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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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Shamima Begum: should she be allowed back?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 14 February, 2019 - 18:01
Photograph of Shamima Begum, a young South Asian woman wearing a black head-covering with a face veil which has been flipped up over her head.Shamima Begum, photographed by The Times

In this morning’s Times there is an interview with Shamima Begum, one of three girls from east London who ran away from their families to join ISIS, or at least live in ISIS territory (also known as ISIL, Da’esh, Islamic State Group and various other names) in 2015, who has fled along with her husband and is now in a Kurdish-run refugee camp in Syria. She was 15 years old when she left the UK; she is now 19 and pregnant and has lost two children to disease and malnutrition as the Iraqi, Syrian and Kurdish forces closed in on their former territory. The government have said they will not risk British soldiers’ lives to try to rescue British citizens who are trapped in Syria as a result of having deliberately joined ISIS and people who have previously gone out there and returned of their own volition have been jailed, both for joining and for participating in their propaganda. There is widespread sympathy for her from people who claim that she was 15 years old at the time and must have been ‘groomed’ into doing what she did, while others say she was old enough to know better, that she knowingly joined a terrorist army and “made her bed and should lie in it”.

<!—more—>Aside from claiming she must have been groomed or brainwashed, her sympathisers say that young White people who had got themselves involved in Christian cults are not prosecuted, including in cases such as the Branch Davidians. However, in that situation the children did not join as teenagers; they were brought up in the religion by parents who had in some cases been involved longer than David Koresh, the leader who provoked the siege, had. Nobody who left the camp in the period immediately before the fire was simply allowed to go free; parents and children were split up and the children taken into care and the parents often detained as material witnesses. Nobody who joined the Branch Davidians joined with the intention of fighting the government and would not have heard of them massacring civilians or taking slaves, because no such thing had been taking place. A more apt comparison would be with child soldiers in Africa (who are not white), who are rehabilitated into society rather than being imprisoned for years or killed. However, these were often taken from their homes by force at a much younger age than 15.

I am also not convinced by the claims about grooming, let alone brainwashing. This is a stock argument by anyone who wants to explain away a person’s actions if they committed them before age 16 or 18; it’s also common for people to use arguments relating to conditioning, brainwashing, “false consciousness” or similar to explain away people’s actions that they do not understand, even if they are adults (such as any group of ‘oppressed’ people failing to jump behind people purporting to ‘liberate’ them). The level of propaganda in the Muslim community in support of ISIS was not high; there were few Muslims who publicly supported ISIS and as for ISIS atrocities, there none of the culture of disbelief about Muslim involvement that followed 9/11. I was actually surprised by the volume of material condemning them from people who would have been equivocal about Al-Qa’ida ten years earlier. You had to really know where to look to get ‘groomed’ into supporting ISIS.

The age of criminal responsibility in this country is 10; in most of Europe it is slightly higher (in Belgium 18). True, the age of consent for sex is 16, but people are rarely prosecuted if the older person is only a couple of years older or is also underage. People get tried for serious crimes if they are between 10 and 18; if it is a minor offence, it is in juvenile court and if it is a serious one, such as involvement in terrorism, it is in a Crown Court with some modifications to take account of someone’s young age. The issue of grooming is taken into account but is not a total defence because it is recognised that young people do have some ability to make their own decisions and cannot blame anyone else if they choose to believe propaganda, or the claims of someone on an Internet chat room, and run away to join an outfit widely reported as having perpetrated war crimes. The age of both consent and responsibility in Islamic law, for most people, is puberty; this is why she was able to marry in Raqqa at age 15 and why, as a Muslim, I consider her decision to join them as her responsibility alone.

Some people are claiming she is unrepentant; others that she is a psychopath for saying that she was not fazed by seeing a human head in a bin because he may well have been a spy. However, in the interview she says that she now believes that they did not deserve to succeed because of their oppressions, including executing some foreign fighters on the pretext that they were spies, so clearly she has changed her views even if she does not regret going. If she was allowed to resettle in the UK, she would not be the first to be allowed to do so: in 1996 Britain allowed the former dictator of Sierra Leone, Valentine Strasser, into the UK to study, although he left after his fellow students found him out; we also allow British citizens who have served in the Israeli army or lived in illegal settlements to live freely here without asking if they were involved in human rights abuses or breaches of international law, or if they had imbibed any of the extremist attitudes from the army or the settler communities. People live in this country who would justify all sorts of things — Communists who would justify the invasion of Hungary (and numerous other atrocities), Assad supporters who spread his propaganda, Zionists who excuse Israeli oppression and abuse their victims. That isn’t a crime.

Ultimately, she has to live somewhere. Shiraz Maher posted a tweet thread that suggested that the foreign fighters (Muslims from many western countries among them) might be turned over to the custody of the Syrian or Iraqi governments, but we have to prepare for the possibility that they may simply be repatriated as they are not Syrian or Iraqi citizens and have no right to reside there; she may not have the citizenship of her parents’ or grandparents’ home country. We cannot imprison her indefinitely unless she has actually done something that merits it, such as commit a murder. There does not seem to be any evidence that she was personally involved in any atrocity; it was the men who did that and the women who served them and bore their children. That isn’t a crime either. I do not dispute that she should be punished according to the law for deliberately joining ISIS given what was known about it, but she will have to be allowed to walk the streets eventually.

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How effective will the ULEZ be?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 13 February, 2019 - 23:03
A map showing levels of nitrous oxide. They are high almost everywhere, particularly in central London, around Heathrow airport and along the North Circular Road and other major dual carriageways.London’s nitrous oxide levels today

This April a new low-emission zone, the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), will take effect in central London. This will mean that drivers or owners will have to pay a charge to drive a vehicle over a certain age into the area; the charge will apply to any diesel car, van, truck or bus with older than Euro 6 emission ratings (which started to be sold in early 2014) and any petrol car with older than Euro 4 ratings (which were the norm from early 2005 although they had been available since 2001). From 2021, the zone will expand to include the area bounded by the North and South Circular Roads, which is a much larger area, especially north of the river. Today, Labour councillor and assembly member Tom Copley published maps showing London’s air quality today and its predicted quality by 2025, which suggests that nitrous oxide levels in inner London will fall to levels currently only seen right on the edge of town (Euro 6, unlike previous revisions to European emissions criteria, is particularly concerned with filtering nitrous oxides). I am a bit sceptical.

Currently, London has a low emission zone (LEZ) which bars vans and trucks from entering most of Greater London unless they have an emission rating of Euro 4 or better; the vehicle can be driven in but the owner must pay a £200 charge per day. The upshot is that few companies anywhere near London still operate these trucks and, obviously, instruct drivers never to drive them into London and do not allocate them to London runs if they do. The new zones will have a £100 daily charge for trucks and a £12.50 charge for cars and vans. Clearly, this will mean very much fewer trucks with high nitrous oxide emissions being driven into inner London, although the price may well be worth it for operators of vans of up to 3.5T. However, the map suggests a very much reduced NOx emission level in outer parts of London, which I suggest is exaggerated.

This is for two reasons. First, the North Circular Road is a very good quality road, mostly dual carriageway and three lanes in each direction for most of its length, apart from some poor quality sections around Ealing, Golders Green and Wood Green where it has not been upgraded and there are currently no plans to do this. It remains a more direct route to use this road to get from east to west London than the M25 and the time saved is even greater if the M25 is also congested. In such circumstances, people may drive in as far as the North Circular as many of the roads in are fast dual carriageways (e.g. the A13 and A40) or motorways (such as the M11 and M1) and the distance to the M25 is often quite short, especially on the north side.

A map showing predicted nitrous oxide levels in 2025. Levels have fallen to about a third of today's, though central London and Heathrow airport still have higher levels than elsewhere.Predicted nitrous oxide (NOx) levels in London in 2025, after the ULEZ has expanded to the North & South Circular Roads

Second, the area bounded by the South Circular is very much smaller than that bounded by the North Circular; there is a very large area of what is generally considered as inner London such as Streatham, Tooting (Sadiq Khan’s old constituency) and Crystal Palace which lie away from the South Circular Road as well as the traditional old Surrey and Kent suburbs. Similarly, there are large tracts on the east and west sides of London which are outside the circular roads. The South Circular Road is a slow, very congested road that passes through several shopping areas (Sheen, Putney, Wandsworth, Catford) and has low bridges and other hazards. Unlike the North Circular Road, it was not built as a by-pass but is a series of local main roads that were renumbered and that explains the twists and turns, the numerous local names and the odd shape. Companies will still use older trucks to make deliveries in the outer areas as there is plenty of industry there, and as companies with both types of vehicles redeploy their vehicles to take account of the new charges, more older trucks will be used for outer-suburban deliveries while the newer ones are sent further into town, which may mitigate the reductions for a few years (over time, companies renew their fleets anyway, but smaller companies still using Euro 4 and 5 trucks will not want to trade them in for Euro 6 trucks as they have lower payloads and higher maintenance costs).

This is not to say the new rules are a bad thing, as Euro 6 has been around for a few years now, most manufacturers have produced a second generation of trucks which ironed out the reliability problems of the first, and early Euro 6 models have come down in price after coming off lease. But the benefits to those of us in the outer suburbs are rather overstated, in my opinion, as not all the traffic which thunders through every day is going to inner London, much less the central area; a lot of it stops and starts locally, and none of that will be affected by the new zone.

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Forty years for a mosque killer, when murderers of white victims get 75? | Emer O’Toole

The Guardian World news: Islam - 13 February, 2019 - 15:49

Canadian justice is rightly in the dock over inconsistencies involving the race or religion of victims

Two years ago Alexandre Bissonnette walked into a Quebec City mosque and opened fire on men at prayer, killing six, injuring 19 and ensuring that 17 children would grow up without their fathers. Known to Quebec feminist and refugee support groups as an internet troll, Bissonnette’s search history suggested he had been influenced by racist, misogynistic shooters such as Dylann Roof, Elliot Rodger and Marc Lépine. After the attack Bissonnette told a social worker he regretted not having killed more people.

In court, he pleaded guilty and expressed remorse. Last Friday, in an unusual judgment, Bissonnette was sentenced to life in prison, with 40 years before he is eligible for parole.

Related: Canada mosque mass murderer sentenced to life term

Related: 'Pure evil': Toronto serial killer given eight life sentences

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Books aren’t clutter and a cactus is just a plant

Indigo Jo Blogs - 11 February, 2019 - 21:42
Picture of Liz Hoggard, a white woman in early middle age with brown hair wearing a bright yellow pleated skirt and a black high-necked top with black leaf or flower motifs on it, with her arms folded in front of her, in front of a wall with paper showing flowers, animals and other images on a black background. Above her to the left is a portrait of her cradling a black cat, against the same wallpaper.

Today my social media was abuzz with people, mainly women, laughing uproariously at a picture sourced form the Daily Mail in which an “interiors therapist” with a background in feng shui, named Suzanne Roynon, gave advice to Liz Hoggard, a London-based arts writer whose columns have been published in the Guardian, the Independent and the Evening Standard as well as the Mail group, on how to make her flat less of a “man-repeller”. (The image was the one with the flat with Hoggard and Roynon with little bits of advice in patches around the picture.) Among other bits of advice were that a cactus was ‘unwelcoming’, that portraits of ‘single’ women (including one of herself cradling a cat, painted by a friend) gave the impression that she was quite content to be single, that she should not have too many books in her bedroom and few “gloomy titles”, and that a Buddha was a “sign of poverty and isolation”. She also declared one of her shelves to be ‘clutter’, which “increases irritability”, although it seems to be a shelf full of books to me.

My feeling about Roynon’s analysis was that it was too heavy on symbolism and on speculations about what a man might think about something, and too little of seeing things for what they are. To take the cactus: perhaps if someone has a prickly personality, someone might see a cactus in their house and be reminded of it. But if they don’t, it’s just a plant. She calls the women in the portraits on Hoggard’s wall “single women”, although there is no way of telling whether they are single or not; they are just pictures (or in some cases figures) of women (Roynon thinks she should hang pictures of couples instead of some of them). I’d have thought the cat symbolised contented singleness more than the women. She tells Hoggard to get rid of a piece of art she was given by a friend who is now no longer a friend because “every time you see it, it’s bringing you down subconsciously”. But it might be beautiful in itself, or she might be hoping to rekindle the friendship, or it might feel mean to get rid of something that the artist put a lot of effort into; there are all sorts of reasons. She tells her to get rid of a T-shirt with another woman’s face on it because “why would you wear another woman’s face?”. Well, maybe she bought it at a concert and the face belongs to the performer. You have something like that for a reason.

I have lots of books. My parents have lots of books. Anyone of intellect and culture who goes into someone else’s house expects to find books. I rarely read mine nowadays; I read very few novels, mostly non-fiction, and most of what I read is online or in magazines or newspapers rather than books. However, apart from some obsolete computer books (which are the most expensive books I’ve bought over the years) I would not dream of getting rid of them. Some of them I bought when at college and others because I had seen reviews or they were otherwise recommended to me. To simply throw them out just because someone deems them ‘clutter’ or thinks the subject matter ‘gloomy’ is to deprive oneself of the opportunity to learn something. And of course some books are gloomy; some things in life are. But really, someone reading books or listening to music of a gloomy nature is not that much of a turn-off as long as they do not force it down their partner’s throat. My mum likes Leonard Cohen and my dad can’t stand him, but he bought her one of his books early on in their relationship and they’ve not let it come between them all these years.

She is very confident in her knowledge of what men think or how they would react to a woman’s style or decor, but is often wide of the mark. She forgets that the thing most noticed by anyone who visits someone’s flat is the person who lives there. Unless the flat is particularly garish or otherwise weird, which this one is not, the visitor (especially a boyfriend or girlfriend) will have got some sense of the owner’s personality before they arrive. Liz Hoggard as seen in that picture is a nice-looking lady. She is well-dressed, feminine, colourful, has a pleasant expression on her face. Perhaps the pictures give her inspiration for her style, and adding Diego Rivera to one of Frida Kahlo would not really serve that purpose (and as for that boyfriend, what does it tell him?). It’s a single woman’s flat; it reflects the owner’s personality. If she were living with someone else, their flat or house would come to reflect both of their personalities over time.

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All schools should encourage respect and LGBT acceptance | Letters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 11 February, 2019 - 17:01
56 members or leaders of religion and belief groups, educationists, campaigners and school leaders warn the Department for Education against any dilution of LGBT advice in the independent school standards

As members or leaders of religion and belief groups, educationists, campaigners and school leaders, we are concerned by reports that the Department for Education is planning to dilute the advice it publishes on the independent school standards, to no longer stipulate that all independent schools must teach respect for LGBT people. This poses a significant safeguarding risk to LGBT young people, who are still subject to significant levels of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic bullying.

Research shows that 45% of LGBT pupils are subject to bullying because of their identity, and the majority hear discriminatory language in school. Challenging LGBT discrimination in school lessons and in everyday school life is fundamental to fostering equality at school and in wider society. This teaching should take place at both primary and secondary level, to stem the development of anti-LGBT prejudice and to support LGBT people in the school community.

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'I have never been abused' says detained Uighur Abdurehim Heyit – video

The Guardian World news: Islam - 11 February, 2019 - 05:51

'I am in good health and have never been abused,' Uighur musician Abdurehim Heyit says in a video message released by Chinese state media. The musician was rumoured to have died on the weekend which prompted Turkey to put out a statement condemning the mass detention of Uighurs in China's far-western region of Xinjiang. China then released a video message from Heyit saying he was in good health and in the custody of authorities after 'allegedly violating national laws'. His body language and choice of words seem to suggest he is under duress. Heyit was sentenced to eight years in prison for one of his songs

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Mail’s Corbyn exposé is pathetic

Indigo Jo Blogs - 10 February, 2019 - 22:14
 astonishing story of his two ex-wives that reveals the REAL Jeremy Corbyn".

Today, the Mail on Sunday devoted more than a dozen pages to a new ‘exposé’ of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, in a feature which declares him “unfit for office”, most of it culled from a new biography, Dangerous Hero by the investigative reporter Tom Bowen, to be published on 21st February. Labour’s press office have already dismissed the material in the Mail today as a “poorly researched and tawdry hatchet job … packed with obvious falsehoods and laughable claims: from events that never took place to invented conversations and elementary errors of fact” which reminded me of the saying of the actor Hugh Grant after he won a libel suit against various British newspapers including the Mail: that the “close friends” and “close sources” referred to in these exposés almost never exist.

In this case, though, the people quoted by name do exist. However, all the material I’ve read concentrates on his marriages in the 1970s and 80s and portrays him as a bit of a wet blanket, more interested in politics than his private life and a bit socially inept. It’s no secret that he is on his third wife and had affairs in the 1980s. So what? The ‘fact’ that he appeared uninterested in his first wife is presented as if it may be assumed that this was the cause of the relationship breaking down rather than the symptom; he may have just fallen out of love with her and used politics to give himself a bit of room. It’s also ironic that the same people who accuse him of basing his economic policies on a “magic money tree” also ridicule him for personal habits that are rather austere and frugal. His politics are also presented as if they could not have changed in 40 years; they say he was uninterested in visiting grand buildings in Vienna because they were ‘royal’; again, even assuming the claim is true, so what? That’s quite mild by European standards, compared to beheading or shooting them.

Very little of the Mail’s exposé is about his politics, at least his politics now. That’s perhaps because he has long been associated with withdrawing from the European Union and the EEC before it, even at times when it was Tory policy to remain in so that business could benefit and Britain could push it in a neoliberal direction. Frankly I can’t think of any policy more likely to cause chaos in this country than a no-deal Brexit, yet this is the direction in which this rudderless Tory government is dragging us. Whoever inherits that mess, especially if it’s held this coming May or June soon after we go over the edge, is likely to be blamed for the consequences especially if they were always suspected of wanting it. But clearly the Mail believes a general election is only months away, which explains why they are ‘frit’ (Lincolnshire slang for afraid, famous for having been used in the Commons by Thatcher in the 80s, and since then used whenever a loss of nerve, especially among the Tories, is perceived).

But really, does anyone care about the unflattering anecdotes about his personality or his love life? No. Theresa May has also been portrayed as a boring, lifeless character (remember her saying that her most outrageous act was running through a field of wheat) and Tony Blair was caricatured as too smooth and polished; the Americans passed over Hilary Clinton, a woman not known to have had any love interests beside her husband since she was at college, despite his infidelities, in favour of a reality TV star known for his vulgar misogyny. An engaging or media-friendly personality does not always translate into a connection with the public or with competence in office. Corbyn is going to have some tough questions to answer in the run-up to any general election (his fondness for nominally socialist dictators or autocrats, and that of some of his associates, among them) but there was really nothing in this apart from some stale old personal anecdotes and some amateur psychology to interpret them. Tories will vote Tory, of course, but if they are hoping to panic people into voting Tory, they will have to come up with something more relevant and more recent than any of this.

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Revealed: 17 Australian residents believed detained in China's Uighur crackdown

The Guardian World news: Islam - 10 February, 2019 - 17:00

Exclusive: Activists urge embassy to ‘tell us if they’re alive or dead’ amid claims of inaction by Canberra

Seventeen Australian residents are believed to be under house arrest, in prison or detained in China’s secretive “re-education” centres in Xinjiang, the Guardian can reveal.

The 17 cases – 15 Australian permanent residents and two on spouse visas – have been collected by Nurgul Sawut, an advocate for Uighurs in Australia, through interviews with their family members.

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

Tell us if they’re alive or dead

Related: 'A community in unbelievable pain': the terror and sorrow of Australia's Uighurs

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To the Mountains by Abdullah Anas and Tam Hussein – review

The Guardian World news: Islam - 10 February, 2019 - 09:00

Despite his partiality, Abdullah Anas offers some useful insights into al-Qaida’s roots

Where should we start if we are to tell the story of the violent Islamist extremism that still threatens us today? The question is an important one and its answer has significance that goes well beyond chronology.

Some commentators in the west, usually to the right of the political spectrum, will start in the 7th century AD with the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad or with the first texts of Islam. The implication is obvious: that there is something inherent in the Islamic faith that engenders or at least encourages violence.

He makes clear that the CIA had no role in directly training, funding or equipping this tiny force

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Two fundraisers: a well and a mosque

Indigo Jo Blogs - 9 February, 2019 - 23:42

This morning a British rapper, Blaine “Cadet” Johnson, from south London was killed in a car accident on the way to a show at Keele university in Staffordshire. He was 28. Some people I know are raising money to sink a well in his name (the location has not been decided yet; currently it is a case of “wherever needed” unless his family say he would have liked it to be in a particular place). This is a Muslim tradition called sadaqa jariya or “continuing charity” which the deceased benefits for in the Hereafter (yes, he was Muslim). The fundraising page can be found here.

A mosque on a corner, painted in a cream colour with green borders around the windows. To the right is a red-brick, low-rise housing block and a block of flats, approximately 8 storeys, can be found behind the red-brick building.

Also, one of my favourite London mosques is fundraising for a rebuild: the Old Kent Road mosque (run by the Nigerian Muslim community) has been running from a converted pub since the 1990s and has insufficient space for the people who attend, especially on Fridays, but now has planning permission for a brand new building and needs to raise funds. You can find their address, bank details and charity number as well as a donation button on their website (bank transfers should be made with the reference “rebuild”). We were told that there is a deadline for funds to be raised (I will find out what that is tomorrow, in sha Allah).

Image source: Derek Harper, via Geograph. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) licence, version 2.0.

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Why aren’t more young women feminists?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 8 February, 2019 - 23:57

Earlier this week I saw a piece on the BBC news website asking why more young women do not identify with feminism or as feminists. According to a 2018 YouGov poll, 34% of women in the UK identify as feminists, up from 27% in 2013; 56% of women in the same poll said there was still a need for feminism while 25% said there was no need. The poll results give a breakdown by age but does not break the male and female results down by age, only the total, but the greatest percentage of those considering themselves to be feminists was in the 18-24 age group (46%) and it was around a quarter for all other age ranges (25-49, 50-64 and 65+). The study did, however, find that much higher proportions of people believed in ideas traditionally associated with feminism, such as that men and women should be equal (around 80%). The researcher found that the association of feminism with stereotypes of lesbianism and lack of or opposition to femininity were a major factor in putting off young women from identifying as feminists.

What the article does not explore is what feminism actually is and how it has developed in the last couple of generations. There is a difference between generic, small-f ‘feminism’ which is identified with equality and rights and the like, and ideological, capital-F Feminism. It is possible to be a generic feminist without being an ideological Feminist but it is possible that many women associate the term with the ideological variety. These days there are two major strands of ideological Feminism: the type which styles itself intersectional feminism, which is concerned with how different types of oppression such as is associated with race, poverty and disability affect women above and beyond the difficulties women face in society, and mostly regards womanhood as stemming from gender identity as well as biology, and so-called Radical Feminism, which identifies women as a globally-oppressed, biologically-defined “sex class”. A major debate in feminism at present is the status of transgender people, particularly male to female transgender people; intersectional feminists support changes in the law to make the legal transition easier and often reject the notion that female biology is necessary to be a woman; radical feminists usually regard it as essential and regard trans women as men. Sometimes, they are vituperative and obsessive about this conviction. They refer to intersectional feminists as ‘liberal’ feminists when really this is an older form of feminism concerned with such things as economic equality and political representation. In their usage it is intended as a barb, along with terms like “fun feminism” and “choosy-choice feminism”. (Some American conservatives use the term “radical feminist” to mean a radical of any sort who is also a feminist of any sort; I have seen articles denouncing Betty Friedan as a radical feminist, when in fact she was an early liberal feminist who had been a Marxist in her youth.)

It is possible that many women, young or old, do not particularly identify with either of these ideologies or find them relevant to their lives. I suspect many have a simpler and more conservative view of gender and of what makes a woman (or a man) than either of them posit: they might not accept that mere identity is enough but would accept someone who was post-operative and no longer had male reproductive organs as a woman, for example. Radical feminists have often treated the customs of femininity as oppressive in themselves (such as in Sheila Jeffreys’ book Gender Hurts, which among other things detail the harms and inconveniences of the female beauty regime); many (though not all) regard these practices as a form of self-expression and most are not required to go to the same extremes detailed in books like Gender Hurts. Having a wider range of ways to express one’s personality in one’s clothing is not a good example of oppression, even if the available clothing changes every few months and entire types of clothes are periodically unavailable. People who have a strong identity with their sex and the gender associated with it are unlikely to identify with an ideology which is strongly associated with rejection of or indifference to it.

That the poll reveals that more people believe in the principle of gender equality than in feminism as such demonstrates that ideas that would have marked someone out as a feminist a generation or two ago would not mark them out at all now. In many parts of the Western world, the battle of ideas has been won; indeed, gender equality has come to be seen as a Western value. The law is generally on the side of women and there are strong anti-discrimination laws in most western countries, even if they have been watered down or are expensive to pursue (e.g. with punitive fees for employment tribunals, as were introduced under the Coalition government although later struck down in court). In the past, there were “low-hanging fruit”, obvious legislative changes that a broad women’s movement campaigned for, but today ensuring that women are not discriminated against is the work of specialists such as lawyers. There are many feminist activists who do valuable work in challenging rape myths or inequality in healthcare, but while these things affect many, if not most, women at some point in their lives, they do not restrict most women’s whole lives.

Finally, to motivate a large group of people to form a mass movement or associate with it, their situation has to be actually bad, not merely less good than it should or could be. Ideological feminists talk of oppression, but they use it in a technical sense to describe a situation which would be better described as general disadvantage; the word oppression connotes suffering. Activists will deal with the women who are suffering, but very many are not: they are well cared-for as children, they receive a rounded education, they are told they can do what they want with their lives if they work for it, they have the freedom to choose their partners or not to have one. Of course, this better describes middle-class women in a Western society but this is a large cohort which cannot really be described as oppressed or suffering. Feminists may look for psychological explanations or stereotypes for why few young women will call themselves feminists nowadays, but the real reason may be because they do not see a need for a generalised feminist movement. Life for them is just not that bad.

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Yes, the severely autistic do need a voice, but …

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 February, 2019 - 23:56
Aerial view of a large Victorian hospital with three courtyards set in fields with banks of trees on the right.Cheadle Royal hospital in Cheshire, England, a hospital run by the Priory Group which has been implicated in the deaths and mistreatment of multiple patients, including some with autism.

Recently a new organisation has been set up in the USA, the National Council on Severe Autism, based in California and run by a combination of parents and academics, a combination which has attracted a lot of criticism as there is not a single person with autism in any form on the board; all but one of the board are parents and/or guardians of someone with severe autism and one is a professor of psychiatry and paediatrics. Critics such as Shannon Des Roches Rosa say that the group’s policies strip autistic people of their autonomy and advocate for parents or guardians to make decisions for them; she takes offence at the “horror stories” the NCSA circulates about parenting autistic children and says they are not “advocating for acceptance or understanding”.

It’s curious that the debate there is so different from the situation here, where parents are fighting to be recognised as their children’s voice in opposition to clinical staff, local authority bureaucrats and charities dependant on local government and NHS contracts. A campaign group to champion the interests of people with autism and learning disabilities is sorely needed because the groups which pose as the “voice of learning disability” or similar are often complicit in their incarceration and abuse. What many parents want is for their children to have as much independence as they can handle, have ready access to their parents, have carers who are well-trained and attuned to their needs, and not be subject to needless medication, restraint or restriction on their liberty. For want of suitable non-restrictive accommodation and care in their local communities, or support to live at home, and sometimes because of hard-set ideas on the part of these clinicians and bureaucrats, autistic people have been detained in mental health units for periods of years, which sometimes are hundreds of miles from home, and subject to the whims of clinicians and bureaucrats who often have no understanding of autism.

This has also happened to young people who have less severe manifestations of autism who have suffered mental health crises, often as the result of bullying or a school culture which does not understand their needs. There needs to be an organisation to fight for the rights of people who are autistic to both autonomy, as much as possible, as well as support and freedom from abuse. There is a role in this for both people on the spectrum as well as parents fighting for their children, but not for parents and others who prefer to overshare the intimate details of their children’s condition or stereotype them with lurid stories of the most extreme behaviour they can sometimes display.

Image source: Mike Pennington, via Wikipedia. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) 2.0 licence.

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Should we cut ties with Saudi Arabia?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 6 February, 2019 - 23:27
 6%. Two people, one definitely male and one probably female, are facing each other talking in the foreground.The result of the debate. Source: Mehdi Hasan, Twitter.

Yesterday there was a debate at Intelligence Squared in London on whether the West should cut ties with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia because of its use of torture and such crimes as the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their consulate in Turkey. I could not justify the cost of a ticket (£30) but Hafsah Dabiri shared a couple of clips on her Instagram; they showed Mehdi Hasan talking about a young woman jailed for driving her car before the ban on women driving was lifted, then fleeing to the UAE after being release and then being kidnapped and taken back to Saudi Arabia and being imprisoned again. Other speakers included Crispin Blunt who said that Britain has levers of influence in Saudi Arabia and that cutting ties would be harmful to the cause of political reform and to regional stability, increasing the power of Russia and China, and Mamoun Fandy who said that Saudi Arabia was important to the world’s one billion Muslims and “to regional stability and order” and that cutting ties with Cuba did not work and neither will this. As the image shows, the motion was passed with 63% in favour.

As a Muslim I would really dispute that Saudi Arabia was important to Muslims. It is the home of the two holy cities, yes, but the regime does not originate in those cities but in the Najd, the central region which has never produced scholars of any note but has produced a number of schismatic movements throughout the history of Islam, from the false prophets and Kharijites of the early period to the Wahhabis of today. They are notorious for using their petro-dollars to influence Muslim affairs in other countries including supporting the Wahhabi “Salafi da’wah” which is popular with certain communities around the world, including many converts in the UK and USA. Under the current leadership, it is of even lesser importance as it returns to the repression of the King Fahd era without the religious piety.

I do not support cutting off relations with Saudi Arabia entirely; there are too many British and other western citizens living there for one reason or another and thousands perform the Hajj (pilgrimage) every year. However, we really must not treat the regime as a normal nation which has the rule of law and which respects the norms of civilised behaviour. We should not trust intelligence from them, especially about named individuals known to be dissidents as it is likely to be either ideologically biased or tainted with torture. We should restrict their diplomatic activity, and not allow them to assign diplomatic immunity to Saudis living here who are involved with religious foundations (e.g. the Regent’s Park mosque) or anything not strictly diplomatic. We should not honour such conventions as seizing passports they “report missing” (a trick governments use to stop their citizens travelling freely if they are out of favour with the regime).

I don’t really expect the UK to take an ethical foreign policy right now, especially since it is alienating its closest friends with its Brexit policy. However, under both Labour and Tory governments it has been too quick to cosy up to foreign governments whether they are legitimate or not, democratic or not, whether they are repressive or not or whether their legal systems have any semblance of efficiency or not (important when extraditing a British child involved in a custody dispute or a citizen accused of a crime). The government has, for example, confiscated Syrian passports held by dissidents on the demand of the Assad regime even when they lacked control over most of the country and had never held free and fair elections. There is a saying that if you sup with the Devil you had better use a long spoon, yet our government deals with these sorts of rulers as if it were an honour rather than a matter of necessity.

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Independent Review of Prevent – An Opportunity To Raise Concerns

Inayat's Corner - 6 February, 2019 - 19:19

Almost a year ago, I wrote a short blog looking back at 15 years of the Prevent anti-radicalisation strategy and raised some concerns that UK Muslims had about Prevent and said that “the government and authorities should be seen to be engaging with those concerns [of UK Muslims] seriously with a view to improving the effectiveness of the Prevent strategy.”

Last month, in welcome news, the government announced an independent review of Prevent. We have all heard appalling stories about alleged Prevent-related interventions but on closer inspection, I have personally found that quite a few of these stories have been presented in a less than balanced way with important contextual and relevant information often missing. So, let’s be grown up about this. As I stated in my earlier blog:

“Let’s be frank about what a referral to Prevent actually means. It means that your case – if it is deemed to be a cause for concern – will be assessed by a panel which will include local police officials and local authority figures and they will discuss whether your case may benefit from intervention in the form of mentoring etc that might perhaps be useful to you. It is hardly waterboarding, right?”

So, this review should be seen as an opportunity for UK Muslim groups that have been critical of Prevent to come forward with their case and provide recommendations for what can be done to improve matters. And for their part, the government needs to ensure that the review is indeed really independent. The MCB’s Secretary-General, Harun Khan, raised a valid point and will have spoken for many when he said:

“We welcome the government’s support for a review. However, those tasked with its implementation must have the independence, credibility and trust required to deliver it.”

In my experience, the Prevent brand was unfortunately badly tainted by the then Labour government’s decision back in 2008/9 to cut off relations with large community led groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain while funding (and promoting) new outfits such as the Quilliam Foundation which were widely disliked by UK Muslims because of their leadership’s support for the illegal war against Iraq and their attempts to whitewash the dispossession and terrorisation of the Palestinians by the Israelis.

In addition, a number of new Muslim outfits that emerged around this time under the Home Office/Prevent umbrella and claimed to be “independent” but were to UK Muslims evidently anything but independent.

Having said this, the government obviously must have a counter-radicalisation strategy. Bearing in mind that the government has strategies to tackle knife crime, gun crime and drugs, it would be clearly untenable if it did not also have a strategy to try and prevent people, be they Muslim or non-Muslims, from being drawn towards violent extremism.

I have heard some pretty unconvincing arguments against Prevent. One of the most common arguments that is repeated online is that a disproportionate number of those referred by Prevent to the Channel programme (which seeks to provide mentoring and support for vulnerable individuals) are Muslim. For example, the Guardian reported last month that:

“The Home Office said that since 2012 more than 1,200 people had been supported by Channel, a mentoring programme that is part of the Prevent strategy. Of the 394 people who received Channel support in 2017/18, 179 (45%) had been referred for concerns related to Islamist extremism and 174 (44%) for concerns related to right wing extremism.”

As Muslims currently constitute between 3-4% of the UK population, these critics say that it is a clear example of discrimination that 45% of those referred to Channel are Muslim. But is it really? If a significant part of the current domestic terror threat to the UK is from al-Qa’ida or ISIS-inspired terrorism – as it clearly is – then the laws of mathematics make it rather likely that a significant percentage of those referred by Prevent for possible mentoring will be UK Muslims. To argue that this constitutes discrimination is a bit like claiming that Christmas discriminates against turkeys or Qurbaani against sheep.

I very much hope that UK Muslim groups will actively contribute to the independent review and put forward their concerns about Prevent. By helping make Prevent more effective they will be contributing to the safeguarding of our country and its people. And there can be few better ways to demonstrate the genuine teachings of Islam in action than by cooperating with others to safeguard innocent lives.

Hope on racial prejudice, despite the Liam Neeson claims | Letters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 February, 2019 - 18:11
Readers respond to the controversial comments made by the actor

I agree wholeheartedly with every word Gary Younge has used to so eloquently express his views on the Liam Neeson confession (Journal, 6 February). However, he should not despair. Things are slowly changing, and I’m sure fewer people today are harbouring abominable secret thoughts of the kind Mr Neeson owned up to.

I speak from experience. Two years ago a man followed my daughter off a late night bus and attempted to rape her, and then ferociously attacked her with a large knife. She very nearly died from her multiple stab wounds.

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