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Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis: the unlikely violent extremist

The Guardian World news: Islam - 16 December, 2014 - 07:42

He may have been unnerving but few expected the erratic Monis to be involved in anything like a marathon siege with a bloody end
• Rolling coverage
• Sydney siege: magistrate gave Man Haron Monis bail saying he did not pose risk to public
• Islamic leaders say Australians have risen above fear in wake of Sydney siege
#illridewithyou: hashtag offers solidarity with Sydney’s Muslims
• Richard Ackland: We’re entitled to ask why a firmer grip wasn’t applied to Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis

Man Haron Monis unnerved many of the people he knew in the 18 years he spent in Australia. But few believed he could be responsible for anything like the marathon siege that ended with two dead hostages early on Tuesday morning.

Indeed the competing identities he claimed – self-styled peace activist, an alleged ayatollah, a firebrand sheikh, a carpet seller, and briefly, a nightclub bouncer – are difficult to reconcile and stretch credulity.

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Islamic leaders say Australians have risen above fear in wake of Sydney siege

The Guardian World news: Islam - 16 December, 2014 - 03:14

Broader community ‘has come out in solidarity’ with the online show of support for Muslims, despite threats by rightwing groups and isolated verbal attacks
• Following continuing coverage here
#illridewithyou: hashtag offers solidarity with Sydney’s Muslims
Catch up with our coverage so far

Australian Islamic representatives have expressed optimism that the Sydney siege will not trigger an escalation of physical and verbal attacks on Muslims, despite sporadic threats made during the unfolding crisis.

Man Haron Monis, long viewed as a fringe figure in Sydney’s Islamic community, held 17 people hostage in the Lindt cafe in Martin Place. Monis, along with two hostages, died in the shootout that ended the siege.

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Zionist Zuhdi Jasser Shills For “StandWithUs”–Again

Loon Watch - 15 December, 2014 - 22:00

Zionist_Zuhdi_Jasser

“A guy like Zuhdi understands our mission, which is to promote Israel,” said Puder

Zuhdi Jasser, is a favorite with Zionist organizations, headlining many of their events as a keynote speaker. In fact, Jasser owes his career to another Neo-Con Zionist who has been one of his biggest backers; Daniel Pipes. Jasser began his association with Pipes in 2003 and quickly morphed into that strangest and loneliest of creatures: the Muslim Zionist. Pick a topic and Jasser will likely be on the wrong side, the side of warmongers, bigots, torturers and criminals:

Invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan? Wrong side.

Israeli apartheid? Wrong side.

Discrimination based on religion? Wrong side.

Islamophobia? Wrong side.

“Ground Zero” Mosque? Wrong side.

Congressional Witch Hunts? Wrong side.

NYPD spying? Wrong side.

For his efforts Jasser has been rewarded handsomely, with funding and support from Islamophobic organizations. Recently, Jasser was once again displaying his qualifications as an all around nasty Islamophobia enabler at another “Stand With US” luncheon (Previous: “StandWithUs” Destroying Human Rights Conference).

This time Jasser was whining about how he isn’t respected in his local community and mosque, that an Imam hurt his feelings by calling him a “hypocrite” and when he does lecture in mosques people keep him “away from their children.” Hmmm, I wonder why that would happen? All of a sudden Mr. Patriotic Muslim Sheikh of America is getting upset that Muslims are using their own right to free speech to critically condemn him and his strange beliefs?

Jasser has been preaching his hatred of the Muslim American community for over a decade now and no one has hurt a hair on his head and no one will because he’s a pitiful hatemonger. Should Jasser be surprised that he is so overwhelmingly disliked when he forwards conspiracy theories claiming Muslim Americans are a Fifth Column?

“The bigger threat is the quiet majority” of American Muslims “that hates America, that doesn’t feel a bond to this country, would be horrified if their kids became military officers, and don’t feel an affinity for America,” Jasser said.

On Israel, Jasser pushed the typical Hasbara line, normalizing Israeli human rights and war crimes by sweeping them under the rug, stating “Israel is just like England and the US,”

“It is absurd that the U.N. spends so much time on Israel when it’s like England, it’s like America,” Jasser said. “The Palestinian question is a problem because of the Palestinian leadership — the warmongering Hamas, which is sending rockets and starts a war and then expects nothing to happen in response.”

This lie doesn’t hold any currency among most reasonable, informed and honest folks anymore; the tide is shifting and Jasser needs new talking points. When you don’t point to continued settler colonization, occupation, apartheid, periodical bombings and invasions of Gaza, etc. etc. then you are a hypocrite and it’s no wonder you aren’t respected.

Iowa food supplier charged with falsely selling $4.9m worth of beef as halal

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 December, 2014 - 20:58
  • Major indictment also charges Midamar’s directors with conspiracy and fraud
  • Founder, father of firm’s two directors, pleaded not guilty to charges last week

A food supplier for several years falsely marketed beef to Muslims around the world as meeting strict halal standards, exporting products that were not slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law, federal prosecutors allege in a major fraud indictment.

Midamar Corp, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, sold at least $4.9m in beef to customers in Malaysia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and elsewhere that did not follow the halal practices promised in its labeling and advertising, according to the indictment returned on 5 December by a grand jury.

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Zionist Federation cancels Mordechai Kedar lectures but only at schools

Loon Watch - 15 December, 2014 - 18:55

Mordechai-Kedar-with-Geller-and-Spencer-at-SION-conference

via. IslamophobiaWatch

The Zionist Federation this week cancelled appearances at three Jewish schools by an outspoken Israeli academic following concerns about his links to an anti-Islamist activist banned from Britain.

Dr Mordechai Kedar, an expert on Israeli Arabs who regularly appears to defend Israel on Arabic stations such as Al Jazeera, was due to begin a speaking tour on Wednesday night. But ZF chairman Paul Charney said that he had removed the schools from the tour after the intervention of the Board of Deputies.

Dr Kedar, who lectures at Bar-Ilan University, has spoken at events organised by Stop the Islamisation of Nations, founded by the Jewish American Pamela Geller, who was banned from Britain last year in a move supported by the Board of Deputies.

At a 2012 Sion conference, where speakers also included Tommy Robinson, then of the English Defence League, Dr Kedar urged Europeans to have more babies. Muslims, he declared, were “multiplying – somebody said [like] rats”.

The Board had said “their biggest concern would be about him visiting schools”, Mr Charney explained. “To which I replied that I would pull him from the schools so as not to have an argument, to which they replied they were glad to reach accommodation on this.”

Mr Kedar is due to speak at a number of British synagogues over the next few days as well as the ZF’s Israel advocacy conference. But appearances at two synagogues originally listed on his schedule will not take place.

His talk at the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation in Maida Vale, west London, on Wednesday night was cancelled. Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue said that his booking had never been confirmed. Rabbi Dov Kaplan of HGS said: “We probably would have had him and let him explain his comments.” One objector, academic Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, said that the visit would be “toxic for interfaith relations”.

But Mr Charney complained of attempts to smear Dr Kedar. “At the ZF, we are committed to bringing over expert speakers to educate and enthuse our audiences. We don’t necessarily agree with all their views… But we do think they should all be heard,” he said. He added: “What’s worse than a call for a boycott of an Israeli academic? A call for a boycott of an Israeli academic from within our community.”

Dr Kedar, who has had pieces published in the JC, said that “media outlets from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia find no problem to have me on air”. He added: “Pamela Geller and her audience are not different from the audience of dozens of media outlets, in Arabic and English alike, which keep calling me to hear what an Israeli researcher has to say; they all deserve to hear the truth about the Middle East.”

Jewish Chronicle, 4 December 2014

See Paul Charney and Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, “Should Mordechai Kedar speak in the UK?”, Jewish Chronicle, 4 December 2014

Also Ben White, “Zionist Federation speaker: immigration will be death of Europe”, Middle East Monitor, 5 December 2014

And “Raping Palestinian women would deter attacks on Israel, says Geller ally”, Islamophobia Watch, 21 July 2014

Update:  See “Finchley Synagogue cancels talk by controversial academic Mordechai Kedar”, Jewish Chronicle, 8 December 2014

ZF Mordechai Kedar speaking tour

Extremist who attacked George Galloway is jailed for 16 months

Loon Watch - 15 December, 2014 - 18:47

Neil-Masterson

via. IslamophobiaWatch

A man who attacked the Respect MP George Galloway in a London street has been jailed for 16 months.

Drug addict Neil Masterson, 39, left the pro-Palestine MP for Bradford West with cuts and bruises to his head and ribs and requiring hospital treatment after the frenzied assault in Notting Hill in August.

Masterson, who was wearing a pink t-shirt with an Israeli Defence Force logo when he was arrested nearby, told police he felt “morally justified” in attacking the MP because he was a “Nazi” with a “shameful” attitude towards Jews, Isleworth Crown Court heard.

Galloway, the court heard, believes he would have been killed if Masterson, who had “recently undergone a conversion towards Judaism”, had been armed with a knife during their chance meeting.

Masterson, of Kensington, who used to work for the Department of Work and Pensions and as a manager at the BBC, had previously admitted assaulting Mr Galloway and a second charge of common assault against a man who had been posing for a picture with the MP as the attack happened.

Judge Aidan Marron QC told the clean-shaven and smartly suited Masterson: “While you are no longer facing a charge of religiously aggravated assault, it would be unreal to ignore that the motivation for this … was your profound hostility to Mr Galloway’s views.”

He added that Masterson’s “loathing” of Galloway was manifested by what he did at the start of the assault and said afterwards in interviews.

The court heard that 60-year-old former Labour MP Mr Galloway had been in London on private business when the attack happened at around 7.25pm on Friday August 29.

He was posing for a photo near his car in Golborne Road with Moroccan doctor Mostafa Maroof and a friend when Masterson approached them “in a rage”, prosecutor Michelle Nelson told the court. She said he mentioned the Holocaust, leading Mr Galloway to fear he was a right-wing extremist.

The attack on the MP included 10 punches and a “Kung-fu style” kick which did not connect but caused Mr Galloway to fall into the road, where Masterson continued hitting him.

Mr Maroof, who was shoved over in the attack, and his friend managed to push Masterson away and prevent him from launching another attack before he fled onto a bus, the court heard.

The three men called 999 and then got in Mr Galloway’s car to follow Masterson’s bus, despite police telling them not to. They flagged down a passing patrol car which stopped the bus and officers arrested Masterson.

Ms Nelson said Masterson admitted to police he said “Anti-semitic little man, I f****** despise you” during the attack and described Galloway as “a morally and intellectually bankrupt person”.

She added: “The defendant said that he wanted to make Mr Galloway realise that his attitude towards Jews was shameful, it shames all Catholics and it shames anyone who has any idea of humanity. He felt he (Galloway) is a serpent in a way.”

She continued: “He felt he was morally justified in assaulting Mr Galloway. He said he thought Galloway was a Nazi and his political views were hate.”

Mr Galloway welcomed the sentence but questioned the decision to drop a charge of religiously aggravated assault. He said:

“The sentence is reasonable in the circumstances. However, had the charge of religiously aggravated assault not been dropped I’m sure it would have been considerably longer and I fail to see why that charge was dropped given that he was wearing an IDF T-shirt and screaming about Israel and me. If an Asian man wearing a Palestinian T-shirt had attacked a pro-Israeli MP would the sentence have been the same?”

In a victim impact statement read in court Mr Galloway described still being in pain from his injuries and how it had left his wife and children in a “constant state of worry”. “I no longer go anywhere alone”, he wrote. “I now need to have someone with me while working.”

Hillingdon Times, 11 December 2014

Masterson’s Facebook page provides an insight into his political ideology, which is typical far-right Islamophobia, inspired by groups such as Britain First. Like many who hold these views Masterson is a fervent Zionist, seeing the state of Israel as a bulwark against Islam. Along with declarations of admiration for the IDF, he repeatedly calls for the suppression of Islam in the UK. In a rambling open letter to David Cameron, which accompanies a link to a video promoting a protest against the Muslim Brotherhood organised by the EDL splinter group the South East Alliance, Masterson writes:

“The fault line between Islam and democracy is terminal … This country became great as a function of its vigorous prosecution of Catholicism over centuries: we excluded them from all forms of collective worship; public and civic life; etc etc… So, I ask you, as a man of all things fair: why is Islam getting a free pass when it is infinitely more alien to our culture than Catholicism? … the enemy is right in front of us and it is patient and vowed to destruction. Shows them the true awe and majesty of the law and make anti Islamic legislation the centrepiece of a second reformation; it is the surest path to the glory of a new Britannia.”

Rather than targeting Muslims, Masterson chose instead to attack George Galloway – a left-wing politician with a strong record of support for both the Muslim community and the Palestinian cause. It’s the same far-right reasoning that motivated Breivik’s massacre on Utøya.

Neil Masterson backs Britain First and IDF
Neil Masterson announcing his support for Britain First and wearing his Israel Defense Forces t-shirt

U.S. Jewish groups back Muslim teen in Employment Discrimination case against Abercrombie & Fitch

Loon Watch - 15 December, 2014 - 18:39

Abercrombie-Fitch-Samantha-Elauf

Nice to see some unity among the Abrahamic faiths.

U.S. Jewish groups back Muslim teen in case against Abercrombie & Fitch By and | Dec. 14, 2014 | 11:37 AM

Orthodox Jewish groups in the United States have thrown their support behind a Muslim teenager who was denied a job at retailer Abercrombie & Fitch because she wears a head scarf.

Seven Jewish groups joined a Muslim civil rights group and a public interest law firm in filing briefs supporting the teen, Samantha Elauf, this week at the U.S. Supreme Court, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Elauf was turned down for a job at the Tulsa, Okla., branch of the youth-oriented clothing store because her hijab didn’t conform to the company’s “look policy” of what is calls “classic East Coast collegiate style of clothing,” according to court filings citing by the Times.

“This is a common experience that a lot of other Sabbath observers or people wearing yarmulkes have had in terms of applying for a position and being turned down because it is just a nuisance to employers,” Nathan Lewin, who filed a friend of the court brief for the Orthodox Jewish groups, told the paper.

“It is important that these Orthodox Jewish groups express support for this Muslim woman who has had a similar experience,” he added.

Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum, director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, another group that joined the brief said that the case could be “a possible infringement of the freedom of religion.”

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Aid worker in Yemen: 'kidnapping is seen as a very easy way to make money'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 December, 2014 - 12:00

International Medical Corps’ Jon Cunliffe talks about the challenges of keeping his staff safe in a ‘forgotten country’ and leaving his family at home

The thing that worries me most is making sure all the staff (national and international) are safe. It’s the single biggest responsibility I have. If something goes wrong I know I will take that burden very personally, and in this increasingly insecure environment there’s a real possibility this could happen. I have to know I’ve always been doing the best I can to keep people as safe as possible. We have such a wide range of people working here; young people coming to work abroad for the first time, married people with children, people who are retired – but all of them have loved ones. Keeping them safe for their loved ones is the most important thing I do.

Yemen is very much a forgotten country, but it currently has one of the largest humanitarian emergencies in the world. It has the largest presence of al-Qaida, a crumbling government, a strong independence movement in the south of the country, and an increasing reliance on tribal systems. Additionally, it has a mixed Shia-Sunni Muslim population and in recent months the power balance between these two groupings has changed as Shia rebels have swept down from the north of the country.

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What is the significance of the Sydney siege flag?

The Guardian World news: Islam - 15 December, 2014 - 09:55

Footage of hostages in a Sydney siege shows them holding up a black and white flag bearing an Islamic creed

Sydney siege: five hostages flee cafe as police provide update – live

One of the first acts of the gunman who seized a cafe in the heart of Sydney was to force hostages to display a black and white flag bearing the Islamic creed, or Shahada.

To non-Muslims, the flag might immediately evoke Islamic State, Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Khorosan Group, or other violent jihadi groups who have claimed the symbol in recent years.

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Will Jordanian Hind Al Fayez Sit Down? A Look at the Trending Hashtag #Sit_Down_Hind

Muslimah Media Watch - 15 December, 2014 - 06:00
Women’s participation in the Jordanian political scene has always been a controversial one. Several women in Jordanian political history have made news because of their strong political opposition to their male counterparts’ dominance. The most famous one was Toujan Al-Faisal, who was Jordan’s first female member of parliament. In 2002, Al-Faisal made it to the [Read More...]

‘It’s pork or nothing’, French Mayor Tells Muslim Pupils

Loon Watch - 14 December, 2014 - 22:32

Pork_France

The good ol’ secular principles of tolerance at work again in France.

‘It’s pork or nothing’, French mayor tells pupils

Published: 10 Dec 2014 09:18 GMT+01:00

Another week in France and another row has broken out surrounding secularism or laïcité as it’s is called.

After town halls were told to remove nativity scenes because they were against the principle of “laicïté” one mayor in the south of France has used the same argument to justify “a pork or nothing” policy in his school.

From January 1st pupils in the little town of Sargé-lès-Le Mans in the Sarthe department of north-western France will not be offered a substitute meal if they don’t eat pork.

This will affect the 15 Muslim pupils in the school who cannot eat pork because it against the dietary rules of their religion. Eating pork is also against the rules of the Jewish religion but it is not believed there are any Jewish pupils at the school.

Mayor Marcel Mortreau says his decision is based on the “principle of Republican neutrality”.

“The mayor is not required to provide meals that respond to religious requirements. This is the principle of secularism,” Mortreau told Europe1 radio.

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Mohammed el Gorani: A Harrowing Tale From Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp

Loon Watch - 14 December, 2014 - 22:29

gitmomemoir

Here is something you won’t see on the mainstream media actual victims of US torture speaking, this is from a 2011 article. Mohammed el Gorani  was one of the youngest prisoners at Guantanamo Bay detention Camp. He shares this harrowing tale from Guantanamo. It is important to highlight stories like these instead of glorifying the criminals who authorized it.

Diary

Mohammed el Gorani and Jérôme Tubiana

We met every afternoon for two weeks in N’Djamena. After the midday prayer, I would pick him up in a taxi at the shop he hoped to turn into a laundry. We ate fish and rice in my hotel room – he would have been recognised outside – and he just talked, beginning at the beginning.

I was born in 1986 in Saudi Arabia, in Medina, the Prophet’s city. My parents came from North Chad – I don’t know exactly where. They left Chad for Saudi because they believe that if you live in a holy place, it’s easier to go to paradise. They were nomads, from the Goran tribe. When they arrived in Medina, they took the tribe’s name as our family name, so I’m called Mohammed el Gorani, ‘the Goran’. My parents were camel herders and always had to keep moving to find grass. But when they arrived in Medina, my father did a lot of different jobs: washing cars, working in a shop belonging to a Saudi – you can’t have a shop if you’re not Saudi. There’s a lot of stupid rules about foreigners in Saudi Arabia. When my parents tried to send me to school, they said: ‘Is he Saudi?’

‘No, Chadian.’

‘There are no places left. Come back next month …’

When I was eight, I went to a school run by a man from Chad. He taught anyone who couldn’t go to a Saudi school. I was there four years until my father got ill. Then my brother and I, we had to start working. We washed cars and sold in the street cold water, prayer mats and beads – you can make good money during the Pilgrimage and the Ramadan. I went every month to Mecca with kids from Sudan and Pakistan to sell to the pilgrims. If the police came, we ran away. We had to be careful. If they capture you, they take your money and your stuff. Sometimes they take you to prison and your father had to come and sign a paper. Thus we paid for hiring our house, for the electricity. We changed house seven or eight times, but we always had electricity and tap water. Not like here in Chad.

He became friends with a Pakistani boy who lived near him. We called him Ali.

When I got 14, Ali asked me: ‘How long are you going to keep washing cars?’ He knew I wanted to be a dentist. All my friends had teeth problems, but there wasn’t a good dentist for non-Saudis – they just pull your teeth out. Also foreigners have no way to study after high school. Ali had taught me some Urdu, his mother tongue: numbers, words you need for selling, anything that’s useful with Pakistani pilgrims. Ali told me: ‘You’re good at languages. If you could speak English, you could work in a hotel in Mecca.’ His brother spoke English and had a good job in a hotel. Ali told me about English and computer lessons in Pakistan. ‘Go to Karachi. My uncles and cousins will welcome you, you just need to pay the lessons.’ I told my parents, they refused. My uncles said, ‘You’re crazy!’ but they knew if I decided something I would do it. My goal when I went to Pakistan was to help my family – life was getting difficult.

Without telling anyone, I went to Jeddah to ask for a passport at the Chadian Consulate. The consulate guy told me: ‘You need to change your name and lie on your age.’ I needed to be 18 and I was only 14 or 15. ‘And you need to pay me baksheesh.’ I had enough money. Every day I gave a part of my earnings to my family and saved the rest in a powdered milk tin that I buried in front of the house. On my last day in Medina, I went to see my Uncle Abderahman. I couldn’t say goodbye openly, but in my heart it was goodbye. It was 1 a.m., not a normal time to visit, as I was planning to leave the same night. I took his hands in mine and kissed his head, like we do in our tradition. In the morning, he told my mum I must have left.

‘Maybe he went to Jeddah, like he does usually,’ she said.

‘No, this time he’ll go far away.’

I took a plane to Karachi. Even Ali was surprised. I called his cousins and they came to the airport. Ali’s uncle taught in his house: the lessons lasted six months, three months of English lessons, and three months of English and computer lessons. I planned to go home after those six months. But two months after my arrival, there was 9/11. I didn’t pay attention – I was very busy with my lessons. Every day, I woke up, went to school, ate lunch, played football with the neighbourhood kids, studied, prayed. Every Friday, I went to pray in a big mosque not far from the house. Most of the people praying there were Arabs, because the imam was Saudi and spoke a good Arabic. One Friday, at the beginning of the sermon, we saw a lot of soldiers surrounding the mosque. After the prayers, they started questioning the people. They were looking for Arabs. They asked me: ‘Saudi?’

‘No, Chadian.’

‘Don’t lie, you’re Saudi!’ It must have been because of my accent. They put me on a truck and covered my head with a plastic bag. They took me to a prison, and they started questioning me about al-Qaida and the Talibans. I had never heard those words.

‘What are you talking about?’ I said.

‘Listen, Americans are going to interrogate you. Just say you’re from al-Qaida, you went with al-Qaida in Afghanistan, and they’ll send you home with some money.’

‘Why would I lie?’

They hung me by my arms and beat me. Two white Americans, in their forties, arrived. They were wearing normal clothes. They asked: ‘Where is Osama bin Laden?’

‘Who’s that?’

‘You’re fucking with us? You’re al-Qaida, yes!’ They kept using the F-word.

I didn’t understand this word but I knew they were getting angry. A Pakistani was in the room, behind the Americans. When they asked if I was from al-Qaida, he nodded, to tell me to say yes. I wasn’t doing it, so he got mad. The Americans said: ‘Take him back!’ The Pakistani was furious: ‘They’re looking for al-Qaida, you have to say you’re al-Qaida!’ Then they put the electrodes on my toes. For ten days I had them on my feet. Every day there was torture. Some of them tortured me with electricity, others just signed a paper saying they had done it. One Pakistani officer was a good guy. He said: ‘The Pakistani government just want to sell you to the Americans.’ Some of us panicked, but I was kind of happy. I loved to watch old cowboy movies and believed that Americans were good people, like in the movies, it would be better with them than with the Pakistanis, we’d have lawyers. Maybe they’d allow me to study in the US, then send me back to my parents.

They started taking detainees away every night, by groups of twenty. We didn’t know where they were going to, but we thought the US. One day, it was my group’s turn. The Pakistanis took away our chains and gave us handcuffs ‘made in the USA’. I told the other detainees: ‘Look, we’re going to the US!’ I thought the Americans would understand that the Pakistanis had cheated them, and send me back to Saudi.

So my hands were tied in the back and a guard held me by a chain. We were twenty, with maybe fifteen guards. They covered our eyes and ears, so I couldn’t see much. When they took off our masks, we were at an airport, with big helicopters. Then the movie started. Americans shouted: ‘You’re under arrest, UNDER CUSTODY OF THE US ARMY! DON’T TALK, DON’T MOVE OR WE’LL SHOOT YOU!’ An interpreter was translating into Arabic. Then they started beating us – I couldn’t see with what but something hard. People were bleeding and crying. We had almost passed out when they put us in a helicopter.

We landed at another airstrip. It was night. Americans shouted: ‘Terrorists, criminals, we’re going to kill you!’ Two soldiers took me by my arms and started running. My legs were dragging on the ground. They were laughing, telling me: ‘Fucking nigger!’ I didn’t know what that meant, I learned it later. They took off my mask and I saw many tents on the airstrip. They put me inside one. There was an Egyptian (I recognised his Arabic) wearing a US uniform. He started by asking me: ‘When was the last time you saw Osama bin Laden?’ ‘Who?’ He took me by my shirt collar and they beat me again. During all my time at Kandahar, I was beaten. Once it was like a movie – they came inside the tent with guns, shouting: WE CAUGHT THE TERRORISTS! And they put us in handcuffs. ‘Here are their guns!’ And they threw some Kalashnikovs onto the ground. ‘We’ve been fighting them, they killed a lot of people!’ All that was for cameras, which were held by men in uniforms. I was lying on the ground with the other prisoners. They brought dogs to scare us.

One day they started moving prisoners again. They picked you from your tent, put you naked, shaved your head and beard (I was too young to have a beard), then beat you. They dressed you with orange clothes, handcuffed you, and put gloves with no fingers on you, so you couldn’t open the handcuffs. ‘You guys are going to a place where there is no sun, no moon, no freedom, and you’re going to live there for ever,’ the guards told us, and laughed. They put you in completely black glasses and headphones, so that you couldn’t see or hear. With those on, you don’t feel the time. But I could hear when they were changing the guards, probably every hour. I must have spent five hours sitting on a bench, with another detainee in my back.

Then they put us in a plane – I don’t know what kind because I couldn’t see. As soon as you moved or talked, they beat you. They were shouting: IF YOU DON’T FOLLOW OUR ORDERS, WE’LL KILL YOU! I passed out. We had no water and no food. I woke up hearing voices shouting at me in different languages. They took me to my cell. I saw soldiers everywhere, and guns, like if it was war. There were big metal fences everywhere. We were in Guantánamo, in Camp X-Ray. It’s a prison without walls, without roofs – only fences. Nothing to protect you from the sun or the rain.

The sky was blue. Except for sky you couldn’t see anything. Later, when I was moved to Camp Delta, I could look by the windows. The camp was ringed with a green plastic sheet, but there were holes and I could see trees. And even the sea. I saw it even better, years later, when I was moved to Camp Iguana, where they put you before release. Through the plastic sheet, I saw the ocean, big ships and the guards swimming. Only in Iguana can you touch the sand.

In Camp Five as well, there was a window in my cell, but it was covered with brown tape. One day I was sitting, mad, sad, angry, and a woodpecker came and knocked, knocked until it broke the tape – a hole big as a coin. It did this to a lot of windows. It started doing it every day and the guards had to put new tape every day. Sometimes, they left the holes. I could see the cars, the soldiers, the sky, the sun, the life outside. We called the bird Woody Woodpecker.

For months, I didn’t know where I was. Some brothers said Europe. No, others told: ‘It’s the weather of Oman.’ Others told Brazil, also because of the weather. We arrived in February, but it was so hot in comparison to Kandahar. There we shivered night and day, especially when we were naked. After a few months, an interrogator told me: ‘We’re in Cuba.’ It was the first time I heard this name. ‘An island in the middle of the ocean. Nobody can run away from here and you’ll be here for ever.’ The older detainees knew of Cuba, but didn’t know there was an American base. I’d seen a lot of American movies, and arrested people always said: ‘I have the right to a lawyer!’ The interrogators laughed at me: ‘Not here in Guantánamo! You got no rights here!’

The night I arrived, I was still tired from the flight, I had a first interrogation. The old man started by saying: ‘We have two faces, one nice and one ugly. We don’t want to show you the ugly one.’ He carried on with questions: ‘What were you doing in Afghanistan? Are you from al-Qaida? Are you a Taliban? Have you been in training camps?’ My answers were just: no, no, no! He started to shout and he sent me back to my cell. I was tired and scared. Prisoners were tortured somewhere. When you heard them crying, you were really scared – you thought you’d be next.

In the beginning there were interrogations every night. They tortured me with electricity, mostly on the toes. The nails of my big toes fell off. Sometimes they hung you up like a chicken and hit your back. Sometimes they chained you, with your head on the ground. You couldn’t move for 16 or 17 hours. You peed on yourself.’

Suddenly he stopped. ‘I don’t see the benefit of telling you all that,’ he said. We had been talking for several days and he was tired. I called a taxi to take him home. ‘We are in the middle of our work,’ I said as he left, ‘it would be a pity to stop now.’ The next day, he agreed to carry on.

Sometimes they showed you the ugly face: torturing, torturing without asking questions. Sometimes I said, ‘Yes, whatever you ask, I’ll say yes,’ because I just wanted torture to stop. But the next day, I said: ‘No, I said yes yesterday because of torture.’ My first or second interrogator said to me: ‘Mohammed, I know you’re innocent but I’m doing my job. I have children to feed. I don’t want to lose my job.’

‘This is no job,’ I said, ‘this is criminal. Sooner or later you’re going to pay for this. Even in afterlife.’

‘I’m a machine – I ask you the questions they told me to ask, I bring them your answers. Whatever they are, I don’t care.’

Another guy told me: ‘We know you were doing bad stuff in Sudan.’

‘I’ve never been there.’

‘I know. But if you co-operate, I’ll bring you pizzas and McDonald’s. I know the food is bad here.’

Another one: ‘We know you were in London, working with al-Qaida, in 1993.’

‘You’re sure about this?’

He showed me a paper. ‘Look: ’93.’

‘You should be smart and say ’98 or ’99. In ’93, I was six.’ He laughed.

In the cells there were other kinds of torture. Above all they prevent you to sleep. They brought big vacuum cleaners to make a lot of noise. They put on music – I understood the words were bad words. At night, they switched on lights everywhere. If they saw you sleeping, they came shouting: WAKE UP! GET UP! Sometimes they put a sign on your door: NO SLEEP. Others had NO FOOD, NO EXERCISE, NO TALKING. In Camp Delta, they prevented you to sleep by moving you from your cell every hour. Every time, they came with handcuffs: DETAINEE, MOVE! It was bad, but thanks to the moving I was learning more English. I was picking up words from the guards and asked their meaning to the detainees who spoke English. But when the guards saw somebody was teaching me words, they would move one of us. I started stealing soap to write English words on the walls. I was hiding it under the door or in my shoes.

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Discriminatory on every level

Indigo Jo Blogs - 14 December, 2014 - 10:46

'Welcome to Britain' sign at Heathrow airportMan faces deportation as UK wife’s salary too low

Last week a couple found out that they had been refused the right to settle in the UK and would have to split or resettle to the husband’s home country of South Africa (which is what they have decided to do). The reason was that the British wife’s income, at £19,786 for 2014 (she runs a craft-making business in Cornwall) was too low for a couple with a child; the British spouse must make £22,400, while if they do not have a child, the threshold is £18,600). This is ostensibly so that someone cannot bring in a spouse and expect the state to look after them, but this does not appear to have been the case here. A female friend of mine posted yesterday that the ruling was “inhumane and sexist”, the latter because it is more likely to discriminate against women because they tend to earn less money than men. However, it is discriminatory on every level you can think of. As the BBC article points out, average earnings in Cornwall and in much of northern England are around half of that of London and parts of the south-east, so someone on about average earnings for those regions would be more likely to fall below the threshold, while someone living in London is more likely to (although actually, there are plenty of people in London making around the threshold or less, and are much less likely to be able to afford a house on a single salary).

A further impediment to most British people on that kind of money being able to afford to bring a spouse over is that not many jobs will actually allow someone to spend time out of the country with them while building up their relationship enough to justify marrying them. Many people nowadays meet their overseas spouses on the Internet and have online chat and video conversations before travelling to each other’s countries. The latter part is expensive, and one or other spouse will have to take time off work. That’s easy enough if you can get enough casual work and don’t have to pay rent (or more than a nominal sum to one’s parents); if you’re actually doing a job that pays £19,000 a year, you are unlikely to be able to take more than your annual leave and expect to have a job to come back to (although much the same can be said of people earning more than that in nine-to-five jobs). That leaves another group of people: those who met while the foreign spouse was in this country for other reasons, such as as temporary work, studying or a holiday. If they are here long enough, they could have had a child born in this country, yet if the British partner fails to earn enough money, the other parent could be sent home and the child lose one of their parents, or have to move.

The rules are also racist in their intent: their purpose is to control the numbers of Muslims by preventing those from the northern ‘ghettoes’ from bringing spouses from the ‘village back home’ — and it is always assumed to be a village, never somewhere like Lahore, and among other assumptions is that they are illiterate (or at least under-educated) and the marriages are abusive. This behaviour has its problems, not least the persistence of Urdu and other South Asian languages as the main language of instruction in mosques, generation after generation of children born in the UK whose first language is not English, and the division between this longer-established community and more recent groups of immigrants (e.g. Somalis) and converts. However, media discussion of the ‘problems’ coming from Pakistani ‘ghettoes’ in Bradford and other northern towns neglects to mention discrimination against them, bad schools, and the fact that many of the industries that used to provide jobs to these communities have been destroyed. There has been agitation to curb this immigration for some years, often from pro-Israel elements and others concerned with ‘security’; Denmark raised the age for bringing a non-EU spouse into the country to 24, although the rules do not apply if you bring them to an EU country other than your own. Britain raised them to 21, but this was found to be against the Human Rights Act, forcing the government to set the age to 18, which is what led to this latest set of discriminatory rules.

Still, there are surely ways of ensuring that ill-educated spouses are not brought into already deprived communities without affecting the majority of the population, including Muslims without any links to these communities. For starters, countries where English is the majority language, or where there is a significant English-speaking minority, should be excluded from the rules (i.e. Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), because most English-speaking British people who find a spouse through an online relationship will find them in one of those countries, and the numbers are going to be much smaller than the number of EU migrants who come into the UK, many of whom do not speak good English (although their English is often better than our French, let alone Polish), because the expense of travelling to those places is much greater, and you do not need to be wealthy anymore to have access to the Internet. We should understand that allowing genuine spouses into the country so that a British person can live with their spouse in their country is not going to produce an unmanageable flood of immigrants; we should also understand that children need both parents and their lives should not be disrupted by constant moving and school-changing to solve a demographic problem that has nothing to do with them. It is not the children who chose their parents’ marital circumstances; it is their right to a family life that should predominate.

These rules are classist, Malthusian, and discriminatory on every level. They are cruel and they split up strong families for no good reason. They are made for a pre-digital, non-interconnected age where establishing contact with people in other countries was difficult. There is, and has long been, a tendency to force the British spouse to move away, supposedly because other countries (like the USA and Canada especially) have the room, and we don’t (and Australia does not; it had a 10-year drought, and there is no reason to suppose there will not be another). There is, of course, no impediment to rich foreigners coming in, spouse or no, buying up property at inflated prices and making Britain, and London especially, a more expensive place for everyone to live. We need fresh blood at every level, not just the top in terms of wealth. The immigration and citizenship laws are pretty much unique in maintaining outdated and discriminatory rules, such as not automatically allowing parents to pass on their citizenship, depending on age, sex, marital status and where the children were born. This must stop.

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Quality, not quantity

Indigo Jo Blogs - 13 December, 2014 - 12:10

Picture of Nico Reed, a young white man with very short hair wearing a striped T-shirt, in a wheelchair with a leather harness, smiling.On Thursday the inquest into the death of Nico Reed, who died in a Southern Health supported living unit in Chalgrove, Oxfordshire, returned a narrative verdict which stated that his death was the result of “aspiration of gastric contents” with an “underlying cause of cerebral palsy”. He found that Nico could have been saved if he had been checked every 20 minutes, as stated in the care plan, but that this was intended as a guideline and could only be a guideline as there was only one members of staff at night to look after four severely disabled residents. Yesterday BBC Radio Oxford covered the inquest result, which I was able to hear as my work took me to Reading and Newbury which are well within range, and I caught a phone-call from another parent with a son or daughter in the same unit, who called up to defend the unit and the Trust, saying among other things that checking him every 20 minutes would have been intrusive. He also attacked the “nasty blog campaign” against the trust (you can add this blog to that description, but he mainly meant people like Nico’s mother Rosi Reed, Sara Ryan (whose son Connor Sparrowhawk also died in Southern Health’s ‘care’), George Julian, Gail Hanrahan, Mark Neary, Justice for LB, People First England and a few others), at which point the host, Phil Gayle (who has covered the Southern Health care scandals in depth) cut him short. (You can listen to it online here for the next four weeks; it starts at 2hrs 7min. You can also read Sara Ryan’s write-up of the Southern Health rep’s performance.)

The story of how Nico came to be in that home and what happened to him there is told in more detail in this blog article from last June (again, from one of the ‘nasties’ or the ‘harpies’ as that parent previously dubbed the mostly female group of bloggers; see also here). He had been in a boarding school up to age 18, but when he reached school-leaving age, there had been no suitable adult provision, and his parents were told that unless they accepted what they perceived to be an inadequate local home, he could be transferred to a ‘place of safety’ which could be anywhere in the country, “and once there it would be almost impossible to get him out”. When he was moved to Barrantynes, the quality of his care deteriorated; at his school, the staff had developed ways for him to communicate, but these were not followed at Barrantynes and he lost the ability to use them as a result. They also neglected his physiotherapy which he needed to keep his breathing and swallowing muscles working properly; as a result, he developed muscle spasms and a tendency to choke on his saliva.

The conclusion is that if more attention had been paid to Nico’s quality of life while he was alive, and especially in the period after the transfer from Penshurst school, the circumstances that led to his death might not have happened. Although Nico had been diagnosed with a learning disability, Nico’s mother has written (long after his death) that she believed he did not have one, and challenging behaviour was also not an issue. Was his apparent ‘learning disability’ purely the result of a lack of ability to communicate with him? (There is another example here of a person who lacked any ability to demonstrate that she had intelligence or understanding, but when it came to the crunch, did so.) Although the Trust described him as a popular resident at the unit, his mother said he had become “thin, depressed and frightened” and his family were looking at ways of adapting their home so they could look after him there, but he died while this was being looked into.

The blog campaign I am part of is not about crucifying NHS trust staff for the sake of it. It is about making sure people with learning disabilities and severe physical disabilities that may manifest as such, have a quality of life such that they are not miserable or frightened: that they are not unduly separated from family, that they are not held in cells for years on end like an animal, that their physical needs are taken care of, that their families are not excluded from decisions about their care unless it is absolutely necessary, that they cannot be subject to unjustified mental health-oriented treatment, that decisions cannot be made about them without them, or if that is unavoidable, without their families or close friends, for the convenience of carers or clinicians or to save money, and that services do not drop off a cliff when someone turns 18. If we can ensure this then we might avoid future discussions as to whether someone could have been saved from choking on their own vomit if they had been checked on every 20 minutes as they slept, because that’s a pretty miserable way of being kept alive.

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The evangelical giftwrapping of Islamophobia marches on | Giles Fraser

The Guardian World news: Islam - 12 December, 2014 - 17:02
It’s depressing that a decade after I wrote about a Christian charity’s thinly disguised Islamophobia, they’re still at it

It’s a simple idea. Find an empty shoe box. Fill it with toys, toothpaste or school crayons. And allow Operation Christmas Child to fly it out to some of the neediest children in the world. It’s the sort of thing that you can do together as a family. And it’s a pretty good way to introduce our children to how fortunate they are in comparison to others – not a bad lesson at Christmas.

Given this, it is unsurprising that hundreds of UK schools have become involved. Schools like Childwall Church of England primary school in Liverpool, which has put together 124 shoe boxes, with two of the children donating £25 of their pocket money towards the cost of sending the boxes to their grateful recipients. Last week, one warehouse in Hull packed off nearly 6,000 boxes, with local students and firefighters helping out to pack the lorry. And they are all part of an overall global effort in which over 113m such boxes have been distributed since OCC began in 1990.

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Egypt’s atheists number 866 – precisely

The Guardian World news: Islam - 12 December, 2014 - 16:36
Secularists laugh off regional polling research cited by Egyptian government clerics

Religion still leads the way in post-Morsi Egypt

No one in Egypt can agree on how many people live in Cairo, let alone the precise ratio of Muslims to Christians. But senior government clerics are quite sure of one thing: there are exactly 866 atheists in Egypt – roughly 0.00001% of the population.

This suspiciously precise figure means Egypt harbours the highest number of atheists in the Arab world, according to claims by Dar al-Ifta, an official wing of government that issues religious edicts, citing research released this week by a regional polling group. Morocco came in second, with supposedly only 325 atheists. Yemen is meant to have 32.

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Indonesian news editor accused of blasphemy over Isis cartoon

The Guardian World news: Islam - 12 December, 2014 - 12:56
Jakarta Post chief Meidyatama Suryodiningrat faces up to five years in prison after sketch prompts outcry from Islamic groups

The chief editor of a leading English-language newspaper in Muslim-majority Indonesia has been named a suspect in a blasphemy case after the publication of a cartoon about the Islamic State (Isis) group.

The Jakarta Post’s Meidyatama Suryodiningrat could be jailed for up to five years if found guilty. He is the latest person to face action under the country’s tough blasphemy laws, which have been criticised by rights groups as overly harsh and outdated.

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