Recent writing

bahria town
Bahria Town Karachi

In 2019, I broke my foot and wrote a book – which is one way of saying that the year has passed in a bit of a blur. Here are links to some shorter bits of reporting and opinion writing that I didn’t get the chance to share here earlier.

This is just a selection – if you’re interested, you can see all my pieces for Al Jazeera English here, and all my pieces for the Guardian here

Historical war crimes: an amnesty for British soldiers? (Guardian)

In May, as government investigations into British soldiers hit the headlines again, I went on the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast to talk about my 2018 investigation into the Iraq Historic Allegations Team.

British schools should teach migration and empire: Runnymede (Al Jazeera English)

This news feature focuses on calls to amend the British school curriculum so that empire and migration are taught to all students.

‘Inspired by Central Park’: the new city for a million outside Karachi (Guardian)

This feature for Guardian Cities drew on material from my forthcoming book, about the massive Bahria Town development at the outskirts of Karachi, and the devastating impact on local villagers.

Young Palestinian musicians challenge ‘system of oppression’ (Al Jazeera English)

I loved writing this piece for AJE about the Palestine Youth Orchestra, as its European tour got underway.

Roma Holocaust: Amid rising hate, ‘forgotten’ victims remembered (Al Jazeera English)

Pegged to an exhibition in London, this piece looked at the heavy toll borne by Europe’s Roma community during the Holocaust – and the ongoing implications of this hatred.

The first Pakistani Nobel laureate few have heard of (Al Jazeera English)

Scientist Abdus Salam has been largely ignored in Pakistan because he was an Ahmadi Muslim. I wrote about a new film aiming to restore his legacy.

It’s shameful that Johnson has reneged on the inquiry into Tory Islamophobia (Guardian)

Written soon after December’s general election, this comment piece looks at the devastating and pervasive impact of Islamophobia.

Reframing gender violence

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.

 

 

Tumultuous Britain

website ukEver since the Brexit referendum result last year, Britain has been in a prolonged period of political crisis and upheaval – which, with the shock election result, shows no signs of abating.

I’ve been reporting on British politics for various outlets. I still cover the UK for Deutsche Welle online, and reported throughout the election cycle, including this on Theresa May’s motivation for calling an election, this on the local level campaigning in marginal seats, this on May’s attempt to conjure a cult of personality (before her popularity ratings plunged dramatically), and this on how it all backfired.

I also wrote a long feature for Al Jazeera looking at the history of the Labour party, its equally long history of internal division, and comparisons between the 2017 and 1983 manifestos:

For its first 100 years, Labour’s spells in national government were sporadic. But its dominance of the British left was near total. Since the 1920s, there hasn’t been any serious threat to Labour as the dominant progressive political organisation. From the outset, it incorporated many views. “Labour has to be a broad church if people on the far left want to have any chance of electoral success and if people in the centre want to be able to vote for an alternative to the Conservatives,” says Charlotte Riley, a history lecturer at the University of Southampton.

Just a couple of weeks after the election marked a year anniversary since the referendum. I wrote this for Deutsche Welle on how British people feel a year on, and this for Al Jazeera gathering expert comment on what has already changed.

The last month has also been marked by tragedy. I wrote this for Deutsche Welle about the Grenfell Tower disaster, and this about Britain’s poor infrastructure. In the aftermath of the Finsbury Park attack, I also wrote a piece for The Pool about Islamophobia in the UK.

Finsbury Park is a multicultural area, bustling and busy. Ethiopian cafes sit next to tapas bars and Arsenal-supporters’ pubs. Narges Ali, a 31-year-old doctor, grew up in the area. “I was so shocked to see the news about the attack. It was so close to home – literally and metaphorically, because Finsbury Park signifies what I love about London,” she says.

 

“Deradicalisation” in Britain?

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 15.49.58Much has been made of British citizens fighting in Syria and the problems they might pose on their return. (In November last year I wrote the first interview with a British veteran of the Syria conflict, for the Guardian). With high profile horror stories involving British jihadists, such as the videoed beheadings of British and American citizens, the emphasis in the UK has been on punitive measures: the stripping of passports, default criminalisation, and hefty jail sentences.

But what about people who may have joined ISIS or other militant groups, but haven’t been involved in active combat, haven’t committed any serious crimes, and want to reintegrate into society? I wrote an article for Al Jazeera looking at “soft” counter-terror programmes to exit people from extremist groups, which have been proven to be effective in other countries.

Some European countries, such as Denmark, are successfully running such programmes, whereby returnees from Syria and Iraq – who have not committed serious crimes abroad – are monitored, treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and given theological teaching and socioeconomic support. No such scheme is currently in place in the UK, but behind the scenes the Home Office is exploring softer measures to deal with the influx of war-experienced returnees.

You can read the full piece over at Al Jazeera.

 

Kenya’s Westgate survivors

Ben Mulwa, one of the Westgate survivors I interviewed.
Ben Mulwa, one of the Westgate survivors I interviewed.

The attack on Kenya’s Westgate mall by Al-Shabab militants in September 2013 left 67 people dead. While I was in Kenya earlier this year, I interviewed two survivors of the siege on the mall. Their stories were published by Al Jazeera to mark one year since the attack.

One of the men fired into the security booth. A second gunman pointed his gun towards Mulwa and the security guard opposite him. A shot rang out and blood splattered. The guard had been shot in the head. He died instantly.

“The whole of that morning I had been playing with my daughter, who was 11 months old. All I remember is that I cried out – ‘God, why do you want me to leave my daughter?’ That’s when I heard the second gunshot. It was so loud. I wasn’t sure if I’d been shot or not,” he said.

Mulwa found himself lying flat on the ground. He closed his eyes and stayed very still. He heard the gunshots receding as the gunmen moved to another area.

The rest of the piece is here.

Somalia’s women politicians

Fawsia Adam
Fawsia Adam

One of the things I did while I was in Kenya was to interview female politicians from Somalia. These women are at the vanguard of women’s representation in the country – fighting death threats from terrorists as well as regressive cultural norms to raise their voices and push for women’s rights.

“I get threats, day in, day out,” says Fawzia Yusuf Adam. “Yes, it happens, but I am not afraid about what might happen tomorrow. I am busy with today.”

Adam is one of Somalia’s most senior female politicians. A former diplomat and long-time women’s rights activist, she became the country’s first ever female foreign minister and deputy prime minister in 2012. No longer in that post, she is now one of a small number of female members of parliament.

The threats she laughs off come from al-Shabab, the hardline rebel group. It has a two-fold vendetta against female politicians: It is waging war against all members of the Somali government, and its extreme reading of Islam prohibits any female participation in the public sphere.

You can read the rest of the piece over at Al Jazeera.

 

Jailed journalists

20144622167186734_20Late last year, three journalists working for Al Jazeera in Cairo were arrested and charged with terrorism and smearing Egypt’s reputation. The three men – Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed – are still in jail. They are not alone: according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 2013 was the second worst year on record for journalists imprisoned. I co-wrote an article for Al Jazeera, marking World Press Freedom Day, looking at cases of journalists – across the world – jailed for doing their jobs.

“Imprisonment can be through the explicit criminalisation of free speech – through, for instance, defamation laws – or through other charges like spying or drug trafficking,” explains Melody Patry, advocacy officer at Index on Censorship.

One allegation used frequently by authoritarian regimes seeking to silence critical news coverage is that such reports are “anti-state”. Of the 211 imprisoned journalists logged by CPJ, 124 were held for “subversion and terrorism” – many more than for charges such as defamation or libel. In 45 cases, no charges were disclosed at all.

You can read the full article over at Al Jazeera.