More on Denbigh High School

I have found the actual Appeal Court judgement on the Denbigh School case:

Update: URL moved

It bears out, so far as I can see, my interpretation in my previous post:

75. The decision-making structure should therefore go along the following lines:
1)Has the claimant established that she has a relevant Convention right which qualifies for protection under Article 9(1)?
2)Subject to any justification that is established under Article 9(2), has that Convention right been violated?
3)Was the interference with her Convention right prescribed by law in the Convention sense of that expression?
4)Did the interference have a legitimate arm?
5)What are the considerations that need to be balanced against each other when determining whether the interference was necessary in a democratic society for the purpose of achieving that aim?
6)Was the interference justified under Article 9(2)?
81. Nothing in this judgment should be taken as meaning that it would be impossible for the School to justify its stance if it were to reconsider its uniform policy in the light of this judgment and were to determine not to alter it in any significant respect. Matters which it (and other schools facing a similar question) would no doubt need to consider include these:
Whether the members of any further religious groups (other than very strict Muslims) might wish to be free to manifest their religion or beliefs by wearing clothing not currently permitted by the school’s uniform policy, and the effect that a larger variety of different clothes being worn by students for religious reasons would have on the School’s policy of inclusiveness;
Whether it is appropriate to override the beliefs of very strict Muslims given that liberal Muslims have been permitted the dress code of their choice and the School’s uniform policy is not entirely secular;
Whether it is appropriate to take into account any, and if so which, of the concerns expressed by the School’s three witnesses as good reasons for depriving a student like the claimant of her right to manifest her beliefs by the clothing she wears at school, and the weight which should be accorded to each of these concerns;
Whether there is any way in which the School can do more to reconcile its wish to retain something resembling its current uniform policy with the beliefs of those like
the claimant who consider that it exposes more of their bodies than they are permitted by their beliefs to show.

In other words, the school didn’t write the correct arse-covering memos before deciding to apply its school uniform policy.

School Uniforms and Thought Crimes

March 4, 2005


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Update: Denbigh win appeal to House of Lords

As the blogosphere’s man in Luton, I suppose I should comment on the Shabina Begum case. The only “local colour” I can contribute is to confirm that one doesn’t see many jibabs around the streets of Luton.

The other point that was made when the case was originally decided in favour of the school, but not made in the press now that the appeal has gone the other way, is that Denbigh School is 80% Muslim. Various arguments I have seen do not take this into account.

That is by the way. I’m less interested in whether religious traditions should override school uniform policies, than in the bizareness of the legal argument that the Appeal Court used.

Their finding seems to be that the School erred by not considering whether their uniform policy breached the pupils’ human rights. If they had considered it, they could have decided, as the lower court did, that the uniform policy was fine, and they would have been OK. They lost because they didn’t have a piece of paper on file saying that they had taken human rights into account.

(I’m open to correction on my understanding here, as I’m working very much from secondary reports, including the Council’s own statement on the judgement.) UPDATE: I found the primary source; more details here.

This trend of legal and regulatory requirement is intensely stupid and irritating. It replaces restrictions on actions and policies with thought crimes. I mean that precisely; the fault of Denbigh School was not in its actions but in the way it decided its actions.

The result of this legal attitude is to drown all activity, in both the public and the private sectors, in a snowstorm of pointless arse-covering paperwork. Hypocrisy is made paramount, and the key managerial skill is, as Dogbert has it, “pretending to care”.

Thought crimes produce hypocrisy, because it is impossible to tell what someone is really thinking. You can act for one reason and claim to be acting for another reason, and if your reasons rather than your actions are regulated, you can get away with anything.

Time after time: employment law, money-laundering law, accounting law, human rights law, we are being required to take various principles into account, and document that we have done so, rather than being judged on results which can be objectively assessed.

This even links with yesterday’s post. I am a fanatical believer in honesty and openness. I like to tell the truth about what I’m doing and why, and prefer other people to do the same. Thought crimes mean that I am still free to act as I choose, provided that I’m prepared to lie about it. It leaves a culture of disinformation which harms everyone’s decision making.


March 3, 2005


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Via Hit and Run, an overwhelming case for openness in counter-terrorism.

The bullet points: If law enforcement had kept fewer secrets from the public, the Sept. 11 attacks would not have happened. If they had kept more secrets, the attacks would have been more successful.

Our key advantage over the terrorists in our midst is that there are more of us than there are of them — by a factor of tens of thousands. Secrecy is a necessity for them: it evens the odds by taking nearly all of us out of the fight. If they know our secrets, there’s actually not enough of them to exploit it. If we know any of their secrets, then someone, somewhere, can use that to learn more or to act against the terrorists.

In Britain, the government believes there are people against whom no legal case can be made, but who pose a huge danger if released into society. Its solution is to put them under house arrest, without legal proceedings, and a law is now before parliament to permit this. My solution would be to publish their names, addresses and photographs in the Mail on Sunday, and suggest that people might want to keep an eye on them.

There is, of course, a danger that “mob rule” might get out of hand, but I trust the people more than I trust the government. Apart from anything else, private individuals are more accountable than officials, as they do not have the Official Secrets Act to protect them from the consequences of their actions.

Crowded Island?

February 9, 2005


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I’ve been busy with work and other things for a couple of months, and now, catching up on my Bloglines subscriptions, I’ve come across a couple of pieces by Tim Worstall which need comment.

Tim says here, and repeats later, that [Britain] has “both a small crowded island and a constipated planning system”. I wouldn’t have thought he would have fallen for that one. Britain is not at all crowded, but the British crowd together through choice and because of a planning system which is not merely constipated but perverse and disastrous.

What proportion of Britain is “built up”? The CIA reckons we have a land area of 241000 sq km, and 372000 km of roads. If to be built up you need to be within 20m of a road, that puts an upper limit on built-up Britain of 15000 sq km, or 6% of the total land area. Defra describes 33000sq km as “Urban or other”, though without revealing what “other” is that’s not tremendously useful. Even if it includes stuff like Richmond Park, it still seems high to me.

If we had ten times the current population in Britain, then it would be crowded.

Why is it then such a common piece of received wisdom that Britain is crowded?

I hinted at the answer before: although Britain isn’t crowded, the British are very much a crowd. An eighth of us live in 1500 sq km of Greater London. That’s really crowded. If the whole island were populated at that density, we would have the same population as India.

Most of the population lives, if not in London, in similar conditions. The vast majority of the country which is empty, nobody sees, because, um, nobody lives there. Even people in rural towns and villages live near other towns and villages, and don’t realise how much of the country isn’t near any towns and villages. They see the towns growing and the open spaces disappearing, and fear that there will be none left, but it is the space near them that is being filled, because it is near people, and they do not realise that most of the country is not near anyone.

We live crowded, in part, because we are city-dwellers, or, in other words, civilised. Our style of living requires living close to lots of other people to do lots of different specialised jobs. Most of those who complain about the crowded conditions of Britain will explain that they can’t possibly move to much cheaper remote areas, because they won’t get work, or they won’t be able to do a lot of what they like to do.

But there is the second factor. The best places to live are on the edge between the city, with its civilised amenities, and the countryside, with its space and pretty landscapes and fresh air. It is expensive to live in such places, so the people living there are the rich and the powerful. If you build on the countryside next to them, you’re having negligible effect on the balance of the country as a whole, but you have a severe effect on those rich and powerful people who no longer have the best of both worlds, but are now part of the urban sprawl. They would have to “trade up” again to move to the new “ideal homes” on the new edge of the urban area.

If one were very cynical about politics, he might expect that a policy would come about that would specifically protect from development the countryside around major cities, thereby defending the privileged position of the currently most-valuable living area, at the cost of everybody else being crammed into the cities or isolated in remote areas.

But then, who would be that cynical?

(Update: Tim follows up)

Human Nature

November 25, 2004


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Via Belmont Club, the sad story of large scale sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers and aid workers.

It is well known that rape is a near universal feature of war. What this shows, I think is that it is not the experience of war that produces this effect in men, rather it is the opportunities offered by war.

The modern development of sociobiology has triggered many arguments: sociobiologists will suggest that some human behaviour has been selected by evolution. Opponents will pop up screaming that the sociobiologists are fascists and supporters of genocide. The sociobiologist will, while drying the jugfull of water off his head, attempt to explain that he’s not making statements of morality, and that what is natural is not the same as what is good.

The essential point that is often glossed over is that what is natural for one human to want to do, is often also natural for another human to want to prevent. As a simple example, it is natural for a man with an established sexual partner to want to mate with other females, but it is natural for his partner to want to stop him, and it is natural for the other females’ partners to want to stop them.

It is not controversial that one biological feature of humans is to live in large societies: larger at least than those of chimpanzees. The nature of these societies varies somewhat, but, as Stephen Pinker points out, there are more universals than might be expected.

If you take a man out of his society, give him a gun or a bodyguard, and put him in the middle of a lot of people not of his society, who are starving and helpless, what might happen could be described as biology taking over, but would be better described as one aspect of biology finding itself unbalanced by other aspects of biology which normally balance it.

The result of this reasoning is that the UNHCR/Save the Children report is not shocking. Personally, I am not shocked. The people implicated in this investigation are not monsters. That does not mean they should be let off: deterrence is a better reason for punishment than moral outrage, not a worse one.

Conversely, if you are putting people in positions of power over foreigners, either as invaders, peacekeepers, aid workers, missionaries, or local business managers, and you do not hear that they are abusing their power in this way, you should not believe that this is to be expected from the good people you are using. You should either congratulate yourself on the unusually effective systems you have put in place to prevent it, or you should assume it is going on and you just haven’t found out.

The UN, of course, is one of the least likely organisations to exert effective control and supervision of its agents.

There are two possible approaches to preventing the abuse. Either the agents should be genuinely part of the society they are helping, so that they are subject to the restraints of that society, or they must be maintained in the society that they came from, and be under the restraints of that society. The latter approach seems easier. Rotating staff in and out fairly quickly might help. The key point is that, just as with invading armies, it needs substantial active measures to prevent peacekeepers or aid workers taking advantage of their position.

Update: Another story that I think is related to my general point:
New Scientist — Everyone is a potential torturer

Update: Via a new news report, I gather that UN peacekeeping troops who commit crimes can only be tried back in their home country, which of course makes them that much less controlled.

New Party II

November 22, 2004


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Follow up to “A New Party?

“stoatman” commenting at Samizdata points to The New Party. I’ve never heard of them, but their web site hides their platform under a mass of something-for-everyone waffle. Digging down, the only policies that aren’t a total fudge are withdrawl from the EU, and tax cuts funded by social security cuts. Not bad policies, to be fair, but not practical in an electoral sense.

A large majority of the electorate has a firm positive commitment to the current welfare state. We’re stuck with it until there’s a major fiscal crisis making it obviously unsustainable, or until there’s a real revolution in attitude among the population, which I cannot see happening in the near future.

A fringe party cannot attack on that front. It can only gain influence by using an issue or group of issues where the majority are either opposed or indifferent to the positions of the major parties. UKIP has done that. Greens have done it in the past.

I don’t think there’s a large positive commitment by voters to the removal of the individual freedoms that were normal thirty or forty years ago. A party that made its main platform the reversing of all the pointless restrictions on individual freedom that have come in during the last decades might draw a large enough vote to encourage other parties to take on the agenda.

Of course, many of us would want to go a lot further, but once we get as far as, say repeal of drug prohibition, the influence of the party would wane. Every vote gained by a major party taking that policy would lose them one. The same goes for much of the economic liberalisation we would like to see. A policy of allowing people to smoke in pubs would not be a vote-loser with the electorate at large in the same way. Every political issue outside the core “freedom” policies would have to be fudged in the normal way: adopt the same positions as Labour and Conservative (they’re mainly the same).

To come from nowhere to challenging for worthwhile numbers of votes there has to be a very clear core platform, not a broad bit-of-everything manifesto. A few clear slogans pushing basic freedoms, and a name to match (“The Civil Liberties Party”?).

There are arguments against taking this approach. It would cannibalise the UKIP vote to some extent, and UKIP is doing a good job — in the long run EU membership is a bigger issue than foxhunting or email interception. The party could not become explicitly pro-withdrawl without alienating a large proportion of its potential support.

Another argument against is that if we as activists devote our effort towards this compromise platform of relatively popular freedoms, it could weaken the struggle at an intellectual level for a full and logically consistent level of freedom.

A new party

November 22, 2004


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The utter failure of the Conservative Party to challenge the Civil Contingencies Act, ID Cards, denial of the right to self-defence, arbritary bans on smoking, etc., leaves the population politically helpless.

The Liberal Party has traditionally been the party most associated with civil liberties, but while the modern Liberal Democrat party nominally hangs on to its beliefs, it does not inspire confidence that civil rights are a high priority, nor are they a major campaigning subject. A Liberal Democrat party with a share in power would seem more likely to push its European, Welfarist and (in the current context) pacifist policy directions much harder than civil liberties.

Some have optimistically suggested that UKIP might force the Conservative party to be replaced, somehow producing a party with more sympathy for the liberty of the individual. UKIP’s organisational problems apart, one must bear in mind that UKIP’s membership and core support are likely to be just as sympathetic to authoritarianism as Howard’s party.

UKIP has shown, however, that in the modern world of narrow-based parties, it is possible for a new party to have an effect on the national politics, and, most of all, on the public agenda.

Is it time for a new party to take up the cause of freedom against the totalitarian tendencies of the current political class? It could not be a Libertarian Party; to get votes it would have to accept the status quo of the current bloated state, and it would be unwise to take the hunting ban as a central issue; and it would have to oppose specific EU abuses without explaining how they could be prevented without leaving the EU, but if a party could grab 10% of the vote on a platform of rolling back the Nanny State and the Surveillance State, it would at least bring the topics into the political mainstream.

Update: Added another post on the subject.

Terrorism and Morale

November 22, 2004


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Chrenkoff continues his series of good news from Iraq.

It’s all worth reading, but the part that caught my eye was this:

We generally tend to hear about the bombs that go off or acts of sabotage that succeed in destroying infrastructure, but almost never about successful prevention; for example, soldiers from the 208th Iraqi National Guard battalion who defused explosive devices attached to oil facilities in the Dibbis area; or a company of the 206th Iraqi National Guard battalion, which prevented an attack near Jalula. Some of other recent security successes of the Coalition and the Iraqi forces include: Iraqi Security Forces and elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit rounding up 41 insurgents in various operations south of Baghdad; smashing of a bomb making cell in Mosul; and the rescue of a kidnapped Iraqi by the Iraqi SWAT team, backed by elements of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, in a raid in northern Babil.

The reason why this is so important I explained a year ago in my article on the Structure of Terrorist Movements. In brief, while a terrorist group can endure decades of political failure and defeat, it needs to strike effective blows to maintain itself as a movement:

Lack of operational success, however, has a much more immediate impact. Leaders and Soldiers who are incapable of striking effectively at the oppressors are not deserving of loyalty and sacrifice, and the humiliation of aquiescence is less unthinkable when set against the humiliation of losing in the field. Failed operations are acceptable when other operations bring successes to be celebrated, and one spectacular coup can balance a large number of embarrassing damp squibs, but a long series of symbolic defeats will sap at every level of the movement.

The terrorist army in Iraq is still achieving enough operational successes to avoid total defeat, but not, I think, by a large margin, and Chrenkoff’s list shows that they are only doing so by means of a frenetic rate of more or less reckless attacks, most of which fail.

The question of the effects on the terrorist movement of attempting to maintain this rate of activity deserves some attention. I cannot think of a precedent, even among the most similar movements such as Hamas or the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

A Case Study

In my first article, I wrote that:

… there are many political battles in various European countries which appear to be between “native” Europeans and Muslim immigrants. In fact, these political issues are argued between left and right within the native political community, with the immigrants themselves as interested but largely powerless bystanders.

As a case in point, Wretchard at Belmont Club today picks up the story of Islington Council in London wanting a school to change its name to remove the word “saint”.

At first glance, this backs up Wretchard’s point about Europe abandoning its Christian roots, but there is more to the story than meets the eye.

First, Islington Council is about as representative of European culture as the UC Berkely Student Government is of America. James Kempton, the “children spokesman” who was quoted in the story, was elected to the council with 1129 votes, on a turnout of 29%. Local government in Britain is a complete joke; with virtually no powers, elections are treated purely as opinion polls on the national government, and corruption and incompetence are rife. The current Islington council is moderate compared to its predecessors, who declared Islington a “nuclear free zone”, and were notable mainly for running children’s homes in which the children were routinely sexually abused by staff. (In a sick twist, the leader of the council at the time is now “Minster for Children” in Tony Blair’s government).

Second, this story is really about the state education system in Britain. The government does such an appalling job of running schools that atheist parents all over the country are turning up to church to qualify their children for church-run schools. The ideal for a parent is a school that is paid for by the state (so they don’t have to pay), but run by the church, to protect it from the malign influence of the state system. The school in question is one of those. Because it is a decent school, the local authority wants to claim it as theirs, whereas the Church of England, which has made it a decent school, doesn’t see why it shouldn’t get the credit. Hence the argument over the name. The people who would supposedly be “offended” by the school being called the “St Mary Magdalene Church of England Primary School” are nowhere to be seen.

Update: Of course, this sort of thing is not seen here as “typically European”, it is rather seen as importation of American-style political correctness. There is some truth in this, as this post The War On Christmas on Chigago Boyz shows.

Quick Links

November 20, 2004


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Three quick news items:

BBC News:

British Pakistanis should integrate more into UK society, Pakistan’s high commissioner to Britain has said.

Dr Maleeha Lodhi said people cannot expect others to listen to their grievances if they isolate themselves.

She told the Yorkshire Post: “Nobody is asking you to give up your religion, your culture, your traditions.”

According to the Wall Street Journal today, French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie has claimed that the EU has ambitions to extend its military forces so as to be capable of sending a large combat force comprising tens of thousands of troops to fight their way into hostile territory.

According to a survey cited in World Net Daily, one third of Americans think France is a military enemy.

(Last two via EU Referendum)

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