imageSo far this year, four atheist writers in Bangladesh have been brutally murdered, hacked to death on the streets. They are the latest victims in a line of violent attacks that have taken place over the last two years. In a long report for the New Humanist, where I am assistant editor, I attempted to take a closer look at these attacks: why is it happening, and what is the fall out for those left behind? I interviewed Rafida Bonya Ahmed, an American-Bangladeshi who survived the brutal machete attack that killed her husband Avijit Roy in February. I also spoke to Asif Mohiuddin, the first blogger to be attacked in this way in January 2013. He was subsequently arrested by the government. They told me of the horrendous personal cost they have paid, as well as discussing the double threat to atheists in Bangladesh – fundamentalist violence on the one hand, and official repression on the other. I also examined the historical factors contributing to the current rise in extremist violence in Bangladesh.

An abridged version of the article appeared in the Guardian in late August; you can read it online, or the clipping is below. The longer version (which contains a fuller explanation of the historical factors) is in the current issue of the New Humanist. I’l post the link and clipping when it’s online.

Bangladesh (1)

hero-landscape-women-children-migrant-crisis_the-jungle_rexTime to share some links to recent pieces from various corners of the internet.

One of the subjects I’ve recently been most interested in – along with many other journalists – is the terrible refugee crisis at Europe’s borders. I wrote this opinion essay for the New Statesman, asking how we reached a situation where we treat refugees so badly:

This is political and media environment which has habitually cast asylum seekers, refugees, migrants, not as people worthy of help – not as people at all – but as a threat to “our way of life”, to our scant resources, a “swarm” seeking to overwhelm our borders. It is not just the scale of the current crisis, but two decades of dysfunctional asylum policy that has left the UK (and other western countries) so poorly placed to respond.

I also wrote this report for new online women’s publication, The Pool, about women in the camps in Calais and the specific set of problems they face.

Everyone at Calais lives in dire conditions, but female migrants have a specific set of needs. Those who do not have access to the beds at the Jules Ferry Centre are sleeping in tents and, like the others camped there, do not have access to basic sanitation. Megan Saliu, a UK-based activist, set up the fund-raising campaign Supporting Sisters in Calais, to address some of these needs. “Our main concern is getting sanitary pads and basic toiletries out to the women, as well as nappies and wet wipes. But we are also taking useful supplies for men,” she says. “It’s a humanitarian crisis on our doorsteps. These people are stuck. They can’t go back.”

And I reported on the political response for the German outlet Deutsche Welle, where I’m an online correspondent.

The British government’s new immigration bill will introduce a package of measures designed to create a “hostile environment” for undocumented migrants. When it comes into effect in the autumn, the new bill will create the offense of illegal working , which will carry a six-month jail sentence and an unlimited fine. New powers will allow the authorities to temporarily shut down businesses suspected of employing illegal migrants. It also means that the trading licenses could be removed from takeaway shops, pubs and off-licenses, which consistently fail to comply with immigration rules.

I’m a new columnist for the International Business Times, kicking off with this piece on ethnic diversity in parliament, and this on the murders of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh (a topic I’ve covered in more depth elsewhere).

I’ve written numerous other reports on UK politics for Deutsche Welle. A full archive of my pieces can be found here. Some recent topics include the Labour Party conference; Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership race; the political crisis in Northern Ireland; arguments over abolishing the monarchy; and the case against Julian Assange.

gettyimages-167862943For a recent issue of the New Statesman magazine, I reviewed Jeremy Seabrook’s latest book, The Song of the Shirt, which looks at the Bangladeshi textiles industry. Here’s an excerpt, and the clipping is below. You can read the full piece over at the NS website.

In lyrical prose, Seabrook places the personal stories of garment workers and their families in a broader context, showing them as dots in a bigger picture of the destructive effects of British colonisation and the injustices of modern globalisation, but also as the inheritors of their history: a people who have long been associated with weaving, in a country at the mercy of the ­elements, where riverbanks break and ­water consumes whatever scant resources the poor have.

2015+35 books samira shackle

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.