'I will always be racially profiled': new NUS president on Islamophobia

The Guardian World news: Islam - 11 August, 2019 - 16:26

Zamzam Ibrahim calls for the government’s Prevent strategy to be scrapped

The new president of the National Union of Students (NUS) has called for the government’s Prevent anti-radicalisation strategy to be scrapped and has urged universities to do more to tackle the black attainment gap and racism on campus.

In her first interview since taking up office last month, Zamzam Ibrahim said she had seen the impact of Prevent in universities first-hand, with events being cancelled and students being referred because of membership of the Palestinian or Islamic societies.

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Mass Shootings in America: All of the Above

Muslim Matters - 9 August, 2019 - 21:47

We express our deepest condolences to the families of those who have perished in the latest instances of mass slaughter in our public square, this time in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. We further pray that all of those wounded recover from their injuries. This violence, which can increasingly be described as American as apple pie, is a tragic example of a society wrestling with a debilitating spiritual disease.

Just as tragic as the violence are the narrow, mutually exclusive frames that seem to trap our pundits, polemicists, and politicians when attempting to meaningfully analyze what is happening. Liberals declare the problem is rooted in racism, aided and abetted in part by the President’s rhetoric and actions, along with a lack of any meaningful gun control. Conservatives say it is an issue whose root cause is found in mental health, video games, and the erosion of the family. Each side dismisses the arguments of the other. If we are fair, we must admit that all of the above-mentioned factors, and perhaps others, contribute to the problem.

Anyone who dismisses the rhetoric and actions of President Trump as a factor contributing to the climate of racial and anti-immigrant animosity growing in this country cannot be taken seriously. Certainly, not all of the now 251 mass shootings that have occurred in the country this year were racially motivated. For those that were, it is clear from the screeds left by the perpetrators of these atrocities, their online activity, the groups and individuals they identify with, as well as the warped ideology they espouse that there is an overlap between their words and ideas and many of those expressed by the President. That overlap is owed to a conscious policy pursued by President Trump.

The President understands that there are large numbers of radical White nationalists who, like many on the extreme left, have become disenchanted with mainstream politics as well as the two mainstream parties. He knows that they can be encouraged to become supporters of the Republican Party if the Republican Party supports them. Encouraged by the likes of Steve Bannon and Steve Miller, Trump sends messages to this growing constituency to ensure that issues concerning them will be represented by his administration. Hence, rhetoric and policy prescriptions formerly confined to the dark dungeons of the internet have become mainstreamed under the current administration.

It is not the least ironic that the very day of the El Paso shooting, President Trump retweeted a message from the fear-mongering, hate-inspiring, British anti-Muslim bigot, Katie Hopkins. Among other things, Hopkins, has called for a “final solution” for Muslims in the aftermath of the suicide bombing of a Manchester pop concert in 2017. This past May, when an audience member at one of his rallies shouted, “shoot them” in response to Trump’s question as to how to stop migrants from entering the country, the President joked approvingly. His effort to end birth right citizenship and his staunch support of voter suppression, both designed to undermine the growing political strength of expanding minority populations, can only be described as racially motivated.

Such actions, coupled with the President’s words decrying immigrant populations as rapists, murderers, and invaders, calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country, his praise and support for white nationalists, both nationally and globally, his describing countries the US has historically helped to under-develop, such as Haiti, as s—t hole countries and a long list of other open and “dog-whistle” racist statements send a clear message to racists that bigoted hatred is not only fine, it has an ally in the White House.

Many failed to grasp Trump’s racism because they do not fully realize its nature. The brilliant African American novelist, Toni Morrison, who passed away earlier this week, captured the essence of racism when she said, “Racism is not a goal it is a path, a path to power and money, a manipulation and a tool…” Throughout his career and now as President this is exactly what Trump’s racism is and has been.

While it would certainly be a stretch to claim that Trump’s words are directly responsible for the actions of white supremacist terrorists, it is increasingly incredulous to claim that the President’s rhetoric is not a factor in massacres such as the recent one in El Paso. Words convey meanings and those meanings matter. Consider this recent excerpt from a letter penned by the leaders of the National Cathedral:

Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous. These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.

It is similarly incredulous to claim that significantly tighter gun control policies, such as strict background checks, bans on assault rifles and large-capacity magazines, would do nothing to stem the growing frequency of deadly mass shootings in America. In response to a shooting that left 35 people dead in Tasmania in 1996, Australia overhauled its gun laws, significantly tightening them. Since then, there has only been one mass shooting in that country, in June of this year. That incident resulted in four fatalities.

Critics of more stringent gun laws will argue that states here in America with tight gun laws do not necessarily experience fewer gun-related fatalities than those with lax laws. I would counter that a uniform national plan would yield significantly different results. What does it mean for California to have tough gun laws when a potential killer can go to Nevada and purchase a weapon banned in California–as happened last month with the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter.

A seldom-discussed issue is the fact that there was an assault rifle ban in the United States for ten years, from 1994-2004. During that period, overall gun-related homicides were not significantly reduced; however, a recent study (DiMaggio, et al. 2019) concludes that mass shooting fatalities, 86% of which involve assault rifles, were down 70%. That percentage would likely have been much higher had it been accompanied by an effort to get rifles purchased before the ban off the street. It is time for more conservatives to listen to the voices of those on the left who advocate such policies.

So too would those on the left do well to listen to conservatives who are arguing that video games are a major factor in desensitizing young people to killing. Anyone who thinks otherwise should read Lt. David Grossman’s insightful book, On Killing. During World War II, only fifteen to twenty percent of American soldiers engaged in combat would fire their weapons at the enemy. Grossman shows how insights from behavioral psychology, derived primarily from the work of B. F. Skinner and I.P. Pavlov, were employed by the military to raise the firing rate to over 90% in Vietnam. Video game manufacturers employ those same techniques to create in our children the potential to likewise become desensitized killers.

Grossman writes these chilling words, words which should cause us to drop our polarizing political posturing and come together for the sake of our children:

Through operative conditioning B.F. Skinner held that he could turn any child into anything he wanted to. In Vietnam the U.S. armed forces demonstrated that Skinner was at least partially correct by successfully using operant conditioning to turn adolescents into the most effective fighting force the world has ever seen. And America seems intent on using Skinner’s methodology to turn us into an extraordinarily violent society (Grossman, On Killing, p. 316).

We should note that the same psychological techniques employed by the military to turn passive civilians into mindless killers are employed by the makers of video games. While it is certainly true that not all video gamers become mass murderers many if not most of our recent mass shooters have been video game addicts. More research has to been done to establish if there is a direct causal link between video games and mass killings, however, there is enough evidence to suggest that this is an issue not to be glibly dismissed when we examine the causes of the epidemic of mass killings sweeping this nation.

As for mental illness, studies show that the majority of mass shooters, for a wide variety of reasons, suffer from some form of mental illness, the most common being depression, suicidality, and various thought disorders. This is a sensitive issue; however, it is one that must be actively countenanced for this is the area where we find the most easily detectible “red flags” which alert us to the descent of a person into the dark states that give birth to the kinds of atrocities we have been witnessing all too often. Saying this is not to deny the fact that a person suffering from a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator.

Concerning the breakdown of the family, this factor is oftentimes neglected in the intensifying debate around mass shootings. The most worrying consequence of that breakdown is the eradication of the societal forces that civilize males. Those forces are eroding in the face of a withering assault on the traditional family. One of the justifications for that assault is that the traditional family is currently being blamed for fostering the qualities associated with “toxic masculinity.” Therefore, it has to be destroyed. In fact, masculine toxicity, as defined by those advocating its eradication, can be viewed as a direct result of the unrelenting assault on the traditional family.

That assault is being pushed by those whose stated goal is the destruction of society as we know it. Consider these words by the pioneering feminist activist, Betty Friedan:

The changes necessary to bring about equality were, and still are, very revolutionary indeed. They involve a sex-role revolution for men and women which will restructure all our institutions: child rearing, education, marriage, the family, medicine, work, politics, the economy, religion, psychological theory, human sexuality, morality and the very evolution of the race. (quoted from, New York Times Magazine, March 4, 1973)

In the almost forty years since Friedan issued this declaration of war on the traditional family and society, the forces she helped to lead have wreaked havoc in all of the areas she identified. Perhaps the most worrying reality concerning the war she declared is that those who have assumed leadership after her generation ceded command are exponentially more radical and reckless in their vision for society and gender relations.

The greatest casualty in this war, by design, has been the properly socialized male. By removing the male from his traditional role of a protector and maintainer of women, a role codified in the Qur’an (4:34), we open the door to the uncivilized, barbaric, “toxic” male, adding another factor to the many conditions which make mass shootings possible.

In the prescient words of George Gilder:

Such single males–and married ones whose socialization fails–constitute our major social problem. They are the murderers, the rapists, the burglars, the suicides, the assailants, the psychopaths…         (George Gilder, Sexual Suicide, p. 105)

Hence, we find that virtually all of our recent mass shooters have been males who were unable to affirm their sexuality in normal ways through normal relationships. Like all of the other factors mentioned above, as a society, we will have to address this factor also, no matter how unpopular or controversial.

In conclusion, let me repeat, all of the above factors contribute to the uniquely American problem of mass shootings. To effectively begin to work towards eliminating them, we will need to remove ourselves from the left/right false dichotomy that limits our creativity, civility, and intellectual honesty. That should be easy for members of the “Middle Community.” Our primary objective in how we approach the vexing issues of today should be finding credible solutions and not confirming dead end political orthodoxies. Those solutions do not belong exclusively to the political party advocating them. Let us put aside the stultifying partisan nonsense tearing us apart, claim what is rightfully ours, and put it to work for the betterment of our society.

“The word of truth, wisdom, is the lost property of the believer. Wherever he finds them he has more right to them.”

Prophet Muhammad

Imam Zaid Shakir

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Ten Things You Didn’t Know About The Kaaba- Video

Muslim Matters - 9 August, 2019 - 13:18

Every Muslim knows the Kaaba, but did you know the Kaaba has been reconstructed several times? The Kaaba that we see today is not exactly the same structure that was constructed by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon them. From time to time, it has needed rebuilding after natural and man-made disasters.

Watch to learn ten things that most people may not know about the Ka’aba, based on the full article Ten Things You Didn’t Know About the Ka’aba.

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OpEd: Why We Must Reconsider Moonsighting

Muslim Matters - 9 August, 2019 - 05:53

Ed. Note: We understand that this is a matter of debate in many communities, MM welcomes op-eds of differing points of view. Please use this form.

When the Crescent Committee was founded in 2013, the Muslim community of Toronto was hopeful that this new initiative might resolve the long-standing problem of mosques declaring Eid on different days. This moonsighting organization was to follow global moonsighting as a methodology – if the crescent were to be sighted anywhere in the world, they would declare Eid. Global moonsighting was seen as a potential way of solving the yearly moonsighting debate which local sighting had been unable to solve thus far. It was hoped that this approach would also ensure congruence with Fiqh Council of North America’s (FCNA) lunar calendar which determines the Eid day in advance based on astronomical calculations.

This year, however, all those hopes were put to the test. Early afternoon on June 3rd, the 29th of Ramadan, the Crescent Committee (CC) started receiving reports that the moon was sighted in Saudi Arabia. Given that it was not possible for it to be seen there based on visibility charts, the committee required corroboration from another country in order to declare Eid. As the day progressed, they got reports from Iraq, Nigeria, Brazil, Mali and even from Maryland in the US. All those reports could not be relied upon because either the committee was unable to get in touch with their contacts in those countries or because the reports did not satisfy the criterion they laid out.

As they were sifting through the reports, the CC was shocked to learn that one of its founding members, the Islamic Foundation of Toronto (IFT), had already declared Eid! IFT is one of Toronto’s oldest and biggest mosques and their leadership decided to declare Eid based on the announcement from Mauritania. Mosques following FCNA’s calendar were already celebrating Eid the next day, so IFT thought it best to join with them with hopes of preserving unity.

With one of its own members having declared Eid and mounting pressure from the community given it was past 10 pm, the CC decided to wait to receive the final (hopefully positive) reports from California. This meant having to wait till sunset on the West Coast which would mean midnight on the East Coast. Unfortunately, even from California, there were no confirmed reports. Finally, at midnight, the Committee declared that they would complete 30 days of Ramadan and celebrate Eid on the 5th of June.

Alas, after spending a frustrating day waiting for an announcement till midnight, Toronto Muslims were told that this was going to be another year with two Eids in the city. This year, however, the split was not between proponents of astronomical calculations and moonsighting, but been proponents of the exact same moonsighting methodology!

Solving a 50-year old problem

This year’s debacle in Toronto represents nothing new; Chicago too waited till midnight this year to hear an announcement. There have been numerous failed attempts to unite the moonsighting community. In 1995, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Ministry of Warith Deen Muhammad joined hands to form the ‘Islamic Shura Council of North America’ with hopes of having a unified Eid declaration. Just like the Crescent Committee, this too was eventually disbanded due to dissenting voices. Other examples to unite and better organize moonsighting include the 2007 National Moonsighting Conference in California and the 2009 National Hilal Sighting Conference in New York. These attempts simply haven’t worked because there are far too many independent mosques and far too many moonsighting methodologies – uniting everyone in the absence of a governing authority is nearly impossible.

The story also highlights the three main problems that proponents of moonsighting have struggled to solve for nearly half a century in North America and other parts of the Western world. These can be summarized as follows:

1) Mosques declaring Eid on different days based on differing moonsighting methodologies. This has created notorious divisions within the community and has led to the awkward situation of families, often living in the same city, not being able to celebrate together. It can also lead to endless argumentation within families as to which mosque to follow with regards to this issue.

2) The unpredictability of the Eid date means that Muslims continue to have difficulty taking time off from work and planning family vacations. This problem is particularly challenging for the hourly-waged working-class individuals who work in organizations with little flexibility. The process of having to explain to an employer the complications surrounding Eid declarations can be a source of unnecessary hardship for many. It is not uncommon for many to take off a day which ends up being the ‘wrong day’.

3) Delayed announcements, especially during the summer months, due to process of receiving and verifying reports after sunset. Not knowing whether or not the next day will be a holiday, often until the late evening, has been a continued source of distress for families every year.

It was the desire the solve these very problems that brought together a group of visionary Muslim jurists and astronomers in Herndon, Virginia in 1987. Organized by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), the Lunar Calendar Conference was one of the first attempts to find an innovative solution to the problems posed by traditional moonsighting. A detailed history of the events leading up to the conference and its aftermath have been documented before. In short, Muslim scholars and mathematicians continued work on the astronomical lunar calendar for nearly two decades after the conference and it was finally adopted by FCNA and ISNA in 2006.

A valid methodology from the Shariah

While opposition to FCNA’s lunar calendar was quite strong when it was first introduced, there has been growing acceptance of astronomical calculations over the past 15 years as a result of continued research and education on this subject.

The use of calculations to determine the dates of Ramadan is something which numerous reputable scholars have allowed throughout Islam’s history [1]. While this has always been the view of a small minority, championed mainly by scholars in the Shafa’i legal school, it is still based on a sound interpretation of religious texts. The difference of opinion on this issue arises from hadith of the Prophet where he stated,  “If [the crescent moon] is obscured from you, then estimate it” (فإن غم عليكم فاقدروا له ). A detailed exposition in support of calculations from a classical perspective was recently presented by Shaykh Salahuddin Barkat.

Shaykh Musa Furber, one of America’s leading Shafa’i jurists, also comments on the towering figures from our tradition who supported calculations: “Since the time of Imām al-Nawawī, there has been an evident trend within the Shāfiʿī school of law for acceptance for the personal use of calculations for fasting. While a small number of earlier Shāfiʿī scholars did accept it, it seems to have been confined to a small minority within the school. It was not until the time of Imam al-Nawawī (may Allah grant him His mercy) that the opinion amongst scholars of the school started to shift towards accepting calculations as valid and even binding — even if limited to the calculator and whoever believed him. Although al-Subkī (may Allah grant him His mercy) is usually accredited with causing this shift, some scholars credit Imam al-Nawawī’s himself with starting this trend. The opinion was accepted by both Shaykh al-Islām Zakariyā al-Anṣārī and Imām al-Ramlī, though not by Imam Ibn Ḥajar (may Allah grant all of them from His mercy). These imams form the basis for reliable opinions in the late Shāfiʿī madhhab.”

Understandably, this opinion was considered weak and ignored through much of Islamic history. Some limited its scope and allowed it only when the moon was obstructed or for use by experts in astronomy. There really is no need for calculations in Muslim lands where there exists a centralized authority to sight the crescent and there are public holidays for the entire populace. However, in secular countries with Muslim minorities, this position must be revisited as it offers a very practical solution to the crises we find ourselves in.

Only one way forward

According to a 2011 survey of over 600 mosques in the US, the adoption rate of FCNA’s calendar stood at 40%. At the writing of this article nearly 8 years later, this number has likely increased to over 50%. The survey indicated that about 40% of the mosques followed local sighting while the remainder followed global sighting. Given the recent shift towards global moonsighting, it is likely that the moonsighting community is evenly split between the two positions at this time.

These statistics represent the only logical way forward to solve this decades-old problem: the most efficient way of achieving unity is by converging behind FCNA’s lunar calendar. This methodology is the only real solution to the crises we currently find ourselves in. Not only does it address all our needs, but this approach has also shown to provide immense ease and facilitation for Muslim communities that have followed it in the past 15 years.

The moonsighting leadership has failed to unite despite a half-century of effort; it is inconceivable at this point that this would ever happen. Even if it did miraculously happen, 50% of the community would still be following FCNA’s calendar and all three of our main problems will remain unaddressed. Additionally, with the current trend of uniting behind the approach of global sighting, ‘moonsighting’ has largely become an administrative exercise. It involves the hilal committee simply waiting for reports from abroad and trying to ascertain their veracity. Only a handful of communities go out looking for the moon and establish the sunnah of moon sighting in a bonafide sense.

In large communities where differing Eid dates is a reoccurring problem, advocating for the adoption of the lunar calendar must come from the grass-roots level. Muslims most affected by this problem should lobby their local mosques to change their positions and unite behind FCNA’s lunar calendar.

While it may seem impossible to get the leadership of mosques to abandon an old position, it has already been done. In 2015, nine major mosques in the Chicago area set aside their differences and put their support behind the lunar calendar. This is an incredible feat and has created ease in the lives of thousands of people. If similar initiatives are taken in other cities split along lines of lunar dogmatism, it is conceivable that the moonsighting issue could be resolved in North America within the next five to ten years.

The Prophet told us to calculate the moon if it is obscured by clouds. Today, the moon is not obscured by physical clouds but it is clouded by poor judgment, distrust, egotism, disunity, and pride. We must resort to calculations to determine the birth of the new moon, not because it is the strongest legal position or a superior approach, but because our status as minorities in a secular land necessitates it.


[1]  From SeekersGuidance: Scholars upholding this can be traced all the way back to the first Islamic century. The textual basis for this opinion is the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, “When you see it [the new moon of Ramadan] then fast; and when you see it [the new moon of Shawwal], then break the fast. If it is hidden from you (ghumma ‘alaykum) [i.e. if the sky is overcast] then estimate it (fa-qdiru lahu);” (al-Bukhari, hadith no. 1900). The last verb, fa-qdiru, can be validly understood to mean calculation. Of the scholars who held this, are Abu al-‘Abbas b. Surayj (d. 306/918), one of the leading founders of the classical Shafi‘i school, the Shafi‘i scholar and renowned mystic Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465/1072), the leading Shafi‘i judge Taqi al-Din al-Subki (d. 756/1355), the Shafi‘i legal theorist al-Zarkashi (d. 794/1392), the renowned Maliki legal theorist al-Qarafi (d. 684/1285), and some Hanafi scholars. The late Shafi‘i commentator al-Qalyubi (d. 1069/1659) held that all sighting-claims must be rejected if calculations show that a sighting was impossible, stating, “This is manifestly obvious. In such a case, a person may not fast. Opposing this is obstinacy and stubbornness.” See al-Mawsu‘ah al-fiqhiyyah al-kuwaytiyyah, c.v. “Ru’yat al-hilal,” vol. 22, pp. 31-4. The leading scholar of the late Shāfi‘ī school Muhammad al-Ramli (d. 1004/1596) held that the expert astronomer was obliged to follow his own calculation as was the non-astronomer who believed him; this position has been used by some contemporary Shafi’i scholars to state that in the modern world, with its precise calculations, the strongest opinion of the Shafi’i school should be that everyone must follow calculations; see ‘Umar b. al-Habib al-Husayni, Fath al-‘ali fi jam‘ al-khilaf bayna Ibn Hajar wa-Ibn al-Ramli, ed. Shifa’ Hitu (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2010), pp. 819-22. See also the fatwa of the Hanafi scholar Dr Salah Abu al-Hajj (معنى-حديث-لا-تصوموا-حتى-تروا-الهلال-ول) last accessed 9/5/2016) which states, after arguing against relying on calculations, “However, the position of [following] calculations is the position of a considerable group of jurists, so it is a respected disagreement in Islamic law, whereby, if a state were to adopt it, it is not rejected, because the judgment of a judge removes disagreement, and the adoption of a state is [as] the judgment of a judge.

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Kashmir: Gateway in Turmoil

Muslim Matters - 8 August, 2019 - 22:46

A dark day looms over Indian-Administered Kashmir, a Muslim majority region at the heart of a dispute between Pakistan and India. The two countries are at odds over its governance, with direct impact to the welfare and security of the Kashmiri people. On Tuesday 8-6-19, the Indian Parliament passed a bill that strips Kashmir of statehood and places them under indefinite lockdown.

“Kashmiri leaders are appealing to the world to stop the imminent genocide of Kashmiris. Genocide Watch in Washington, DC has already issued a Genocide Alert for India, the so-called “largest democracy in the world” because it has cancelled citizenship of four million Indian citizens, mostly Muslims. This reflects the early stages of a genocide in process.” –

Kashmir is home to massive energy resources, such as oil and natural gas, non-ferrous metals, uranium, gold, and is abundant in hydropower resources. These too are factors considered in the political movements of India and China. Kashmir’s geopolitical advantages are no secret, and adding China to the political struggle makes three countries trying to benefit from Kashmir’s geographical position.

Kashmir neighbors the Xinjiang Uyghur borders, and China has played a role in both areas. China’s stronghold on Xinjiang revolves around access to Europe and Central Asia. China needs Kashmir to access the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Kashmir is landlocked between China, Pakistan, and India. Pakistan hopes to use infrastructure built under the CPEC initiative to connect by land directly to both China and Central Asia. With that said, Pakistan wants to take advantage of its geographic positioning by serving as a gateway to Afghanistan, then Central Asia, using the CPEC corridor (the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor), which has parts of that corridor that go through Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

This is upsetting India. India’s ambassador to China, Gautam Bambawale, made a comment in an interview about CPEC saying it “violates our territorial integrity. India believes the CPEC project undermines Indian sovereignty because it passes through a Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir that is still claimed by India.” India also fears the chances of a People’s Liberation Army presence or even a Chinese naval base in Pakistan’s Gwadar seaport, as part of the CPEC corridor.

India has been working on its own project, International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), it is intended to link trade routes between India and Central Asia, Russia, and Europe. Unlike its competition (Pakistan and China), India is unable to directly trade through the land to those regions using INSTC. To make this corridor successful, India will need to collaborate with Iran and use their ports.

India needs Kashmir, and Modi is using hateful nationalism to get the people to support his actions. The part of Kashmir that is needed is not under India’s control, and must be occupied in order for India to have direct access to Central Asia, Russia, and Europe. 

Birds of a feather flock together.

Israel’s Minister for Construction and Housing Yifat Shasha-Biton, while addressing a conference of Indian realtors’ body Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI), called India an “economic power” with whom Israel shares common values.  India using colonization tactics has made allies with the Israeli government, a master on occupation and oppression. 

“Kashmir is under siege…do not let the enforced silence drown our voices.”:

Please keep the people of Kashmir in your prayers. We cannot sit idly while this occupation continues. SoundVision has shared 5 things anyone in America and Canada can do. 

A message from a Kashmiri

“Around 10 pm, a message flashed across our phones announcing that, as per the request of the central government, all domestic networks were to be shut down indefinitely. All mosques, any place equipped with a loudspeaker, began announcing total curfew from 5 am tomorrow……..

You have stripped us of our rights and incited unrest yet again into a peaceful and beautiful place. This time, I pray, you will not escape the international consequences your actions deserve. Rest assured Kashmiris will not break and Kashmir is not gone. Our stories, our language, our heart and our people are stronger than any country can dream. Even under these circumstances, I am sure inshaAllah one day we will be free. One day, Kashmir will be free.” Sanna Wani via Twitter

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What kind of violence is this again?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 8 August, 2019 - 22:07
A Walmart and Sam's Club sign, under which are memorials to individuals murdered in the 3rd Aug 2019 massacre, consisting of their names, hearts, flowers and other materials. A woman holding red heart-shaped balloons has her hand on one of the memorials.Memorials to victims of the El Paso massacre

Every time there is a prominent mass shooting in the US (or elsewhere, but it’s usually the USA), you can bet that there will soon appear a white feminist with access to the mainstream media who pops up and attributes the killing to masculinity, male power or male violence, and last weekend’s massacre in El Paso, Texas, is no exception: in Tuesday’s Guardian, there was a piece by Suzanne Moore which, although it acknowledges that racism and America’s gun laws have something to do with it, brings it back to these feminist concerns:

The substitute for difficult and intersectional discussion is that everyone has to agree that being a man today is a very difficult and confusing state.

Spare me. The “crisis of masculinity” that we regularly address is an alibi. Masculinity is crisis. But it is also in power, something the middle-class men who complain they are unable to express themselves take for granted. …

Male violence – for this is the issue – is everywhere. In the US it is armed to the teeth. Sure, change the gun laws. That may be easier than changing a culture in which men express their feelings nonstop, most notably through death and destruction.

There are two things we must be clear about. One of these is that regular mass shootings happen in the USA because civilians can get ready access to automatic weapons. Almost no other country allows this; some allow the keeping of single-shot firearms, and in most cases they have to be kept secure, the owners have to have a legitimate purpose, and they have to have background checks to make sure they have no criminal record and are of sound mind. Because of this, a single incident like El Paso can claim as many victims in a few minutes as an entire city’s gun crime toll in the UK, Europe or Australia in several months. Second, a number of these massacres are clearly motivated by white supremacist ideology and the attackers have left manifestos making this clear. Very often they claim that their country, or western civilisation, is under attack from migrants (sometimes Muslims, in other times Mexicans as in this case) and nobody is doing anything about it. Some have a history of domestic violence (the Dayton attacker killed a member of his family and their friend before his other victims), but not all.

Of course, many mass shootings are perpetrated by lone men who have an axe to grind and want to be infamous because they do not have the talent to be famous, but we must distinguish the ones perpetrated by people with a declared ideological motive from these incidents. Often they draw ideological inspiration from mainstream political figures, often those who get regular exposure in the media (the Norwegian mass shooter cited Melanie Phillips, for example, among many others including fringe figures from the right-wing blogosphere of the Iraq war years). Many have a history of violence towards women; others have no prior record of violence at all but have radicalised themselves through a mixture of mainstream and online fringe media and chat forums. The perpetrator of the Dayton massacre last weekend was a known misogynist who was part of a ‘grindcore’ music scene that featured overtly misogynistic band titles and lyrics, but no such thing is known about either the Christchurch or El Paso attackers.

When such things happen, people of colour (and people in the ethnic or religious groups targeted by the attacker) will notice the whiteness and white supremacist ideology of the shooter; white women always seem to notice the maleness. I am not saying there is no place or time to debate the role of masculinity in such attacks, but just after a white man has killed 20 Mexicans in El Paso or 51 Muslims in mosques in Christchurch (or six in a mosque in Quebec) really is not it: white supremacism is a spectrum that runs from policies that reinforce white norms and demand ‘integration’ at the expense of an immigrant culture or a minority’s religion, to massacres such as these and even genocide, and different strands of white supremacism have plenty of female adherents and women promoting them in the media and in various parliaments. When the dead are of both sexes, to brand a racist or white supremacist terrorist attack as an act of “male violence” is a slur on the victims: it is to say that any of them could have done this sort of thing, that they have more in common with their murderer than with you, and it reminds readers of whatever problems of relations between men and women exist in their community, or stereotypes about such problems. It takes the focus off this situation and the victims and puts it onto the writer’s supposedly more deserving cause, and those affected by it.

So, let’s have no more ramblings about “male violence” by white women in the aftermath of racially-motivated massacres. It’s distasteful, it’s disrespectful, it’s victim blaming. Feminists usually don’t like victim blaming when the victims are women; do not do it, by linking them to their murderer, when the victims are men of a different race or religion to you and murdered because of it.

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Reality check for BBC’s Brexit reality check

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 August, 2019 - 17:08
A red car with a skeleton in the driving seat, holding a copy of the Kentish Express in its 'hand' with a picture of a queue of trucks and the headline "End this chaos!". Behind the car is a sign saying "Welcome to Kent, the garden of England".Welcome to Kent. (Image: M. Laxton)

Yesterday the BBC News website published a “reality check” feature on what might happen at Britain’s sea ports in the event of a no-deal Brexit this coming October (or any other time), which the present government now seems to regard as a likely default ‘option’. The scenarios include the use of long stretches of motorway, as well as a disused airfield at Manston in north-east Kent, as truck parks to cope with the delays caused by customs checks on all goods going in and out of the country. Parts of the M20 as well as shorter stretches of road near other ports (such as the old Ipswich to Felixstowe road, known as the “old A45” as it was bypassed before the A45 became the A14) are already used for “operation stack” in the event of strikes and other delays, but these arrangements are likely to become a permanent fixture. However, I can see a quite different problem emerging.

Read any edition of the UK’s transport industry press and you will come across a reference to the “driver shortage” fairly quickly: there aren’t enough drivers, and this is why British firms rely so heavily on Polish and other eastern European drivers or else they would not survive. (Complaints about the quality of British drivers are heard quite often; they are often accused of being prima donnas who will not drive a truck that is not absolutely perfect or do difficult jobs.) In my experience, there is in fact plenty of competition for jobs that are pleasant to do and get you home for dinner, or at least bedtime. The jobs that are going begging, that you can sometimes walk straight into off the street, are the ‘tramping’ jobs which require the driver to spend days at a time away from home, sleeping in the narrow bed behind the driver’s seat, in a service station, if you are lucky and your boss will pay the fee, or a lay-by next to a busy road. There is a reason they cannot find drivers for these jobs, regardless of the pay, and this is because they are shitty jobs. Many drivers like to be out of town and to see the country, but this is negated by constantly having to contend with poor or absent facilities.

Being stuck on motorway truck parks for possibly days on end is not going to be most drivers’ idea of a good job; given that a lot of the foreign drivers will leave, chasing better conditions and a warmer welcome in France and Germany, and new ones will not be allowed to replace them, the industry will have to try to recruit British drivers to do the same jobs, and they will have the same difficulty as recruiting drivers for tramping — possibly worse, because the Operation Stack parks are likely to have even fewer facilities and only basic ones such as portable toilets at that. Currently, there are few British drivers doing international trucking as it is; only a few British firms still run to the continent, mostly events firms that transport stage equipment, musical instruments etc for concerts. Many will have to pick up the slack and will have great difficulty doing so. In addition, long waits at these stack points will eat into drivers’ hours allowances and may well result in journeys not being completed. Perishable goods such as food and medicines will get priority, so trucks carrying other goods will have even longer to wait.

Other solutions will have to be found rather than simply having the same driver drive one truck from the UK to almost anywhere in Europe except the immediate areas near to the Channel. One is to use “ferry trailers” which are loaded onto a ferry on one side of the channel and picked up by another driver, driving another tractor unit, on the other side; local drivers will have to be employed to take the trailers from the waiting area (which could be at Manston airfield) to the ferry port and vice versa. This system is already used to transport goods between the UK and the Netherlands, where the ferry crossing is eight hours long rather than 90 minutes, but may need to be used on the Dover-Calais route as well if every consignment has to be customs checked. It may become more profitable to send large consignments between the UK and the continent using a shipping container than a truck; drivers simply pick these up from a port or rail terminal and do not have to worry about dealing with customs. Large companies will be able to have customs come to inspect goods on their sites, of course (and others will spring up to provide that service for smaller businesses across the country, as is the case with air freight which requires scanning), and trucks will travel with the load compartment sealed (again, like air freight), but it will be a huge bureaucratic overhead for industry and require extra training for drivers. This could be put in place in a couple of years (and we have had more than three years to prepare), but we have fewer than three months now.

The bottom line is that not only will there be huge delays, but goods will not get through. Drivers will hit hours limits, or the limits of their patience, in both the official waits or the traffic delays they cause, or refuse to take the jobs on in the first place. The only reason we are facing this possibility is the Tory government and media with a lust for power, behaving like a dog with a bone they will not let go of. There never was any good Brexit deal, but the no-deal scenario is a disaster. Preventing this must be the highest priority for any parliamentarian with the good of the country at heart; the greater good must come before what people have (narrowly) said they wanted, as the same people will not be so enthusiastic when they cannot get the ingredients for an evening meal, or when fuel doubles in price because the pound has collapsed.

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'I am really shy': introducing Phoenix, the world’s first hijab-wearing champion wrestler

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 August, 2019 - 03:36

Malaysia’s Nor Diana, 19, says she becomes transformed in the ring, ready to take on her opponent – and conservative Islamic critics

Nor Diana can remember vividly the first time she stepped out to make her wrestling debut. Outside the ropes she had always been a quiet and studious hijab-wearing Malaysian woman, but here in the ring, dressed in black leather embossed with flames and as the crowd roared, she suddenly felt like a fire burst from inside her: here she was Phoenix.

Nor, who last month won Malaysia’s biggest wrestling tournament – defeating four men for the title – cuts an unlikely figure for a pro wrestler. A 19-year-old who is just 152cm (5ft) tall and weighs 43kg (94lbs), she speaks softly as she sits in her training centre in the town of Puchong, close to Kuala Lumpur, dressed in her hijab, wide glasses and floral baju kurung, traditional Malaysian dress.

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Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure

Muslim Matters - 7 August, 2019 - 01:28

How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?

If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.

My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.

On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.

I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.

When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand.  Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?

I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.

That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.

I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:

Host an open house

Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.

Expand your circle

Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.


You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.

Squeeze in

Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.

Outsource Eid Fun

If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.

Flock together

It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend.  If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.

Give gifts

The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا‏ “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.

Get out of your comfort zone

If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.

Try, try, try again…

Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.

While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.

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“Fake news” and the lay-offs at the Canary

Indigo Jo Blogs - 5 August, 2019 - 23:17
A picture of a white T-shirt with a logo reading "Stop funding fake news" underneath a man in a two-tone beige/brown shirt holding a red flag in his handSome “Stop Funding Fake News” merchandise

Last week The Canary, a pro-Corbyn activist ‘news’ and comment site, announced that it was “leaving the gig economy”, reducing its staff to a core of seven full-time editors and writers (smaller than their current “leadership team” of nine) rather than the previous much larger number of freelancers, following a fall in advertising revenue that has been attributed to a campaign by “Stop Funding Fake News”, which has also targeted Evolve Politics and three far-right news/comment sites, Politicalite, Rebel Media and Westmonster. The Canary has appealed to readers to donate so as to keep the site alive although they are still carrying advertisements (although there are still advertisements on the site today, including one from a major insurance company). Kerry-Anne Mendoza, the site’s founder, has claimed in an email to readers that her site has been vulnerable to attacks from “political Zionists”, which has been seized upon as proof that it is run by cranks and racists after all. But the claim may have some truth to it.

I’m not an admirer of the Canary; on this blog I’ve previously rebutted a false story they ran claiming that Manchester might join Liverpool in “banning the Sun”, which was simply untrue but widely shared by people on my feed. To me it is a site which does not let facts get in the way of a good rant; it is widely (and rightly) described as hyperpartisan to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party; it is often sensationalist. I never share stories from that site and when I see a link to it on my Twitter feed, I do not bother opening it because I know it will likely be sensationalist nonsense and that the story might not even justify the headline. However, friends of mine today described the Canary as a “missed opportunity”, a site founded with good intentions but which ruined its reputation by printing false stories and conspiracy theories. In one case, they undermined a real story about a report into the social care system by printing an unrelated false story, that was widely and prominently exposed the week before the real story ran. One of them (a long-standing disability activist but who tweets privately) wrote, “They do periodically have some excellent content about the impacts of austerity; but no-one pays any attention to it because it’s mixed in with so much untrustworthy, fake, hyper-partisan, antisemitic, bullshit, amateurish content”.

I’ve had a look at the SFFN website. Two things are very noticeable: one is its opacity. They declare:

We would like to be open about our identities, but doing so could put activists at risk. The Sleeping Giants campaign in America took on Steve Bannon’s alt-Right site, Breitbart, to huge success. In fact, their success inspired us to set up Stop Funding Fake News. But their family members’ details were published online by their opponents.

This is somewhat suspicious and convenient. It’s a fact that think tanks, while they have talking heads that are open about their identities, often conceal the sources of their funding. When, back in 2002, Brian Whittaker wrote about the Israeli-backed outfit MEMRI, which circulated news stories generally calculated to “reflect badly on the character of Arabs or … in some way further the political agenda of Israel”, he also noted that they had no named contacts or office address and a former employee explained this as being because “they don’t want suicide bombers walking through the door on Monday morning”, which as Whittaker said was “a somewhat over-the-top precaution for an institute that simply wants to break down east-west language barriers”.

A second suspicious feature is the selection of websites they choose to target for publishing “fake news”: four far-right sites (Politicalite, Rebel Media, Westmonster and TR News) and two pro-Corbyn sites (The Canary and Evolve Politics). One headline from the Canary justifies comparing the Israeli government to that of Nazi Germany; another (from a far-right site) denounces the campaign for a People’s Vote as merely a “Soros Vote”. The right-wing sites are noted for sympathy with Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson) and Nigel Farage and one of them (Westmonster) was founded by Leave campaign bankroller Aaron Banks. What is notable, however, is that the anti-Semitism identified in the Canary seems to target the state of Israel, often in response to genuine human rights abuses against Palestinians, while the hate identified on the right-wing sites targets Muslims and migrants in the UK — individuals, in other words, not a foreign government. While some of the Canary’s contributors have produced material that crosses the line into anti-Semitism (like Steve Topple, as they note at length), even this does not consist of incitement to hatred or violence against ordinary Jews in this country, while much media Islamophobia does target ordinary Muslims and this is not limited to the fringe sites targeted by SFFN. This is rather reminiscent of the asymmetrical way the political Right presents ‘extremism’: where Muslims are concerned, it only takes a tenuous and very dubious link for a group to be branded ‘extremist’, such as anyone with Muslim Brotherhood sympathies on the executive board or as a regular speaker, while for the Far Right, it takes actual violence or open advocacy of racism. Looking at their Twitter feed and replies to it, it appears that they have been approached to add Guido Fawkes to their list of fake news sites, but have refused.

There is also no criticism of right-wing mainstream media, which is also heavily implicated in the spread of false ‘news’ which demonises migrants, minorities, poor people and real or imagined benefit claimants including disabled people. There are no links to other sites which combat bogus news or which fact-check stories in mainstream media (e.g. Stop Funding Hate, Full Fact, Channel 4’s Fact Check). There is also no satisfactory definition of “fake news” which is a term which seems to be used nowadays just to mean falsehood, as defined by the person alleging it. Fake news used to mean stories manufactured to look like they came from a real news source but did not, or attributed to a newspaper or other apparently legitimate outlet which in fact does not exist. The site’s list of the Canary’s failings really does not provide any evidence that they publish fake news, just (in some cases) false or unethical stories. Much the same is true, in fact, of most of their claims about all the other websites they encourage advertisers to boycott.

As a Muslim, I can say that I am more worried about damaging stories in the mainstream media about Muslims than on fringe pseudo-news websites like Politicalite; they get seen by a far wider audience even if the fringe sites give space to the likes of James Goddard and other Tommy Robinson hangers-on. They have real impact on ordinary people’s lives; they sometimes spur political action, as when the Labour government responded to a tabloid campaign against “foreign criminals” being allowed to remain in the UK by re-arresting non-citizens who had served their time years ago for offences committed years ago. The things that appear in those newspapers are then shouted in people’s faces in the streets. If SFFN really cared about improving the British media ecosystem, they might take a stand against the hatred and falsehood coming from the commercial right-wing media, not just obscure websites that advertisers feel they could do without advertising in. So, while many may not see the diminishment of the Canary as such a bad thing, it should disturb us that a shadowy, anonymous, politically partisan pressure group can bring a media outlet that they do not like to its knees while leaving far more damaging outlets untouched.

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BBC apologises after presenter calls Muslim prayer sign 'IS salute'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 5 August, 2019 - 19:58

Broadcaster makes last-minute edit to Stacey Dooley documentary before it airs on BBC One

The BBC has apologised and amended a Panorama documentary presented by Stacey Dooley after she inadvertently described a Muslim prayer sign as a terrorist salute.

Stacey Meets the IS Brides, which is due to be shown on BBC One on Monday night, features the presenter travelling to camps in Syria to meet women who left their own countries to join Islamic State.

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What induces men to imitate the Christchurch massacre? | Jeff Sparrow

The Guardian World news: Islam - 5 August, 2019 - 02:47

After Christchurch and El Paso we need an open discussion – without euphemisms and evasions – about what fascism is and how it works

“In general, I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto.”

That’s how the man accused of shooting at least 20 people in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, began the document he posted on 8chan.

Related: 175 people killed worldwide in last eight years in white nationalist-linked attacks

(July 22, 2011)  Utøya island and in Oslo, Norway

Related: 8chan: the far-right website linked to the rise in hate crimes

Related: Eco-fascism is undergoing a revival in the fetid culture of the extreme right | Jason Wilson

Jeff Sparrow’s forthcoming book Fascists Among Us: Online Hate and the Christchurch massacre is published by Scribe.

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Yes, it can be done (borders and Brexit)

Indigo Jo Blogs - 2 August, 2019 - 16:11

Yesterday, I saw a video posted on Twitter by the Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib (for London region) in which he and a bunch of his colleagues stood on the Irish border and pointed out how the only thing that indicated there was a border was a speed limit sign in kilometres per hour and then proclaimed that there was no way the border could be closed and the “whole thing is a misnomer and a red herring”. It’s true that right now, you can cross the border freely using any number of major and minor roads, one of which famously crosses the border four times, changing numbers from N54 to A3 and back again, between Cavan and Monaghan (both in the republic) and then a fifth time to reach Armagh in the north. Benyamin Habib is 54 years old and so is well old enough to remember the Troubles, although if you weren’t there, you will not have known much about the border. There was one.

It’s spectacularly stupid to assume that just because there is no border infrastructure on an actual international boundary, that one cannot be built. Such borders have been built in places where there was previously no national boundary; look at how the allied powers carved up Germany from 1945, installing a border across central Germany where people had previously crossed freely from town to town but was now heavily guarded and more or less impenetrable. Similarly in Berlin, and on the new German-Polish border (east of which was formerly part of Germany), in Cyprus after the 1974 Turkish invasion, and in so many other places around the world. In most of those places, following the reunification of Germany and the accession of Poland to the EU and Schengen accord, all the border infrastructure is gone, with only a few disused buildings remaining and motorways running freely, but it was very much there during the Cold War and, depending on which country you were coming from, you could be taking your life in your hands trying to cross it. As for roads like the N54/A3, Germany had roads that crossed the border several times; they were closed during the Cold War. There was even a motorway that was half-built at the end of the Second World War that crossed what became the east-west German border three times (now the A4). It didn’t get completed until after reunification.

A watchtower painted in camouflage colours with a soldier peering out of one of the windows. Two more soldiers, in camouflage uniform with red berets, stand on the ground in front of it. The tower stands between two sections of wall, both painted in the same camouflage colours.A border watchtower during the Troubles in Northern Ireland

As for Ireland, even before the start of the Troubles, you could not cross the border freely anywhere you liked; you had to use official border crossings, and other crossing points were blocked by physical barriers or by ditches or blown-up bridges. Pictures of these abound, but you can see it on any late 20th century map: the N3 from Dublin to Enniskillen, for example, was closed when Loyalist paramilitaries blew up a bridge over the border, and anyone needing to travel between Enniskillen and Cavan, the nearest big town on the south side, had to made a detour via Swanlinbar and Ballyconnell until the new George Mitchell bridge was opened in 1999. There are photographs of queues of traffic on main roads between concrete blocks with uniformed men inspecting documents. Although the object will be to police a trade barrier, not to intercept terrorism, scenes a lot like these will be a reality again if we are outside the EU’s customs union; it might be less militarised, but the queues will return and there will be much less freedom to cross where one likes, especially for goods traffic.

So, while it’s true that the British government does not want a hard border on the island of Ireland, if we leave the EU with no deal and end up outside any trade agreements (as we will, because we are part of the WTO through the EU and do not automatically become a WTO member after leaving the EU), there will need to be a border as the north will no longer be part of the EU, and the republic of Ireland will still be. Therefore, if the Tories are serious about leaving, they will need to stop throwing weight around that they do not have and buckle down and get a deal, or end the process of leaving, because a border has been installed in Ireland in the same places as Ben Habib shot that video in the past, and it will be again if we are isolated following our departure from the EU.

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Dutch 'burqa ban' rendered largely unworkable on first day

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 August, 2019 - 10:30

Police and transport companies have signalled unwillingness to enforce face covering ban

The Netherlands’ so-called burqa ban has been rendered largely unworkable on its first day in law after both the police and Dutch transport companies signalled an unwillingness to enforce it.

Under the terms of the Partial Ban on Face-Covering Clothing Act, the wearing of ski masks, full-face helmets, balaclavas, niqabs and burqas is prohibited in public buildings including schools and hospitals and on public transport.

Related: Why I will defy France's 'burqa law'

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It’s not self-doubt

Indigo Jo Blogs - 31 July, 2019 - 10:00
A cartoon showing Boris Johnson wearing a baseball cap with the word "Brexit" on it, and underneath, the words, "I lied to YOU. But don't worry, I'll be fine!".

So, last week the news many of us had been dreading for months finally arrived: Boris Johnson, the inveterate liar, bigot and money-waster who has a trail of diplomatic incidents behind him, became leader of the Conservative party and, by default, prime minister. He gave a speech announcing a whole load of domestic policies including thousands of new front-line police officers which will, of course, cost a lot of money, but gave us a lecture on “national self-doubt” in regard to people’s well-founded fears about Brexit. Johnson and other Brexiteers have been using this line of argument for some time, and not just on the Tory front bench: Brexit has not happened so far because of people’s defeatism or lack of positivity. It’s a classic example of magical thinking and will convince nobody who is living in the real world.

“Magical thinking” is a fallacy where you attribute cause and effect where no such relationship actually exists, and some people are very prone to attaching such notions to “positive thinking”. People will be encouraged to be ‘positive’ about something that in reality they have no control over, or over its outcome; someone might be encouraged to think positively about a medical operation that might have good or bad results, depending on what happens when they are under a general anaesthetic and have no power over the situation. It is also very conducive to “stab in the back” narratives: that a project failed because of defeatism and negativity on the part of people who never wanted it to go ahead in the first place, which is supposedly why Theresa May (a Remainer in 2016) did not succeed in getting us out of the EU. Tory Brexiteers always knew there were people in their own party, let alone wider society, that were opposed to Brexit; it suits their purposes to claim that it was these people’s fault that Brexit has not happened and that no deal acceptable to them has been made, rather than that it is down to their incompetence or their delusion that there was ever going to be. Joining the EEC was a Tory policy in the 1970s; staying in was Thatcher’s policy in the 1980s and leaving was Labour’s during its dark years.

The vote to leave the EU was narrow, with fewer than 52% in favour. This was not a decisive vote for a “clean break” but necessitated compromise. What happened was that the hardliners in the Tory party seized control and interpreted the result as a mandate for a ‘hard’ Brexit. The people who wanted to remain in the EU had strong reasons: that much of our economy is tied to the EU, that it allows goods to move freely across borders with no fees or paperwork (and that without it, we will have to make truck parks of several of our motorways, plans for which are now being made) and that these goods include much of the food we eat, that the leave campaign illegally overspent and lied, that they drew on a legacy of myths that emanated from the Tory press over the years, and that many of those who voted to leave would have been satisfied with changes to British policy, particularly (but not just) the way we engage with Europe. But over the past three years, we have not been allowed to discuss these things, because a political elite drunk on power have repeatedly stressed the ‘importance’ of “honouring the referendum result” as well as what they think was the chief motive behind it: immigration.

It’s not “self-doubt” that means we have no confidence in Boris Johnson’s ability to deliver a deal which is to the advantage of most of us. Many of us could try and live in a country with no food on the shelves, with the readily-available medicine we know now unavailable and with a crumbling infrastructure, but we do not want to because there is no need — the last time we were as isolated as that, there was a world war on and we were facing an invasion from Nazi Germany — and some people are disabled or chronically ill and could not. But much as, in the words of Stella Young, no amount of smiling at a flight of steps by someone in a wheelchair will turn it into a ramp, no amount of positive thinking by ordinary people will turn an overprivileged, ignorant buffoon into a competent diplomat and negotiator. The outcome of Brexit is not in our hands, but theirs. We are awake on the operating table and we do not know if they’ve read our notes. It is not ourselves we doubt, but them.

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Why this isn’t rape

Indigo Jo Blogs - 30 July, 2019 - 17:14
Warblington School, where Sean Aldridge was assistant deputy head and head of safeguarding

Yesterday a teacher in Havant, Hampshire (a small town near the south coast of England) was jailed for 12 years for engaging in sexual relations with four girl pupils, ranging in age from 13 to 16. He was convicted of 24 counts of sexual activity with a child which in one case resulted in a girl becoming pregnant and then miscarrying; in between the incidents themselves and their coming to light, he had been promoted to assistant head teacher and head of safeguarding. The girls themselves did not report the incidents until they were adults; the police had interviewed two of them between 2010 and 2012 but the teacher, Sean Aldridge, had persuaded them to lie to the police. The case has resulted in a familiar flood of complaints that the media report these cases using phrases like affairs, sexual relations or just sex rather than what the complainers believe it is, which is rape. Why isn’t it?

The simple answer is that, when sexual contact occurs and one party is between 13 and 15, or 13 and 17 where the older party is in a position of trust (such as a teacher, as was the case here), the legal term is “sexual activity with a child”. The term rape is used only where someone was forcibly penetrated or a competent person had sex with a person so impaired as not to know what was going on or who could not agree. When one party is below age 13, this would be automatically charged as rape under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, regardless of whether the older person knew the younger person’s age or not. I am guessing the reason is that, while a 14- or 15-year-old might be mistaken for a 16-year-old by someone a little bit older than 16, a 12-year-old could not be (although this defence has been used and in a case last year resulted in a man getting an absolute discharge). The same law introduced the higher age of consent where a teacher is involved; previously, the age of consent was 16 and so relations between teachers and sixth form pupils (or even fifth formers, in cases where they had been held back a year) were perfectly legal, while even in cases where both parties were underage and the boy was younger, the boy was committing a crime but the girl was not. The law was stuck in Victorian times and it was generally accepted that the situation had to change.

So, when the media uses phrases other than rape, they are reporting the story both factually and legally accurately. With the exception of cases where one party is under 13, British law has always used ‘rape’ to mean sex which is forced on someone, not where consent is legally invalid, because that is what rape has always meant in common parlance; the term has inherent connotations with violence. Many US jurisdictions use the term “statutory rape” to refer to such situations, but that is not the case here and never has been. The law recognises that under-16s have some degree of agency; the age of criminal responsibility, for example, is 10, not 16, although crimes other than murder committed by under-16s tend to be treated more leniently. If a 15-year-old could be sent to prison, even if he had been talked into the crime by an adult, it makes no sense that any sexual act involving them be assumed to be rape (especially by people who would also call it rape when a 15-year-old boy has sex with a 13-year-old girl).

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A blessing in disguise? Bendigo at peace with its mosque after years of far-right protest

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 July, 2019 - 05:53

Locals lament how the mosque saga dented Bendigo’s pride as it became an ‘unfortunate backdrop’ to right-wing extremism

When it comes to building places of worship, Bendigo has always played the long game.

Lunchtime bells ring out from the imposing gothic-style Catholic cathedral on a hill overlooking the central Victorian city of more than 150,000 residents. Excavation work for the Sacred Heart cathedral began in 1896, but the tower and spire weren’t finished until 1977.

Related: Far-right extremist and convicted racist Blair Cottrell fails in supreme court appeal bid

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The world knows what is happening to the Uighurs. Why has it been so slow to act?

The Guardian World news: Islam - 27 July, 2019 - 01:00

A reluctance to offend China and an information blackout has meant the persecution of the ethnic minority has gone under the radar. But pressure for change is building

On Wednesday, Sadam Abdusalam went to Australia’s federal Parliament House for the first time and spent almost 12 hours meeting politicians – meetings he has spent almost two years hoping for – in which he pleaded for their help to bring his wife and nearly two-year-old son home.

Last week Abdusalam’s story was broadcast on Four Corners, detailing how his wife and son are trapped in China because they are Uighurs – ethnic minority Muslims.

Related: The world needs to pressure China over the plight of the Uighurs | Peter Irwin

China is blueprinting a way of eradicating Muslim identity from a population.

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Faith leaders urge Boris Johnson to commit to offering refugees sanctuary

The Guardian World news: Islam - 26 July, 2019 - 11:38

Open letter to prime minister says UK should accept at least 10,000 refugees each year

More than 100 faith leaders have written to Boris Johnson, asking him to commit his government to offering refugees a sanctuary in the UK.

The signatories to the open letter include more than 20 Church of England bishops, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, 33 rabbis, the director of the Hindu Council, the founder of City Sikhs, the archbishop of Wales, the primus of the Scottish Episcopal church, and leaders from the Quakers, Methodists, United Reformed church, the Salvation Army, Buddhists and Zoroastrians.

Related: Campaigners renew calls for UK to accept 10,000 child refugees

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