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).

War in the Central African Republic

1402-20-23-Shackle0002The war in the Central African Republic is a complicated conflict that has dragged on for months; it’s also just the latest outbreak of violence in this troubled country.

I’ve written a long feature for the Spring edition of the New Humanist magazine, exploring the background to the fighting in CAR, and questioning the role of religion.

On Christmas Day last year, Catherine Teya called her cousin to wish her merry Christmas. Her cousin, who lives in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR), answered, but not for festive greetings. She whispered that she was hiding under the table because militia were going from door to door in the neighbourhood, looting houses. Terrified, she asked Teya to call back the next day.

You can read the full piece at the New Humanist’s website, and the cutting is below. You can subscribe to the magazine (which is quarterly) here.

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Recent work

bbc2On 14 January, I appeared on the BBC News Channel’s paper review, with Oliver Wright from the Independent. A short write up is here.

I’ve also written various shorter pieces recently:

“Benefits tourism”: myth or reality? (New Humanist)

Iain Duncan Smith claims that new restrictions on EU migrants claiming benefits will stop benefits tourism – but do people really cross borders to get better pay-outs?

Future looks fraught in polarised Bangladesh (Index on Censorship)

This year’s elections were the most violent in the country’s short history. What next?

The case of Masood Ahmad reveals how blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used to persecute minorities (New Humanist)

The Ahmadi sect in Pakistan have been persecuted for generations, and now a British citizen has been imprisoned.

Acid attacks: showing my face, raising my voice (Open Democracy)

Earlier this year, I met victims of acid attacks in Islamabad. This piece looks at the phenomenon across South Asia.

Nigeria’s gay community needs our help (New Humanist)

This blog asked how effective western threats of withdrawing aid are in preventing repressive legislation abroad.

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.

Writing and speaking

Members of the Free Syrian Army.
Members of the Free Syrian Army.

I’ve had a really busy few weeks back in the UK, so thought I would share a few links to some of my recent work.

New Statesman

Why are we still relying on decades-old stereotypes when we talk about the Middle East?

This blog looks at the stereotype of the “angry Arab”, arguing that such media narratives matter because they shape the way the world understands events.

Ending child marriage

On 30 September, I took part in a New Statesman/World Vision fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester. It was an interesting panel discussion, at the Town Hall, and I’ll post audio when it’s available.

New Humanist

I’ve recently started blogging regularly for the New Humanist, which is the magazine of the Rationalist Association (and hosted at their website).

Britain’s fear of being seen as a soft-touch has led to inhumane asylum policies

This post, written after my trip to the Tory conference in Manchester, looks at Theresa May’s new immigration bill.

Pakistan bombings are an attack on everyday life

After the fourth bombing in Peshawar in just a few weeks, I wrote a piece about Peshawar, the targeting of polio vaccinators, and the aims of terrorist violence.

Middle East Monitor

I blog regularly for MEMO, but here are a couple of longer pieces I’ve written recently.

What is there in common between General Musharraf and General al-Sisi?

This piece compares the 2013 Egyptian coup and the 1999 Pakistani coup.

“In a sense, the continuation of the Palestinian Authority has itself become an obstacle”

I interviewed Alvaro de Soto, the former UN special envoy to the Middle East whose leaked “end of mission” report in 2007 caused a stir.

Tragedy in Peshawar

Christians in Peshawar protest after the bomb attack.
Christians in Peshawar protest after the bomb attack.

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 Guardian about 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 feature from 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.