Archive for the 'Society' Category

Turkey smoke ban to include sheesha

Ever since the smoking-in-enclosed-public-places ban came into effect across England & Wales I’ve bumped into people complaining that it is somehow discriminatory against Muslims and/or Asian/Middle-eastern people who smoke water pipe (a.k.a. shisha, hookah, nargile) as part of their culture and/or because they don’t drink alcohol. I’ve always found this argument somewhat ridiculous. If other forms of tobacco smoking are banned because of the harmful effects on health then it makes no sense to exempt shisha – particularly as the WHO claim shisha smoke is actually much more harmful than from cigarettes.

Now Turkey’s Islamist government has signed into law a wide-ranging smoking ban which will come into effect in 18 months time. And just like the ban in England & Wales it will affect sheesha. Source: Turkey to introduce smoking ban [RTÉ News]. Quite right too! This a sign of the times: smoking (of any sort) is become less and less socially acceptable as more is understood about the health risks, especially of secondary smoke. The Edgware Road will just have the adapt.

Islamophobia vs. Muslim discrimination – perspective of an Italian Muslim

Friends will know that I am uncomfortable with the term “Islamophobia” and try to avoid using it. It seems to me to have become too conflated in popular parlance and different users of the word confuse too many concepts. Whenever anyone uses the term I’m never sure what I mean. Nevertheless I was intrigued to read an interview with Omar Camiletti [IslamOnline.net], Secretary of the Italian Branch of the Muslim World League, which covered the subject.

Camiletti argues that there is a “strong problem of Islamaphobia in Europe”. He fails to define “Islamaphobia” but implies that he talking about fear of Islam (as a religion) itself and argues that this is based on popular misunderstanding of Islam. I’m inclined to accept this but of more interest were his comments on discrimination.

From the article (my emphasis on bold):

IOL: There’s another study … which says that discrimination against Muslims in Europe ranges from verbal threats through to physical attacks on people and property.

Camiletti: This happened especially in England after 2001. I still insist though that Europeans don’t discriminate against Muslims. Moreover, it is the Muslims who have become more racist against Westerners because they feel the clash of civilization.

Woah! That’ll set the cat amongst the pigeons for some readers of this blog.

He goes on:

In England, I heard a Muslim say that all the English are “kuffar” (infidels). This is a person who has sought refuge in the UK and who is being given money from the English government to live. They don’t tolerate that Westerners drink alcohol, and many retain the idea that all Western women are immoral. Do you see the racism? A woman might be exposed because this is the fashion. In a few words, you can explain why you wouldn’t ever go out exposing your bellybutton but you can’t build walls.

Quite right!

Recognising his comments are a sweeping generalization, and accepting that as a proviso, I have to say that I agree with his general point: “Europeans don’t discriminate against Muslims. Moreover, it is the Muslims who have become more racist against Westerners because they [fear] the clash of civilization.”

Now, who’s going to be the first to take a bite? ;-)

The status of professional engineers in the UK

There are several e-petitions on the Downing Street web site that call for greater status, in law, for professional engineers in the UK:

I broadly support all three and have signed them all.

Ironically my attention was drawn to them by an email from the Engineering Council, which actually argued the opposite. An extract from the email is re-produced below.

Among the many hundreds of e-petitions currently to be found on the 10 Downing Street web-site, there are two concerning the status of UK engineers. Both of these call for the epithet ‘engineer’ to become a title protected in law.

While it is true that such protection is afforded to titles like ‘ingenier’ that are used elsewhere in Europe, this is largely because they have a different, less general meaning than engineer. Hardly surprising then that in other English-speaking nations, like the USA and Australia, the situation is the same as in the UK. The word engineer has been in common use in this country for centuries and is widely understood to mean anyone whose work relates to engineering, particularly manufacture or maintenance. Consequently there is no prospect of the engineering profession gaining exclusive rights to the term and thus preventing others from using it.

Even if granting such rights were on the cards, it might be seen by many as undermining individual freedoms, the preservation of which is fundamental to common law in this country. Restricting access to professional practice could also be interpreted as anti-competitive.
Three titles that are of course protected – under ECUK’s Royal Charter – are those of Chartered Engineer, Incorporated Engineer and Engineering Technician. These can only be used by individuals who have satisfied all the requirements for professional registration. Any person falsely claiming to hold one of these awards is pursued through the civil courts.

Possibly one way of addressing the petitioners’ concerns would be to encourage more engineers to become professionally registered. In one of the petitions, the desire for legal status seems motivated by a belief that society lacks respect for engineers. If more qualified engineers and technicians were to gain the titles CEng, IEng and EngTech then the profession’s image would only be enhanced.

I have some sympathy for the argument that “engineering” has a broader meaning in the English language than in other European tongues. Nevertheless there is a serious problem here best summed up by Jon Jennings, the proposer of the first of the above petitions:

As a recently qualified Astronautics Engineer and with 8 years experience as a Robotics Engineer I am at a point where due to the lack of respect by the Government, the media in particular the BBC, and society as a whole, I feel there is little point staying in the UK. Car mechanics, Plumbers and Electricians are now commonly referred to as Engineers and Banks now regard Engineers as non/semi skilled.

And that’s actually a serious point. If we are to compete with the likes of China in a technology-driven age we need to maintain our excellence at the forefront of technological development. It isn’t going to happen when so many of the nation’s best graduates from top engineering schools feel they will be better off in the City. Legal recognition of the title might seem trivial but if job titles weren’t important to people’s self-esteem we would not be seeing the phenomenon of job-title inflation in today’s competitive labour market.

Besides, the broader meaning of the word “engineering” is actually the problem. It’s all very well saying that engineers should assert the fact that they are Chartered, Incorporated or whatever, but the average person in the street finds such prefixes meaningless. If it were not for the existing legal protection terms such as architect would have been devalued by job title inflation. If we are prepared to limit personal freedom in job titles for other professions then it should apply to engineering too.

So please, if you’re a British citizen, add your signature to the petitions.

Tony Blair has a “department for happiness”

Just catching up on the newswires. This made my laugh: Happiness is a chat over the fence, The Sunday Times (7 January).

“People who take the time to chat over the fence to their neighbours, have plenty of sex in a stable relationship and care about endangered species tend to be happier, according to a report by Tony Blair’s ‘department for happiness’. Gardening, praying and going for walks are also all linked to broader smiles, says the study, written by a professor of economics at Imperial College London’s Tanaka Business School and circulated to ministers and senior civil servants… Paul Dolan, lead author of the report, said that while the evidence on happiness could be assessed, the practical implications for policy were likely to prove far more contentious.”

Credit: Imperial College Communications bulletin.