Allegations of an Islamist plot to take over schools in Birmingham, which surfaced earlier this year, caused a national outcry. The debate was intensely polarised, with the government sending in a former counterterrorism police officer to investigate, and local residents arguing that the schools simply reflected the faith of their primarily Muslim intake.
In the aftermath of the scandal, I went to Birmingham to speak with people involved about the impact this national scandal has had on the local community. i wrote a long report on the subject for the latest issue of the New Humanist, which is out now.
The sharp differences in narrative illustrate the polarised debate over Birmingham schools: one camp argues that these schools were indoctrinating children, while the other maintains they simply accommodated the cultural needs of their Muslim intake. What is the truth?
You can read the full piece over at the New Humanist website, and the clipping is below.
On Saturday 16th August, the Norstream, a P&O Ferries commercial ship, arrived at Tilbury Docks in the British county of Essex. The ship, which had come from the Belgian village of Zeebrugge, was loaded up with 64 containers. Around 6am, dock-workers heard “banging and screaming” coming from one of the containers. It was opened. There were 35 people crammed inside. One man, in his 40s, had died on the journey. It turned out that the group – which included 13 children – was entirely made up of Sikhs fleeing from Afghanistan.
I wrote a piece for the German outlet Deutsche Welle about the case, explaining the background:
Currently, a European law known as the Dublin Regulation dictates that someone seeking refugee status must make their claim in the first country that they land in. This means that there is a disproportionate strain on countries on the southern and eastern borders of Europe; countries such as Greece, Italy, and Poland. Many of these countries have overstretched asylum systems and struggling economies; therefore, many migrants want to remain under the radar until they can reach Germany, Sweden, or Britain.
I also blogged on the story for the New Humanist:
The Independent points out that just 0.23 per cent of the British population is made up of asylum-seekers. The horrific plight of the 35 found at Tilbury should serve as a reminder that immigration policy is not simply a political hot potato over which to trade inflammatory rhetoric; seeking to make these policies more humane, to accommodate the world’s most vulnerable, is a matter of moral obligation.
One of the things I did while I was in Kenya was to interview female politicians from Somalia. These women are at the vanguard of women’s representation in the country – fighting death threats from terrorists as well as regressive cultural norms to raise their voices and push for women’s rights.
“I get threats, day in, day out,” says Fawzia Yusuf Adam. “Yes, it happens, but I am not afraid about what might happen tomorrow. I am busy with today.”
Adam is one of Somalia’s most senior female politicians. A former diplomat and long-time women’s rights activist, she became the country’s first ever female foreign minister and deputy prime minister in 2012. No longer in that post, she is now one of a small number of female members of parliament.
The threats she laughs off come from al-Shabab, the hardline rebel group. It has a two-fold vendetta against female politicians: It is waging war against all members of the Somali government, and its extreme reading of Islam prohibits any female participation in the public sphere.
You can read the rest of the piece over at Al Jazeera.
I recently travelled to Kenya, the east African hub which is swift losing its status as a safe haven in the region thanks to a heightened terror threat from neighbouring Somalia. I was researching several in-depth features which are forthcoming, but I also wrote this short blog for the New Statesman about the impact that the terror threat is having on tourism:
The beach was deserted. Not just typical low season – slightly quiet, as you’d expect – but truly not another soul in sight. White sand, strewn with seaweed, stretched as far as the eye could see. It was an instant, brutally visible, result of international terror alerts.
On 16 May, the British Foreign Office warned that there was a “high threat” of terrorist attacks on the Kenyan coast. Tour operators First Choice and Thomson Direct cancelled flights and evacuated 400 British tourists. The decision to evacuate was mainly due to insurance concerns but it was high profile and understandably caused panic among other holiday-goers. The US, Australia, and France also issued travel warnings about Kenya’s coast, particularly the area surrounding the coastal city of Mombasa. The hundreds of cancellations stretch all the way to October.
You can read the post at my New Statesman blog.
I appeared on the BBC news channel’s Paper review on Wednesday 11th June, along with deputy editor of the Daily Express, Michael Booker, and host Clive Myrie.
We discussed the crisis in Iraq, passport delays, and JK Rowling’s support of the “no” campaign in the Scottish independence referendum. The video (and a short write up) are available here.
On 8 June, Taliban gunmen stormed Karachi airport, killing scores of people before they were eventually fought off by security forces. I’ve lived in Karachi and have many friends and relatives there. I wrote this quick response to the attack for the New Statesman:
What does this say about the state of Karachi, and of Pakistan? Firstly, it should be noted that this coastal megalopolis is not just the biggest city in Pakistan, but one of the biggest in the world. Home to around 25 million people, it is the economic hub of Pakistan and one of the most important cities politically. It is mind-boggling that such an audacious attack should be possible in such a major airport in a major city. To their credit, security forces were fast on the scene, but how did it happen at all? This comes at a time when the conservative government is emphasising the need for peace talks with the Taliban. Once again, this incident raises the question that many outraged commentators have posed: what is there to discuss? And where do discussions begin when one party seeks the destruction of the state as its basic starting point?
I also discussed the attack on Monocle radio and LBC. You can read the rest over at my New Statesman blog. A version also appeared in the magazine:
Late last year, three journalists working for Al Jazeera in Cairo were arrested and charged with terrorism and smearing Egypt’s reputation. The three men – Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed – are still in jail. They are not alone: according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 2013 was the second worst year on record for journalists imprisoned. I co-wrote an article for Al Jazeera, marking World Press Freedom Day, looking at cases of journalists – across the world – jailed for doing their jobs.
“Imprisonment can be through the explicit criminalisation of free speech – through, for instance, defamation laws – or through other charges like spying or drug trafficking,” explains Melody Patry, advocacy officer at Index on Censorship.
One allegation used frequently by authoritarian regimes seeking to silence critical news coverage is that such reports are “anti-state”. Of the 211 imprisoned journalists logged by CPJ, 124 were held for “subversion and terrorism” – many more than for charges such as defamation or libel. In 45 cases, no charges were disclosed at all.
You can read the full article over at Al Jazeera.