Monday, December 13, 2004

Freedom to spend

At this time of year, the streets are lined with Christmas decorations, coloured lights and illuminated fir trees. The atmosphere projected is one of a welcoming air of joy and warmth. People are rushing about from shop-to-shop, with a cluster of bags in one hand and the other with a folded sheet of paper representing indexed lists of presents. At the cashiers desk some shoppers may place a limited price tag on what they are prepared to spend on their presents, others may decide on suitability regardless of price. However, bargain hunting should not be ‘knocked’.

In the field of marketing management, the acronym AIDA is suggested to promote product sales. AIDA stands for: Awareness, Interest, Desire and then Action. This assumed human behaviour is also suggested as a driver for impulse buys. How many times has your mind signalled you to make a purchase on a product you do not really need or want? Retailers can also be too clever for their own good by placing product’s in particular shelf positions. For example, exploiting both reach and line of sight human traits.

I recently read about some purchases being made by a king of poverty and disease struck country. I wondered what criteria he was applying before buying presents or luxury items for himself. One of his purchases is the Maybach car – It includes an integrated television, DVD player, 21-speaker surround-sound system, fridge, cordless telephone and sterling silver champagne flutes. He is also reported to have 11 wives and 2 fiancees. In addition, his particular country has nearly 40% of adults diagnosed as HIV positive. In recent years, he has asked parliament for $15m to build a palace for each of his spouses and $45m to buy a jet. NB Street protests led to him abandoning the plans to buy a luxury jet. Given a rise in income or receiving a financial bonus, our selection criteria and capacity to spend will inevitably rises. The question is to what level and is it controllable? When spending becomes uncontrollable or without purpose, the person doing the spending can be branded as a Spendthrift -
One who spends money profusely or improvidently; a prodigal; one who lavishes or wastes their estate. One argument suggests that if you are a rich successful businessperson, lottery winner or Oil tycoon, you have a ‘disposable’ amount to spend on yourself as your ‘Spending power’ has just leaped. This is not to imply that those with riches (£$) do not assist or contribute to charity organisations. Instead, maybe their (rich folks) reality of worth moves into a different dimension. Establishing a form of personal tax saving world funds could be one way of balancing our need to spend and delivering vital essential needs of the many. We have to also consider responsible spending by developing countries. Should we allow these (developing) countries a free reign on spending policy or strive for charities to work with governments to establish intra-country funds. What we do need is a sense of sincerity, empathy and recognition that although everyone wants to survive and enjoy life, unfortunately, basic needs in the form of clean water, education and health care are too far behind in many countries. We should all aim to help to ‘fix’ these issues through an acceptance that we are a world family. Giving the gift of survival should be at the top of all of our luxury item list.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Turning off hate?

This week, it has now been a year since I started writing a weekly column for the Sikh Times. I’d like to thank the team for their continuing support and commitment to this publication. Over the last year I would like to think that the readers and I have explored & shared a range of subjects and ideas. For example, world affairs, globalisation, the need for debt reduction, ID-Cards, Bollywood’s gloss/hype, charity, peace/harmony and the potential trouble with patriotism. The aim of my commentary is simply to raise awareness and cover lifestyle issues. I believe that the very fundamental theme of journalism is the right to express ones view and aim to stand-up and defend the defenceless in society. Knowledge is power.

Take for example, the proposed Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. On Tuesday 7th December at the House of Lords, the bill will have received its second reading. One of the bills aims is for the inciting of religious hatred to be made a criminal offence.

Back in July 2004 David Blunkett suggested that there was a need to stop people being abused or targeted just because they held a particular religious faith. ‘Extending anti-discrimination law is only worthwhile if we actually change the processes on the ground.’ In addition, previously he is quoted to have said that the legislation would not curb people's right to express their view of other people's religions. ‘The issue is not whether you have an argument or discussion or whether you are criticising someone's religion. It's whether you incite hatred on the basis of it.’ NB There is already an offence of inciting racial hatred but this does not offer protection if someone is being targeted because of their religion. It is proposed that any passed legislation will be supported by a 'British FBI’ - the Serious Organised Crime Agency, bringing together the National Crime Squad, National Criminal Intelligence Service and parts of HM Customs and the Immigration Service.

However, there are some that consider this whole area as questionable. Some commentators suggest that religious based jokes will be disallowed – leading possibly to imprisonment. There is also the need to stop negative influence. Remember last years trouble with an assignation based computer game. One game in particular, ‘hitman2’ was clearly both blasphemous and insulting to an implied community.

Does the bill prevent free speech commentary or anyone raising questions around a religious community or an associated group’s activities? A Home Office spokeswoman on defended the bill. ‘There is a clear difference between criticism of a religion and the act of inciting hatred against members of a religious group,’ she said. ‘The existing offence has not interfered with free speech and we are confident that an offensive incitement to religious hatred will not do so either.’ The home secretary believes the law change would help tackle religious extremists who preach against other religions. Another concern that is often raised by those opposed to legislation against incitement of religious hatred is the difficulty involved in defining religion. According to the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill 2001, ‘religious hatred’ means ‘hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.’
This definition was seen to be too vague and open to abuse by extreme groups and fringe cults. In response to this criticism, any attempt to define religion was dropped from the Bill altogether.

Is there a need to make a distinction between religion and ‘religiosity’- the quality of being religious? - A matter of personal choice. NB Those that incite religious hatred rarely make this distinction. The BNP's campaigns, for example, are not only targeted at ‘religious’ members of a community, but a religious community across the board.
The fundamental issue here has to be the need for facilitating respect. Boundaries do not grey when negativity towards religion is expressed in public. An insult against a religion is exactly that. If such tones are used to fuel violence then clearly this is wrong and its associated perpetrators must be brought to justice. A law that is flexible enough to interpret explicit anti-religious references to protect communities has to be a positive for all affected.

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