naz_shahOne of the most exciting campaigns in the general election in May was fought in Bradford West. Political outsider Naz Shah, standing for Labour, ousted George Galloway after a dramatic contest that descended into personal recriminations. As the dust settled from the election. I went to Bradford to interview Shah for the New Statesman.

Here’s the opening, and you can read the rest online here.

Naz Shah wept the first time she spoke in front of an audience. It was 1995 and she was a teenager, giving a talk to a group of students at Bradford College about the campaign to free her mother, Zoora Shah, who was serving a life sentence for murder. “I cried all the way through,” she said.

That harrowing experience of trying to secure her mother’s release helped prepare Shah for her entry into politics. On 7 May this year she ousted George Galloway and became the new Labour MP for Bradford West, the constituency where she grew up. Now 41, she had no background in politics, and secured the nomination in early March only after the local party’s first choice, Amina Ali, abruptly withdrew, citing family reasons. Although Galloway was favoured to retain the seat for the Respect Party, Shah won with a majority of 11,420 votes.

samira on naz shah final

jihadisThought I’d pull together a few links to things I’ve been writing recently.

New Statesman

What is it like to be a Somali refugee in Kenya?

This report drew on interviews I did in Nairobi last year with Somali refugees living through a government crackdown in Kenya.

Is teaching a counter-terrorism curriculum the best way to stop young people being radicalised?

A Muslim community organisation is launching a textbook that uses doctrine to argue against terrorism. Will it help?

Is the way the media reports Islamic State’s treatment of women making things worse?

Sexual violence in conflict is a complicated and multifaceted issue. It’s important we discuss it, but some of the coverage has bordered on prurient. I spoke to a women’s rights activist who has been on the ground.

Reading poetry written by jihadists could shed new light on extremism

There is a growing body of scholarship that explores the non-military activities of jihadist groups. I explored the arguments for why this matters. I appeared on BBC Scotland on 26 July to discuss this.

Deutsche Welle

UK’s Labour leadership race begins in earnest

As the nominations were finalised, I wrote a piece for Deutsche Welle explaining the issues at stake. (The issues seem rather different today, in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpectedly successful campaign!)

Britain looks to Greece as EU referendum looms

How will events in Greece impact the forthcoming British referendum? I spoke to experts to find out.

Does the British press have it in for Germany?

People in Germany feel they are being painted as the villains of Europe during the euro crisis. Are they right to be concerned?

UK pledges fences and deportations to tackle Calais crisis

I wrote about the British government’s hard line on refugees and migrants, and why this might not be the best approach.

Balloons go up to mark the opening of the Durham Free School in Gilesgate.

Balloons go up to mark the opening of the Durham Free School in Gilesgate.

One of the coalition’s flagship education policies was to establish free schools, which can be set up by anyone. The idea was to allow leadership and to encourage communities to address their own needs. But in practice, it hasn’t always worked out well.

In a piece for the New Humanist, I examined a specific type of free schools: those with a “religious ethos”. I visited Durham to report on the closure of a Christian-ethos school there.

The controversy in Durham feeds into two separate debates. The first is about the success or failure of the free schools programme. (The Labour Party has been highly critical, and made it a manifesto promise to overhaul the policy). The second is about the wider role of faith in education. The two issues are clearly linked. A recent report by the government’s Social Integration Commission warned that Britain’s education system is increasingly “segregated” along lines of social class, religion and race. It said that free schools have contributed to the fact that children increasingly spend their formative years in surroundings “dominated by a single faith group or community”, and advised that no further faith schools should be allowed to open unless the groups planning them can prove that pupils will mix with children from other backgrounds.

The rest of the piece is here and the clipping is below. (NB I’ve written on education policy before, notably in this article for the New Statesman about Hackney’s Mossbourne School).

free schools

IMG_6913I haven’t updated this site for a while. I’ve been working on some longer projects.

But I thought I would share some of the things I’ve been writing this year, as well as links to various places I’ve been talking.

Deutsche Welle

Freed from coalition, UK’s Cameron swings to the right 

This report looks at the new government’s agenda.

Dissatisfaction and anticipation in London as UK counts votes

For this election night report, I spoke to voters in the UK about their hopes and fears.

UK military trainers set to head for Ukraine

This story examines Britain’s role in Ukraine.

New Statesman

I’ve written some posts on foreign affairs for the New Statesman.

Islamic State faces a complex web of militant groups and violence in Pakistan

This piece looks at the threat of ISIS in Pakistan, where the group has claimed a few attacks. I wrote it after returning from a reporting trip to Karachi (more from that trip coming soon)

What is behind the resurgence of AAP, India’s radical anti-corruption party?

Following the Delhi election in March, I wrote this explainer about the Aam Aadmi Party.

New Humanist

I’m assistant editor at the New Humanist. My main job is commissioning and editing for the quarterly magazine, but I also write regularly for the magazine and website. Here are a couple of pieces I’ve written recently.

In western democracies, is reading a political act?

For the Spring issue of the magazine, I interviewed Azar Nafisi, Iranian academic and author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and a new book, the Republic of the Imagination.

Atheist bloggers are under attack in Bangladesh

Following the brutal murder of another atheist blogger in Bangladesh, I wrote this piece about the threats to freedom of speech in the country (a subject I’ve covered in the past for Index on Censorship.


I appear regularly on the BBC news channel’s Paper Review, most recently in April (see picture).

‘m also a regular guest on Monocle 24, appearing roughly once a week on shows discussing foreign news headlines. Some recent shows are podcasted here, here, and here.

460541208Here are a few links to some of the things I’ve worked on recently.

“People care about their own rights – it’s other people’s that are more challenging” (New Humanist)

I interviewed Shami Chakrabarti, the head of Liberty, for the Winter 2014 issue of the New Humanist, where I’m assistant editor.

In Pakistan, fear has become mundane – will the Peshawar attack change anything? (New Statesman)

In the aftermath of the horrendous attack on schoolchildren in Peshawar in December, I wrote this piece for the New Statesman looking at the impact of such terror attacks. I also appeared on Channel 5 News to discuss the incident.

Britain keeping close eye on PEGIDA (Deutsche Welle)

This report for the German broadcaster looks at the response in the UK to wide-scale anti-Muslim protests in Germany.


460545326Back in October, I travelled to Delhi. While I was there, I spoke to various women about how safe they feel in the city, and to activists about the long fight for change. It has been two years since the brutal gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus caused national and international outrage, prompted city-wide protests, and a series of legal changes. But did the incident have any lasting impact?

Sexual violence and violence against women is a global problem, and many of the issues that Indian campaigners describe are common to countries all over the world: a lack of funding for crisis centres and counselling, police refusing to record cases or making victims feel uncomfortable, a lack of female officers. “The police are generally very harsh,” says Dorothy Kamal, a rape counsellor for CSR. “People are afraid of them.” India’s police forces are chronically overstretched; and misogynistic social norms still dominate, for all the current public discussion. “Recognising the problem is positive, but when it comes to solutions, we are still grasping in the dark,” says Kumar.


You can read the rest of the article at the New Statesman website.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 13.27.45On Friday 31st October, I appeared on BBC News Channel’s paper review, discussing the following day’s front pages. Oliver Brown of the Telegraph and I talked about Foreign Office travel warnings, the Virgin Galactica crash, and the government’s child sex abuse inquiry. A recording of the show is on iPlayer (available until the end of November).

I’ve also appeared on numerous Monocle 24 shows, including this one on 4th November, when I discussed various aspects of counter-terrorism policy with Raffaelo Pantucci of the Royal United Services Institute.

Recently, I’ve also taken part in various panel discussions, including a fringe event at the Labour Party conference in Manchester for the Foreign Policy Centre, discussing global peace-building.


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