Monday, 29 July 2019

In the face of fear and loathing, many British Muslims feel they must play hide and seek with their identity

Sham Qayyum, University of Hertfordshire
Islamophobia is a form of prejudice that is not well understood. Instead it is often ignored and increasingly even undermined, such as through the argument that claims of Islamophobia are a threat to free speech, or hinder the prevention of crime. Terrorism is an oft-cited example, or more recently “Asian grooming gangs”.
As it happens, when the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims proposed a new definition of Islamophobia following almost two years of consultation, Theresa May’s government used these very same reasons to kick it into the long grass.
Free speech must not be used to justify bigotry, any more than a definition of Islamophobia must not prevent genuine criticism of the tenets and practices of Islam. The fear or dislike of all or most Muslims and therefore dread or hatred of Islam is what Muslims want tackled.
But, despite calls last year by the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, xenophobia and intolerance for the UK to “comprehensively” combat racism and bias, this seems as unlikely as ever. Many Muslims therefore avoid using the term Islamophobia altogether, treating it almost with as much caution as other words like shariah, jihad and fatwah that have become associated with past moments of conflict between Muslims and western society.
In fact some Muslims have gone much further, downplaying or hiding the Muslim aspects of their character in order to succeed or simply avoid hostility. At work, in universities, or on public transport, beards are shaved and hijabs removed or colourfully decorated to make them appear less stark.
In contrast there are other reactions, such as those Muslims who double-down in the face of hostility, finding inspiration from within their faith, however it is interpreted, and strength in numbers, seeking out and building upon each other’s support to succeed.
Downplaying one’s identity is known as “covering”: practised, consciously or otherwise, in order to more easily blend into the mainstream. It is not a truly free act. Neither is it peculiar to Muslims: minorities everywhere will recognise it. Through covering, names are changed or Anglicised and CVs are “whitened”. So “Osama” becomes “Sammy”, and Sajid Javid, the Conservative MP who was the first Asian Home Secretary and is now the first Asian Chancellor of the Exchequer, thus believes in Allah but tells us that the only religion practised in his home is Christianity.

For some British Muslims, wearing obvious symbols of their culture will be unremarkable (photo posed by model). Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock
These camouflaging manoeuvres are intended to go unnoticed. They may seem drastic, but the reality is that a job-seeker with an English-sounding name is three times more likely to receive an interview than an applicant with a Muslim name. Data collated by the Race Disparity Audit reveals that almost half of all Muslims live in the bottom 10% of deprived districts in England and Wales. Despite higher rates of university participation and qualifications, Muslim women continue to have the highest rates of unemployment, and Muslims in employment experience the highest rates of in-work poverty, with persistently low wages.

But some British Muslims may feel the need to alter their appearance to blend in for fear of prejudice (photo posed by model). Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

While both the incoming Chancellor and Mayor of London are Muslim, it is rare to see British Muslims in positions of power and influence. The few that have managed to break the glass ceiling almost invariably find that to progress further they must be seen to take a hard-line stance against their fellow Muslims. Sajid Javid’s decision to revoke the British citizenship of ISIS wife Shamima Begum rather than to put her on trial in Britain is a case in point.

Read more: Sajid Javid and the complex life of a Muslim Conservative leadership hopeful
Another example is Javid’s refusal to back calls for an independent inquiry into accusations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. Having maintained this position for years, his recent decision to U-turn on this issue during his ultimately unsuccessful Tory leadership bid suggests he has always known there is a case to answer, but chose his moment in such a way that it helped him position himself as the “change candidate” among the contestants.

Protests against Islamophobia such as this one in 2019 are less visible than the racism toward Muslims found in the media. Andrius Kaziliunas/Shutterstock

Since then a YouGov poll has confirmed alarming bigotry within the Conservative Party, with nearly half of party members stating that they would not want a Muslim prime minister. It is telling that Boris Johnson, speaking to the BBC, downgraded his promise from an inquiry into Islamophobia to a “general investigation” into all types of prejudice. He is either unwilling to ruffle feathers among those that hold these bigoted views, or shares them himself.
Covering is about the management of self-image, and the key question is always the same: is success, however that is interpreted, at risk? Will the act of covering alienate one’s fellow Muslims, or a specific group such as Sunni, Shia, Salafi or Deobandi, or one’s family? Is the trade-off worth it to become a “Muppie”, or Muslim urban professional? In contrast, could disclosing Muslim heritage be advantageous? Each Muslim must assess the risk and weigh the gains and losses of their decision, mental arithmetic that is significant, challenging, and exhausting.
Anti-Muslim sentiment sadly remains widespread, as expressed by Conservative peer and British Muslim Baroness Warsi in 2011 when she said that Islamophobic comments passed the “dinner table test”. Until this is addressed, the practice of covering will continue to be part of the daily experience of many Muslims.
This reveals that it is still not easy being a British Muslim, despite equality and human rights legislation, and the claim that mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs or none are supposedly part of our cherished “British values”. There can be little improvement without a widely-agreed, accepted and enforced definition of Islamophobia adopted by the public, private and charitable sectors.The Conversation
Sham Qayyum, Lecturer in Law, University of Hertfordshire
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Benefits of volunteering

Volunteering can benefit you greatly and bring so many opportunities. Now that it’s summer and you’ve got more free time, we’ve come up with some of the top benefits that may tempt you to get out the house and make an impact in your local community. 

Meet new people

Whilst volunteering, you’ll meet a load of new people who you may not normally cross but could turn out to be one of your best friends. This can be an invaluable life experience.

Build confidence

Along with meeting new people and gaining new friends, your confidence will grow as you speak to more people, whether they are colleagues or customers, you’ll certainly see an increase in your confidence. Along with that, seeing what you can achieve will give you confidence in your skills and potential too, which is key for future jobs.

Develop transferable skills

As well as building confidence in your skills, you will also gain some transferable skills as a volunteer. You may develop communication skills from talking and liaising with customers. You may develop teamwork skills when working effectively with your colleagues. Any skills you gain will be beneficial in the working world.

Make a difference

It doesn’t take much to make a real impact on a project or in a community - volunteering is the perfect way to do this. It doesn’t matter whether you spend a lot of time volunteering or only a little, you’re sure to leave a memorable mark and people will certainly remember and benefit from your voluntary work!

Feel good

Of course, those who benefit from the work you do whilst volunteering will feel great from your work, but you’ll also feel an enormous sense of achievement. It is a really rewarding use of your time.

Experience for your CV

Volunteering is really valued amongst employers - it’ll stand out on your CV. It demonstrates to them many different skills and traits about you, and it shows that you are passionate, hardworking and driven!

Helps towards personal awards

At Herts, we have a range of awards that your volunteering experience will count towards. If you haven’t heard of our Go Herts Award, find out more by clicking here and prepare to take part next year! This award recognises students who take part in extra-curricular activities outside of their degree.

You can also log your hours on your Volunteer profile on the SU website, and you will receive a certificate that formally recognises all of your hard work.

There are so many opportunities to volunteer, within the University, and outside. You can volunteer to be a Freshers’ Angel, which involves helping new students to Herts. You have opportunities to do one-off volunteering, local volunteering and student-led volunteering projects. Check these out on the SU website.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Your Student of the Year!

On Thursday 27 June, the winners of this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Awards (VCAs) were revealed as all of our finalists, their colleagues, friends and families gathered in The Forum for the annual awards ceremony. We presented a range of different awards including Student of the Year, Alumni of the Year, Student experience award, Team of the Year, Tutor of the Year and many more.

Aoife Simpson, who studies with our School of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics, took home the award for Student of the Year recognising her consistently high achievements and dedication to embracing our Graduate Attributes. Here’s what she had to say about her award:

I am incredibly surprised and honoured to have received the Vice Chancellor’s Student of the Year Award. I came to the University of Hertfordshire with less-than ideal A-Level grades, feeling very unsure of myself and my abilities. Through the fantastic support of staff and fellow students, I made it through a foundation year and went on to complete an MPhys in Astrophysics. 

Alongside my degree, I have developed a keen interest in outreach work which consisted of working with the planetarium both at Bayfordbury Observatory and in schools. I have written and presented my own scripts and I am very passionate about making the STEM subjects accessible to all. It is incredibly rewarding to help the public, especially children, understand a concept which they may have initially found challenging but by working together we are able to give an insight into the science we carry out at the university. 

I strongly believe that outreach and research are equally important and without my outreach work I would not have had the confidence to complete a summer research placement in 2017 and present a poster on my research at the SEPnet Placement Expo at which my poster was placed in the top 6 out of ~ 75 posters.

Congratulations to Aoife and everyone else who not only won, but also to those who received a nomination in this year's awards! #UHVCA2019

Here's the full list of the finalists for this year's Student of the Year:

  • Aoife Simpson
  • Aaron Ellis-Montoya
  • Alexandra Buckland-Stubbs
  • Cage Boons
  • Fiona Montgomery
  • Libby Cole
  • Mitchelle Sanghvi
  • Sumaiyah Jamil
  • Victoria Singleton

New paternity leave proposals to exclude high earners could be a step backwards for gender equality

Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi, University of Hertfordshire A father’s role may have shifted massively in recent decades – from being seen as the main breadwinner or money earner in a household, to being a more active participant in family life. Yet, less than one in three new fathers in the UK currently take paternity leave.
This is despite the fact that dads today want to take a more active role in family life. Indeed, many dads say they would consider childcare as a key point when taking up a new job.
Research clearly demonstrates the benefits of new dads taking parental leave, including positive impacts on the cognitive outcomes for children and improvements in the quality of a couple’s relationship. So why the disconnect?
One of the big reasons uptake of paternity leave has been so low is because of the pay. Under the current system, dads get two weeks paternity leave paid at a statutory rate which is just shy of £150 a week. Some employers enhance this pay but it’s not mandatory. And many dads do not take advantage of this leave because of the financial implications on household budgets.

Policies should be geared towards encouraging dads’ involvement in childcare. Shutterstock
Families can also choose for both parents to share leave. Shared parental leave, which was introduced in 2015, allows dads to take more than two weeks and parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave (37 weeks of which is paid) if they meet certain eligibility criteria. But again, uptake has been minimal – thought to be a low as 2%. And one of the key reasons for this is the financial implications as it can leave many families out of pocket.
Indeed, analysis indicates that parental leave arrangements skew families’ finances in favour of new dads returning to work – even when both parents earn the same. And research shows that there would’ve been a better uptake of paternity leave and shared parental leave if new dads were paid properly.
My research also suggests some employers have failed to embrace and normalise shared parental leave in the workplace, meaning that new fathers are less likely to consider taking it.

Entrenching inequalities

Theresa May’s recent proposal to give men four weeks of paternity leave paid at 90% of their monthly salary and a further eight weeks to be paid at the statutory rate of £148.68 might sound like a step in the right direction.
But while the proposed paternity leave would be greatly welcomed by many new fathers, under the proposals high earning dads – those on more than £100,000 a year – wouldn’t be able to access the longer leave time.

The new proposals suggest that money could take the place of a dad in a child’s life. Pexels
This is concerning and has the potential to take the progress on geequalnder equality several steps back if high earning dads are to be excluded from benefiting from paid parental leave. This is because the proposal overlooks the fact that high earners are disproportionately men and barring them would entrench the inequalities that investments in childcare are supposed to resolve.
Indeed, last year, MPs called for 12 weeks paternity leave as a solution to address the gender pay gap problem – acknowledging that gender equality and the gender pay gap problem can only be resolved if dad’s involvement in family life is improved.

Redefining gender stereotypes

So although the proposed paternity leave would be better paid in the first four weeks and has the potential to ameliorate some of the problems of shared parental leave – such as dads not qualifying for shared parental leave because they have not worked for their employer for long enough – in the long-term, such changes could actually do more harm than good.
The paternity leave proposal could also mean that shared parental leave would be replaced by the new system. All of which would promote the unacceptable position of dads being breadwinners and mothers caregivers – a position 21st-century dads (and mums) are working hard to change.
It is vital, then, that these proposals are reconsidered and that paternity leave is made available to all working dads irrespective of their earnings. This is important as gender stereotypes and societal perceptions of dads who take on a caring role will only change if everyone has a stake in childcare.The Conversation
Ernestine Gheyoh Ndzi, Senior Lecturer and Cohort Tutor, Hertfordshire Law School, University of Hertfordshire
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Moon landings footage would have been impossible to fake – a film expert explains why

Buzz Aldrin on the moon. NASA / Neil A. Armstrong
Howard Berry, University of Hertfordshire
It’s been half a century since the magnificent Apollo 11 moon landing, yet many people still don’t believe it actually happened. Conspiracy theories about the event dating back to the 1970s are in fact more popular than ever. A common theory is that film director Stanley Kubrick helped NASA fake the historic footage of its six successful moon landings.
But would it really have been possible to do that with the technology available at the time? I’m not a space travel expert, an engineer or a scientist. I am a filmmaker and lecturer in film post-production, and – while I can’t say how we landed on the moon in 1969 – I can say with some certainty that the footage would have been impossible to fake.
Here are some of the most common beliefs and questions – and why they don’t hold up.
‘The moon landings were filmed in a TV studio.’
There are two different ways of capturing moving images. One is film, actual strips of photographic material onto which a series of images are exposed. Another is video, which is an electronic method of recording onto various mediums, such as moving magnetic tape. With video, you can also broadcast to a television receiver. A standard motion picture film records images at 24 frames per second, while broadcast television is typically either 25 or 30 frames, depending on where you are in the world.
If we go along with the idea that the moon landings were taped in a TV studio, then we would expect them to be 30 frames per second video, which was the television standard at the time. However, we know that video from the first moon landing was recorded at ten frames per second in SSTV (Slow Scan television) with a special camera.

To the moon and beyond is a new podcast series from The Conversation marking the 50th anniversary of the moon landings. Listen and subscribe here.

‘They used the Apollo special camera in a studio and then slowed down the footage to make it look like there was less gravity.’
Some people may contend that when you look at people moving in slow motion, they appear to be in a low gravity environment. Slowing down film requires more frames than usual, so you start with a camera capable of capturing more frames in a second than a normal one – this is called overcranking. When this is played back at the normal frame rate, this footage plays back for longer. If you can’t overcrank your camera, but you record at a normal frame rate, you can instead artificially slow down the footage, but you need a way to store the frames and generate new extra frames to slow it down.

Apollo Lunar Television Camera, as it was mounted on the side of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module when it telecasted Armstrong’s ‘One small step’. NASA

At the time of the broadcast, magnetic disk recorders capable of storing slow motion footage could only capture 30 seconds in total, for a playback of 90 seconds of slow motion video. To capture 143 minutes in slow motion, you’d need to record and store 47 minutes of live action, which simply wasn’t possible.
‘They could have had an advanced storage recorder to create slow motion footage. Everyone knows NASA gets the tech before the public.’
Well, maybe they did have a super secret extra storage recorder – but one almost 3,000 times more advanced? Doubtful.
‘They shot it on film and slowed down the film instead. You can have as much film as you like to do this. Then they converted the film to be shown on TV.’
That’s a bit of logic at last! But shooting it on film would require thousands of feet of film. A typical reel of 35mm film – at 24 frames per minutes second – lasts 11 minutes and is 1,000 foot long. If we apply this to 12 frames per second film (as close to ten as we can get with standard film) running for 143 minutes (this is how long the Apollo 11 footage lasts), you would need six and a half reels.
These would then need to be put together. The splicing joins, transfer of negatives and printing – and potentially grains, specks of dust, hairs or scratches – would instantly give the game away. There are none of these artefacts present, which means it wasn’t shot on film. When you take into account that the subsequent Apollo landings were shot at 30 frames per second, then to fake those would be three times harder. So the Apollo 11 mission would have been the easy one.
‘But the flag is blowing in the wind, and there’s no wind on the moon. The wind is clearly from a cooling fan inside the studio. Or it was filmed in the desert.’
It isn’t. After the flag is let go, it settles gently and then doesn’t move at all in the remaining footage. Also, how much wind is there inside a TV studio?
There’s wind in the desert, I’ll accept that. But in July, the desert is also very hot and you can normally see heat waves present in footage recorded in hot places. There are no heat waves on the moon landing footage, so it wasn’t filmed in the desert. And the flag still isn’t moving anyway.

Join us as we delve into the last 50 years of space exploration and the 50 years to come. From Neil Armstrong’s historic first step onto the lunar surface to present-day plans to use the moon as a launchpad to Mars, hear from academic experts who’ve dedicated their lives to studying the wonders of space.
‘The lighting in the footage clearly comes from a spotlight. The shadows look weird.’
Yes, it’s a spotlight – a spotlight, 93m miles away. It’s called the sun. Look at the shadows in the footage. If the light source were a nearby spotlight, the shadows would originate from a central point. But because the source is so far away, the shadows are parallel rather than diverging from a single point.

Stanley Kubrick. Instituto María Auxiliadora Neuquén/Flickr, CC BY-SA

‘Well, we all know Stanley Kubrick filmed it.’
Stanley Kubrick could have been asked to fake the moon landings. But as he was such a perfectionist, he would have insisted on shooting it on location. And it’s well documented he didn’t like to fly, so that about wraps that one up… Next?
‘It’s possible to recreate dinosaurs from mosquitoes the way they did in Jurassic Park, but the government is keeping it a secret.’
I give up.The Conversation
Howard Berry, Head of Post-Production and Programme Leader for MA Film and Television Production, University of Hertfordshire
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Werewolves and Wildness: The Open Graves, Open Minds special issue of Gothic Studies

The first issue of Gothic Studies published by Edinburgh University Press is also the first ever issue devoted to werewolves.

 In the twenty-first century, the era of late capitalism, new werewolf myths have emerged from our cultural memory around humans and wolves. Gothic texts deal with a variety of themes just as pertinent to contemporary culture as they were to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when Gothic novels first achieved popularity.

The werewolf is easily situated within themes of monstrosity, liminality and the divided self, showing it to be a decidedly Gothic creature.

This special issue of Gothic Studies and its companion edited collection of essays, In the Company of Wolves: Werewolves, Wolves, and Wild Children (MUP, 2020) are intended in part to address a lack of critical writing on the werewolf.

Both these publications emerged from the groundbreaking conference organised by the Open Graves, Open Minds Project at the University of Hertfordshire, 3-5 September 2015: ‘The Company of Wolves’: Sociality, Animality, and Subjectivity in Literary and Cultural Narratives – Werewolves, Shapeshifters, and Feral Humans’(organised by Dr Samantha George a Senior Lecturer in Literature at the School of Humanities , Bill Hughes, and Kaja Franck; the conference was inspired in part by Kaja’s pioneering research on werewolf fiction in her PhD thesis).

During the conference, we visited the UK Wolf Conservation Trust sanctuary in Reading and observed the wolves and made a pilgrimage to the eighteenth-century grave of Peter the Wild Boy (thought to have been raised by wolves or bears) at St Mary’s Church, Northchurch in Hertfordshire.

The conference and its outputs embraced not only the werewolf but the actual wolf, with all its ambiguous characteristics of pack sociality and alleged savagery, and also narratives of wild children (who are often claimed to have been raised by wolves and thus partake of the same liminal quality as the werewolf, hovering between humanity and animality, society and nature). The conference inspired much debate about the place of the werewolf within academia and received many accolades and acknowledgements for providing a first for the UK academy.

Gothic studies can be accused (with some validity) to have become too all-encompassing; we should therefore justify our venturing into narratives of the wild child alongside the werewolf in a journal devoted to the Gothic. There is the close relationship between the werewolf and feral children; the suggested animality they share was explored at the conference. In addition, narratives of the wild child do often evoke horror as though they too are monsters (as both Nevárez and Brodski show in their articles). There is the intertextuality between the narratives of wolves, werewolves, and wild children. And many of the most significant original narratives of wild children, closely bound up with speculations on the origins of language and society, stem from the eighteenth century, when Gothic itself as a genre was born; wildness and the boundaries of language are truly Gothic themes.

One of the ways Gothic as a genre has mutated in recent years has been through its encounter with romantic fiction to create a new form, paranormal romance, which features the sympathetic monster – vampires, notably, but also subsequently other creatures, including werewolves. The twenty-first-century werewolf is thus more humanised, and this assimilation of otherness, correlated with shifts in social attitudes towards minority groups, colours contemporary werewolf narratives. This includes post-9/11 attitudes to terrorism, as examined by Marsden in his article. Alongside this has been a certain feminisation of the werewolf, with women in urban fantasy and paranormal romance often appearing as the werewolf protagonists. Alongside this, werewolf fictions may explore masculinity, as Chaplin and Evans show in their articles. The particular essence of the werewolf as animality irrupting into humanity makes them especially suited to explore concerns about nature and wildness, aligning them with the recent development of eco-Gothic as a distinct perspective within Gothic studies; Runstedler and George explore this perspective. Our contributors each respond to these new emphases on wildness and the werewolf in various and thought-provoking ways. Thus, as this new werewolf scholarship will show, to cite Kathryn Hughes, ‘in our dog-eat-dog world, it’s time for werewolves’.