Anti-Muslim poster linking Ilhan Omar to 9/11 sparks outrage in West Virginia

The Guardian World news: Islam - 3 March, 2019 - 16:54

Sign at event sponsored by Republican Party bore an image of the burning World Trade Center juxtaposed with a picture of the Muslim congresswoman

An anti-Muslim poster outside the chamber of the West Virginia House of Delegates that falsely connected the Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar to the 9/11 terrorist attacks has drawn strong rebukes from local and national lawmakers, while causing the resignation of a state capitol staffer and the reported injury of another.

Related: The neo-Nazi plot against America is much bigger than we realize

Related: 'I know what intolerance looks like': Ilhan Omar takes her turn in the spotlight

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Kashmir is in a perilous state because of India’s pivot to nationalism | Ajai Shukla

The Guardian World news: Islam - 3 March, 2019 - 07:00

Nerendra Modi’s refusal to speak to the separatists and his party’s anti-Muslim agenda fuel a vicious cycle of violence and retaliation

On Friday, the four-day-long military flare-up between Pakistan and India began winding down, with Islamabad handing back an Indian air force pilot taken captive by the Pakistan army two days earlier. He had been shot down in the first aerial fighter combat between the two South Asian enemies since a full-scale war in 1971.

Yet, forgotten in the Indian euphoria is the fact that Kashmir, where the deaths of 40 security men in a suicide bomb attack last month triggered this latest crisis, continues to simmer. Even as the pilot walked free, four policemen died in an encounter with Kashmiri militants.

Separatist leaders and the young people who come out on the streets at their behest are considered Muslim traitors

Related: Stand-off in Kashmir: ‘Our last hope is that a war will sort this once and for all’

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The Tories’ response to raging Islamophobia? Turn a blind eye | Miqdaad Versi

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 March, 2019 - 09:00

A litany of unpunished bigotry by MPs should perhaps be no surprise from a party which seems to attract anti-Muslim racists

On Thursday’s BBC Politics Live show, the Conservative MP Henry Smith dismissed claims of Islamophobia in the Conservative party, citing the fact he personally had not seen any anti-Muslim discrimination.

Yet we have a fair idea as to just how Islamophobia has taken hold among the party’s support base and how its leadership is responding to such attitudes.

Related: It isn’t just young people who have turned to Labour. Muslims have too | Miqdaad Versi

Related: Why it’s OK for young Muslims to be radical | Ali Ahmad

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Why it’s OK for young Muslims to be radical | Ali Ahmad

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 February, 2019 - 07:00
Radical thought can be positive and progressive, it doesn’t have to mean joining a death cult

The legal and moral conundrums posed by the return (or not) of British jihadis following the collapse of the Islamic State “caliphate” has triggered renewed anxiety about the place of Muslim youth in western society. The home secretary, Sajid Javid’s populist bid to strip Shamima Begum of citizenship has heightened the pitch of an emotive debate. But little has changed in Britain’s approach to counter-terrorism, soon to undergo independent review following years of heavy criticism.

The Prevent strategy places entire communities under suspicion without necessarily being effective. European equivalents have fared similarly. A €2.5m French deradicalisation boot camp in the Loire valley asked participants to sing the national anthem, eat non-halal food and learn “Republican values” without rehabilitating a single individual.

The ummah, or 'community of believers', attunes many young British Muslims to suffering and injustice in other countries

Related: One man’s (very polite) fight against media Islamophobia

Related: I’m proud to be young, British and Muslim. Why should I change my name? | Iman Amrani

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Dutch court rules against Muslim man who refused to shave beard for job

The Guardian World news: Islam - 27 February, 2019 - 14:02

Man’s benefits were cut after he refused to be clean shaven for asbestos removal training

A Dutch court has backed the suspension of a Muslim man’s benefits over his refusal on religious grounds to shave his beard while on training for a job.

The unnamed man had been offered a job as an asbestos removal officer but was subsequently told he would need to be clean shaven in order to undergo the training course.

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Decathlon drops French sports hijab after politicians threaten boycott

The Guardian World news: Islam - 26 February, 2019 - 19:35

Retailer faced outrage from some of Macron’s ministers against Muslim head-coverings

The French sports store Decathlon has cancelled a plan to put a sports hijab on the market in France after several politicians, including one from Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party, called for a boycott.

The retailer’s plain, lightweight running headscarf, which covers the hair but not the face, is already on sale in Morocco and was to be extended to France and worldwide. But after a social media storm and outrage from some politicians against Muslim head coverings, the company backtracked and said the garment would not go on sale “at the present time” in France.

Le sport émancipe. Il ne soumet pas. Mon choix de femme et de citoyenne sera de ne plus faire confiance à une marque qui rompt avec nos valeurs.
Ceux qui tolèrent les femmes dans l'espace public uniquement quand elles se cachent ne sont pas des amoureux de la liberté.#Decathlon

Notre service client a reçu plus de 500 appels et mails depuis ce matin. Nos équipes dans nos magasins ont été insultées et menacées, parfois physiquement.
Pour vous donner une idée, voici le type de messages qu’on reçoit :

Related: Sadness, anger and fear: how Nice is responding to the burkini ban

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Dump him!

Indigo Jo Blogs - 25 February, 2019 - 17:04
Picture of Pamela Stephenson Connolly, an older white woman wearing a dress with bright patterns in purple, green, red, orange and other colours with a gold-colour handbag over her right shoulder and holding a bottle-green scarf in her left hand. Behind her the wall has logos that read "Kiyomi" and "Jupiters hotel & casino, Gold Coast".Pamela Stephenson Connolly

This is about a letter to Pamela Stephenson Connolly, the Guardian’s agony aunt for all things sexual. The letter is from a 27-year-old woman who had developed an eating disorder as a result of a previous boyfriend’s porn use; she used her current boyfriend’s phone and found a pornographic video open as well as searches for material about very young or skinny women. Rather than telling the woman to reconsider her position, she tells her to confront her boyfriend about it in a “non-combative” manner and apologise for “snooping”.

It’s not the first time the Guardian has failed to tell someone who wrote in with a story of what was obviously abuse that this is what was going on: recall Annalisa Barbieri and the young lady whose mother called her fat and ugly and constantly compared her to models on the TV. The paper really needs to educate some of its columnists about this issue. In this case, the columnist could have told the author of the letter that maybe she ought to think of whether she really wanted to be in a relationship with this man who is unfaithful, obviously not satisfied with her and unlikely to change regardless of whether the relationship progresses. The letter does not say how long this relationship has lasted so far but it is better to get out of it early than allow it to awaken a dormant mental illness.

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What good will splitting the Labour party do?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 24 February, 2019 - 23:03
A group of 11 people (4 male, all but one white) standing at the bottom of a flight of steps inside a building.The (so far) 11 members of the Independent Group.

So, last week it finally happened, the split that had been rumoured for several months: seven Labour MPs, initially, resigned the whip. Rather than forming a new party or just joining the Liberal Democrats, they decided to form an “independent group” which has been incorporated as a company rather than a political party, which it has been pointed out absolves them from disclosing the sources of their funding. The MPs who initially took part were:

  • Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree)
  • Ann Coffee (Stockport)
  • Mike Gapes (Ilford South)
  • Chris Leslie (Nottingham East; before 2007, Shipley)
  • Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge)
  • Gavin Shuker (Luton South)
  • Chuka Umunna (Streatham, south London)

The two principal reasons given were Brexit and anti-Semitism but the MPs are clearly on the right of the party and cited reasons such as Jeremy Corbyn being a threat to national security and his hostility to the private sector. Since then, another Labour MP (Joan Ryan, for Enfield North) and three Conservative MPs (Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston), all noted opponents of Brexit, have joined them. Ian Austin has also resigned the Labour whip but not joined the new group; it has also been noted that Nicholas Soames’s Twitter profile has lost any reference to the Conservative party, although his website is still a sea of blue and there are two links to Tory party websites on it.

Even before they offered to replace the DUP in a confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Tories and promised to support them in any no-confidence vote, the impeccable right-wing credentials of all the Labour MPs who defected have been detailed in a number of Twitter threads. Quite simply they seem to represent the illiberal instincts of New Labour without the moderating influence of the Left. One of them, Angela Smith, made a remark on Politics Live on Tuesday morning that being a member of an ethnic minority is not just a matter of being Black or “having a funny tinge” — the point being that you could be white and Jewish — which immediately provoked widespread scorn. Smith is also on record as having accepted gifts from a construction firm linked to the privatised water industry and also opposes renationalisation of said industry; she unsuccessfully tried in 2007 to keep the details of her expenses private. In her initial speech at the group’s launch, she claimed that real working-class people did not like being “patronised by left-wing intellectuals and told that being working-class and poor is a state of grace”, a classic right-wing trope and a straw man as far as the mainstream Left is concerned nowadays.

All of them who were in parliament in the mid-2000s voted for the Iraq war. Those who came after voted against investigations into it. None of them voted against the 2015 welfare bill. Like most of the Labour defectors, Joan Ryan has talked of the anti-Semitism issue being a major reason for her defection, but she is in fact strongly partisan towards the state of Israel; such people, Jewish or otherwise, are not the people most qualified to dictate what constitutes anti-Semitism. Chuka Umunna has not been consistently anti-Brexit in his stance, despite this alliance being prompted largely by Corbyn’s ambiguous stance regarding Brexit; in September 2016, he told the Huffington Post that he would support Theresa May in sacrificing access to the Single Market so as to enable restrictions on freedom of movement (he later ‘clarified’, claiming that he had “always been totally consistent in saying that Britain must be a member of the Single Market, on which thousands of jobs and rules protecting workers’ rights rely”). Umunna also played the “more British than thou” game against the Muslim community in 2013 when he purported to be ‘horrified’ that the head of Universities UK had voiced approval of religious societies allowing the separation of men and women at their events on campus, claiming it “offends basic norms in our society”. Whose society is that, Chuka?

As for the Tory defectors, all of them voted for the Coalition austerity programme and at least two of them have defended their position and said it was worth it. Soubry has voted in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act, against making caste discrimination illegal, against strengthening the military covenant (in other words, providing decent accommodation and conditions for military personnel), in favour of cuts to funding of local government, against measures to combat climate change, in favour of reducing the scope of legal aid and in favour of secret evidence in court. Heidi Allen has also opposed investigations into the Iraq war and voted against retaining the Human Rights Act. These are not progressive MPs by any stretch, despite Heidi Allen’s display of tears at food banks (accompanied by the least Labour of Labour MPs, Frank Field).

In my opinion, the defections prove that adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism last summer was a mistake: despite the lack of any serious new incident, the ‘issue’ is still a huge bone of discontent for the right-wing of the party who will never be satisfied unless anyone who has voiced anything but the most polite criticism of Israel and its rampant disregard for Palestinian human rights is forced into humiliating apologies and/or expelled. Much of the “anti-Semitism” otherwise alleged bears no resemblance to anything that would be considered racism if said about any other group (and if some said it did, they would be told “tough luck”) but centres on statements that trigger “anti-Semitic tropes”, such as their controlling the media or international finance, which are interpreted so loosely that any suggestion that they (or groups of them) have undue influence can lead to an accusation and once accused, defence constitutes offence. For this reason I’m always inclined to doubt any claim that the problem is ‘widespread’; the figure, if there is one, will be inflated by over-detecting ‘tropes’. Much as with the issue of FGM in the UK, it’s nowadays automatically assumed that the problem is major and anyone who doubts it is “in denial”.

The policy also means that no active Muslim can have a role in the party as anything they say on the matter will be held up to hostile scrutiny, which I strongly suspect is part of the motive for some of the agitators even though they do not say it openly. Muslims are expected to be grateful clients rather than play an active role in the party that they have long seen as best representing their interests. The irony is that we are accused of being racist for refusing to accept a racist demand that Palestinians should suffer so that Jews do not have to — and today, this refers not to suffering oppression, but suffering any impingement on their lifestyle (hence such things as water theft). While Muslims are not the only victims of racist Tory policies, of course, many of us find it galling that current or former Labour MPs and their friends in the media froth about anti-Semitism while declaring that they will vote to keep the Tories in power when their record on racism is far worse.

This is a major reason why I have not rejoined the Labour party at any time since I left in 1995; it is not a free speech zone on this or any other issue. It demands Leninist levels of loyalty even when delivering only slightly watered-down free-market capitalism. If you’re caught even talking about tactical voting or suggesting that people vote for someone else besides their “red prince” or Blairite war hawk, you’re out. You can get expelled by local party apparatchiks for any statement they deem disloyal, and this policy gives them another avenue to silence dissenting voices. The defectors are, of course, not people silenced by the party’s compliance regime but people who want it enforced more and more rigidly. There is a reason they did not simply defect to the Liberal Democrats, and it’s not just because their stock tumbled at the 2015 election and has not recovered greatly: the Lib Dems are a democratic party with none of the control-freakery and stage-management of the Labour and Tory parties.

Sadly, despite the huge media interest (Owen Jones commented that the target demographic appeared to be senior journalists), I suspect that this will only entrench the Corbynites in control of the Labour party. If Corbyn is defeated at a subsequent general election, it is likely that they will support him if he insists on remaining in position and if he does not, they will support his anointed successor and can now more easily resort to the stab-in-the-back narrative much as Labour supporters often do about the 1983 defeat, blaming the SDP rather than the Falklands war victory or their own manifesto. It also allows their former local parties to find a replacement before the next general election and thus there may be no way back for them. If Labour had contested another election and lost before this split, his supporters would have realised — if that were indeed the case — that the electorate would not vote for Corbyn and would have had to assess why, much as was the case after the 1983 election. However, some of his policies are popular with Labour members and not as unpopular with the electorate as the right-wing separatists think; they conveniently forget that the membership decisively rejected the functionaries who stood for leadership in 2015 and this was before Corbyn’s victory triggered the influx of new members or “£3 supporters”. I know many Labour voters who are dissatisfied with Corbyn to some extent but are desperate to get rid of the Tories is vital and would be devastated if their concerns were hijacked to secure another Tory victory.

So, we need to know what the Labour defectors hoped to achieve. Do they really want to stop Brexit, or force changes in the Labour party, or simply stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister by any means necessary? How far down that road will they go, and still say it is worth it?

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China says 'preventive' work in Xinjiang detention camps should be applauded

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 February, 2019 - 07:02

Government steps up outreach to foreign envoys, explaining its achievements in the region home to Muslim minorities

China’s counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation efforts in its far western region of Xinjiang should be applauded for creating a new method of tackling the problem, a senior diplomat told foreign envoys last week.

China is stepping up its diplomatic outreach over controversial detention camps in the heavily Muslim region, inviting more foreign diplomats to visit as it seeks to head off criticism from Muslim-majority nations and at the United Nations.

Related: Families of missing Uighurs call for 'proof of life' videos from Chinese government

Related: 'If you enter a camp, you never come out': inside China's war on Islam

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'I didn’t get here by being polite': ABC's Sami Shah on free speech in Australia

The Guardian World news: Islam - 22 February, 2019 - 23:35

Comedian and breakfast radio host demands the right to be offensive but concedes some lines shouldn’t be crossed

On his summer holidays from his job as co-host of the ABC’s breakfast radio show in Melbourne, Sami Shah got to work. He’s making a Radio National series on freedom of speech in Australia, called Shut Up, for which he has interviewed everyone from conservative journalist Andrew Bolt to lawyer Nyadol Nyuon. He’s finishing off a Melbourne Comedy festival show. He writes micro stories on Medium. He’s chipping away at a novel.

“I’ve never done one thing at one time,” he says over coffee in his inner-city home. “I get bored quickly otherwise.

Related: For Australia to prosper, free speech must be extended to all of us | Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Related: Sami Shah on Islam, Australia and being a 'serial blasphemer'

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Yes, we do talk about the family

Indigo Jo Blogs - 22 February, 2019 - 17:41
A black and white picture of two white women, an elderly, white-haired one with glasses wearing a large necklace with large beads hanging from it, and a younger one with dark hair standing behind her but bending down to look at her from the side.

Why won’t Remainers talk about family? (Giles Fraser, Unherd)

In this article the Anglican bishop talks about how modern British society has palmed off the duty of caring for its elderly on to paid workers and relies chiefly on imported labour, particularly from eastern Europe, to do it. Care chiefs and pro-EU politicians have warned of a care crisis as these staff leave or are unable to get visas to come here at the same time as the number of people needing elderly care is predicted to double. Fraser dismisses this as “Remain-inspired end-of-the-world fearmongering” and says that freedom of movement has enabled young people to cut ties with their families, to go and work wherever the work is or wherever the pay or the lifestyle is best. “All this,” he says, “is a philosophy that could not have been better designed to spread misery and unhappiness”:

This is what happens when that much over praised value of social mobility becomes the way we think about dealing with social inequality. Social mobility is very much a young person’s value, of course. Get on. Get out of your community. Find a job anywhere you please. Undo the ties that bind you. The world is your oyster.

This is the philosophy that preaches freedom of movement, the Remainers’ golden cow. And it is this same philosophy that encourages bright working-class children to leave their communities to become rootless Rōnin, loyal to nothing but the capitalist dream of individual acquisition and self-advancement.

He starts with an anecdote about a woman who rang a doctors’ surgery because her elderly father had soiled himself. The doctor, allegedly, asked her if she had children and if so, had she ever called the doctor because their nappy needed changing? She had no answer to that. He heard this from his friend who is a GP. I really wonder how many people ring doctors’ surgeries and get to speak to a doctor over the phone, especially about a problem such as this. In reality, you would speak to a receptionist, and they are more likely to just say “sorry, we can’t provide that service” and refer them to social services if she needs someone to care for her father. But Fraser tells us that it’s our duty to look after our elderly parents rather than to “subcontract” it. “It is the daughter of the elderly gentleman that should be wiping his bottom.” I don’t know if he just meant daughters but that is what lots of people have taken away.

Fraser may not have noticed, but sometimes there are reasons why someone might not be able to be their elderly parents’ sole carer and sometimes good reasons why they might not want to. Maybe they were abused, exposed to harm or neglected by the parent as children and found themselves living with their parents as adults; maybe they spent their childhood caring for another relative and never got a break; maybe the elderly parent has dementia and is impossible to live with. Maybe the adult child is disabled and cannot do the job on their own, or maybe they have other children or other relatives to look after, perhaps including a disabled one. Caring for an elderly relative can be more taxing than caring for a baby because babies are small and light and elderly people are full adult size and need lifting, which many people do not have the training to do properly. It is not a good thing if the social care system is suddenly deprived of thousands of workers.

He assumes that it is freedom of movement that drains young people out of small towns, leaving them to “become ghost towns of hopelessness”. However, young people do not have to go elsewhere in Europe to get away from such places and before industries and then such facilities as youth clubs and even libraries were destroyed to satisfy the demands of ideology, union-busting and cost-cutting, most of the young people stayed in their home towns as they had no reason to leave. The minority who got university placements always left. Fraser supports a no-deal Brexit and believes that this will shock us back to looking after our families as he thinks we did in the past, a past which, he told us on Twitter this morning, was “better; much better”. Well, it was better if you were white, not disabled and had the good fortune to be part of a happy family. If you weren’t all of these things, it was likely to have been miserable: divorce was difficult, spousal abuse was widely tolerated and marital rape deemed legal, people turned a blind eye to child abuse and disabled children spent most or all of their childhoods in institutions and for some disabled people it was their whole lives. That’s right; we didn’t always look after our families in the days before capitalism, Thatcher and the EEC.

Bobby Sutliff’s cover of Richard Thompson’s
Small Town Romance (could not find the original).

And the irony is in the headline: the claim that Remainers never think of the family. Well, we do, because the immigration regime since the days of the Coalition is notorious for splitting up families because the British spouse does not have the required income, and if we leave the EU, the same will apply to British/European couples who are already facing uncertainty about whether they will be able to stay together or easily visit each other’s countries. Maybe Fraser thinks that this is also a good thing, because people will have to find partners among the people they know rather than, say, people they find though the Internet; but that actually is not possible for many people because their home community is dysfunctional in some way or because everyone knows the rumours about that went around about you when you were at school (the song Small Town Romance by Richard Thompson springs to mind), so if the Internet offers a chance of a relationship or a marriage that is free from the baggage of the past, surely it can only be a good thing.

It used to be said that Tories loved the family so much, one was not enough for them. It’s a long time since we heard any Tory preach about family values; people might just point out that they only care about families if they’re the right sort, preferably rich and white. It’s sad that today, a churchman that was thought to be reasonable and compassionate has started demanding that we narrow people’s horizons and restrict their opportunities to find not only work and prosperity but also love and family life.

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Fears for Uighur comedian missing amid crackdown on cultural figures

The Guardian World news: Islam - 22 February, 2019 - 01:14

Adil Mijit worked for a government arts troupe for 30 years, but his family fear he has been taken into a re-education camp

Arslan Mijit Hidayat says there is not a single Uighur who has not heard of his father-in-law, Adil Mijit. “We have a saying in the Uighur language ‘From seven to 70’ and anyone between these ages would know him,” said Hidayat, 31, who was born in Sydney to Uighur parents. “He’s A-list. When you think comedy, you think him.”

Mijit, 55, spent 30 years performing in plays and operas for a government arts troupe in Xinjiang, the far-western Chinese territory home to some 12 million Uighurs. Hidayat compares him to Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey and Australian comedian Carl Barron.

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George Galloway should not be readmitted to the Labour party

Indigo Jo Blogs - 20 February, 2019 - 22:31
Two white men in close-fitting all-in-one bodysuits. George Galloway, the older of the two, has a red one on which has a very large scooped neckline, and Burns is (apparently) younger, has a face that looks like a woman's and has a turquoise suit which leaves his left shoulder and part of his torso bare. Two doors are behind them with "Toilet" and "Shower" on them.George Galloway (then MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, east London) and Pete Burns on Celebrity Big Brother, January 2006

A longer post on the new ‘independent group’ formed by breakaway Labour and Tory MPs is in the works but I heard something today which has disturbed a lot of people that I know which is that George Galloway, who was expelled from the Labour party in 2003 and then formed the Respect Coalition in collaboration with the Socialist Workers’ Party, has applied to be readmitted to the party. I disagreed with his expulsion at the time — one of the charges was that he encouraged British soldiers to disobey orders, which in the context of that particular (illegal, racist, ill-motivated) war was not unreasonable — but in subsequent years he has proved himself a quite disreputable character, having served two terms as an MP for the Respect party and in both of them being more interested in publicity stunts than in doing his job. The most egregious of these was appearing in Celebrity Big Brother, which goes on for several weeks in January (which is parliamentary time) if one is not voted off the show.

He was always notorious for cosying up to any dictator who wasn’t a US client, most famously Saddam Hussein, but he finally burned his bridges with anyone who had continued to defend him by calling someone a “window-licker” (a derogatory term for someone with a learning disability) on Twitter and then making a video in which he defended Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder credibly accused of rape in Sweden, by saying that it could not have been rape because the woman was “in the sex game”. I know a few women who are very upset at the prospect of his readmission and such a move will lose them a lot of goodwill among people who hang on because they still have hopes about Corbyn as a progressive leader with a strong anti-austerity stance even if, say, they disagree with his stance on Brexit. Frankly, the hashtag used by some fringe feminists “#LabourLosingWomen” might become a reality.

At the moment, he has only reapplied; however, this week the party briefly readmitted the Liverpool council leader Derek Hatton whose antics plunged the city into huge debt in the mid-1980s as he made a vain attempt to defy Thatcher; the debt was not paid off until 2001 while he personally swanned around in expensive cars while running his Cyprus-based property empire. In the event he was suspended again after two days (for tweets from 2012 calling for Jews to “start speaking out publicly against the ruthless murdering being carried out by Israel”, a demand that will be familiar to any Muslim reading this), but it makes a lot of people worried about the reaction of the same committee to any readmission application from someone like Galloway. It must be resisted. The party’s name will be mud otherwise.

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'Free pass for mobs': India urged to stem vigilante violence against minorities

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 February, 2019 - 05:42

Human Rights Watch blames police inertia and government failures for lack of justice for those affected

Complicity by local officials and police inertia mean dozens of vigilante murders of religious minorities in India have gone unpunished over the last four years, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

The report urges the government to prosecute mob violence by so-called “cow protection groups” that have targeted Muslims, Dalits and other minorities in the five years since the Hindu nationalist BJP came to power.

Related: On patrol with the Hindu vigilantes who would kill to protect India's cows

Related: Indian ‘cow protectors’ jailed for life over murder of Muslim man

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Grenfell: who failed, really?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 18 February, 2019 - 22:13

This evening there was a half-hour Channel 4 Dispatches programme about the role of the fire brigade in the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017, in which more than 70 people died when the tower block they lived in went up in flames. In the build-up to this I saw a number of comments on social media that they should be criticising the council or tenant management organisation for allowing the flammable cladding blocks to be put on the tower rather than the ‘heroic’ fire brigade who tried to fight it. One comment was that the failings of the fire brigade were being investigated much sooner than the decisions surrounding the renovation and the use of the cladding which accelerated the fire beyond the block where the fire should have been contained.

Yet, the programme revealed that after the Lakanal House tower block fire in 2009, the coroner recommended that the fire brigade invest in new training so that advice to residents to stay in their flats in the event of a fire not be given if there is risk that it might spread, but the service decided that its present training was sufficient. This was not a decision taken by individual fire-fighters or call handlers but by the top-ranking officials. A call handler is blameless because after all, they do not have a live video feed of what is going on at the tower; they would not know that the fire had already spread beyond the 4th floor and was climbing up the building. However, there should not be a blanket policy of “stay put” which does not change when residents report over the phone that the fire is coming up the building, and certainly call handlers should not still be under the impression that they were dealing with a fire on the 4th floor when it had in fact spread much further.

Worse, towards the end, we saw the commissioner hide behind the heroism of her officers to dodge questions about decisions taken by the top brass. According to Matt Wrack, the Fire Brigades Union’s general secretary, his union warned the House of Commons about the risk of cladding fires as far back as 1999. Nobody doubts that fire-fighters who risk their lives to protect and save members of the public are heroes, but it is quite right that their superiors be held to account for their much less heroic decisions when a major, fatal fire leads to recommendations that are ignored, leading to a much bigger disaster.

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Isis Briton compares Manchester bombing to western airstrikes

The Guardian World news: Islam - 18 February, 2019 - 14:42

Shamima Begum says she regrets innocent people died in attacks in both UK and Syria

The east London schoolgirl who left the UK to join Islamic State has compared the Manchester Arena bombing to airstrikes by the western allies that killed non-combatants in Isis-held areas.

Shamima Begum, 19, says she wants to return to Britain and is asking for “forgiveness”, having given birth to a son on Saturday while in a refugee camp in Syria.

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Reporter Jason Rezaian on 544 days in Iranian jail: ‘They never touched me – but I was tortured’

The Guardian World news: Islam - 18 February, 2019 - 14:27

The Iranian-American Washington Post journalist reveals the psychological scars his 2014 imprisonment left him with

Three years after being released from an Iranian prison, Jason Rezaian can still not quite shake off a recurring bad dream. It no longer dogs him several times a week as it did in the early days after his release, but it still revisits him, often after he has been retelling his tale. And it never changes.

“It’s not a nightmare of somebody beating me and trying to chase me down,” says Rezaian, a Washington Post journalist now back in his newspaper’s home town. “It is: you were supposed to get out and you didn’t. There was this moment you were supposed to be released and for whatever reason, that didn’t happen.”

The Iranian people have seen through authoritarianism. They want to be integrated into the world

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Review: “Islam in the West” Special Report in the Economist

Inayat's Corner - 17 February, 2019 - 16:49

The Economist has this week published a special 12-page report on Islam in the West. The report seeks to look at “how Muslim identity has been moulded by external and internal pressures since the mass migration to the West began in the 1950s.”

As you would expect from the Economist large parts of the report appear to be factual, carefully researched and where editorial views are provided, these are on the whole sensible and liberal-minded.

For instance, when acknowledging the challenges posed by what appear to be regressive religious views and practices amongst some sections of Muslims in the West, the Economist argues that:

“Rather than intervene in doctrine, it is better to deal with social conservatism through argument and persuasion.”

It argues against the forced banning of burqas that we have seen in Austria, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Hungary and Bulgaria.

“To many Muslims and Western liberals, such policies seem counterproductive. Muslims feel stigmatised, alienated and defensive.”

It calls on the West to continue to uphold its enlightenment traditions of religious tolerance and freedom of belief:

“Having settled in the West…Islam seems destined to stay. The journey so far has not been easy. But a third generation of Muslims now seems set to become a permanent part of a more diverse, more tolerant Western society – as long as that society continues to nurture those virtues.”

The Economist appears to be correct when it observes that an Islamic identity was especially appealing to those second-generation Muslims that were not comfortable with Western norms or with their parents’ more traditional norms.

There are reassuringly few obvious errors in the Economist report though the “brief glossary” provided does seem to be a bit misleading when it provides the following elaboration concerning Ahmadis:

“Ahmadis: A Muslim sect considered heretic by many Sunnis for proclaiming its 19th-century founder in India, Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, as the Messiah.”

I am pretty sure that the Shi’a – and not just the majority Sunnis – also consider Ahmadis to be a non-Muslim sect.

The Economist identifies what it sees as four main strands amongst Western Islam: Salafis, political Islam, liberals and lapsed Muslims. The Brelvis are unlikely to be happy about this (though to be fair, many Salafis would probably agree to place them in the “lapsed Muslims” category anyway!).

The phenomenon of – an admittedly tiny number of – Western Muslims engaging in acts of terrorism and brutality has clearly shaken the Western public and has led to a lot of soul-searching about how best to integrate the now 26 million Muslims in Europe. The Economist has surely done the right thing by standing up for religious plurality and tolerance.

Still, having said that, I would have liked to have seen more written about the impact on Western Muslims of the West’s policy of effectively turning a blind eye to ongoing Israeli crimes and brutality in the Occupied Territories, and the nod and wink given to Algeria’s military rulers to launch a coup to prevent the democratic victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in 1990/1991 by arresting the FIS leaders and crushing all dissent. More surprisingly for a report on Western Islam there appears to be nothing said about the genocide of Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995 and how that affected European Muslims.

As a third generation of Muslims in the West now prepares to take the helm, many interesting challenges face the Muslim communities in the West. In a West where the role of religion has been very visibly declining, will Islam follow the same course and be largely confined to the private sphere as the secularisation thesis asserts? Will Muslims accept that universal human rights must trump the restrictions advocated by conservative interpretations of ancient religious texts if human societies are to achieve greater equality and opportunities for all?

The editorial in the Economist is hopeful about the future:

“If today’s varied and liberal form of Islam continues to flourish, it may even serve as an example of tolerance for the rest of the Muslim world.”

Insha’ Allah.

Third of Britons believe Islam threatens British way of life, says report

The Guardian World news: Islam - 17 February, 2019 - 11:05

Anti-Muslim prejudice replacing immigration as key driver of far-right growth

More than a third of people in the UK believe that Islam is a threat to the British way of life, according to a report by the anti-fascist group Hope not Hate.

The organisation’s annual “State of Hate” report, which will be launched on Monday, argues that anti-Muslim prejudice has replaced immigration as the key driver of the growth of the far right.

Related: Many people in mostly Christian countries believe values clash with Islam – poll

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Report: The importance of ethnography in FGM storytelling, SOAS, London

Indigo Jo Blogs - 16 February, 2019 - 23:19
A group of demonstrators in the street holding placards with slogans in various languages against FGM.Demonstration against FGM, Bristol

This event took place at SOAS, part of the University of London, last night (15th February) and was organised by the university’s “Fem Soc”. It brought together some long-standing anti-FGM campaigners along with a prominent sceptic and two women who had worked in women’s healthcare which involved caring for women who had undergone FGM. It was chaired by Mary Harper, a former BBC Africa editor who had a special interest in the Horn of Africa; the panellists were:

  • Zaynab Nur, a Somali anti-FGM campaigner
  • Nasra Ayub of Integrate UK, based in Bristol
  • Bríd Hehir of Shifting Sands (which has republished a couple of my articles on this subject) who has also written for Spiked Online 
  • Alison MacFarlane, perinatal epidemiologist and statistician
  • Dr Brenda Kelly of the Rose Clinic, Oxford; consultant obstetrician and clinical lead for women with FGM in Oxfordshire.

The event started off with the showing of a BBC report about the treatment of women in Wales who were presumed to have experienced FGM and to intend to inflict it on their daughters. One woman whose daughter had special needs was referred to social services; another with a newborn daughter was taken into foster care with her for six months because of a supposed risk of FGM and trafficking despite her having no intention of doing this. The NHS in Wales treats a child merely having ancestry from countries with a major FGM rate as evidence that a child is at risk.

The first speaker was Zaynab Nur, a Somali woman from Cardiff who had been active in campaigning against FGM in her community since the 1980s. She said that when she started out campaigning it was for her daughters’ sake as she knew that the community had to be persuaded to stop this for their sake. She said that when she started out, she did not receive any funding; she went to both the women and the religious leaders in the Somali community and relied on her connections with them. However, nowadays, Somalis are being stigmatised and government policies are having a huge impact: women are going for routine gynaecological treatment and being referred elsewhere because of having had FGM done. They report not being believed when they say they have no intention of doing it to their daughters. She also said that there are stereotypes about women who have had FGM such as that they have sexual dysfunction, which are often erroneous. She also said she was in the room when the term FGM was coined.

Nasra Ayub spoke next. She said she agreed with Zaynab Nur to a certain extent but that girls were at risk and that their safety should be at the heart of FGM activism. The conviction of the Ugandan woman earlier this month was not something to celebrate. She underlined the importance of educating the communities in question not to carry on with FGM. With regard to one of the cases in Bristol, she claimed that “one of their young people” had engaged a taxi driver in a discussion about FGM when in his cab, and the driver had told them that he had had his daughter cut which, she claimed, triggered mandatory reporting laws (which I find dubious as he was not there in a professional capacity; he was a customer getting a ride).

Next to speak was Alison MacFarlane. She had worked in the midwifery department at City University in London since the early 2000s and they were closely involved with Somali populations in inner east London as their staff and students worked in the inner east London boroughs (Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham) and the issue was a major subject for students’ dissertations. She said that early attempts at statistics about who had experienced FGM and who was at risk were based on the percentages affected in their countries of origin adjusted for age (since younger women were less likely to have had it done) and these indicated that the communities were moving away from FGM. As for estimating the numbers at risk, this was a very sensitive issue and early reports from about 2007 over-estimated those numbers. A report published in 2011 stated that it was important that midwifery services were aware of FGM and able to provide appropriate care at such times as when the women came to give birth, and that because the affected people were dispersed across the country, professionals might meet them anywhere; over-50s with FGM were likely to be experiencing gynaecological problems.

She then said that she was now aware of campaigners who had learned about FGM from Wikipedia while doing school homework and statistics which claimed that girls were “at risk” simply because their mothers had had FGM or came from a country where it was a custom. There was a lot of bias in the statistics and they ignored the fact that younger immigrant women in recent years are more likely to be educated and less likely to be inclined towards continuing with FGM.

After that, Brid Hehir spoke. She said that she had been involved in FGM research for about five to seven years since being made redundant from the NHS and had been inundated with material claiming that there was a “silent epidemic” which health professionals were missing, that certain parents were known to practise it and professionals needed to “wake up”. She could not believe it as she had never met a child who had experienced FGM during her time working in the NHS, only mothers, and colleagues she spoke to had never seen a child affected either. She saw suspicion was being cast on all sorts of people, that professionals were being expected to act as spies, to betray patient confidentiality in order to collect data. She said that the data were crude and were being presented as “new cases” when in fact they were merely newly reported. She is convinced that there is little or no FGM in Britain.

Finally, there was Dr Brenda Kelly. She mentioned four laws that in her opinion were causing damage to people from the communities affected by FGM. There was an “enhanced data set” that was based on Alison MacFarlane’s work, but since 2014 the reports were no longer anonymised; more recently, the rules were changed so that women could object to their information being used in building this data, but women were rarely told they were entitled to object. The data indicates that most victims were cut before they came to the UK and a number of the newer cases were white girls who had undergone genital piercings or labiaplasties in a medical setting, with their consent. The mandatory reporting system breaks down trust between doctors and patients; if a girl was asked about FGM when she came for something like the contraceptive pill, and was then told that this data would be passed on to the police who were duty-bound to investigate, it was likely that she would never visit that doctor again and would be reticent about visiting doctors generally. (Later on in the evening, she disagreed with Brid Hehir that there were no cases in the UK; she had known of girls who were at risk but it was much less than an epidemic.)

Nasra Ayub then said that FGM victims were being treated differently from other victims of abuse, and that the emphasis was on prosecution rather than on prevention and support and the policies infantilised women of colour. Mandatory reporting makes criminals fo women who are in fact victims. She said that anti-FGM campaigns had been important and that awareness could not have been raised without them. When her mother was young, girls used to beg them to be cut for fear of being ostracised. When the campaigns began, communities told them to be quiet but they responded by being louder.

The floor was then opened up for questions. Many of the questioners were women from Somali backgrounds and said that the way in which girls were educated about FGM was stigmatising and had been leading to bullying. One example was that a French teacher gave a presentation about the subject to a class which contained several Somalis, with the assumption that they were also victims when in fact they were not. They then had to answer questions from schoolmates about a subject they knew nothing about. (This undermines parents’ efforts to protect their daughters from FGM by not telling them about it, given that they are aware that girls would ask to have it done if their friends had, or would stop speaking to them if they failed to get it done.) Another audience member, a man named Solomon who was active in the charity Forward, said that speaking to men he was aware that many were offended by the use of stigmatising language such as ‘barbaric’, which they complained was not used in regard to white men who murder their wives or whatever; it was only used of things Black people did.

Two women from the audience spoke in defence of the practice. One was a woman from Sierra Leone whose name I did not catch. She insisted on calling it female circumcision, not FGM, and said it took place strictly within the bounds of the Bondo (also called Sande) society involved. She said that stigma over the practice was resulting in domestic violence as men came to regard them as second-class women who cannot have sex or have children, neither of which were true. At 15, when she had the procedure done, she looked forward to her initiation. She had been involved in efforts to set a minimum age of 18 in Sierra Leone, but this had been undermined by western campaigners who knew little about her country or its culture and used disrespectful language. She compared female circumcision to labiaplasty which white girls can get but African girls cannot despite it being part of their culture. It was against their human rights to deny a young woman her rites of passage. In Sierra Leone, nobody could become president, including a woman, unless they had undergone circumcision. She said that Somali women’s experiences were entirely different from theirs.

The second ‘pro’ voice was a woman from the Bohra community in India who said that her research among women who had undergone “type 1” or Sunnah circumcision was that they were not traumatised and were not sexually dysfunctional. The custom is very much part of their religion and if it is banned, people would not be able to fulfil their religious duties. She said that people could not be Muslims without being circumcised. This caused a lot of consternation in the room as others said it was not required by Islam. The chair had to quiet people down and remind them that they had to show each other respect and let each other speak.

Towards the end, a woman (who had been in healthcare since the 70s but whose specialism I’ve forgotten) responded to comparisons with male circumcision by saying that we should ban both practices not because they are harmful, but because they are wrong. She also said that her father had been circumcised as a boy in the 1920s but did not have his sons circumcised because he believed that it did not have the benefits associated with it. She said it was dangerous to get into a discourse of “harm reduction” and that if a procedure was medicalised, doctors could do a lot more harm when a patient is anaesthetised than a cutter could. I find this argument unconvincing: the whole reason FGM is banned is not just because we do not like it but because it causes extreme pain and has the risks of infection, haemorrhage and long-term complications. The cosmetic improvements some people say it brings is not worth exposing a child to the pain and risk. Neither of these things is the case with circumcision; there have been a small number of accidents or complications and where it is known to be dangerous (e.g. in families with a history of haemophilia), it is not done. It has been linked to improved hygiene and reduced risk of spreading certain diseases, including HIV/AIDS, in some parts of the world. Even though it may have been abandoned in the UK, it is still common for American boys, regardless of their religion, to be circumcised (although it has declined somewhat).

No, it’s not — for most people — medically necessary. But that is not why we, Muslims, do it. We do it because it is Sunnah, because the Prophets since the time of Abraham (peace be upon him) have all had it done and then had it done to their sons, because it is a sign of the Believers. That may strike an atheist medic as a weak reason to carry on something that causes a bit of pain and carries a slight risk, but our logic is not always the same as theirs. And this is also why there is no justification for Muslims not to carry it on; just because you know people who have had a negative experience (with a related but different procedure), or you have yourself, does not mean your sons, if you have them, should not have it done. It is one of the things you do as a parent; they are not always pleasant, like disciplining them when they are naughty, making them go to school when they would rather play, or having them vaccinated. Many authorities in Islam regard it as compulsory unless there is a strong medical reason not to. We are told to “let the Sunnah go forth and do not let opinions get in its way” and this looks like a typical example of people doing just that. It should not matter to us what other people think.

The event, although it was a low-key event in a small lecture theatre, was a very useful event in counterweighting the hysterical and biased “single narrative” about FGM that predominates in our media. Many people do not realise that there is a difference between campaigning against FGM by persuading people to stop and criminalising communities associated with it or casting suspicion on everyone in a given ethnicity without proof, splitting families without good cause, preventing people from travelling for no reason. Many people are completely unaware that a grassroots effort to educate people about the dangers of FGM and the lack of any religious basis for it (which is important) has been underway for years and largely successful, to the extent that granddaughters of women who were subject to infibulation in the 1950s and 60s now reach their teens unaware it ever went on. Mainstream media anti-FGM campaigners do not want to hear this; they want to hear that changes are down to them, and they will only listen to those from the backgrounds affected by FGM who tell them what they want to hear and who reinforce the myths and prejudices they hold.

The issue of the poor standard of education young people receive about FGM in this country was new to me. The young women who spoke were often very angry about it. I was reminded of the feminist psychologist Jessica Eaton’s work on education about child sexual exploitation, in which videos were shown to children (also see here), some of whom had already suffered sexual abuse and were traumatised by seeing their experiences depicted in film, often with the message that they could somehow have prevented the situation. Children who refused to sit though them were deemed unco-operative; meanwhile, some professionals could not sit through them because they were upset or triggered (perhaps for the same reason as some of the children). Zaynab Nur told me personally that she was approached by a headteacher after some of her pupils walked out of an anti-FGM video that stigmatised them, but many would not be willing to listen to young people who challenge them — they are, after all, not willing to listen to adults who do either.

When Safeguarding Becomes Stigmatising, a report on the experiences of Somalis in Bristol with anti-FGM safeguarding policies, is to be released on 6th March in Bristol. You can register to attend free at EventBrite.

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