Will Britain’s new definition of antisemitism help Jewish people? I’m sceptical

This article was written by Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism. It was originally published by The Guardian

Hackney, London. Credit: kafka4prez

Hackney, London. Credit: kafka4prez

Antisemitism is anathema. From Ken Livingstone to Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi, no one has a good word to say for it. For some there has been a crisis in 2016, for others there has been a witch-hunt. Everyone is against antisemitism: we just can’t agree on how to recognise it.

This year there have been no less than three inquiries and reports on antisemitism: Janet Royall’s presented in May, Shami Chakrabarti’s at the end of June (I served as one of the vice-chairs to this inquiry, although the resulting report was Chakrabarti’s alone) and the home affairs committee report published in October. All dealt exclusively or significantly with the issue of antisemitism in the Labour party.

Now, at year’s end, the prime minister has announced that the government has adopted the definition of antisemitism recommended by an inter-governmental body, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Theresa May heralded a single standard with which we can identify and call out antisemitism. The Labour party quickly fell into line and British Jewish leaders welcomed the initiative. Does this promise a new year in which the politics of antisemitism will be less divisive? Or are the issues bound up in antisemitism too complex to be solved by fiat?

Much of the rancorous debate around antisemitism this year has circulated around three disputed terms: antisemitism, Zionism and anti-racism.

Credit: Ron Almog

Credit: Ron Almog

The term antisemitism was first popularised in Germany in the late 1870s. It is closely bound up with the experiences of Jews as a minority group. It carries memories and knowledge of discrimination, violence and genocide. Yet now the term also operates in a context created both by the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the consequence of its military victory in 1967. Israeli Palestinians possess citizenship rights within the country’s internationally recognised boundaries. Nevertheless, Israel’s relations with the Palestinians have also been characterised by discrimination and occupation, annexation and expropriation. Those who make Israel the target of criticism for these actions are now denounced as antisemitic by Israel’s leaders and by their supporters around the world.

In this way antisemitism is a term that does service both as a defence of minority rights, and in the context of support for a discriminatory and illiberal state power. Little wonder the word provokes so much disagreement.

At times the debate over antisemitism has been a surrogate for another quarrel: whether the Labour party should be a comfortable place for Zionists. In parts of the left the terms “Zionism” and “Zio” have become part of the lexicon of invective. Zionism and anti-Zionism encompass a range of positions, but in debate they get defined by opponents according to their maximalist connotations: religious and ethnic privilege, occupation and settlement are ascribed to one side, refusal to assent to the legitimacy of the state of Israel by the other. The facts provide a different picture. Many people who think of themselves as Zionists are at the forefront of protest against Israel’s policies. Many who conceive of themselves as anti-Zionists accept the state’s right to exist while they oppose its objectionable laws and policies.

Anti-racism too has generated conflict, not least in the Labour party. Chakrabarti provided a cautious assessment of the extent of antisemitism within Labour. But it is not only the proven incidence of antisemitism that should concern us but also the well of support that exists for people who reveal prejudice or callous insensitivity towards Jews. The last year has been punctuated by a handful of headline-grabbing incidents of this sort.

These incidents provoke debate over individuals. However, the problem also lies in political culture. The commonplace idea that racism expresses relations of power too often leads to the belief that it expresses only that. But racism can inform acts of resistance and solidarity as well as domination. If we fail to recognise this we will be poorly equipped to identify racism when it is directed against a group that is relatively affluent, coded as “white”, and most of whose members feel attached to the strongest power in the Middle East. It will increase the chances that we are blind to bigotry and myth when it is directed against British Jews.

So does the IHRA definition that Britain has adopted provide the answer? I am sceptical. Here is the definition’s key passage: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews.” This is bewilderingly imprecise.

The text also carries dangers. It trails a list of 11 examples. Seven deal with criticism of Israel. Some of the points are sensible, some are not. Crucially, there is a danger that the overall effect will place the onus on Israel’s critics to demonstrate they are not antisemitic. The home affairs committee advised that the definition required qualification “to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse on Israel and Palestine”. It was ignored.

The IHRA definition has been circulating for over a decade and has already been buried once. It is almost identical to the European Union monitoring commission’s working definition, formulated in 2005 as part of the global response to the second intifada in the early 2000s. The definition was never accorded any official status by the EUMC and was finally dropped by its successor body, the Fundamental Rights Agency.

The definition has been resurrected just as we are moving to new times. David Friedman, who will soon become President Trump’s ambassador to Israel, has denounced the “two-state” solution. The prospect of continued Israeli dominion over disenfranchised Palestinians, supported by a US president whose noisome electoral campaign was sustained by nods and winks to anti-Jewish prejudice, is changing the dynamic of Jewish politics in Israel and across the world.

In this new context, the greatest flaw of the IHRA definition is its failure to make any ethical and political connections between the struggle against antisemitism and other sorts of prejudice. On behalf of Jews it dares to spurn solidarity with other groups who are the targets of bigotry and hatred. In the face of resurgent intolerance in the UK, in Europe, the United States and in Israel, this is a luxury none of us can afford.

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Social justice must be at the heart of a renewed strategy for integration and cohesion

This article was written by Dr Ben Gidley from Birkbeck’s Department of Psychosocial Studies and Prof David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck

It’s not unusual, when a major government report is published – not least on a contentious topic such as integration and cohesion – that the content of the report bears little relationship to how it is spun by ministers and reported in the media.

In the case of the report earlier this month of the Casey Review into Integration and Opportunity, sensationalist media reportage has amplified the elements of the report which demonise particular – mainly Muslim, migrant and Roma – communities already feeling under pressure in Brexit Britain, promoted a message that integration is somehow the solution to the problem of politically-correct multiculturalism, and highlighted the most gimmicky recommendations.

Civil society activists, academics and the liberal commentariat have understandably focused on the same problematic elements from a critical angle, while also highlighting the unevenness in the use of evidence in the report (heavy on official statistics, thinktank reports, attitudinal surveys and anecdote, light on the use of scholarly literature and in particular on qualitative research on how integration works in practice).

And so, once again, an excellent opportunity for a meaningful national debate on this important topic is slipping out of reach.

The Casey Review makes three major political interventions. The one that has been highlighted in the public debate so far is elaboration of integration as a panacea for the alleged failures of multiculturalism, with a focus on migrants’ and minorities’ responsibility to integrate and sign up to “British values”, tested, for example, through a heavy-handed integration oath on entry. In this sense, the report follows the orthodoxy embraced by New Labour, Coalition and Conservative governments since the 9/11 attacks and milltown riots of 2001.

The other two interventions, however, have received less attention, and deserve more acknowledgement. First is the insistence that, while integration happens locally, it is not enough to devolve all responsibility to it for under-resourced and under-equipped local authorities and their civil society partners. What is needed is a national strategy and national guidance – and nationally ring-fenced funding.

Second, we cannot talk about integration without talking about what Casey generally refers to as inequality of opportunity – the structural iniquities which block the path to integration of some groups. Casey is admirably clear that discrimination and racism (intensified by irresponsible media), alongside class injustice, is one of the primary barriers to integration.

These are points we made in a 2014 report to the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, Integration, Disadvantage and Extremism, based on a thorough review of the evidence.

market-778851_1280There, we showed that many in Britain’s diverse population – including both minority ethnic and majority ethnic citizens – face a range of disadvantages, several of which are shared. These disadvantages give rise to both real and imagined grievances – whether about the war on terror or about rapid demographic change. We showed that social disadvantage and racial injustice, alienation and disempowerment, generate divisive social relations and political movements that feed on hate.

We concluded therefore that integration policy must be aligned with the realities of disadvantage: rather than tackle intolerance and extremism in isolation, the debate about achieving racial equality, social mobility and social justice must be at the heart of a renewed strategy for integration and cohesion.

By reviewing the evidence of what has worked at a local and national level, we concluded that the continued national abdication of responsibility for integration strategy is untenable. Crucially, a national strategy requires national guidelines for its implementation. It should set out detailed, concrete, substantive actions and a coherent methodology for measuring progress, based on robust data: such a “smart” approach is the only cost-effective approach to doing social policy in a time of austerity.

The urgency of these tasks has been amplified by the evidence presented in the Casey Review. But they will fail if the debate continues to be dominated by the shrill voices of panic and isolationism, if a rigorous analysis of disadvantage continues to be obscured by a mantra that equates the working class with whiteness and sees the white working class as some kind of ethnic group, and if the evidence required for smart interventions is dismissed in the Brexit age’s retreat from expertise.

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What will happen to arms exports under Brexit?

This article was written by Prof Ron Smith from Birkbeck’s Department of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics, with Maria Garcia-Alonso, (University of Kent) and Quentin Michel (Université de Liège). It originally appeared on The Conversation

The decision by the UK to leave the EU will have many implications, including consequences for the control of arms exports. Exports of weapons and dual-use equipment, which can have both military and civilian applications, raise major security concerns: you don’t want to arm your enemies and you don’t want your allies to arm your enemies either.

Most states have arms export control regulations and supplies are also restricted – to some extent – by international regimes like the Wassenaar Arrangement on export controls for conventional arms, as well as by UN embargoes and the Arms Trade Treaty that entered into force in December 2014.

European states are major suppliers of military equipment and close competitors in the export markets. But they have different economic and security interests, so a sale that seems problematic to one country may not seem so to another – see, for example, the disagreements about the supply of arms to various players in the Syrian civil war or the supply to Saudi Arabia of equipment used in the Yemen. However, the EU’s rules do not allow other states to block UK sales to Saudi Arabia.

So what are those rules? To avoid exactly this sort of problem, in 2008 the EU defined common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment which replaced an earlier code of conduct on arms exports. This EU Common Position is presently the sole example of a group of states that have agreed to coordinate conventional (usually interpreted as not nuclear, biological or chemical which are covered by different rules) arms exports with a supranational constraining mechanism.

While producer countries have individual incentives to control the quantity, quality and use of the arms they export, these incentives are affected by the interactions with other exporter countries who have their own security and industrial objectives. In such situations, coordination among exporters is required to ensure a better outcome for everyone involved.

However, uncertainty regarding the implementation of controls and fear of noncompliance are a barrier to the implementation of multilateral controls. In particular there needs to be a mechanism to stop “prisoner dilemma” situations in which countries think: “If we don’t export, others will.” To deal with the uncertainty, the EU has a list of items subject to control and a no-undercutting mechanism to stop the fear of noncompliance by others.

Finding common ground

The EU Common Position says that member states are determined to set high common standards for the management of – and restraint in – conventional arms transfers, and to strengthen the exchange of relevant information with a view to achieving greater transparency.

The criteria that govern export control include the respect for the international commitments of EU member states (including any UN sanctions). They also take into account the situation in the buyer country, which includes its respect of human rights, its internal security situation, its respect for international law and its technical and economic capacity. The common position is also concerned for the preservation of regional peace, security and stability and the existence of a risk that the equipment will be diverted into the wrong hands within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions.

Who gets the weapons? Yui Mok PA Archive/PA Images

To make sure all states interpret these criteria in the same way – and to avoid the risk of unfair competitions between member states’ defence industries, several mechanisms have been adopted. These include strengthening the exchange of information by requiring the notification to all EU member states of the denial of a licence, together with the no undercutting rule. This rule has been respected and member states have almost never undercut a licence denial without the consent of the state which has issued it.

There are many difficult areas where exchange of information is valuable. These include dual-use equipment – where countries may differ over whether it is going to be used for civilian or military purposes – and brokering – where a firm facilitating the transaction may be outside the control of national authorities. There has been discussion in many countries about the extent to which arms brokers should be registered.

Britain’s role

Britain plays a central role in this process, currently drafting the list of items subject to control. But when it leaves the EU it will lose access to this mechanism. This increases the risk that its defence industry will not face the same trade rules as its EU competitors. While the UK will no longer be constrained by EU rules, the converse is also true and – given the breadth of UK security interests – this may not be to its advantage.

Other EU states will be able to supply weapons for which the UK has denied a license and may not include on the control list items that the UK regards as sensitive. So given the value that countries attach to the sharing of arms export information, it may be in the interests of the UK and the other EU countries to maintain joint participation in these arrangements even in the post-Brexit era.

The Conversation

 

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Behind Birkbeck’s new visual identity

pocket-guides-etc-croppedIt’s an unusual position for an organisation to find itself in: on the brink of its third century and still no signature style. Imagine Apple without its elegant designs and simple use of space; or Google minus its primary-colours and clean white canvas.

So, just a few years shy of our 200th birthday, we thought it was time such a unique and vibrant university had the coherent and contemporary look it deserved.

What we wanted was a clear, well-considered look and feel that stands for Birkbeck, which is fortunate to possess two rare things: a real Unique Selling Point (as the UK’s only evening university) and a heritage to die for (a core mission which has remained unchanged for 200 years, of educating working Londoners).

So, where to start? We had a 20 year-old ‘lockup’ – a logotype and crest, always seen together on a burgundy panel; and a blue theme inherited from a decade-old advertising campaign. We didn’t want to change the lockup (the burgundy has been darkened and the crest reversed to give greater contrast). But the older and newer looks didn’t always sit together favourably and the visual identity void led to a variety of styles that were not always recognisably ‘Birkbeck’.

new-pop-up-exampleThe challenge, then, was to create an identity – typefaces, colour palette, ways of presenting information – that would live happily alongside the lockup and work across digital and printed channels and products for years to come.

Importantly, the identity needed to be easy for people across the university to put in to practice. We have a small central design team, but many others across the organisation have some responsibility for design, stationery or leaflets, for instance.

We hired Pentagram, the world’s largest independent design consultancy, after a competitive process during which we were wowed by their careful understanding of Birkbeck, creative problem-solving and knowledge of the Higher Education sector having worked with the University of the Arts and the University of Sussex.

A cross-university steering group of academics and professional staff were convened to discuss Birkbeck’s personality and how it might be portrayed visually. This group became essential arbiters throughout the process, helping to define and refine ideas and schemes.

And together we came up with a visual identity that is both beautiful and practical that reflects Birkbeck’s ‘attitude not age’ approach to higher education for all – inclusive, vibrant and world-class.

Domenic Lippa, partner at Pentagram, said: “We wanted to create a visual identity that used the heritage of the existing logo.  To do this, we anchored all information off of the logo, thus creating a strong hierarchy. Once we established this, the ‘heart’ of the identity, we started to introduce new typefaces, colours and imagery to support and counter-point that heritage.”

social-mock-up-croppedThere is enough flexibility to give people across the university room to ‘play’ with the identity, for instance by an unrestricted colourful palette and playful new ways of using our crest’s iconic owl – signifying our evening study. But brief, user-friendly guidelines gently help people stay within a ‘safe space’, ensuring Birkbeck always looks the part.

Needless to say the list of products queuing up for an identity make-over is long – from signage and stationery to websites – so the process of switching our look will take some time. We’ll take it gradually. We wanted to share the design with staff and students first, of course and there will be face-to-face briefings for people who work with design and on-going support from the central design team.

Externally, the new look will be debuted by our new marketing campaign which launches after Christmas with advertisements across the London underground and buses. Our annual magazine BBK will be sent to our alumni and friends shortly afterwards, sporting the new identity. And thereafter, as we proceed throughout 2017, e-newsletters, stationery, Open Evening livery, the 2018-19 prospectus, a new website design and many other products will follow on.

Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck, said: “I am delighted that Birkbeck is getting its first ever visual identity. As we move towards our third century this colourful, modern look helps communicate with the vitality, passion and professionalism of our world-class university.”

–  Julia Day, Head of Communications at Birkbeck

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Did the London 2012 Olympics boost the British economy and make us all happier?

This blog was contributed by Mark Panton, a researcher from the Department of Management at Birkbeck, in reaction to a recent publication by the ONS, which links GDP to special historical events. Mark tweets at @MarkLPanton

olympics-227178_640As a researcher of the use of sport events and stadiums in regeneration projects I was interested in a   recent graphical representation of how special events are linked to UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP) put out by the Office for National statistics (ONS). The representation showed a sharp spike in GDP at the time of the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics.

There has been a long-running debate within sport management about whether or not hosting major sporting events can have an impact on local or even national economies.  At first sight this ONS graphic, together with its accompanying text, sets out a very positive case for the 2012 Olympics.  The highest growth for nearly seven years in the UK was recorded in the third quarter of 2012 when it increased by 1.1% over the previous quarter.   This included increased output in the food and beverages industries, accommodation, employment agencies and creative arts and entertainments.  Was this conclusive evidence for the economic impact of a major sporting event?

Further explanatory details were provided by a separate ONS document.  Due to an additional day of holiday in June for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, there was one fewer working day than usual in the second quarter.  This was estimated to have shaved 0.4% off growth in that period with a ‘bounce-back’ of the same amount in the third quarter.  Another relevant aspect was that the sales of Olympic and Paralympic tickets, clocked up over a long period before the start of the Olympics and totalling £580 million, were all allocated to the third quarter of 2012.  This figure contributed 0.2 percentage points to overall growth.  It should also be noted that the same document details a drop in tourism in this quarter, with a significant dip in numbers visiting London.  Far from the conclusive evidence that might have been imagined from the graphical representation.

However, there was some good news for those looking to stage major events and the local communities. A detailed report by Oxford Economics on the impact of the London Olympics suggested the event may increase residents’ happiness, which could translate into increased consumer spending. This claim was based in part on research linked to the 1996 Euro Championships in England. The report acknowledges that the evidence for such effects is mixed and no figures for increased spending around the London Olympics based on happiness have been found.

Researchers from the LSE did find that Londoners were significantly happier during the Games compared to Parisians and Berliners, but that levels of happiness returned to normal the following year. More critically, researchers in the USA have argued against the use of “psychic income” (emotional and psychological benefits for residents related to sporting events) to support public subsidies for stadiums or events, with the concept being used as the “new frontier in subsidy apologias”. The arguments over the economic and psychic benefits of holding major sporting events are likely to continue.

Listen to Mark in a discussion on Sports stadiums on the Birkbeck Voices podcast.

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Trump trolls, Pirate Parties and the Italian Five Star Movement: The internet meets politics

This article was written by Andrea Ballatore, Lecturer in Geographic Information Science, and Simone Natale, Loughborough University. It was originally published on The Conversation

We blame the internet for a lot of things, and now the list has grown to include our politics. In a turbulent year marked by the U.K.‘s decision to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump, some have started to wonder to what extent the recent events have to do with the technology that most defines our age.

In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, commentators accused Facebook of being indirectly responsible for his election. Specifically, they point to the role of social media in spreading virulent political propaganda and fake news. The internet has been increasingly presented as a possible cause for the post-truth culture that allegedly characterizes contemporary democracies.

These reactions are a reminder that new technologies often stimulate both hopes and fears about their impact on society and culture. The internet has been seen as both the harbinger of political participation and the main culprit for the decline of democracy. The network of networks is now more than a mere vehicle of political communication: It has become a powerful rhetorical symbol people are using to achieve political goals.

This is currently visible in Europe, where movements such as the Pirate Parties and the Italian Five Star Movement, which we have studied, build their political messages around the internet. To them, the internet is a catalyst for radical and democratic change that channels growing dissatisfaction with traditional political parties.

Web utopias and dystopias

The emergence of political enthusiasm for the internet owes much to U.S. culture in the 1990s. Internet connectivity was spreading from universities and corporations to an increasingly large portion of the population. During the Clinton administration, Vice President Al Gore made the “Information Superhighway” a flagship concept. He linked the development of a high-speed digital telecommunication network to a new era of enlightened market democracy.

President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore joined volunteer efforts to wire schools to the internet in 1997. AP Photo/Greg Gibson

The enthusiasm for information technology and free-market economics spread from Silicon Valley and was dubbed Californian Ideology. It inspired a generation of digital entrepreneurs, technologists, politicians and activists in Silicon Valley and beyond. The 2000 dot-com crash only temporarily curbed the hype.

In the 2000s, the rise of sharing platforms and social media – often labeled as “Web 2.0” – supported the idea of a new era of increased participation of common citizens in the production of cultural content, software development and even political revolutions against authoritarian regimes.

The promise of the unrestrained flow of information also engendered deep fears. In 1990s, the web was already seen by critics as a vehicle for poor-quality information, hate speech and extreme pornography. We knew then that the Information Superhighway’s dark side was worryingly difficult to regulate.

Paradoxically, the promise of decentralization has resulted in few massive advertising empires like Facebook and Google, employing sophisticated mass surveillance techniques. Web-based companies like Uber and Airbnb bring new efficient services to millions of customers, but are also seen as potential monopolists that threaten local economies and squeeze profits out of impoverished communities.

The public’s views on digital media are rapidly shifting. In less than 10 years, the stories we tell about the internet have moved from praising its democratic potential to imagining it as a dangerous source of extreme politics, polarized echo chambers and a hive of misogynist and racist trolls.

Cyber-optimism in Europe

While cyber-utopian views have lost appeal in the U.S., the idea of the internet as a promise of radical reorganization of society has survived. In fact, it has become a defining element of political movements that thrive in Western Europe.

In Italy, an anti-establishment party know as the Five Star Movement became the second most-voted for party in Italy in the 2013 national elections. According to some polls, it might soon even win general elections in Italy.

The Five Star Movement’s Virginia Raggi, 37, was elected as Rome’s first female and youngest mayor in June. AP Photo/Fabio Frustaci

In our research, we analyzed how the Italian Five Star Movement uses a mythical idea of the internet as a catalyst for its political message. In the party’s rhetoric, declining and corrupt mainstream parties are allied with newspapers and television. By contrast, the movement claims to harness the power of the web to “kill” old politics and bring about direct democracy, efficiency and transparency in governance.

Similarly in Iceland, the Pirate Party is now poised to lead a coalition government. Throughout the few last years, other Pirate Parties have emerged and have been at times quite successful in other European countries, including Germany and Sweden. While they differ in many ways from the Five Star Movement, their leaders also insist that the internet will help enable new forms of democratic participation. Their success was made possible by the powerful vision of a new direct democracy facilitated by online technologies.

A vision of change

Many politicians all over the world run campaigns on the promise of change, communicating a positive message to potential voters. The rise of forces such as the Five Star Movement and the Pirate Parties in Europe is an example of how the rhetoric of political change and the rhetoric of the digital revolution can interact with each other, merging into a unique, coherent discourse.

In thinking about the impact of the internet in politics, we usually consider how social media, websites and other online resources are used as a vehicle of political communication. Yet, its impact as a symbol and a powerful narrative is equally strong.

The Conversation

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Majority avoidance: one of the few holes in Casey’s strong report

This post was written by Professor Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck’s Department of Politics. It was originally published on the Policy Exchange blog

Dame Louise Casey’s lengthy, evidence-based report is to be commended for its rigour and steadfast defense of liberal principles. It calls out illiberalism, not shrinking from addressing this problem in conservative Muslim communities, while also highlighting racism and discrimination against Muslims by the majority. It asks for a reinstatement of budgets for teaching English and for mitigating the impact of immigration on rapidly-changing communities. There is little to quibble with here. Later in the report, Casey reviews initiatives since the 2001 Cantle Report. This makes it abundantly clear her report is in line with previous work, albeit based on more extensive and detailed quantitative evidence. The failure, it is suggested, is in the execution more than in our knowledge base.

But in two interrelated respects, the report misses a big story. The first concerns the fact that while minority groups are becoming considerably less segregated, segregation between majority and minorities (taken as a whole) remains stuck at a high level. This is a point I made in my report in 2014 and which Ted Cantle and I reiterated recently in our OpenDemocracy report.

The second – related – point, is that white British ‘avoidance’ is the principal driver of this pattern and yet white British attitudes to integration are only lightly addressed in the report. Insofar as this concern is just emerging in the UK academic literature, one cannot fault the report’s authors. Nevertheless, this is an important area that needs a great deal more research and attention.

Third, and also related to the above, is that there is very little grasp in the academic literature of what can be done in free societies to mitigate segregation. No wonder little is said about this in the report. Singapore is a statist society where housing is largely public and the government has few qualms about telling people where to live. As a result, minorities like the Malays and Indians are prevented from clustering and there is no segregation.

We cannot and should not do that in free societies, but what can be done? The report mentions a study which found that when British council tenants were offered a choice in where they would be located, this increased segregation. This gets to a fundamental reality: the more choice people have in where they are housed, the more like tend to live with like. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if segregation is considered a problem for minority upward mobility and majority attitudes toward minorities, we need to consider unobtrusive ways to address it.

Let’s return to majority withdrawal, or ‘white avoidance.’ Imagine there were no illiberal Muslims, Hindus or ultra-Orthodox Jews in Britain and everyone signed up to British values. This may lead to less segregated ethnic communities, but would have little impact on the overall interaction between majority and minority. Instead we would simply see even more expansion of ‘superdiverse’ areas such as Luton, Newham and the like, which white British families largely avoid when searching for a place to settle down or send their kids to school. More than this, they avoid even moderately diverse communities. For example, when we examine schools and places with growing populations, white British absolute population growth is significantly higher in schools and neighbourhoods over 80-85% white British, in a rising curve.

Even if ethnic concentrations disperse, if Britain were to become two nations – one superdiverse, the other remaining White British – this would still represent an important source of division. Indeed, as the Brexit vote revealed, this split is already re-configuring the electoral map in Britain and moving the country in the geographically polarised direction of the United States. Diverse urban areas and homogeneous exurbs or rural districts increasingly see each other as alien. Because white British are so numerous, what they do matters a lot more for the total picture than the actions of small minorities, so white British movement demands more attention.

My own work with Policy Exchange will focus on retaining white residents in mixed areas, which is a major challenge in urban Britain not considered in the report. I hope to examine three ‘nudges’ that could improve white-minority integration: a) correcting whites’ misperceptions about the actual minority share in mixed schools and areas; b) providing accurate information to minorities lacking knowledge about relatively white areas; and c) designing new homes in diverse areas to appeal to white British preferences so as to retain whites in diverse communities.

Recent research suggests white Americans tend to overestimate the share of minorities in moderately diverse areas, and so avoid them and wind up living in whiter areas than they would prefer. I intend to test whether this is also the case in Britain. Using a computer algorithm, survey respondents will be asked whether they have heard of a set of neighbourhoods and schools in their area, and if so, to guess their ethnic composition. We are interested in understanding whether whites have a distorted view of the ethnic composition of mixed areas and schools, and whether minorities have heard of many largely white areas. If so, a policy recommendation might be to construct an online neighbourhood facts database with accurate ethnic (as well as socioeconomic, amenities and housing) information to help people make more informed area choices. Also, it may be worth trialing a system of listing the ethnic composition of schools on their website, as is true, for instance, in some US public school districts like Boston.

A second strand of experiments will focus on new housing, which is in high demand in London and other urban areas. We know that most of the public prefers traditional designs while planners and architects favour the modernist aesthetic which currently prevails in new housing construction. However, Experian MOSAIC data also hint at important ethnic differences, with white British prioritising period designs and gardens while minority groups may be more open to modernism and favour driveways as well as larger numbers of rooms to accommodate extended families. In this manner, it may be possible to design new housing to appeal to different groups and thus ‘nudge’ integration in an unobtrusive way. My work at Policy Exchange will consist of examining the preferences of members of different groups for alternative housing designs controlling for neighbourhood ethnic composition. In other words, might White Britons be more willing to move to a new housing development in an ethnically diverse area if these are designed in a traditional manner?

Overall then, while there is much to commend in the Casey Review, there are large and important omissions which can only be addressed through new research.

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Google’s new NMT speaks its own language

This post was contributed by Alan Mosca, a PhD student in Birkbeck’s Department of Computer Science and Information Systems. Alan tweets at @nitbix

A Google research group has announced a breakthrough that could have a deep impact on the field of automated translation of documents and web pages.

In the recently released article “Google’s Multilingual Neural Machine Translation System: Enabling Zero-Shot Translation” they show how their Neural Machine Translation (NMT) system is able to perform translation between pairs of languages, for which the system has never seen any examples.

In practice, this means that Google’s system is able to automatically translate between two languages, without adopting the “trick” of interlingual translation. (Interlingual translation is a technique commonly adopted in machine translation, of using a common intermediate language to bridge two languages for which there is no corpora available. In this example, the translation would be French -> English -> German, and vice versa, using English as the bridging language). This occurs through a common deep learning method called Long-Short Term Memory (LSTM), through which a machine can learn how to translate between, say, English and French and English and German by processing examples of translations.

The exciting development is that all of this is achieved in a single model, which is able to operate on multiple language pairs. It even appears to have had the effect of the model developing its own “internal representation” of concepts, which is completely independent of the specific languages it learns to translate. The examples in the paper are not limited to European languages, either – the system is able to translate between Japanese and Korean without seeing a simple example that joins the two languages. An example of how this works is shown in Fig. 1.

Fig.1: Example zero-shot translation after training on an intermediate language

Fig.1: Example zero-shot translation after training on an intermediate language

 

All of this, of course, is done inside a deep learning model: an LSTM. The multi-lingual translation is achievable in the single model by adding a token for the destination language in the input. For example, if one wanted to translate “Hello, my name is Bob” to Spanish, the input would be “<2es> Hello, my name is Bob”.

A further exciting observation made by researchers from Google Brain is that the system does not need to be told what language the input is in, disambiguating the difficult cases on its own. Take the word “burro” for instance: it means “butter” in Italian but “donkey” in Spanish. Even for words that have the same spelling but different meanings in different languages, the system is usually able to discriminate based on context.

The model learns an “encoder” LSTM and a “decoder” LSTM; it has a similar appearance to multi-layer auto-encoders. The centre contains an attention model, and the layer just before the attention is the one that outputs the “common encoding”: a semantic representation of the input that is language-independent.

Being Google, as well as testing on the benchmark datasets in machine translation, they used their own internal dataset, which is probably very large and certainly very private. The code is very private too, but the researchers have given us an insight into the kind of infrastructure they needed: 100 (presumably state-of-the-art) GPUs, trained for over 3 weeks. The results are impressive, beating state-of-the-art ad-hoc models in a few cases. For a single model developed for multiple languages, Google’s NMT system provides a great advantage, and we should expect ever better translations from Google Translate as a consequence.

 

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Community: The Mother of Invention

This post was contributed by Matthew Jayes, Business Development, Communication and Enterprise Manager in the School of Business, Economics and Informatics

A report into student entrepreneurship compiled by Public and Corporate Economic Consultants (PACEC) identified independence and flexibility of self-employment as the major pull for graduates to seize the opportunity to become their own bosses. But from what or from whom do they gain independence? Does workplace employability restrict flexibility, despite the right to request flexible working?

Most responsible businesses communicate their impact on their respective environment, stakeholders and employees. How, then, should universities frame the concept of student entrepreneurship? Negatively, as the freedom from external restraint on the individual’s actions; or positively, as the ability of an individual to act upon free will, providing the outcome does not harm others?

enterprise-300pxwIn all likelihood, it remains the role of the university to clearly articulate the known options and help students to navigate their chosen path. For this reason, Birkbeck offers unique support to students interested in developing new ideas (Enterprise), and new businesses (Entrepreneurship), in the form of Enterprise Pathways. Many Birkbeck students have commitments beyond their study, in the form of work, care, societies or volunteering. To accommodate these constraints the pathways on offer allow different students to engage in different ways, from a variety of starting points.

Every academic year, we offer the Boot Camp pathway, which brings together students from different organisations to work in small groups to develop new ideas on a given theme. The autumn 2016 Boot Camp will be held at Runway East in partnership with Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, Goldsmiths, University of London, and Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London. The theme is Future of Media and will be facilitated by invited guests such as Kirsty Styles, Programme Lead, Talent and Skills, Tech North.

Students interested in a longer path have joined the Birkbeck Enterprise Community, Competitions and Awards (BECCA) course, running from November to July. These students, from various courses at Birkbeck, build networks and develop their ideas as part of a supportive community augmented by external facilitators. The first session in November 2016 featured Damola Timeyin, Strategist, BBH London, leading the Saturday morning meeting on “Creativity”, where he urged the audience to fully embrace diverse opportunities, experiences and communities.

The first BECCA session

The first BECCA session

Birkbeck students hoping to develop ideas independently are encouraged to follow the digital pathways online. Simply Do Ideas offers an online idea testing tool, through which students can directly access support from the Enterprise Pathways team. Enterprise Pathways has also partnered with The Digital Garage from Google – a digital skills training platform assisting students to grow their business, career and confidence.

So –where do these pathways lead? Each has its own distinctive outcome; however by forming a strong community and deep understanding of our students, Enterprise Pathways helps to map a bespoke route to future destinations. At the heart of London, a global creative city, we help our students to identify what could enhance their enterprise journey. Enterprise Pathways empower Birkbeck students to make a positive impact on society by thinking differently.

Notes

  • Places for Birkbeck students at the Future of Media Boot Camp have now been allocated, however please email Enterprise Pathways to join the waiting list.
  • The full BECCA programme is available online. While the course is at capacity, interested students should contact Matthew at the earliest opportunity.
  • Links to Simply Do Ideas and The Digital Garage from Google are for enrolled students only, available on the Enterprise Pathways website.

Further Reading

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Armistice Day: Remembering Birkbeck’s war poet

A self-portrait of Isaac Rosenberg, who as painted as well as writing poetry

A self-portrait of Isaac Rosenberg, who painted as well as writing poetry

An evening celebrating the life and work of Isaac Rosenberg is taking place on Sunday, 27th November between 6pm and 8pm in Senate House, Bloomsbury.

Featuring actress Miriam Margolyes, Alexander Knox, Simon Haynes, Philip Bell, Elaine Feinstein and Vivi Lachs and her band, this evening of words, music and images has been written and devised by Rosenberg’s biographer, Jean Moorcroft Wilson.

The event is being hosted by the Jewish East End Celebration Society to raise funds for a statue of Rosenberg in Torrington Square, outside Birkbeck’s main Malet Street building.

The First World War inspired a huge amount of poetry, by both soldiers and civilians. One of the most well-known poets, Isaac Rosenberg, studied in the evenings at the Art School at Birkbeck from 1907-1908, while spending his day as an apprentice graver. Rosenberg won several prizes during his time at the College and exhibited his work in the Art School’s annual exhibition after leaving. Rosenberg was killed while fighting in the Battle of the Somme in the spring of 1918. Today, we publish one of his most famous poems to mark Armistice Day.

In 2000, Professor Steven Connor  gave a lecture at Birkbeck about Rosenberg’s life and works. Read the lecture.

Break of Day in the Trenches

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet’s poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens ?
What quaver – what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe –
Just a little white with the dust.

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