Allegations of an Islamist plot to take over schools in Birmingham, which surfaced earlier this year, caused a national outcry. The debate was intensely polarised, with the government sending in a former counterterrorism police officer to investigate, and local residents arguing that the schools simply reflected the faith of their primarily Muslim intake.
In the aftermath of the scandal, I went to Birmingham to speak with people involved about the impact this national scandal has had on the local community. i wrote a long report on the subject for the latest issue of the New Humanist, which is out now.
The sharp differences in narrative illustrate the polarised debate over Birmingham schools: one camp argues that these schools were indoctrinating children, while the other maintains they simply accommodated the cultural needs of their Muslim intake. What is the truth?
You can read the full piece over at the New Humanist 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.
On 22 September, a huge bomb attack at a church in Peshawar killed more than 80 people. It was the worst attack on Christians in Pakistan’s history. I wrote a piece for the Guardianabout the attack, giving some background about the persecution of Christians in the country:
It is these major incidents that make international news, but a low level of discrimination is a fact of life for many of Pakistan’s religious minorities. Christians make up around 1.6% of the population and number around 2.8 million. Generations ago, in pre-partition India, many were Hindus, subsequently converting from the very lowest caste (of dalit, once known as “untouchable”). Pakistan – a largely Muslim state – does not have a caste system, but its shadow can be seen in the treatment of Christians today.
On the same day, I wrote a piece for the New Humanist magazine, recalling my experiences of researching the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan (a subject I’ve done a lot of work on – notably with this featurefrom 2011).
In various interviews with Christians in different cities of Pakistan, I have been struck by the lack of anger. Most quietly accept their lot, aware that they lack the political clout to agitate for change. “We are very few in a big nation, so we try to stay out of trouble,” one young man, working as a domestic servant, told me in Karachi. “Politicians don’t give us any importance.”
I also appeared on the BBC World Service radio show World Have Your Say on 24 September, speaking about the attack in Peshawar, the siege of the Westgate mall in Nairobi, and whether there has been a rise in global terror.
In the run up to the general election, I wrote a series of reports for the New Statesman about different minority communities in Pakistan and how they were approaching the historic election. Some were standing as candidates for the first time; others were boycotting it altogether.
South Asia’s hijras occupy a strange space in sociey; accepted, but on the peripheraries. This year, for the first time ever, transgender women attempted to break out of their marginalised position by standing in the election. I interviewed the candidates. I’m particularly proud of this piece.