Talking and writing

536929_10100984242009918_51119100_nOn Monday 16th December, I appeared on the BBC News Channel’s paper review, discussing the next day’s front pages with the broadcaster David Davies. I’ll be appearing regularly on the show, with my next appearance on 14th January.

During December, I also appeared on BBC Radio Five Live’s Richard Bacon show, discussing the week’s headlines, and on several shows on Monocle radio, discussing the Afghanistan-US security pact, among other topics.

I’ve written a few more blogs for the New Humanist, including this one on gender stereotyping in schools and the assumption that girls can’t do science, and this piece looking at the shifting definition of modern slavery.

Earlier in the month, following the death of Nelson Mandela, I wrote this piece for the New Statesman. It recounts my interview with Mandela’s right-hand man, Ahmed Kathrada, who served 26 years in prison with him in Robben Island. Here’s a short excerpt:

I met Ahmed Kathrada on a chilly autumn day in 2010. A book of Nelson Mandela’s personal papers, including transcripts of taped conversations and letters, was being released. Mandela, even then, was too unwell to travel to promote the book, so Kathrada – his closest friend and adviser – was doing the media rounds on his behalf.

About a decade younger than Mandela, Kathrada was in his 80s and needed assistance to walk. He told me that in the last few years, they had started to call each other “Madala”, or “old man”, a sign of their affection and mutual trust. There was good reason for this trust: they both stood in court at the high profile Rivonia Trial, and subsequently spent 26 years in jail together. After their long captivity and the end of apartheid, they stood in parliament together, too; while Mandela was president, Kathrada was a member of parliament for the African National Congress (ANC).

The MQM’s London base

A policeman walks through a street in Karachi (my own photo)
A policeman walks through a street in Karachi (my own photo)

I wrote a feature for Vice Magazine about Altaf Hussain, the leader of Pakistan’s MQM party, who runs his party by “remote control” from Edgware in north London. He is currently being investigated by the UK police after allegations of money laundering and inciting violence.

You can read the piece (which also features a couple of my photographs) over at the Vice website, and here’s the opening:

One day in December 2012, tens of thousands of people gathered in Karachi, Pakistan’s mega-city. The speaker was not on stage, instead addressing his rapt audience over the phone. The disembodied voice rang out through loud-speakers. “If your father won’t give us freedom – and just listen to this sentence carefully – then we will tear open your father’s abdomen. To get our freedom, we will not only tear it out of your father’s abdomen but yours as well.”

The crowd were supporters of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), a political party representing Mohajirs – the people who migrated from India to Pakistan at the time of Partition in 1947. The speaker was Altaf Hussain, the party’s founder, incongruously addressing the crowd from his house in the North London suburb of Edgware. Hussain commands fanatical support from around 4 million Mohajirs, all of whom desire increased rights for their ethnic group, and the MQM operates mainly on the force of his personality. As such, Hussain retains a tight grip, and has run his party remotely from London for more than 20 years.

Arab women’s double revolution

Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian-American writer and activist, emerged as one of the most prominent voices of the Arab Spring. In 2011 she was attacked by riot police in Cairo. They broke her hands and sexually assaulted her. When she spoke out about the attack, it made global headlines. Since then, she has continued her advocacy for Arab women, arguing that as well as the political revolution toppling dictators, a sexual and social revolution is required.

On Monday 2 December I appeared “in conversation” with Mona, at an event hosted by the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu). There are several videos of the event over at Caabu’s website. Here’s the first video:

Recent work

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

I thought I’d share some links to some of my recent work.

I’m still blogging regularly for the New Humanist. My recent posts include this one on breastfeeding and whether state-funded bribery is the best way to encourage it; this post on the shocking conditions for migrant labourers in Qatar and other Emirate states; this on the National Sex Survey and our continued failure to have a grown up public discussion of sex; and this blog on the disturbing report that budget cuts are pushing domestic violence services into a “state of crisis”.

I also recently wrote a piece for Index on Censorship about declining press freedom in Bangladesh, a country I’ve visited many times in the past:

Journalists in Bangladesh face a double threat: Violent retaliation from Islamist groups on the one hand, and official repression on the other.

I’ve appeared on numerous Monocle radio shows, including a discussion of the new head of the Pakistan army on 27 November (podcast here), and of the new Pakistan Taliban chief on 8 November (podcast here). I’ve also continued to blog regularly for Middle East Monitor on various issues affecting the Arab world.