians that weren’t Gujarati, they were supposedly inferior to us. Thankfully I’ve had the opportunity to get to know people from all types of backgrounds – and thanks to the diversity at my university I’ve made friends from all corners of the world. I know all these stereotypes and prejudices are complete shit. But not everybody does. There are right-wing dickheads preaching discrimination and even hate in every ethnic community, often hiding behind religion for some false justification.

The only way to fix this and get people to think for themselves is through education. And I don’t mean just getting a degree. Going to university gives young people the chance, possibly for the first time in their lives, to engage properly in intellectual discussion about real issues. So when the government spouts incendiary divisive rhetoric on top of trying to deny young people the opportunity that I’ve had – to learn about the world and discover for myself that everyone is the same – you have to ask why. People like to talk about stuff they or their families do as being typically [insert ethnic background adjective]. But in reality – for most things – you can interchange said nationality for anything and it’ll apply. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched the Sopranos and chuckled at how they’re just like apra waros (our lot), or Karen’s mum in Goodfellas – not the mob stuff of course! I’m sure most of you have seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding…need I say more?

In reality, you can swap Indian, Turkish, Greek (don’t shoot me!), Colombian, Palestinian, Japanese, Armenian, Jewish, Italian (apologies for those I’ve missed out) in the “that’s so…” sentence and it still works. We all have the countless cousins, including the ones we don’t even know exist, the flippant parents, bossy aunts and let’s not forget the never-ending list of ‘uncles’. We’re all the same, whether we know it or not. It doesn’t matter that we have different sounding names or different colour skin; we’re bound by more than what divides us. It doesn’t matter that I’m Muslim and I’m not white – I can still be English at the same time. It doesn’t matter where my parents or your parents are from; it’s not a barrier to separate and isolate us, but an opportunity to celebrate our differences and unite us. The Egyptian Muslims and Christians in Tahrir Square know this. (WARNING: Impossible to view without blubbering!)

I am the same as you, and you are the same as me. I know this because our societies have integrated and live not only side by side but within each other. So when David Cameron tells you multi-culturalism has failed, give him the same response as you do when his government makes scathing cuts in public services, or hikes up the cost of going to college or university. We’ll stand together, and we’ll move forward as a society despite his best efforts to undermine us.

Twidentity Crises

I tweeted about this a lot during late December/early January, and I keep thinking about it, but I’m yet to find a solution.

The Twitter identity crisis is a common phenomenon found amongst twitter users that, as the number of followers on twitter increases, you feel under pressure to write a certain way, or cover certain topics. The relationship between follower and followee has not yet been determined – are your followers your guests, or are you theirs, for taking up valuable pixels?

I’ve experienced my own kind of Twidentity Crisis. At one point after I tweeted a lot about the UCL Occupation, live-tweeted from the November protest and posted links to my blog, I had a few journalists following me. I felt under pressure to be ‘professional’; to write a certain way – even though I had never intended to immerse myself in work or any kind of professional life through social media. I had never envisioned in December that 500 people would find my thoughts interesting, let alone journalists that I greatly respect.

Like any other news outlet

I think the answer to this crisis lies in your perception of the follower-followee relationship. The way I see it, I have a ‘readership’, like a newspaper. I have noticed that there are patterns when I get new followers – they follow people I follow, or people who already follow me, who in turn follow others that follow me. It’s an ever-expanding informal network of likeminded people. I know that they are likely to be interested in politics, I know that they are likely to not be fans of the current government – because that’s what I’ve been tweeting about.

The reason I say ‘readership’ is that I realised quite recently, I often see potentially interesting links and viewpoints in my timeline, but I don’t always have the time to dedicate to reading, ‘vetting’ links and then retweeting. (Because essentially retweeting is a way of filtering out information, of pointing out ‘this is worth reading’) So sometimes I think, ‘Does this sound like what my followers would be interested in? Would they be confused if I didn’t tweet about it or offer a comment? What is everyone else tweeting about?’ – in exactly the same way a newspaper would compare themselves to a rival newspaper. Sometimes I don’t even read links, but I retweet based on a trust network I’ve built up over the past two months – if it passes my little test of relevance to those who follow me.

Professionalism vs Personality

The key to Twitter is the social aspect of it – little bite-sized chunks of information that tell us something about the person. Accounts without personality on Twitter are ineffective. In my dissertation I am offering the theory that people respond much better to news when there is personality involved. In a way, my twitter account is my little experiment. I’ve noticed myself that though I follow news outlets directly, I never retweet them, but will retweet or comment on links that ‘ordinary’ tweeters point out. It makes a difference that I know the person behind the account. I can get a good idea of the response to articles by what people write before the link. Headlines no longer pull me in because it doesn’t give me an idea of whether I will approve or not. I want to know, what do the people I follow think?

So, there needs to be a balance between news and personality. I personally intended my account to be my own thoughts when I started it in January 2009. I rarely used it until late-November last year when I started live-tweeting from protests, and started gaining followers from that. But now I have reached the 500 mark (a very small percentage of accounts have >500 followers) – how OK is it for me to just be me? This is my crisis. I think it’s important for me to feel that I have a safe space to be myself in. I’m observant and I like sharing things that make me laugh – but it feels like it’s directly at odds with being a source of news or commentating on current events. It feels like I am breaking some kind of unspoken social rule: ‘Whenever you start getting big numbers of followers, you should probably keep your musings to yourself’.

I appreciate not everyone likes the combination of personal and news to the extent that I combine them, and I would say that people are free to unfollow, as much as they are free to follow. I appreciate that others will reveal far less about themselves than I do. But I like giving people an insight into my life, an insight into the way that I see the world.

Otherwise where’s the ‘social’ in ‘social media’?

Gathering support for March

This is kind of a response/extension of this ‘Call to Arms‘ blog post. I agree with it in the sense that we need to have many more on the streets than we have seen already. I think people will listen and I think that people are getting angry about the cuts already. There are, however, a few barriers and concerns that I think need to be addressed when it comes to engaging the public.

1. Lack of understanding, lack of transparency in plans & conflicting views

For the average person, it’s too much effort to number-crunch, too much effort to find out exactly which cuts will affect them and how much.. Because not everyone belongs to a community group or is being threatened with redundancy, I honestly don’t think that people understand quite what services they will be missing out on. Add to this the Coalition’s mantra “People just don’t understand” – which is patronising, and is really doing them a disservice – many people are probably left wondering exactly what on earth is going on. That’s not to say that people are stupid or ignorant; just that things are not clear as they should be. Coalition plans are deliberately convoluted and have not been properly explained to the public. Not to mention that many of us don’t believe this government has a mandate to do half of the stuff it is doing. It was never discussed in manifestos, and we, the electorate, were comforted time and time again that our fears would not be realised.
The excuses “It’s a coalition; we had to neglect our policies”, “We were left with a huge deficit by the previous government” and “You just don’t understand, we’re doing it for your own good!” (thinly-veiled “We know what we’re doing, you sit at home and stop worrying about things you’re too stupid to comprehend”) can no longer be believed or put up with by the general public.

2. Traditional/party politics

For most people, politics is boring and difficult to engage with. Screaming “Vote Labour!” is only going to alienate a lot of people. Whether you’re a Labour voter or not, no one can deny that they made massive mistakes. For someone like me, who is party-neutral, rallying cries of “Join the Labour party!” are detrimental to the message that these cuts need to be fought – it’s off-putting. Labour are not the solution, and they are not the be-all and end-all of politics. Why is no one screaming for me to join the Green Party? To me, these people clearly have an agenda: To get Labour back into government. That’s not something that I am particularly aiming for but I am aware it may be a by-product of direct action/dissent. It’s not something that, I rather suspect, the British public even want. When it comes to successfully coming together to fight cuts, personal agendas need to be dropped. Party politics needs to be dropped; it’s not conducive to inclusivity which is what we really need if we are to engage with the public on a larger scale. Labour is not the issue at the moment – they and their supporters need to step back and stop trying to cling onto this movement/turn it into a Labour-driven one.

3. Turning interest into action

Some people are perhaps already politicised (see point 1) and just need a slight push to turn them from interested but cynical about protesting to actually physically protesting on the streets. For some, the penny may have dropped already – but aside from the TUC-backed rally in March, they’re not sure how to get involved. Although communication between groups is getting clearer all the time, and more and more people are starting action themselves, there is still confusion for some people about what exactly can be done. People want to be clear about how their efforts will be rewarded. Stop The War had one million marching – and where did that get us? What will protesting achieve? Are we hoping to get rid of the Coalition by hounding them out, hoping for another election, or hoping to sway policies? Specific aims help to inform the method by which we tackle this, and without knowing exactly what we want to achieve, and how, and when – it is my fear that a lot of people simply won’t be interested. Is it worth the effort to fight a battle you’ve already lost?

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