3977I am so delighted to announce that I’ve won the inaugural Portobello Prize for narrative non-fiction, which was set up to “showcase the most exciting new voices in narrative non-fiction, offering debut writers an opportunity to seek out and publish an untold story that reflects our times.” I entered with a proposal for a book about Karachi, building on some long-form pieces I’ve already written. (This piece on an ambulance driver, and this piece on a crime reporter, among others). It will follow ordinary lives through a chaotic period in the city’s recent history.

The inaugural Portobello Prize has been awarded to “electrifying new voice” Samira Shackle for Karachi Vice, a “fresh and thrilling” non-fiction exploration of Pakistan’s largest city.

According to the judges, this “glimpse of a city largely misrepresented and misunderstood is told with a clear sense of urgency and with a personal connection. It will place human drama at the fore as it follows the lives of several citizens of Karachi”.

Read more over at the Bookseller’s website. I now have to actually write the book, which will probably be out at some point in 2020.

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4161In the years after Britain withdrew from Iraq, allegations of misconduct by British troops were coming thick and fast. In 2010, the government established the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat). This was an investigative body that was supposed to bring together all the allegations and deal with them quickly. Perhaps predictably, that was not what happened. The investigation spiralled out of control and closed in disgrace in 2017. In the process, the entire field of human rights law had been called into disrepute, while stories abounded of soldiers whose lives had been put on hold during protracted investigations.

For my latest report for the Guardian’s Long Read section, I spent months interviewing people involved at all stages of the process to piece together how it went so wrong. As Britain faces the possibility of investigation by the International Criminal Court, this could have far-reaching consequences.

The collapse of Ihat seems likely to mark the end of serious attempts to investigate alleged crimes by British soldiers in Iraq, leaving questions about the scale of abuses and accountability unanswered. After such a public failure, what politician would want to reopen the issue? Yet, behind the headlines of corrupt lawyers and incompetent investigators, the true story of Ihat is more complicated. Both military advocates and human rights defenders agree that the scandal around Ihat was at the very least, politically convenient for the Ministry of Defence. With human rights lawyers cast as the villains, the MoD could avoid uncomfortable questions about its own role in training soldiers in procedures that breached the Geneva conventions. “At times, the MoD has been tempted to throw the uniform under the bus,” says Johnny Mercer, a Conservative MP who was instrumental in Ihat’s closure.

You can read the full article over at the Guardian’s website and I’ll share a clipping soon.

 

580432c5406beI’ve written a few pieces about Pakistan in recent months.

Rising from the ashes: a new era in Pakistani cinema (emerge85)

I wrote this piece about Pakistani cinema’s “new wave” back in January. After a long lull – wracked by underfunding and a severe limitation of physical cinemas – Pakistani directors and writers are producing exciting and distinctive new movies. I also discussed the story on emerge85’s podcast.

Don’t be fooled by elections—the military is still in charge in Pakistan (Prospect)

On a less cheerful note, my column in the June issue of Prospect looks at the increasing limits on Pakistan’s democracy as the July election approaches and censorship of media outlets ramping up.

Under the watchful eye of the army (Index on Censorship)

For this report on the ongoing clampdown on free expression in Pakistan, I spoke with journalists who have been targeted by the establishment after criticising the military. The piece – in the Summer 2018 issue – is currently behind a paywall.

 

yazidiThe last few pieces drawn from the reporting I did  in the Middle East late last year are now out.

For the Spring issue of the World Policy Journal, I wrote about how Syrian women in Jordan are adjusting to life without men.

Studies show that at least a third of Syrian refugee households in Jordan are headed by women – meaning that, as in Sara’s case, there is no male provider. This is not unusual in war-time, given that men tend to enlist or be drafted. The number of female-headed households was thought to be even higher among displaced Iraqis during the first Gulf War . . .

Many of these women, hailing from traditional societies where men are the primary household earners, must work for the first time, even as they care for their children. As they deal with tough economic realities, many are also navigating bereavement, trauma, and loss.

The piece is no longer available for free online, but can be accessed here, and the first few pages of the clipping are below.

In the Spring issue of the New Humanist, I wrote a piece about the persecution of minorities in Iraq, and how their cause is being taken up by the far right in the west.

Dalu’s anger stems, in part, from a feeling that people overseas are not paying attention to the suffering of his community. But the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq has been exploited by international actors for many years, in ways that often exacerbate the problem. This raises serious ethical questions not just about assisting marginalised groups, but about the way these issues are discussed. In an era of increasing divisions and a worldwide narrative of a “clash of civilisations”, the situation of minorities in Iraq has been used to feed a dangerous discourse that does no favours to people like Dalu. How can outsiders support these groups without worsening the situation?

You can read the rest over at the New Humanist website.

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khazir

Khazir camp in Iraq

During my trip to Iraq in the autumn, I spent some time at the Kurdish-administered Khazir refugee camp, which mostly accommodates people who have fled Mosul. Among the many victims of ISIS are the families of fighters and low level officials, many of whom are now facing an uncertain future. The Iraqi state is doing little to pursue reconciliation, instead taking a harsh line and prosecuting everyone who had a role under ISIS occupation.

The question of who should take the blame, and to what extent, is grimly complicated. And one sharp question presses for the likes of Salem’s family: is there a way to achieve justice for the appalling individual misdeeds that took place during the IS era, without descending into chaos and collective punishment?

I interviewed the two widows of the same ISIS official, a man suspected of involvement by the authorities, and a young woman who had endured unimaginable cruelty at the hands of ISIS. The resulting piece is a lengthy feature in the February 2018 issue of Prospect. You can read the full piece over at Prospect, and a clipping is below. I also appeared on Prospect’s monthly Headspace podcast to discuss the report as well as some of the other excellent essays in the magazine.

4492I was absolutely delighted to be selected as a media fellow for a programme run by Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Social Difference. The programme, titled  Religion and the Global Reframing of Gender Violence, aims to question dominant narratives about gender based violence, with a particular focus on the Middle East and South Asia. Along with two other media fellows, I attended an academic conference in Jordan (a book containing all the papers should be out at some point this year), and then went on to do several weeks of reporting in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. My focus was on gender-specific issues in the refugee crisis; I’ve had a few pieces already out based on the reporting I did, with some longer articles in the works.

Yazidis in Iraq: ‘The genocide is ongoing’ (Al Jazeera)

ISIS’s crimes against the Yazidi community were an international sensation – but despite this attention, many in northern Iraq do not feel they are getting the support they desperately need. I interviewed Yazidis who are taking action to help their community.

Iraq after ISIL: ‘It was like a ghost town’ (Al Jazeera)

Telskof is a Christian village in Iraq’s Niniveh plain. It was occupied by ISIS – but now the militant group has been cleared out, and residents are moving back. I interviewed people there about the struggles of starting over.

The Refugee Whose Husband Sold Her Into Sex Slavery (Broadly)

Syrian refugee women are incredibly vulnerable to sexual exploitation due to their precarious economic position and uncertain immigration status. In Lebanon, I met one particularly brave woman, who has escaped forced prostitution and is now working to help others in the same situation.

Hairdressing, sewing, cooking – is this really how we’re going to empower women? (The Guardian)

Women’s empowerment has long been a development buzzword, but a narrow focus on getting women into low-paid work may be marginalising them further. I drew on material from Jordan and Iraq to examine the occasional failings of empowerment programmes.

 

 

hero-landscape-rexfeatures_yarlwoodAfter a spate of terrorist attacks in Europe, we are hearing a lot about early intervention work – particularly deradicalisation programmes. In the Autumn 2017 issue of the New Humanist, I wrote a long feature examining what exactly these programmes are and how they function around the world. You can read the full piece over at the New Humanist, and the clipping is below.

Yet the very terminology is disputed: what does radicalisation actually mean? By their nature, these schemes tend to be secretive, meaning little accountability on where they draw these boundaries. And if there no evidence that a crime has been committed, there is nothing to prosecute for. So how do deradicalisation programmes function, here and abroad? Should we be using them more? And do they work?

I’ve also written a few bits of analysis for The Pool:

The government is still subjecting vulnerable women to abuse at Yarl’s Wood

This piece looks at a new report, which raises more serious questions about the existence and treatment of women at the notorious detention centre.

Post-driving ban, what does feminism in Saudi Arabia look like?

I explored feminist activism in Saudi Arabia, and argued we should be careful to avoid applying Western feminist ideals to other cultures.

Theresa May’s race audit is useful – but only if the government acts on it

The news in the government’s race audit – that life is harder for minorities – shocked no one. What would be surprising is a clear strategy to tackle the inequality.

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