Highlights of 2013

Lubna Lal, election candidate. Photograph: Samira Shackle

Lubna Lal, election candidate. Photograph: Samira Shackle

Since the year has drawn to a close (and I’m avoiding getting started on 2014), I thought I’d post links to some of the articles I most enjoyed working on in 2013. I had a brilliantly interesting year, in which I covered Pakistan’s first ever democratic transition in May, and lots of other great stories in both Pakistan and Britain.

1. Politicians of the third gender: the “shemale” candidates of Pakistan (New Statesman)

This year was the first time that Pakistan’s “hijra” community were eligible to vote and stand in elections. I traveled to different parts of the country to meet the trans women breaking down boundaries to stand as candidates. Quite apart from the political implications, it was a fascinating insight into the world of a marginalised community.

I wrote this piece as part of a series on Pakistan’s minorities in the run up to the election, also including this piece on the Hazara, and this on the Ahmadis.

2. Syria: my journey into a nightmare war (Guardian)

Much has been made of British men joining the fight in Syria. This coverage has mainly focused on the terror threat these men pose on their return, and on the luxury of the so-called “five star jihad”. In November, I had the opportunity to interview a young British Syrian who had a very different story to tell. Motivated not by radical Islam but by the desire to fight alongside his family, he returned traumatised and disillusioned. This is one of very, very few interviews with a British veteran of the Syrian conflict to appear in the press.

3. Saving Pakistan (Prospect)

Published near the beginning of the year, this long article for Prospect took a detailed look at the scope of militancy in Pakistan and different counter-terrorism programmes attempting to combat it. What I particularly enjoyed about researching this piece was discovering a whole world of innovative – and often, it seems, effective – programmes to tackle militancy, ranging from “deradicalisation centres” to programmes to teach mothers critical thinking so that they would be empowered to question their sons.

It’s behind a paywall at the Prospect site, but the PDF is published here.

4. Pakistan’s female election candidates have bags of confidence (Guardian)

This was another article written during the run up to the May election in Pakistan. It was an election that saw a record number of female candidates including, for the first time, some from the conservative tribal areas. I interviewed female politicians and looked at the role they played in the last parliament. What I loved about doing this piece was not only speaking to inspirational women fighting extraordinary odds to secure representation, but presenting a side of Pakistan which is not often seen in the western media.

5. Why would anyone believe in the “Islamophobia industry”? (New Statesman)

I was still living in Pakistan when the horrendous attack in Woolwich took place. I watched from afar as the images of the murderers were broadcast – and as far right groups like the EDL attempted to monopolise the incident for their own ends. After I moved back to London, I wrote this in-depth piece about the ensuing backlash against British Muslims, asking whether this is something that we, as a society, need to worry about.

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