Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Environmentalism, Class, and Science

By Alice Bell (Source: Mosaic)

The 1970s was a key period in modern environmentalism. Concerns over air and water pollution grew, new social movements developed, processes to build international agreements were forged, and something called climate change started to be talked about more and more.

Central to this new environmentalism were questions surrounding the uses and abuses of science – the core issues for the scientist-activists of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS). BSSRS shared a building with the first offices of Friends of the Earth. And yet, on the whole, BSSRS chose to avoid green issues. “We missed the big one, we missed the environment,” Jonathan Rosenhead, a former BSSRS activist, told a 2014 symposium at the University of Cambridge.

“This caring about the planet seemed like a bit of a diversion,” he explained. “Maybe that’s just my view. I know I had… a slightly dismissive attitude towards people doing stuff about pretty green fields, and we were trying to save the workers.”

BSSRS didn’t miss the topic entirely. In 1969 they published a special environmental edition of their newsletter, looking forward to 1970 as European Conservation Year and, further ahead, UN talks in 1972. It featured some of the first graphics published by BSSRS, including an image of a test-tube pouring oil over the Earth as another globe was engulfed in smoke from a factory. A Steven Rose article on how the military were polluting the environment was illustrated with a picture of the Earth in a gas mask. Elsewhere in the issue, Robert Smith referred to the risk of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use causing polar ice melt, and calls for international agreements.

This being the case, why the distance from the environmentalists?

Today the problem of science and the green movement is often framed as if the latter is deficient in knowledge of the former. But for BSSRS, the point of contention was class, not scientific knowledge: specifically, the ‘establishment’ mindset that they thought the greens still held.

In 1972, the Ecologist magazine published a ‘Blueprint for Survival’, boasting the signatures of 36 leading scientists. But to the BSSRS activists, that was part of the problem. BSSRS liked people to listen to science, they were just less sure that the scientific establishment were the best advocates for it.

BSSRS activist Hugh Saddler responded to the Ecologist, lambasting the green movement’s tendency to mimic or play up to those in power rather than fight them. “There is a distinct feeling throughout that change is to be accomplished by direct from above – a sort of dictatorship of the ecologically-enlightened,” he concluded.

The green movement wasn’t, Saddler argued, necessarily dominated by right-wing ideology, nor was the environmental crisis something dreamed up by ruling classes to keep us under control. But, he worried, much of the green activism was politically naive, putting its faith in existing elites. He called for BSSRS to engage more with environmental groups and teach them more about politics.

For a short time, BSSRS did employ a member of staff to research pollution. Jonathan tells me how that came about, and the story speaks volumes about the class politics of science and environmentalism at the time.

Back in the early 1970s, he met a wealthy sponsor: David Hart, the Eton-educated son of a merchant banker. In the 1980s, Hart went on to achieve notoriety as a ‘Downing Street Irregular’ with the ear of Margaret Thatcher. Active against the miners, he famously organised anti-strike activities from a luxury suite at Claridge’s hotel in London, travelling to the East Midlands in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes. The Socialist Worker headed his obituary “the scum’s scum”. But back in the 1970s, BSSRS made him an unlikely – and unknowing – supporter of the workers’ struggle via a shared interest in pollution.

Back in the 1970s Hart was concerned about the frog population on his estate. Via Cambridge connections, Jonathan and his family were invited down for a visit. A trip from London involving a Rolls-Royce, a private plane and a butler-driven Range Rover followed. “As soon as we got there he changed into knee-length boots, went out with a shotgun, and started killing things,” Jonathan recalls. They played chess and discussed the problems of industrial pollution. By the end of the weekend, Hart had agreed to fund a BSSRS researcher.

This post went to Charlie Clutterbuck, and out of that grew BSSRS’s work on health and safety at work. The centre of this was very much the health and rights of workers, not frogs.

As Jonathan puts it, “We stole his money. And made it into something different.” Charlie similarly beams with mischief remembering this. “We were absolutely clear on pollution, the working class got the worst and the rich didn't,” says Charlie. “And they got the least resources. And the ruling [class] got the least pollution and the most resources.”

But, Charlie says, as far as the environmental movement at large saw it, “We were always seen as the lefties.”

 This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Reflections: Alcohol, Health, and Morality

"They will question thee concerning wine, and arrow-shuffling (gambling). Say: 'In both is heinous sin; and uses for men, but the sin in them is more heinous than the usefulness.' They will question thee concerning what they should expend. Say: 'The abundance.' So God makes clear His signs to you; haply you will reflect;" Quran 2:219 (Arberry)

This week seemed filled with such clear signs concerning the wisdom of the prohibition of alcohol consumption.

It was widely reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) published a study declaring that alcohol accounts for one in twenty deaths worldwide. That latest study only confirmed another from last month which found that "there's no amount of alcohol consumption that’s safe for overall health" and that "some modest cardiovascular benefits associated with moderate drinking" are "overshadowed by the numerous ways alcohol can threaten health".

Less widely reported was this observation by Vladimir Poznyak, the Coordinator of Management of Substance Abuse Unit at the WHO:
It's definitely a global problem and only in countries with higher proportion of a Muslim population the levels of alcohol consumption are relatively low. But at the same time in all parts of the world, alcohol consumption now is widespread and is a source of significant burden to population health.
So the less the Guidance is followed the greater the health burden.

Yet we see another type of burden associated with alcohol, a moral one, evident in the spectacle of Brett Kavanaugh's supreme court confirmation hearings in the US.

How odd it is that people should regard fornication and alcohol consumption as perfectly acceptable, even among teenagers, yet recoil in supposed shock and disbelief at sexual assault (i.e. zina in the west) perpetrated by a "stumbling drunk" male on an accessible, inebriated female.

Allah says:

"Satan only desires to precipitate enmity and hatred between you in regard to wine and arrow-shuffling, and to bar you from the remembrance of God, and from prayer. Will you then desist?" Quran 5:91(Arberry)

And that is the question:

Will you then desist?

Indeed the mindless, politically expedient yet morally confused outrage of a society of drunken fornicators who will not desist is a tragic thing to behold.

May Allah save our bodies, intellects, and societies from the destruction that disobedience inevitably brings.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Changes at QaysArthur.net

Alhamdulillah. QaysArthur.net has had an overhaul for the new year. All essential information related to classes is now on the main page, the blog has been redone, and the previous student area learning management system (LMS) has been upgraded with a better one (in my view).

Student accounts have been migrated but students logging into the new system for the first time will be required reset their passwords (using one's existing user name and email address).

Additionally live sessions are now conducted using Zoom.

The migration process is slow due to other commitments and still in progress so if any issues are encountered please let me know.

We ask Allah for acceptance.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Ashura and the family

By Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam (SourceDarul Iftaa)
Many ‘Ulama encourage the giving of gifts, charity, and spending on one’s family on the day of Ashura. That is as a purely optional virtue in addition to prescribed fasting. What follows is a brief look at some of the narrations upon which those recommendations are based.
There are two types of narrations related regarding these matters. The first concerning the virtue of giving general charity on the 10th of Muharram (Ashura), and the second concerning the virtue of spending specifically on one’s family on this day.
As far as general charity is concerned, it has been reported from the Companion Sayyiduna Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-As (may Allah be pleased with him) that he said, “Whoever fasts on the 10th of Muharram (Ashura), it is as though he has fasted the entire year. And whoever gives charity on this day, it is like the charity of an entire year.” (Recorded by Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali in his Lata’if al-Ma’arif from Abu Musa al-Madini)
As for spending and being generous on one’s family, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) is reported to have said, “One who generously spends on his family on the 10th of Muharram (Ashura), Allah will be generous on him for the entire year.”(Recorded by Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali in his Lata’if al-Ma’arif from Tabarani in his al-Awsat and Al-Bayhaqi in his Shu’ab al-Iman)
These and other narrations indicate that one should be generous on one’s family and dependants and spend more on them by providing more food and other items on this day as compared to other days. One may give cash, food and drink, or any other item of gift.
Although some scholars consider these narrations to be weak (dha’if), others like Imam Bayhaqi and Ibn Hibban have accepted them as reliable. Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali relates from Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (Allah have mercy on him) that he did consider some basis for them. He also quotes Sufyan ibn Uyayna (Allah have mercy on him) as saying, “I have practiced this [spending on the family] for fifty or sixty years, and have found nothing but good in it.” (Lata’if al-Ma’arif P 64)
Moreover, scholars have generally agreed on the permissibility of acting upon weak narrations for virtuous actions, as long as they are not fabricated (mawdu’).
As such, in conclusion, it would be virtuous and rewarding to spend more on one’s family on the 10th of Muharram. One may provide more food and drink or any other item. However, this practice should not be considered as firmly established from the Sunna, and thus, one should avoid attaching extra significance to it.
And Allah knows best.