My feature for the National (UAE) was published recently. It goes behind the headlines about young men from the west signing up to fight in Syria, asking how big the numbers actually are, and what this means for the conflict, other countries in the region, and for Europe.
The war in Syria is first and foremost a civil conflict involving Syrian fighters. However, the presence of foreign fighters from Europe and elsewhere in the region has the power to influence the dynamics of the battlefield. “Even if the foreign fighters are still a quite small minority of the overall rebellion, as well as a minority of Assad’s forces, they often serve in particular areas and have local influence,” explains Aron Lund, the editor of the Carnegie Endowment’s website Syria in Crisis. “On the rebel side, the foreign fighters have very disproportionately joined the most extreme jihadist groups.
That has empowered these groups and contributed to the growth of Sunni Islamist radicalism in northern Syria in particular.
“Suicide attacks are very important to rebels in Syria,” he says. “They’re a weapon the regime has found it difficult to protect against, despite its vast technological advantage.”
You can read the full piece over at the National’s website, and the clipping is below.
The Ahmadiyya are one of Pakistan’s most persecuted communities. Legally classed as non-Muslims, this sect is subject to a whole range of persecutions. As such, many have left Pakistan in search of peace abroad. But sometimes, this discrimination continues. For the April issue of the New Internationalist, I spoke to members of the Ahmadi community in the UK and the US about global persecution.
In December 2013, two men visited a homeopathic clinic in Lahore, an eastern city in Pakistan. It was run by Masood Ahmad, a 72 year old British-Pakistani dual national. He had returned to his home country in 1982, and lived quietly, keeping to himself. The two men, posing as patients, questioned him about his faith. They used their mobile phones to secretly record him reading a verse from the Qur’an.
Soon afterwards, Ahmad was arrested on blasphemy charges. He is a member of the Ahmadiyya, a minority sect of Islam considered heretics in Pakistan. Declared non-Muslims in 1974 by the Pakistani government, they can be jailed for up to three years for “impersonating Muslims”. They are prohibited from publically quoting the Qur’an.
It’s not online yet, but I’ll post a link when it is. Meanwhile, the clipping is below, and my article on the Ahmadi community in Pakistan (written in the run up to last year’s election) is here.
Thought I’d share links to some of my recent work. Last week I wrote a piece for the New Statesman about the “I, too, and Oxford” and “I , too, am Cambridge” campaigns which highlighted racism at elite institutions.
Of course, whiteboards do not have the space for the full complexity of the arguments about racial insensitivity, about prejudice at elite institutions, or about where curiosity ends and offensiveness begins – and nor did the original campaign pretend to. But those whiteboards serve the important purpose of articulating the small instances – the mundane comments, not always intended to offend – that are difficult to confront in the moment, but add up to a painful whole.
You can read the full piece here.
I’ve also continued to blog regularly for the New Humanist, including this piece on Turkey’s Twitter ban, this on foreign fighters in Syria, and this on Burkina Faso’s “pleasure hospital”.
On Sunday 16th March I appeared on the BBC news channel’s paper review. I’ve also been on numerous Monocle radio shows, most recently this discussion of the day’s foreign news headlines (25 March).
I am a regular reviewer for the Oldie Review of Books. Here are a couple of my recent reviews. A selection of my previous reviews and interviews with authors, for the New Statesman, can be seen here.
On 10 March, I took part in a panel discussion about women’s rights in the Arab region at the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World festival. The festival takes place every year, and includes a massive range of events celebrating, discussing, and mobilising on issues affecting women and girls.
My event – with Dame Ann Leslie, Abir Awad, and Samar Samir Mezghanni – looked at the liberation experienced by women during the Arab Spring, and whether that was short lived. It was an interesting discussion (a few photographs of the event are here). It was a great festival to be a part of and, if you’ve never been, I thoroughly recommend attending next year.