Sheikh Raed Salah is greeted by wellwishers. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Mehdi Hasan: Raed Salah takes on the Home Secretary and the press... and wins

"So what next?"

He was dubbed a "vile miltant extremist" and an "anti-Semitic preacher of hate" by the Daily Mail, a "hate preacher" by the Sun and an "'anti-Semitic' speaker" by the Jewish Chronicle. He was arrested and detained on the orders of the Home Secretary Theresa May while MPs and peers from across the political spectrum queued up to denounce him. The Community Security Trust (CST) "welcomed" his detention and provided a dossier of his alleged "hate speech" to the Home Office. 

But over the long weekend, Sheikh Raed Salah, the Palestinian leader of the largest civil society body in Israel, who had been visiting the UK at the invitation of the London-based, pro-Palestinian group, Middle East Monitor (Memo), received a letter from the Upper Immigration Tribunal stating that the decision to detain him appeared to have been "entirely unnecessary" and that his appeal against it had succeeded "on all grounds".

From yesterday's Guardian:

The home secretary was "misled" when she moved to throw a leading Palestinian activist out of the UK, according to an immigration tribunal ruling that strongly criticised her decision and found in favour of his appeal against the government's attempts to deport him.

. . . [Salah] sought damages for unlawful detention, and the high court ruled that since he was not given "proper and sufficient reasons" for his arrest until the third day of his detention, he should receive damages for that period.

The ruling of the immigration tribunal, made known on Saturday, states that May "acted under a misapprehension as to the facts" and was "misled" in relation to a poem written by Salah. It also decided she took "irrelevant factors" into account in relation to indictments against Salah, and a conviction in Israel in 2003 over charges that his organisation funnelled funds to a banned charity in Gaza.

Asa Winstanley has a detailed write-up of the Salah story here and, in today's Telegraph, Mary Riddell observes:

In the latest reversal for Mrs May, a judge strongly criticised her attempt to deport a Palestinian activist, ruling that she was wrong about the danger posed by Sheikh Raed Salah. In a decision labelled "entirely unnecessary", she had been misled about his supposedly anti–Semitic poetry and planned to ban him on the basis of a fragment from an old sermon.

Few may be delighted by the sheikh's victory, but his case illustrates the right of every individual to protection against an overweening state. The balance between Parliament, the executive and the judiciary is vital and endlessly fragile. At times, judges veer towards the political arena; at others, politicians attempt, with the public urging them on, to usurp the role of judges. We are now at such a moment.

On the whole, however, the press - especially the right-wing newspapers! - have been rather quiet about the Salah decision which is strange given how much (negative) coverage they heaped upon him last summer. There hasn't been a peep from the Jewish Chronicle, nor from the Times or the Sun. An annoyed Express went with the headline:

Fury as preacher wins fight to stay in UK

The CST, meanwhile, having been criticised by the Guardian's David Hearst for its role in the affair ("the CST should. . . examine its conscience"), has issued a defensive statement on its website saying:

CST is disappointed that Salah’s exclusion has been overturned. . . Some of the media coverage (for example in the Guardian) has noted that CST provided several pieces of evidence to the Home Office regarding Salah’s previous statements and activities, and carries the implication that CST is reponsible for misleading the Home Secretary by providing her with inaccurate information.

This implication is something that CST utterly rejects, and which is not supported by the facts.

So what next? I'm told Salah is preparing to sue members of Her Majesty's press over their alleged smear tactics; Hearst writes of how "[l]ibel writs will now be pursued against those who fabricated and peddled" the "dodgy quotes" attributed to the preacher. This could all get very interesting - especially given the fact that Lord Leveson has heard evidence about media Islamophobia and any serious inquiry into "media ethics" surely has to take a position on the media's lazy and simplistic coverage (demonisation?) of Muslims and the use of "gotcha" quotes.

Doesn't it?

 

UPDATE:

Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, has informed me via Twitter that the JC website was closed for Passover, which is why there wasn't a "peep" out of the JC, online, in the immediate aftermath the ruling. However, the current print edition of the JC, out today, has extensive and in-depth coverage of the Salah case - including this bizarre, over-the-top leader in which the Guardian newspaper is accused of producing a "classic, shocking and immensely significant example of pure antisemitism". Hmm....

UPDATE 2:

I've been rung up by a guy (coward?) using a fake name, pretending to be a member of the public, who accused me of supporting Raed Salah's alleged "blood libel" and who has since written up his version of our phone conversation on a right-wing, Islamophobic blog. He seems to be as dumb and close-minded as some of the commenters below, so let me say this slowly, very slowly: just because I don't agree with the Home Secretary and the media's treatment of Salah, a man I've never met or spoken to, doesn't mean I automatically support everything Salah has said or done in the past. Does that make sense? Take your time.

To those below the line who claim I expressed "solidarity" with Salah, show me where I did so? Do you have a single quote to back up your claim? I say again, disagreeing with the state's treatment of an individual doesn't make you a supporter or apologist for that individual; it makes you a supporter and defender of due process, fair trials and human rights.

As for the "blood libel" row, let me say that it is one of the most disgusting, heinous and unforgivable of anti-Semitic smears in existence - which is probably why Salah has been so keen to deny having used it, though it does, I have to say, seem as if he did use it. The judge in the case, of course, didn't accept his denial. Interestingly, the respected if controversial Israeli historian Ilan Pappe supports Salah on this particular, contentious issue and it is worth pointing out that the Israeli government curiously decided not to prosecute him for those seemingly inflammatory comments at the time. Forgive me, therefore, if, for now, I sit on the fence on this one...

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Photo: Getty
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A rape-able sex robot makes the world more dangerous for women, not less

Eroticising a lack of consent is no answer to male sexual violence. 

On Wednesday, the Independent reported a new setting had been added to the personality range of a sex robot made by the company True Companion. Called “Frigid Farrah”, the setting allows men who own the robot to simulate rape. If you touch it in a “private area” when it is in this mode, the website explains, it will “not be appreciative of your advance”.

True Companion says the robot is not programmed to participate in a rape scenario, and the idea is “pure conjecture”. Nevertheless, the news has reopened the debate about sex robots and their relationship to consent. What does a rape-able robot say about our attitudes to consent, sex, violence and humanism? Do sex robots like Frigid Farrah eroticise and normalise male sexual aggression? Or does allowing men to “act out” these “most private sexual dreams” on inanimate objects actually make real women safer?

The idea that allowing men to “rape” robots could reduce rates of sexual violence is fundamentally flawed. Sex robot settings that eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, coupled with male aggression, risk normalising rape. It sends a message to the user that it is sexually fulfilling to violate a woman’s “No”.

It’s important to remember that rape is not a product of sexual desire. Rape is about power and domination – about violating a woman’s body and her sense of self. Raping a robot is of course preferable to raping a woman, but the fact is we need to challenge the attitudes and sense of entitlement that cause violent men to rape in the first place.

There is little evidence to back the claim that giving men sexual “outlets” reduces violence. The research that exists is focused on whether a legalised sex industry can reduce sexual assault.

Studies on Dutch “tippelzones” – spaces where soliciting is legal between certain hours – claimed the areas led to a reduction in sexual violence. However, the research lacked precise data on incidents of sexual violence and abuse, and the fact that sex workers themselves can be victims. As a result, it wasn’t possible to determine exactly how the number of rapes and assaults fell in the population at large.

Similar claims made by social scientist Catherine Hakim also failed to prove a causal link between legalised prostitution and reduced levels of sexual violence – again, because low reporting means a lack of accurate data.

Other research claims that access to the sex industry can in fact increase incidents of sexual violence. A 2013 report by Garner and Elvines for Rape Crisis South London argued that an analysis of existing research found “an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in non-experimental studies”.

Meanwhile, a 2000 paper by Neil Malamuth, T Addison, and J Koss suggested that, when individuals considered at high risk of acting sexually aggressively are studied, levels of aggression are four times higher among frequent consumers of pornography.

However, just as the research fails to find a causal link between access to the sex industry and reducing violence, there is no research proving a causal link between violent pornography and gender-based violence.

Instead, we have to look at the ethical and moral principles in an industry that creates models of women for men to orgasm into. Sex robots are, at their heart, anti-humanist. They replace women with plastic and holes. They create a world for their owners where women’s voices and demands and desires and pleasures – and right to say no – are absent.

That should trouble us – we are creating products for men which send a message that the best woman is a compliant and silent one. That the best woman is one who lies back and “likes what you like, dislikes what you dislike”, to quote the True Companion website, who is “always ready to talk and play” but whose voice you can turn off whenever you want.

“By transferring one of the great evils of humanity from the real to the artificial, sex robots simply feed the demon of sexism,” says Professor Alan Winfield of the Bristol Robotics Lab. “Some might say, 'What’s the problem – a sex robot is just metal and plastic – where’s the harm?' But a 'fembot' is a sexualised representation of a woman or girl, which not only invites abusive treatment but demands it. A robot cannot give consent – thus only deepening the already chronic and dangerous objectification of real women and girls.”

What research does tell us is that there is a clear link between violence and the perpetrator’s ability to dehumanise their victims. That, and a setting designed to eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, suggest that Frigid Farrah will have no impact on reducing sexual assault. Rather, it creates a space where rape and violence is normalised and accepted.

Instead of shrugging our shoulders at this sexualisation of male violence, we should be taking action to end the belief that men are entitled to women’s bodies. That starts by saying that rape is not an inevitable part of our society, and the danger of rape cannot simply be neutralised by a robot.

Sian Norris is a writer. She blogs at sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com and is the Founder & Director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival. She was previously writer-in-residence at Spike Island.