Outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Photo my own.

Outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Photo my own.

I’ve been working on some longer projects recently, but thought I would share links to some other bits and pieces I’ve been publishing. In January I wrote this column for the International Business Times about the news that a woman was suing Twitter over ISIS propaganda following the death of her husband by an ISIS-affiliated militant. I also wrote this blog for the New Statesman following the terrorist attack on the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, looking at the difficulty of stamping out long-established militant networks.

I still write news and analysis on UK politics for Deutsche Welle. Recent pieces include this report on the case against radical preacher Anjem Choudary; this piece ahead of the results of the Litvinenko Inquiry; a report on David Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate the relationship with the EU; and this article on the media circus surrounding Julian Assange and the UN panel that agreed he is being arbitrarily detained in the Ecuadorean embassy.

we-went-to-an-english-class-for-muslims-body-image-1453391069-size_1000In January, David Cameron announced extra funding for English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes, to be targeted at Muslim women in order to counter extremism. It was quite a semantic leap to link women’s language skills with the wider problem of extremism, and was particularly odd given swingeing cuts to ESOL budgets in recent years. To get a fuller picture of the story, I went to an ESOL class in east London, mainly populated by, yes, Muslim women, and found that extremism is less of an issue than slashed budgets that make it harder for colleges to access vulnerable students. You can read the article over at Vice magazine.

In this classroom in Tower Hamlets College, the majority of the 14 students are Muslim women, and all are originally from Bangladesh: the demographic Cameron claims his new initiative will be aimed at. The threat of deportation, says Rebecca Durand, another teacher at the college, has really shaken students here. “We don’t want language-learning to be linked to any sort of threat,” she says. “That’s really frightened the people I’ve talked to in my class. People are motivated because they want to learn English.”

The following week, Ofsted announced that schools could be downgraded if students wore the face veil and it was found to be affecting learning. (Are you sensing a theme here?). In another article for Vice, I spoke to teachers about their views on this potential ban of face veils in schools.

shoaib

As 2016 gets going, I thought I’d share links to some of the pieces I most enjoyed working on last year. In no particular order, here’s my top 5:

1.Karachi vice (Guardian)

In my debut piece for the Guardian’s fantastic new long-reads section, I profiled a crime reporter in Karachi, often cited as one of the world’s most dangerous cities.

2. Naz Shah interview: “the victory is my mother’s, too” (New Statesman)

One of the stand-out stories of the May general election was the victory of Naz Shah, who defeated George Galloway in Bradford West. I went to Bradford to speak to Shah soon after the election and hear more about her extraordinary life story.

3. A deadly battle of ideas: murder in Bangladesh (New Humanist/Guardian)

In the cover story from the autumn New Humanist, I wrote about the spate of brutal murders of atheist writers, interviewing two survivors of these attacks and exploring the historical factors behind the violence. A shorter version of the piece also appeared in the Guardian.

4. Mohamed Soltan, the Egyptian activist who spent 400 days on hunger strike in prison (New Statesman)

Since the 2011 uprising, Egypt’s political system has gone through a series of convulsions, leaving many different groups of people vulnerable to state repression. I interviewed Mohamed Soltan, an Egyptian-American arrested in Cairo after protesting. He spoke graphically about the torture he endured, and discussed his current campaigning.

5. Reading poetry written by jihadists could shed new light on extremism (New Statesman)

As soon as I came across a collection of Taliban poetry in translation earlier this year, I was fascinated with the idea of hardened militants sitting around and composing verses. This online piece for the New Statesman discusses the growing body of scholarship around the non-violent activities of jihadists and what we can learn from it.

***

This is just a small selection of the work I did this year; if you scroll down, you can see a sample of my other reporting. I’ve got some really exciting projects coming up in 2016, which I’ll be sharing details of in due course. Happy new year!

 

peshawarAs the year draws to a close, here are a couple of pieces I’ve written recently. There’s this column for the International Business Times about Donald Trump’s absurd – but worrying – call to bar all Muslims from entering the US. I also wrote another column for the IB Times, this time looking at what has changed for women three years after the horrific Delhi bus rape.

I wrote a short piece for the New Statesman on the first anniversary of the Peshawar attack on 16 December 2014, when over 100 schoolchildren were slaughtered by Taliban gunmen

Analysts are urging the government to avoid complacency in the fight against militancy, pointing out that the military offensive must be matched by better policing and intelligence to eliminate networks across the country, and accompanied by longer term strategies to reduce the appeal of terrorist violence – such as improved education and regulation of the madrasa networks. As Peshawar grieves today, Pakistan is agreed that it has lost too many already.

And this is a couple of months old, but in late October, I interviewed Mohamed Soltan, an Egyptian-American man who spent 400 days on hunger strike in an Egyptian prison. You can read the full interview over at the New Statesman.

skyI recently appeared on Sky News’ Morning Stories segment, talking about the tampon tax. Why are sanitary items taxed as luxury items when all sorts of ludicrous things – edible cake decorations and exotic meats, to name just a few – are exempt? You can see my short rant over at the Sky News website.

poolI’ve got a column in the latest issue of the New Humanist (out now) following up on the long piece I wrote about attacks on secularists in Bangladesh. The column looks at rising intolerance across India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and at some of the historical reasons for this.

These tensions were enforced by colonisation and then by Partition; divisions encouraged to cement power. Occasional outbursts of horrific communal violence have punctuated the Subcontinent since it was carved up at the end of the British Empire. Indeed, India and Pakistan were born amidst bloody Hindu-Muslim riots in 1947 that left an estimated 1 million people dead.

I also wrote something for The Pool, looking at the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK in the aftermath of the horrendous terror attacks in Paris. My piece took as its starting point the Sun’s headline that one in five British Muslims has “sympathy with jihad” and focused particularly on violence against hijab-wearing Muslim women.

The Sun’s headline, bigoted as it is, does not exist in a vacuum. It is the natural product of a political and media culture that demonises British Muslims at every opportunity, creating the spectre of a terrifying “enemy within”. This has real consequences.

I’ve also continued to report on UK politics for Deutsche Welle, including this article on Britain’s relationship with India and China, and this on David Cameron’s plans for airstrikes on Syria. I regularly interview different people for the New Humanist, where I’m assistant editor. One recent example is this Q&A with David Wootton, the author of a new book on the history of science. And I wrote this article for Index on Censorship about the situation for atheist bloggers in Bangladesh.

feminist book

At the book launch in London.

I recently contributed a chapter to a new book, “I Call Myself a Feminist: the view from 25 women under 30”, published by Virago Press.

The book contains a brilliant range of voices and subject matters. As the Guardian says: “This collection of short essays by 25 women under 30 is like a primer in why feminism still matters coupled with a call to action.”

My own piece, “Roti Kamana: stories of survival”, describes a visit to the Acid Survivors’ Foundation in Islamabad.

You can get the book on Amazon here.

 

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