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The Summer 2023 issue of Index looks at neurodiversity, the term coined in the late 1990s to identify and promote the positives of variation in human thinking which has become more widely used in the past few years. Are old stereotypes still rife? Has the perception of neurodiversity improved? If not, was this because of censorship? Using neurodivergent voices, we wanted to know about this in a global context.
The majority of the articles are written by neurodivergent people, as we wanted to put their voices front and centre. Many said they did have more of a voice, awareness had shot up and the word “neurodiversity” empowered and welcomed a growth in onscreen representation. However, at the same time it was clear that conversations around neurodiversity were playing out along society’s current fault-lines and were far from immune.
Mind matters, by Jemimah Seinfeld: The term neurodiversity has positively challenged how we approach our minds. Has it done enough?
The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest in free expression news, from an explainer on Sudan to a cha-cha-cha starring Meghan and King Charles.
Bars can't stop a bestseller, by Kaya Genç: Fiction is finding its way out of a Turkish prison, says former presidential hopeful and bestselling writer
Don't mention femicide, by Chris Havler-Barrett: Murdered women are an inconvenience for Mexico’s president.
This is no joke, by Qian Gong and Jian Xu: The treatment of China’s comedians is no laughing matter.
Silent Disco, by Andrew Mambondiyani: Politicians are purging playlists in Zimbabwe, and musicians are speaking out.
When the Russians came, by Alina Smutko, Taras Ibragimov and Aliona Savchuk: The view from inside occupied Crimea, through the cameras of photographers banned by the Kremlin.
The language of war and peace, by JP O’Malley: Kremlin-declared “Russophobe foreign agent and traitor” Mikhail Shishkin lays out the impossible choices for Russians.
Writer's block, by Stacey Tsui: Hong Kong’s journalists are making themselves heard, thanks to blockchain technology.
The Russians risking it all, by Katie Dancey-Downs: Forced to sing songs and labelled as extremists, anti-war Russians are finding creative ways to take a stand.
The 'truth' is in the tea, by Jemimah Steinfeld: Spilling the tea on a London venue, which found itself in hot water due to a far-right speaker.
Waiting for China's tap on the shoulder, by Chu Yang: However far they travel, there’s no safe haven for journalists and academics who criticise China.
When the old fox walks the tightrope, by Danson Kahyana: An interview with Stella Nyanzi on Uganda’s latest anti-LGBTQ+ law.
Would the media lie to you?, by Ali Latifi: Fake news is flourishing in Afghanistan, in ways people might not expect.
Britain's Holocaust island, by Martin Bright: Confronting Britain’s painful secret, and why we must acknowledge what happened on Nazi-occupied Alderney.
The thorn in Vietnam's civil society side, by Thiện Việt: Thiện Việt: Responding to mass suppression with well-organised disruption.
Not a slur, by Nick Ransom: What’s in a word? Exploring representation, and the power of the term “neurodiversity” to divide or unite.
Sit down, shut up, by Katharine P Beals: The speech of autistic non-speakers is being hijacked.
Fake it till you break it, by Morgan Barbour: Social media influencers are putting dissociative identity disorder in the spotlight, but some are accused of faking it.
Weaponising difference, by Simone Dias Marques: Ableist slurs in Brazil are equating neurodivergence with criminality.
Autism on screen is gonna be okay, by Katie Dancey-Downs: The Rain Man days are over. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay star Lillian Carrier digs into autism on screen.
Raising Malaysia's roof, by Francis Clarke: In a comedy club in Malaysia’s capital stand up is where people open up, says comedian Juliana Heng.
Living in the Shadows, by Ashley Gjøvik: When successful camouflage has a lasting impact.
Nigeria's crucible, by Ugonna-Ora Owoh: Between silence and lack of understanding, Nigeria’s neurodiverse are being mistreated.
My autism is not a lie, by Meltem Arikan: An autism diagnosis at 52 liberated a dissident playwright, but there’s no space for her truth in Turkey.
Lived experience, to a point, by Julian Baggini: When it comes to cultural debates, whose expertise carries the most weight?
France: On the road to illiberalism? by Jean-Paul Marthoz: Waving au revoir to the right to criticise.
Monitoring terrorists, gangs - and historians, by Andrew Lownie: The researcher topping the watchlist on his majesty’s secret service.
We are all dissidents, by Ruth Anderson: Calls to disassociate from certain dissidents due to their country of birth are toxic and must be challenged.
Manuscripts don't burn, by Rebecca Ruth Gould: Honouring the writers silenced by execution in Georgia, and unmuzzling their voices.
Obscenely familiar, by Marc Nash: A book arguing for legalised homosexuality is the spark for a fiction rooted in true events.
A truly graphic tale, by Taha Siddiqui and Zofeen T Ebrahim: A new graphic novel lays bare life on Pakistan’s kill list, finding atheism and a blasphemous tattoo.
A censored day? by Kaya Genç: Unravelling the questions that plague the censor, in a new short story from the Turkish author.
Poetry's peacebuilding tentacles, by Natasha Tripney: Literature has proven its powers of peace over the last decade in Kosovo.
Palestine: I still have hope, by Bassem Eid: Turning to Israel and Palestine, where an activist believes the international community is complicit in the conflict.
In a world of online book shopping most of us rarely consider what we’re able to buy, or what books are available from the library. But there is nothing more important in the world of freedom of expression than access to the written word.
Literature can be an escape from reality. It can provide space to dream and to challenge and the best of literature can challenge our perceptions of the status quo. Of course there are bad books as much as there are good books, but each and every published work adds something to our collective understanding of the world around us. That's why a democracy should cherish the written word and consider libraries as cathedrals of learning and opportunity. The banning of books is for the unenlightened and should be challenged wherever it happens.
And that's why it is so shocking that 1,648 titles are banned across the United States at the moment, according to PEN America, in their recently updated list of banned books. Many of these books relate to sexuality and LGBTQ+ experiences, and some challenge historical realities, such as segregation and class, or race and history. With these books banned, not only are authors literally being cancelled but minority communities are prevented from seeing characters like themselves in the literature that they read.
The most commonly banned book in the USA at the moment is Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe. What does this say to young people who are questioning their own identity when books which explore the very things that they are currently experiencing are banned?
As a Jewish woman and an anti-racist activist I find the concept of banning books abhorrent. Only those political leaders who are scared of people can possibly think it's acceptable to ban the written word and make reading an illicit or illegal activity.
I was lucky as a child. I had an enlightened mum who thought there was little else more important than me reading, although I did resent getting the books about my favourite toys rather than the actual toys (yes mum I am still upset I never had a My Little Pony!). But looking at the list of Banned Books PEN America has published I’m disconcerted to see so many of those books I loved as a child banned, including several by Judy Blume and The Handmaid's Tale by Index patron Margaret Atwood.
Freedom to read is as crucial an element of freedom of expression as freedom to create.
Censorship doesn’t protect children and young people. Reading about gender and sexuality isn't going to make them go and have sex, or change who they might later choose to have sex with. Just as reading about Afghanistan doesn’t make a child a victim of war or reading about slavery in the USA a slave. Instead reading about those issues can make a young person more compassionate, more understanding of others and more open to new ideas. It generates empathy and gives us all a more informed and confident community who understand pain and anguish as well as our collective history. That is the society I want to live in.
And in the spirit of Barack Obama, who just released his own summer reading list in support of anti-book banning efforts, might I recommend you check out some of those wonderful titles on the list. Together let's fight book bans.
“This government has implicitly and explicitly targeted minorities in other areas, like the Windrush scandal,” academic Michael Bankole told Index. “So, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a deliberate effort to erect barriers for minority voters when it comes to elections.”
Bankole, a Royal Holloway university lecturer specialising in race and British politics, was speaking to Index following the introduction of voter ID for England’s local elections in May 2023. Following this the Electoral Commission, the independent body which oversees elections in the UK, said that at least 3% of people didn’t vote because they lacked the necessary ID, and 14,000 people were turned away from polling stations for the same reason.
With low levels of proven electoral fraud in the UK, including no proven cases of in-person voter impersonation last year, questions have been raised about the introduction. This includes a potential impact on the ability of sections of society, including non-white voters, to cast their democratic vote, which is ultimately one of the most effective ways to have your voice heard.
Historically, non-white people have less access to some official forms of ID which are required for voting. For example, data from the Department of Transport showed that in 2021, 58% of the black population and 64% of the Asian population held a driving licence, compared to 79% of the white population.
Instead of focusing on voter ID at elections though, Bankole believes the focus should have been on why non-white voters have historically voted less overall. He said: “If we care about democracy, we want all members to participate in it, so it’s important to investigate why these groups are less likely to participate and what can be done to address that. That should’ve been the fundamental issue for the government to investigate.”
Following on from Bankole’s comments, the Electoral Commission’s interim report in June 2023 showed that 82% of Black and minority ethnic respondents (BME) were unaware of the need for voter ID in the recent elections compared to 93% of white respondents.
Looking over the pond to the USA, where encroaching voter ID laws have been enacted in individual states since 2006, academic studies have had time to focus on the effects. A study from 2018 argued that minorities in the USA are less likely to have valid forms of ID, with being born outside the USA and lower levels of education, income and home ownership as negatively affecting the chances of having valid ID. These issues generally affect minority voters more than white voters in the USA, where, as of 2023, 36 states require some form of ID to vote.
While academic studies have had time to focus on the effects of voter ID laws across the USA over the years, it’s not the case for the recent English elections. However, Democracy Volunteers, a group campaigning to improve the quality of democratic elections in the UK, deployed observers to 118 of the 230 councils holding elections and found that out of the 1.2% of voters they recorded as turned away for having no valid ID, 53% of these were recorded as “non-white passing” (described as such by the observers). In the 2021 census 18.3% of the residents of England and Wales described their ethnic group as something other than white. One of the observations from Democracy Volunteers’ report was that on a number of occasions people with valid ID from Commonwealth countries, such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, were turned away for having invalid ID. If the information from the report is correct, there is an issue. Index reached out to Democracy Volunteers to discuss the findings but received no response.
There was also controversy regarding what forms of ID were accepted during the elections. The older person’s bus pass, the Freedom Pass and the London 60+ Oyster card were accepted as valid ID (the first two eligible from the age of 66, the latter 60). There was no equivalent valid ID available for younger people. Bankole believes this had a political purpose: “For young people with transport ID, it wasn’t allowed, whereas for older voters, who disproportionally vote for the Conservatives, it was. I think they were erecting barriers for people who don’t vote for them and targeting their base who do.”
To put figures into context, 64% of voters aged 65+ voted for the Conservative Party in the last general election.
Along with the above, just 20% of non-white votes were cast for the Conservative Party at the 2019 UK general election, which it won by a landslide. Index contacted the Electoral Commission to ask if the introduction of the voter ID laws for the English elections was a form of gerrymandering (as a former British government cabinet member suggested). Also, because the majority of BME votes were for either the Labour or Liberal Democrats parties in the last general election, if the ID introductions were a deliberate effort to erect barriers for minority voters.
As well as announcing their interim report mentioned above, the response was as follows: “In September, we will publish our full report on the May 2023 elections. This report will feature further data, including the reasons people were turned away, as well as turnout, postal voting and rejected ballots. It will also provide analysis of other aspects of the elections, including accessibility support that was provided for voters in polling stations…As we're still collecting data there isn't more we can say at this stage.”
The next UK general elections will be held by January 2025, with the London Mayoral elections to be held by May 2024. With general elections traditionally attracting a far higher turnout than local government elections, and the electorate in London being the most ethnically diverse in the UK, voter ID issues could affect a greater number of non-white voters in the future. Voter ID information, along with any changes, is something that Index will keep an eye on in the future as we believe any barriers put in place to vote should be as low as possible, to make sure freedom of speech and expression is protected.
The central theme of the Spring 2023 issue of Index is India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
After monitoring Modi’s rule since he was elected in 2014, Index decided to look deeper into the state of free expression inside the world’s largest democracy.
Index spoke to a number of journalists and authors from, or who live in, India; and discovered that on every marker of what a democracy should be, Modi’s India fails. The world is largely silent when it comes to Narendra Modi. Let’s change that.
Can India survive more Modi?, by Jemimah Seinfeld: Nine years into his leadership the world has remained silent on Modi's failed democracy. It's time to turn up the temperature before it's too late.
The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest news from the free speech frontlines. Big impact elections, poignant words from the daughter of a jailed Tunisian opposition politician, and the potential US banning of Tik Tok.
Cultural amnesia in Cairo, by Nick Hilden: Artists are under attack in the Egyptian capital where signs of revolution are scrubbed from the street.
‘Crimea has turned into a concentration camp’, by Nariman Dzhelal: Exclusive essay from the leader of the Crimean Tatars, introduced by Ukranian author Andrey Kurkov.
Fighting information termination, by Jo-Ann Mort: How the USA's abortion information wars are being fought online.
A race to the bottom, by Simeon Tegel: Corruption is corroding the once-democratic Peru as people take to the streets.
When comics came out, by Sara Century: The landscape of expression that gave way to a new era of queer comics, and why the censors are still fighting back.
In Iran women’s bodies are the battleground, by Kamin Mohammadi: The recent protests, growing up in the Shah's Iran where women were told to de-robe, and the terrible u-turn after.
Face to face with Iran’s authorities, by Ramita Navai: The award-winning war correspondent tells Index's Mark Frary about the time she was detained in Tehran, what the current protests mean and her Homeland cameo.
Scope for truth, by Kaya Genç: The Turkish novelist visits a media organisation built on dissenting voices, just weeks before devastating earthquakes hit his homeland.
Ukraine’s media battleground, by Emily Couch: Two powerful examples of how fraught reporting on this country under siege has become.
Storytime is dragged into the guns row, by Francis Clarke: Relaxed gun laws and the rise of LGBTQ+ sentiment is silencing minority communities in the USA.
Those we must not leave behind, by Martin Bright: As the UK government has failed in its task to rescue Afghans, Index's editor at large speaks to members of a new Index network aiming to help those whose lives are in imminent danger.
Modi’s singular vision for India, by Salil Tripathi: India used to be a country for everyone. Now it's only for Hindus - and uncritical ones at that.
Blessed are the persecuted, by Hanan Zaffar: As Christians face an increasing number of attacks in India, the journalist speaks to people who have been targeted.
India’s Great Firewall, by Aishwarya Jagani: The vision of a 'digital India' has simply been a way for the authoritarian government to cement its control.
Stomping on India’s rights, by Marnie Duke: The members of the RSS are synonymous with Modi. Who are they, and why are they so controversial?
Bollywood’s Code Orange, by Debasish Roy Chowdhury: The Bollywood movie powerhouse has gone from being celebrated to being used as a tool for propaganda.
Bulldozing freedom, by Bilal Ahmad Pandow: Narendra Modi's rule in Jammu and Kashmir has seen buildings dismantled in line with people's broader rights.
Let’s talk about sex, by Mehk Chakraborty: In a country where sexual violence is abundant and sex education is taboo, the journalist explores the politics of pleasure in India.
Uncle is watching, by Anindita Ghose: The journalist and author shines a spotlight on the vigilantes in India who try to control women.
Keep calm and let Confucius Institutes carry on, by Kerry Brown: Banning Confucius Institutes will do nothing to stop Chinese soft power. It'll just cripple our ability to understand the country.
A papal precaution, by Robin Vose: Censorship on campus and taking lessons from the Catholic Church's doomed index of banned works.
The democratic federation stands strong, by Ruth Anderson: Putin's assault on freedoms continues but so too does the bravery of those fighting him.
Left behind and with no voice, by Lijia Zhang and Jemimah Steinfeld: China's children are told to keep quiet. The culture of silence goes right the way up.
Zimbabwe’s nervous condition, by Tsitsi Dangarembga: The Zimbabwean filmmaker and author tells Index's Katie Dancey-Downes about her home country's upcoming election, being arrested for a simple protest and her most liberating writing experience yet.
Statues within a plinth of their life, by Marc Nash: Can you imagine a world without statues? And what might fill those empty plinths? The London-based novelist talks to Index's Francis Clarke about his new short story, which creates exactly that.
Crimea’s feared dawn chorus, by Martin Bright: A new play takes audiences inside the homes and families of Crimean Tatars as they are rounded up.
From hijacker to media mogul, Soe Myint: The activist and journalist on keeping hope alive in Myanmar.