Cuts to the education service: “The desperate last hurrah of a Government seeking to buy votes”

The National Education Union (NEU) has pointed out that the spring budget this year has thrown education into further crisis. The Chancellor is planning to cut capital investment in education from £6.3 billion to £6.1 billion next year. The i newspaper has revealed that small print in Jeremy Hunt’s budget indicates that schools will face cuts of £200 million to school rebuilding projects. This sum is based on an analysis of figures by the Liberal Democrats. Their education spokesperson, Munira Wilson, commented: “The forecasted real terms cut is a hammer blow to the sector. The 85 percent of schools who have asked for money to help maintain or repair their school since 2016 will be devastated that there is no help on the horizon.” As Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the NEU, argues, the cuts will impact all aspects of education, which has been seriously underfunded for years. “This is the desperate last hurrah of a Government seeking to buy votes before a General Election with tax cuts and perks for their friends, rather than doing what is right for our children. Anything less than serious additional investment in schools and colleges is a betrayal of parents and young people as well as of educators.” 

And how many members of the Tory cabinet send their kids to schools in the state sector? I hesitate to quote the Blairite Lord Adonis, but his words almost 12 years ago are relevant here, that it is “politically bankrupt” for ministers to tinker with the school system if they are not personally involved: “Ministers need to ‘live and breathe’ the public services that they expect the public to use.”

Jewish and Muslim leaders build bridges in London

Instances of both Islamophobia and antisemitism are rising. But the Muslim and Jewish communities in London are making an attempt this month to build and strengthen bridges between the two. Imam Sabah Ahmedi arranged to visit a synagogue to open his fast and Raymond Simonson, the head of London’s JW3 community centre, planned to speak at the Iftar, the meal eaten after a day of fasting during Ramadan. Simonson commented that now is “absolutely” the time to repair any divisions between Jews and Muslims: “Especially at a time of economic crisis, it’s always people of colour, Jews and Muslims who suffer the most; the most racism, the most attacks. So I’m really honoured to be invited to an Iftar this week.”

There has been almost no publicity about this or other overtures of cooperation and mutual understanding. The BBC London news reported it but proceeded to focus on the undeniable rise in both Islamophobia and antisemitism in the same article, and the calls for additional security. 

There are clearly differences between the two faiths, and there is suspicion and tension, but peaceful cooperation has been possible. There are also many similarities between the two religions. Today Muslims and Jewish people, along with so many of us, face common threats from the division and hate spread by the media and by our politicians and their cronies, the tragic and avoidable devastation in Gaza, and from extremists, especially on the far right. Building trust, understanding and friendship is vital as never before.

We should remember that the spirit of cooperation between faiths is nothing new. A look at history reminds us that there was a remarkable coexistence in the middle ages that flourished in Spain. And now Muslims and Jews march side by side to protest against the Israeli genocide in Gaza, and there are many everyday abiding friendships between Muslims and Jewish people.

Journalists at risk when they speak the truth 

Many of us still believe that the UK is a country where free speech is valued by everyone. But we have seen the attempts to silence us when we speak out against the Zionist slaughter and devatation in Gaza. We have also witnessed the terrible suffering inflicted on Julian Assange by the UK, as we continue to pander to the US.

Al Jazeera has recently examined the situation in Zimbabwe where journalists speaking the truth are under attack. They have been harassed on a regular basis and have been detained when they have published articles that are considered to be ‘politically sensitive’ or damaging to the people who hold power. Harare still shows contempt for the truth: “Journalists who dare to investigate military and government corruption in Zimbabwe still expect to be harassed, unlawfully arrested, tortured, or worse, to this day.” Little has changed since President Mugabe ceased to hold power from 2017. 

The Al Jazeera, columnist, Tafi Mhaka, also emphasises that journalists are threatened across the globe. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has revealed that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is “the world’s largest prison for journalists, and its regime conducts a campaign of repression against journalism and the right to information worldwide”. 

Earlier this month RSF reported that in the last five months at least 103 Palestinian journalists, 91 men and 12 women, have been killed by Israeli strikes in various parts of Gaza, from the north to the south, including Khan Yunis. At least 22 of them were killed in the course of their work.They were generally identifiable as journalists, and some were killed in strikes that deliberately targeted their homes and families. The dead include those working for television and radio, those involved in print media and multimedia, photographers and camera operators. Twice now RSF has referred Israel’s crimes against journalists to the International Criminal Court.

As Tafi Mhaka states: “In an age where misinformation and disinformation are commonplace, millions of lives would be placed in constant jeopardy without the work of fearless and principled truth tellers.” Tragically those who speak truth to power are putting their own lives and the lives of their loved ones in jeopardy. 

The ironies of ‘environmentally-friendly’ electric car production – local communities ravaged by lithium mining 

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that Bolivia has about 23 million tonnes (more than 20 billion kg) of lithium, a vital ingredient in electric car batteries. This is about two million tonnes more than previously estimated. Bolivia is now the world number one country for lithium deposits, with Argentina estimated to have 22 million tonnes and Chile 11 million. These countries are where the rush for ‘white gold’ is taking place, backed by Russian and Chinese investment, and are known as the ‘Lithium Triangle’, the three countries where more than half the world’s lithium resources are found.

Al Jazeera reported earlier this month that local people are increasingly concerned. The majority of them make a living from growing quinoa and raising llamas. Many live on the edge of salt flats, the Salar of Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, where lithium-rich brines are to be found. Extraction of lithium requires huge quantities of water, and the chemicals used to process it are toxic. Local people are worried, especially as climate change has already led to a marked reduction in rainfall. A recent Friends of the Earth report commented: “The release of such chemicals through leeching, spills or air emissions can harm communities, ecosystems and food production. Moreover, lithium extraction inevitably harms the soil and also causes air contamination.”

In Argentina, lithium is mined in areas sacred to some Indigenous communities and the government is clamping down on protestors. When hundreds blocked a highway from the salt plains, 96 of them were injured and they were treated brutally by the army and the police.

More and more countries the world over are restricting the right to protest and dealing with protestors in a very heavy handed way. Governments and corporations are also riding roughshod over local people’s concerns and often pay scant attention to the environment. The profits of capitalism are paramount after all.

Displaced Rohingya face death and suffering

Life in Myanmar has continued to deteriorate since the military coup in February 2021, and many refugees leave in search of a safe place to live. In 2023 almost 4,500 Rohingya fled from Myanmar, their homeland, and from the overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh. Two-thirds of them were women and children, and they fled by boat. A staggering number, 569, died or went missing while crossing the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

Earlier this month a wooden boat with an estimated 150 people on board capsized off the coast of Indonesia. It is believed that 42 men, 18 women and nine children were rescued. Eye witnesses described them as weak, weeping, emaciated and soaked. But it is clear that many on board the overcrowded wooden boat have perished.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Migration Agency (IOM) expressed shock and deep concern. They assisted in organising the rescue mission and are increasing humanitarian aid to the refugees who arrive in Indonesia. As is so often the case, there is local opposition to the refugees. UNHCR and IOM have appealed: “It is imperative that the international community maintains its commitment to upholding the principles of humanity and protecting the rights and dignity of refugees and migrants.” Tragically it is all too common for the international community to show little concern for displaced people. The numbers are greater than at any time since the beginning of the century. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) more than 1 in 73 people are forcibly displaced worldwide, a ratio which has almost doubled in the past ten years. Wars and armed conflict, hunger, disease, the devastation caused by climate change, persecution and poverty all contribute. The refugee crisis is clearly another disaster which the world is failing to recognise.

Looking back in time – 82 years ago Mahmoud Darwish was born

On 13th March 1942, Mahmoud Darwish, ‘Palestine’s national poet’ was born. This March, Al Jazeera published an article remembering him and pointing out how relevant his work is today. 

Darwish published over 30 volumes of poetry and eight books of prose. He edited several publications during his lifetime and in 1988 wrote the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. He was a member of the pro-Arab Israeli Communist Party, Rakah, and contributed to the Arabic editions of the party’s publications. He was imprisoned five times between 1961 and 1967 and was often under house arrest. He spent 24 years of his life in exile. In his poems he often brings out the longing of Palestinians, who have lost their homeland, and he reflects the themes of identity and resistance. The poet Naomi ki Shihab Nye called him ‘the essential breath of the Palestinian people, the eloquent witness of exile and belonging’.

In one of his poems, In Jerusalem, Darwish wanders around Jerusalem, the holy city, thinking about the causes of religious conflict and wondering whether wars flare up from “a dimly lit stone”. Diary of a Palestinian Wound is a response to the Six-Day War with Israel in 1967 and contains the themes of martyrdom, sacrifice, and resurrection and reflects on the aftermath of defeat and the Palestinian resistance movement which arose. In Passport he deals with the concept of the passport as a sign of identity, and of a symbolic ‘wound’. He held an Israeli passport but felt that this meant his true national identity had been erased; he also used identity papers given out to Palestinian refugees, not a true passport at all.

Darwish spoke of hope, hope for the Palestinians and for their lands, and he once said “Palestinians are in love with life” But now, seeing the deaths and devastation in Gaza, would any of that hope remain? He never lost the sense of threat to his homeland and the nightmare that always threatened. “A person can only be born in one place. However, he may die several times elsewhere: in the exiles and prisons, and in a homeland transformed by the occupation and oppression into a nightmare”.

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