On 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.
I don’t usually write about (or even watch!) sports, so it was quite a departure for me to write a long feature about the history and current status of women’s football in the UK. It’s a fascinating story; during the First World War, women’s football was actually more popular than men’s, with tens of thousands of spectators turning out to watch big games. A Football Association ban on women using professional stadiums in the 1920s set the game back, and it is only now starting to professionalise. I spoke to players past and present, as well as other experts, to build up a picture of the women’s game.
While it is certainly true that women’s football lags far behind men’s in terms of prestige, funding, and commercialism, however, it is inaccurate to think – as many do – that it is a new sport. Women’s football first made a splash in England in 1895, when the Ladies’ Football Association was founded by women with links to the burgeoning suffragist movement. “There is no reason why football should not be played by women, and played well too, provided they dress rationally and relegate to limbo the straitjacket attire in which fashion delights to attire them,” Lady Florence Dixie, the head of the association, wrote in a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette in 1895. It was controversial to see women playing football, which meant that matches (there were two teams, “north” and “south”) were attended by several thousand people. But it wasn’t to last; the Ladies’ Football Association soon fell apart because of organisational issues.
You can read the full piece over at the New Statesman.
Much has been made of British citizens fighting in Syria and the problems they might pose on their return. (In November last year I wrote the first interview with a British veteran of the Syria conflict, for the Guardian). With high profile horror stories involving British jihadists, such as the videoed beheadings of British and American citizens, the emphasis in the UK has been on punitive measures: the stripping of passports, default criminalisation, and hefty jail sentences.
But what about people who may have joined ISIS or other militant groups, but haven’t been involved in active combat, haven’t committed any serious crimes, and want to reintegrate into society? I wrote an article for Al Jazeera looking at “soft” counter-terror programmes to exit people from extremist groups, which have been proven to be effective in other countries.
Some European countries, such as Denmark, are successfully running such programmes, whereby returnees from Syria and Iraq – who have not committed serious crimes abroad – are monitored, treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and given theological teaching and socioeconomic support. No such scheme is currently in place in the UK, but behind the scenes the Home Office is exploring softer measures to deal with the influx of war-experienced returnees.
You can read the full piece over at Al Jazeera.
On 19th September, Scotland voted against independence. It came after a long referendum campaign which prompted debate about the nature of devolution and the division of power in the UK. All in all, 1.6 million people voted in favour of independence, in a referendum that had record-breaking levels of turnout. The day after the vote, I wrote a quick piece for Deutsche Welle interviewing campaigners about their responses:
“What motivated many people in the yes camp was not simply blind nationalism, but the desire to break out on our own and build a progressive state in the model of some of the Scandinavian countries – unlimited by a Conservative English government we didn’t vote for,” said Stewart. “Now we will have to work with what we’ve got and see if Westminster delivers on the greater powers it promised.”
The rest of the piece is over at Deutsche Welle.
Ben Mulwa, one of the Westgate survivors I interviewed.
The attack on Kenya’s Westgate mall by Al-Shabab militants in September 2013 left 67 people dead. While I was in Kenya earlier this year, I interviewed two survivors of the siege on the mall. Their stories were published by Al Jazeera to mark one year since the attack.
One of the men fired into the security booth. A second gunman pointed his gun towards Mulwa and the security guard opposite him. A shot rang out and blood splattered. The guard had been shot in the head. He died instantly.
“The whole of that morning I had been playing with my daughter, who was 11 months old. All I remember is that I cried out – ‘God, why do you want me to leave my daughter?’ That’s when I heard the second gunshot. It was so loud. I wasn’t sure if I’d been shot or not,” he said.
Mulwa found himself lying flat on the ground. He closed his eyes and stayed very still. He heard the gunshots receding as the gunmen moved to another area.
The rest of the piece is here.
Earlier this year, I traveled to east Africa. One of the pieces I researched was for the National (UAE), looking at the return of Somalia’s huge global diaspora and the effect this is having on the economy and political stability of this fragile nation. I spoke to returnees about the dangers they face, as well as about the huge opportunities.
The long, messy conflict in Somalia – which saw warring tribes pitted against each other before Al Shabab came into the fray – means that infrastructure is practically non-existent. Just 10 per cent of Somalia’s roads are paved, while 95 per cent of the country’s 10 million inhabitants have no electricity. The surge in diaspora returns has triggered some instant, visible changes. Construction has restarted in Mogadishu; the colourful shopfronts are no longer just shelled-out facades, but functioning businesses. Hotels and restaurants are springing up. Solar-powered street lights have brought Mogadishu out of darkness. And many hope that the enlargement of the private sector will aid political stability. The government certainly wants to promote the image of an economic renaissance in Mogadishu, in order to attract international investment for desperately needed energy and transport projects.
You can read the full piece over at the National‘s website, and the clipping is below.
TV vans outside Park View school in Birmingham. (My own photo).
I wrote a piece for Deutsche Welle about the new counter-extremism guidance in schools that was introduced following the “Trojan Horse” scandal. You can read the full piece here.
The government’s new guidelines for “promoting British values” in schools are on top of the existing “Prevent violent extremism” program, which makes teaching about online safety and other elements of counter-extremism compulsory. There have been questions from head teachers, who say that the new guidelines have been rushed through without an adequate consultation period.
I’ve continued to blog regularly for the New Humanist, where I’m assistant editor, and for Middle East Monitor. I’ve also appeared on numerous Monocle 24 radio shows, including both general discussions of foreign policy, and analysis of ongoing political instability in Pakistan. On Thursday 4th September I appeared on BBC 5 Live’s Richard Bacon Show, discussing the top stories from social media that week.