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Halima Aden becomes first model to wear a burkini in Sports Illustrated

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 April, 2019 - 05:09

Born in a Kenyan refugee camp, the Muslim Somali-American model returned to her birth country for historic photoshoot

Somali-American model Halima Aden has become the first Muslim model to appear in Sports Illustrated magazine wearing a hijab and burkini. She appeared in the swimsuit edition, out in May, wearing a number of different colourful burkinis.

The model told the BBC: “Young girls who wear a hijab should have women they look up to in any and every industry.

Don’t change yourself .. Change the GAME!! Ladies anything is possible!!! Being in Sports Illustrated is so much bigger than me. It’s sending a message to my community and the world that women of all different backgrounds, looks, upbringings... can stand together and be celebrated. Thank you so much @si_swimsuit & the entire team for giving me this incredible opportunity.

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On responding to anti-vaxxers

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 April, 2019 - 19:54
Photo of a white child of about a year old with their body covered in a red rash from measles.Child with a classic “day 4” rash with measles.

Today I saw two new articles on the issue of the measles epidemic in the USA which has been caused by the failure of parents, under the influence of anti-vaccine pseudo-science and ideology which feeds off a widely-discredited scare about the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and vaccines more generally. One is by Stephanie Nimmo whose daughter had a lifelong chronic illness that made it dangerous for her to receive live vaccines and is about the importance of the rest of us being vaccinated and making sure our children are. The other is in today’s Observer and is about how the contempt often shown to anti-vaxxers, including for these purposes parents who refuse vaccines for their own children, feeds populist right-wing politics (as it has in Italy) and causes the parents involved to dig in rather than to submit.

I grew up in the years before the MMR vaccine; when I was young, the major scare was about the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine. Neither my sister nor I had it; both of us had the disease, and it got passed on to a friend’s child who also got it. We all survived. I also had the single measles vaccine that was available then (late 70s) and got measles, mildly, and passed it to my Dad, who had it severely (though without lasting effects). Steph Nimmo in her article speaks of her memories of having the disease, “of being terribly ill at home, in a darkened bedroom, unable to bear bright lights”, which is one of her strongest memories of early childhood. It left her deaf in one ear. My mother was not stupid; it was widely reported that the vaccine was linked to brain damage (as she told me) and she wanted to avoid causing her child lasting illness or disability. The same was true of many of the parents who refused the MMR vaccine in the early years of the scare. Neither she nor most of they were opposed to vaccines in general. Today, hard-set belief is more likely to be behind refusals.

Many of us now do not remember the days when measles was a severe illness that left people blind, deaf, brain-damaged or dead. We think of it as an illness that children got, and got over, that made them ill for a few weeks and gave them a rash. Many of us remember being a bit sick and having some time off school, maybe in bed, and having one of our parents or another adult to ourselves for a few days. So it is no surprise that when parents believe that a vaccine is linked to lasting damage, they would rather expose their child to the illness instead. The cure, they think, is probably worse than the disease. In the early years of the Wakefield MMR scare, readers may recall, the then prime minister Tony Blair refused to tell the public whether he had had his young son Leo given the MMR. This immediately gave the impression that the powerful, though they lectured the rest of us to trust the scientists and have our children vaccinated “their way”, did not do this themselves. I believed then, and do now, that the government should have made the single measles and rubella vaccines available free of charge to the public (the latter to pre-teen girls, to prevent congenital rubella syndrome in their children) as they had been pre-MMR.

A common term in the literature of vaccines is “herd immunity”, which is when the incidence of a disease is negligible because the vast majority of the population has been vaccinated. This is what people like Stephanie Nimmo’s daughter, Daisy, relied on to make sure they also will not get the diseases. When I mentioned this to an anti-vaxxer on Facebook a few years ago, however, she told me “and I’m not a heffer (sic) to be herded”. People do not like to be compared to livestock and when the likes of Tony Blair apparently refuse a controversial vaccine for their children, its message is that what’s good for “the herd” is not good for their leaders. A few years ago Mitch Benn, the comedian who appears on BBC panel shows, did a song called “Vaccinate Your Kids” which called the Americans who resisted vaccination “bloody idiots” and also stressed the importance of “herd immunity”. It is unlikely to have changed many minds, however many laughs it got in the BBC studio; people know that politicians and the rich do not regard themselves as part of the ‘herd’.

What people often forget is that fears about vaccines are not just about the MMR and not just about autism. I know of a number of cases where people developed ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), or a disease a lot like it, after being given routine vaccinations; the best-known case is that of Lynn Gilderdale, who developed it at 14 following the BCG vaccination (for tuberculosis) which was given routintely to teenagers at that time (the early 1990s) and became bedridden the following year, and remained so for the rest of her life. Some similar cases have been linked to the vaccinations for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a major cause of cervical cancer, which is also administered to girls at about the same age. These cases may be very rare but they are also extremely severe and consign a young person to a lifetime of extreme sickness and pain. I have heard theories about why people suffer extreme reactions to vaccines but I have not heard of any research being done into this and to what may be done to minimise the risk.

Neither public health authorities nor the medical profession should rely on their authority, and on the public’s acceptance of it, as a guarantee that people will take their advice and vaccinate during a scare. People know that doctors make mistakes and anyone with experience of chronic illness or disability will most likely have encountered an arrogant or callous doctor who thought they knew what was best when really they did not. People do not have to be prone to conspiracy theories to be suspicious of arrogant-sounding people telling them not to worry their little heads and just take the medicine. Similarly, there are common stereotypes about people in Pakistan and other places like it refusing vaccinations, leading to the return of diseases thought to have been eradicated, because they suspect that the vaccines have an ulterior motive, but a vaccination programme has been used for ‘intelligence’ purposes in the preparation for Osama bin Laden’s assassination. If the health authorities here and in the USA had been a bit more mindful of this in the early 2000s, the resulting epidemics could have been ameliorated significantly. When the aim is to protect health and prevent disease, arrogance in response to dissent can be counter-productive and doubly so if you are in the right.

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Debenhams: another big British chain in trouble

Indigo Jo Blogs - 26 April, 2019 - 22:31
 No Vehicles" followed by loading exemptions. The tram lines cross in the foreground and their overhead wires are above.North End, Croydon, in February 2005. The now-closed Allders can be seen on the right; the now-closed Littlewoods is at front left, with the threatened Debenham’s behind it on the left.

Today it was announced that the British department store chain Debenhams was to close 50 of the stores it operates in the UK, leaving it with 116 (in other words, nearly a third of its capacity). 22 of these were named today and they include, for example, a store set up in a refurbished shopping centre in Wolverhampton which was opened with much fanfare in 2017 when it replaced a branch of the collapsed BHS (originally British Home Stores) chain. A large part of the reason is that customers have been switching to online purchasing and the department stores can no longer afford the high rents on ‘prime’ retail locations such as in major shopping centres; Debenhams is seeking to renegotiate rents on all but 39 of the remaining stores, seeking reductions of between 25% and 50%. At the same time, Marks and Spencer plan to close 100 stores this or next year while House of Fraser has been shutting shops after being bought out of administration last year. The rise of online retail is being blamed for the collapse of some of the large retail companies; it is noticeable that the companies with a strong online offering, such as M&S and John Lewis, are in no great financial trouble even though some of the stores themselves are proving unprofitable.

It’s no secret that buying online is a lot easier than buying in a store and often a lot cheaper, as large companies such as Amazon benefit from greater economies of scale, operating a small number of vast warehouses and contracting out the logistics to haulage companies and, at the local level, self-employed couriers. Many a shop owner will tell you that people will come into their shop, look at an item, find it on Amazon using their smartphone and order it there and then, leaving the shop empty-handed. Amazon started as a bookseller, and while they can offer large discounts on often expensive books, they also operate the e-book system Kindle; the upshot is that even large physical booksellers such as Foyle’s in London now sell fewer technical books. The computing section used to fill several rooms; now it barely fills one wall of shelves, much as used to be the case in suburban branches of Waterstone’s. But convenience and low cost is only half the story.

Debenham’s does not have its own brand of clothing. Its clothing sections are grouped according to concession. It is effectively a large mall full of lots of little shops which sell all of the types of clothes they sell in one space. Allder’s, a similar chain which collapsed in 2005 (although one branch was bought out and continued trading until 2012), operated on the same basis, as does John Lewis (although they have a small range of own-brand clothes) and House of Fraser. M&S sells its own products, though it groups them into different brands which have their own areas of the shop. This is particularly the case with ladieswear; menswear, particularly in M&S, is more sensibly grouped together with, say, men’s chinos and jeans in the same area of the store. But if you want a particular type of skirt or dress, for example, you will have to hunt through the entire store because it could be anywhere on more than one floor. Meanwhile, it is fairly easy to search for such an item simply by using the store’s own website or mobile phone app, which can sometimes tell you if a store has it but not where. So, the companies have really done their stores a disservice by providing a much easier way of searching for their own products.

A woman wearing an ankle-length skirt with panels of yellow, beige and light green with flower patterns on the beige and green. There are three bands, two green with yellow in between, at the hem. She is wearing a light green jumper but her head and torso are cropped out.A 2007 Per Una skirt.

And it has to be said that quality has gone down in the past few years, particularly in women’s clothes. It was no surprise to hear, for example, that Monsoon and Accessorize were trying to renegotiate their debts and rents after their parent company had suffered tens of millions of pounds in losses year after year while sales remained flat. This company has also been closing stores all over the place and plans to close more as leases expire. Monsoon clothes used to be exquisite; today, they sell an ever-changing range of colourful but often poor-quality garments for around £100 each. Looking for a birthday present for someone this past week, I found a lot of paper-thin (and unlined) skirts and dresses retailing for around £70 when the quality really could not justify it. (One of them had a nice blue and white pattern with pockets, so could be quite practical, but again, paper-thin and when I came back to have another look after a few days, they were no longer selling it.) M&S’s ladieswear has seen a similar decline in quality in favour of thin clothes often made with polyester, a frequent complaint being that the actual garment was of poorer quality than it appeared in a photograph; its Per Una range was exquisite when first launched (here are some examples from 2007). Meanwhile, this denim skirt, made of good quality fabric by the look of it but plain and not exactly original, is going for £115 in John Lewis.

Is it any surprise that people are looking elsewhere for their clothing, rather than to companies which may think they have a ‘right’ to people’s business because they have been around a long time, or were what people “grew up with”? It really is not, and these dinosaurs who think their mere names can keep them in business when they sell clothing that is barely above rag-trade quality for several times the price need to up their game or they will have to up their sticks very soon.

Image source: Mtiedemann, from Wikimedia; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 licence.

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'Mawanella was the start': Sri Lankan town reels from bombing links

The Guardian World news: Islam - 26 April, 2019 - 12:22

Faith leaders say local youths were radicalised by extremist preacher Mohammed Zahran Hashim

It was crude stuff: young men armed with hammers, arriving on motorbikes in the middle of the night. At four sites in Mawanella, a central Sri Lankan town, they hacked at Buddhist statues, lopping off parts of their faces and hands.

In the aftermath of the desecration on 26 December 2018, police and local politicians were more concerned with defusing the anger of the Buddhist community and preventing religious riots of the kind that had rocked the nearby city of Digana eight months before.

Related: Sri Lanka attacks: president says civil war inquiries left country vulnerable

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'Love in the face of bigotry': woman takes smiling stand against Islamophobic protesters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 April, 2019 - 02:14

Shaymaa Ismaa’eel says she wanted demonstrators in Washington to see ‘how happy I was to be me’

While attending an Islamic conference in Washington DC on Sunday, Shaymaa Ismaa’eel, a 24-year-old Muslim woman, passed by a group of angry protesters holding signs against Islam and shouting that she and her friends were going to hell. In response, she crouched in front of them and flashed a peace sign.

The resulting photo, posted on Instagram, has prompted an outpouring of support for Ismaa’eel.

Related: Footage of Italian boy who stood up to fascists goes viral

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Evening Standard urged to move event from Brunei-owned Dorchester

The Guardian World news: Islam - 23 April, 2019 - 17:37

Hotel is subject to boycott over sultan’s policy of punishing gay sex with death by stoning

The London Evening Standard is facing calls to move an awards ceremony to be held at the Brunei-owned Dorchester after the country imposed new laws punishing gay sex and adultery with death by stoning.

The newspaper, whose celebrity columnist Rob Rinder urged readers to join a boycott of the luxury hotel, is due to hold its annual New Homes awards at the five-star Mayfair establishment next month.

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There is a thread running through Sri Lanka's cycles of violence | Farah Mihlar

The Guardian World news: Islam - 23 April, 2019 - 15:29

Sri Lanka’s minorities – including its Christians and Muslims – have paid a high price for the state’s failure to protect them

As mass burials for some of the Christian worshippers killed in the Easter Sunday bombings take place today, claims that the attackers were local Islamic extremists have left Sri Lanka’s Muslims – who make up 10% of the population – devastated. Although details are scant, and doubts exist about the official government account, a senior minister announced on Monday that the attackers belonged to a new fringe jihadist group, the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, that military intelligence had been aware of but had not acted against. Even amid news that Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks, it is still unknown whether the bombers were homegrown or connected to international terror groups.

Related: Islamic State claims responsibility for Sri Lanka bombings

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The Guardian view on religious freedom: protect believers | Editorial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 22 April, 2019 - 18:30
Across much of the world, millions of people are persecuted for their beliefs

The massacre in churches in Sri Lanka forms part of a global pattern of religious persecution and hostility. To target Christian churches on their holiest day of the year is not only an attempt to kill as many families as possible, but also to maximise the shock and demoralising effect of the attack, a tactic familiar from the sectarian wars in Iraq. If this atrocity was perpetrated by jihadis, as seems likely, it is also an attempt to bring about a clash of civilisations.

This is not the pattern of most religiously inspired murder, not least because it is an assault by a minority on a larger population. Usually, persecution is carried out against minorities: Christians are persecuted to a greater or lesser degree across much of the Muslim world, from Sudan to Pakistan, as are atheists. Christians and Muslims are attacked in India. Some of the most savage persecution is directed at small and isolated groups. In that light, the Yazidi minority of Iraq are probably the worst persecuted people in the world, at the hands of Islamic State, which systematically murdered, raped and enslaved them as part of a religiously motivated genocide. Christians and Muslim minorities are brutally repressed by atheists in China, where up to a million and a half people may have been herded into “re-education” camps, and by Buddhists in Myanmar; the Ahmadiyya sect is persecuted by other Muslims in Pakistan.

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Brunei defends death by stoning for gay sex in letter to EU

The Guardian World news: Islam - 22 April, 2019 - 13:30

Kingdom’s mission to trade bloc calls for tolerance and understanding over penal code

Brunei has written to the European parliament defending its decision to start imposing death by stoning as a punishment for gay sex, claiming convictions will be rare as it requires two men of “high moral standing piety” to be witnesses.

In a four-page letter to MEPs, the kingdom’s mission to the EU calls for “tolerance, respect, understanding” with regard to the country’s desire to preserve its traditional values and “family lineage”.

Related: The Guardian view on Brunei and stoning: don’t leave it to celebrities to act | Editorial

Related: ‘It’s dangerous to go out now’: young, gay and scared in Brunei

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What ‘lessons’ will be learned from the Amy el-Keria case?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 18 April, 2019 - 17:09
Picture of Amy el-Keria, a young white girl with shoulder-length dark hair, wearing white top with black stripes, standing in front of a stage curtain and singing into a microphone.Amy el-Keria

Yesterday the Priory Group, which owns a number of private mental-health units in the UK which treat patients on contracts from the NHS as well as their ‘flagship’ private unit in Roehampton, was fined £300,000 over the death of a 14-year-old girl, Amy el-Keria, in their hospital in Ticehurst, East Sussex, in November 2012. Amy, who had a recent history of self-harm and suicide attempts, was found hanged in her room which was assessed by an untrained staff member to have “medium risks” with a number of ligature points, an assessment which was not followed up. The court heard that staff did not promptly call 999 or a doctor and were not trained in CPR, that the hospital’s lift was too small to accommodate the ambulance service’s stretcher and that nobody from the hospital accompanied Amy in the ambulance. The company had an operating profit of £2m in 2017 and claimed that the most recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) report, published in January, had rated the hospital as ‘good’. Inquest, which supported the family, released this statement. (Jess Thom, AKA Tourettes Hero, has published a number of articles on Amy, whom she knew, starting with this one.)

Priory Group is one of the biggest private healthcare operators in the UK and its units have featured in a number of the cases I have followed over the past few years. These included the stories of Claire Dyer and Claire Greaves, both of whom were in secure units operated by Partnerships in Care before and after Priory took them over in December 2016. The abuses that go on in these places were summarised in a previous post. I currently follow a lady whose teenage daughter, who has Asperger’s-type autism and was admitted informally to another company’s unit last summer, was transferred to a “low-secure” unit in south-east London in February. This essentially has a “lowest common denominator” approach to eliminating self-harm, removing everything that could possibly ever be used for that purpose, right down to pens and pencils (the unit’s school has an art class, but they are only allowed to paint with their fingers!). She has no access to music or any electronics (there is a TV, but they are not allowed to hold the remote control). The bathing and toileting area is open to view by anyone who might peer into the room.

Not all of these things are down to self-harm prevention; some stem from forensic restrictions, although in some cases there is justification for removing someone from the Internet for the benefit of their mental health. But there is no justification in imposing these restrictions on everyone in a unit, not all of whom have committed crimes (if any of them have) and not all of whom are at immediate risk for self-harm or suicide, for months at a time. Some of the things deemed to be “means of self-harm” are also the means of having a life, after all. People write stories, songs, poems, letters. In one case, an iPad was necessary so that the person in the secure unit could talk with her deaf sister using sign language; this was withheld for weeks. Ironically, some of these things are what people do to take their mind off their situation and they may lessen their urges to harm themselves; this case highlights the futility of some of the restrictions these units impose.

The criticism of Priory’s care in the case of Amy el-Keria was that she had the means to harm herself despite the known risks. The danger is that, fearing financial repercussions, the companies that run these units will simply impose restrictions on all their patients which might not be necessary and will make life more miserable for everyone. I noticed a similar thing after the inquest into the death of Nico Reed, who had cerebral palsy and died in an NHS-run care home (the same trust whose negligence led to the death of Connor Sparrowhawk in 2013) and one of the immediate factors was the failure to check on him every 20 minutes; however, his family also said that, when moved to this facility, the physiotherapy which had kept him healthy throughout his childhood disappeared, they mislaid the book that he needed to communicate and when they visited, he appeared withdrawn and scared which he never previously had done. His family were putting plans in place to bring him home when he died. It should not get to the point where it is necessary to check on someone every 20 minutes when they are trying to sleep; how then can someone get uninterrupted rest?

These things are sometimes necessary, at peak crisis points, to protect someone at risk of a medical crisis or self-harm, but they should not be used on a blanket basis for prolonged periods. The regimes in these units are already often miserable and needlessly restrictive; a new tranche of restrictions will make them less effective at resolving people’s mental health problems and act as a deterrent to them from seeking help in the event of a future crisis. The mother of the girl mentioned earlier tweeted the other day that she already regretted asking for help as there is no way of getting her daughter out of the clutches of these people once admitted, even if voluntarily. The way of life (it should not be a ‘regime’, a term generally used to refer to prison or a dictatorship and has associations with oppression) on a ward should not be dictated by a company’s need to minimise its liabilities but should be therapeutic first and foremost.

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Malaysia investigates women who discussed their 'dehijabbing'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 18 April, 2019 - 14:34

Move by Islamic authorities condemned as attempt to ‘intimidate women activists’

Three women in Malaysia who held an event discussing their decision to stop wearing the hijab are being investigated by Malaysian Islamic authorities.

The event, hosted over the weekend at the Gerakbudaya bookshop in the Petaling Jaya area, was held to mark the launch of Unveiling Choice, a book documenting the author and activist Maryam Lee’s decision to stop wearing the hijab.

Related: 'I lost consciousness': woman whipped by the Taliban over burqa without veil | Haroon Janjua

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Trump's attacks on Ilhan Omar aim to stoke fears ahead of the 2020 election

The Guardian World news: Islam - 18 April, 2019 - 13:56

Trump and Republicans are using Omar to drive a wedge within the Democratic party and ‘foment hatred of Muslim Americans’

When Ilhan Omar became one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress in November, the American Muslim community saw her victory as a symbolic rejoinder to Donald Trump.

Omar’s remarkable journey – from a Somali refugee camp to the Minnesota state legislature and the hallways of the US Capitol – stood out among a historically diverse class of freshman lawmakers. The sight of Omar’s hijab on the House floor, made possible only by a rules change that for the first time in 181 years allowed religious headwear inside the chamber, reinforced the immediacy of her impact.

Brian Kilmeade says of Rep. Ilhan Omar, "You have to wonder if she is an American first."

Then says, "In the name of religion, they kill Americans and still do it on a daily basis." pic.twitter.com/IpUDL7u7Xt

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Ramy review – sharp comedy series examines Muslim American life

The Guardian World news: Islam - 17 April, 2019 - 15:37

Comedian Ramy Youssef navigates a life between two different cultures in a sensitive, funny and occasionally ingenious show

“I don’t know what I’m doing, man,” says Ramy, the alter-ego of 28-year-old comedian Ramy Youssef, to a stony kebab shop owner, also an elder at his north New Jersey mosque. Ramy is confused, recently jobless, stinging from a date with a Muslim woman that he botched by locking her into a chaste, wife-and-mother focused stereotype. He admires his parents – immigrants from Egypt and Palestine – and their unshakable faith in God; he has sex before marriage and will likely try mushrooms someday. “And I believe in God. I really do, man – there’s too many signs,” he reaches for words as the elder smokes. “I mean, one time this girl texted me two minutes after I jerked off to her Facebook photo.”

Related: Fosse/Verdon review – showbiz miniseries is stylish but scatterbrained

Ramy starts on Hulu on 19 April with a UK date yet to be announced

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