Recent talking

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 13.27.45On Friday 31st October, I appeared on BBC News Channel’s paper review, discussing the following day’s front pages. Oliver Brown of the Telegraph and I talked about Foreign Office travel warnings, the Virgin Galactica crash, and the government’s child sex abuse inquiry. A recording of the show is on iPlayer (available until the end of November).

I’ve also appeared on numerous Monocle 24 shows, including this one on 4th November, when I discussed various aspects of counter-terrorism policy with Raffaelo Pantucci of the Royal United Services Institute.

Recently, I’ve also taken part in various panel discussions, including a fringe event at the Labour Party conference in Manchester for the Foreign Policy Centre, discussing global peace-building.

Recent work

TV vans outside Park View school in Birmingham. (My own photo).
TV vans outside Park View school in Birmingham. (My own photo).

I wrote a piece for Deutsche Welle about the new counter-extremism guidance in schools that was introduced following the “Trojan Horse” scandal. You can read the full piece here.

The government’s new guidelines for “promoting British values” in schools are on top of the existing “Prevent violent extremism” program, which makes teaching about online safety and other elements of counter-extremism compulsory. There have been questions from head teachers, who say that the new guidelines have been rushed through without an adequate consultation period.

I’ve continued to blog regularly for the New Humanist, where I’m assistant editor, and for Middle East Monitor. I’ve also appeared on numerous Monocle 24 radio shows, including both general discussions of foreign policy, and analysis of ongoing political instability in Pakistan. On Thursday 4th September I appeared on BBC 5 Live’s Richard Bacon Show, discussing the top stories from social media that week.

Recent work

thumbThought 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).

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).

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.

Recent speaking

Earlier this week, I took part in a Google Hangout for the BBC’s World Have Your Say. I’ve appeared on their TV and radio shows before, but this was a new experience! The video, where I’m discussing the future of Pakistan with the BBC’s Lyse Doucet, and Pakistani journalists and bloggers including Bina Shah and Sana Saleem, is still available to watch here:

I’m a regular contributor to Monocle radio, and have appeared on a few shows recently. On 24th June, I discussed the big stories in Pakistan that week (podcast here), including the massacre of foreign tourists in Gilgit, and the charges against Musharraf. On 2nd July, I appeared on the Asia Show to explain the energy crisis and Nawaz Sharif’s plans to tackle it (podcast here).

Press freedom in Pakistan

Journalists in Islamabad protest in 2009.
Journalists in Islamabad protest in 2009.

I contributed a short segment to Monocle 24’s special package on World Press Freedom Day. The podcast is available here. I’m on from about 19 minutes in. Here’s the text of what I said:

It’s sometimes a surprise to outsiders quite how free and vibrant the media in Pakistan actually is.

The outgoing government has many faults, but it’s done a lot to further freedom of expression. Newspapers have played a significant role in uncovering corruption and acting as a check on power over the last decade.

Reporters critical of the government face less official interference today than they did before the return to civilian rule in 2008, but it’s not an entirely positive picture.

Last year, a United Nations report ranked Pakistan as the second most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Since 2000, more than 90 journalists have been killed– mostly Pakistanis.

Last year, I did some work with the national newspaper Dawn, and entering their offices in Karachi involved multiple metal detectors, bomb detectors, and bag searches, because the Taliban had directly threatened media groups over negative coverage.

This high risk of death leads to a degree of self-censorship. This year’s Human Rights Watch report said that “a climate of fear impeded media coverage of the state security forces and militant groups”. So while government corruption is freely reported on, the powerful military establishment remains largely untouched. Journalists know which areas they can push and which they can’t.

Foreign reporters are safer – and therefore freer – than local journalists, partly because we can afford to take more security measures. But most still proceed with a degree of caution on certain topics, like the ISI. However, we can be safe in the knowledge that the worst that’s likely to happen to us is a swift exit from the country, while local journalists have nowhere to escape to.