In August, it was reported that Kadiza Sultana, one of three teenagers who had left their homes in Bethnal Green to go to Syria, had been killed in an airstrike. The three girls had become one of the best known cases of young Brits travelling to join ISIS, their photographs published on the front of every newspaper. In this report for the New Statesman, I spoke to the family lawyer and people from local communities about what happened, and interviewed experts about why young women might decide to make this journey at all.
In Syria, out of the glare of the world’s media, Sultana soon regretted her decision to join Isis. Her husband, an American fighter of Somali origin, was killed in late 2015. She was scared. “She simply did not feel safe or comfortable there, she didn’t feel she could trust anyone other than her immediate circle and she didn’t want to stay in that environment any longer,” says Akunjee. Sultana spoke regularly to her eldest sister, Halima Khanom, who is 33 and lives in London. It was difficult for her to convey her fears given the risk of phone calls being monitored by Isis.
The full piece is available at the New Statesman website, and a clipping will follow.
Outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Photo my own.
I’ve been working on some longer projects recently, but thought I would share links to some other bits and pieces I’ve been publishing. In January I wrote this column for the International Business Times about the news that a woman was suing Twitter over ISIS propaganda following the death of her husband by an ISIS-affiliated militant. I also wrote this blog for the New Statesman following the terrorist attack on the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, looking at the difficulty of stamping out long-established militant networks.
I still write news and analysis on UK politics for Deutsche Welle. Recent pieces include this report on the case against radical preacher Anjem Choudary; this piece ahead of the results of the Litvinenko Inquiry; a report on David Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate the relationship with the EU; and this article on the media circus surrounding Julian Assange and the UN panel that agreed he is being arbitrarily detained in the Ecuadorean embassy.
One of the most exciting campaigns in the general election in May was fought in Bradford West. Political outsider Naz Shah, standing for Labour, ousted George Galloway after a dramatic contest that descended into personal recriminations. As the dust settled from the election. I went to Bradford to interview Shah for the New Statesman.
Here’s the opening, and you can read the rest online here.
Naz Shah wept the first time she spoke in front of an audience. It was 1995 and she was a teenager, giving a talk to a group of students at Bradford College about the campaign to free her mother, Zoora Shah, who was serving a life sentence for murder. “I cried all the way through,” she said.
That harrowing experience of trying to secure her mother’s release helped prepare Shah for her entry into politics. On 7 May this year she ousted George Galloway and became the new Labour MP for Bradford West, the constituency where she grew up. Now 41, she had no background in politics, and secured the nomination in early March only after the local party’s first choice, Amina Ali, abruptly withdrew, citing family reasons. Although Galloway was favoured to retain the seat for the Respect Party, Shah won with a majority of 11,420 votes.
Here are a few links to some of the things I’ve worked on recently.
“People care about their own rights – it’s other people’s that are more challenging” (New Humanist)
I interviewed Shami Chakrabarti, the head of Liberty, for the Winter 2014 issue of the New Humanist, where I’m assistant editor.
In Pakistan, fear has become mundane – will the Peshawar attack change anything? (New Statesman)
In the aftermath of the horrendous attack on schoolchildren in Peshawar in December, I wrote this piece for the New Statesman looking at the impact of such terror attacks. I also appeared on Channel 5 News to discuss the incident.
Britain keeping close eye on PEGIDA (Deutsche Welle)
This report for the German broadcaster looks at the response in the UK to wide-scale anti-Muslim protests in Germany.
Back in October, I travelled to Delhi. While I was there, I spoke to various women about how safe they feel in the city, and to activists about the long fight for change. It has been two years since the brutal gang rape of a student on a Delhi bus caused national and international outrage, prompted city-wide protests, and a series of legal changes. But did the incident have any lasting impact?
Sexual violence and violence against women is a global problem, and many of the issues that Indian campaigners describe are common to countries all over the world: a lack of funding for crisis centres and counselling, police refusing to record cases or making victims feel uncomfortable, a lack of female officers. “The police are generally very harsh,” says Dorothy Kamal, a rape counsellor for CSR. “People are afraid of them.” India’s police forces are chronically overstretched; and misogynistic social norms still dominate, for all the current public discussion. “Recognising the problem is positive, but when it comes to solutions, we are still grasping in the dark,” says Kumar.
You can read the rest of the article at the New Statesman website.
I don’t usually write about (or even watch!) sports, so it was quite a departure for me to write a long feature about the history and current status of women’s football in the UK. It’s a fascinating story; during the First World War, women’s football was actually more popular than men’s, with tens of thousands of spectators turning out to watch big games. A Football Association ban on women using professional stadiums in the 1920s set the game back, and it is only now starting to professionalise. I spoke to players past and present, as well as other experts, to build up a picture of the women’s game.
While it is certainly true that women’s football lags far behind men’s in terms of prestige, funding, and commercialism, however, it is inaccurate to think – as many do – that it is a new sport. Women’s football first made a splash in England in 1895, when the Ladies’ Football Association was founded by women with links to the burgeoning suffragist movement. “There is no reason why football should not be played by women, and played well too, provided they dress rationally and relegate to limbo the straitjacket attire in which fashion delights to attire them,” Lady Florence Dixie, the head of the association, wrote in a letter to the Pall Mall Gazette in 1895. It was controversial to see women playing football, which meant that matches (there were two teams, “north” and “south”) were attended by several thousand people. But it wasn’t to last; the Ladies’ Football Association soon fell apart because of organisational issues.
You can read the full piece over at the New Statesman.
I recently travelled to Kenya, the east African hub which is swift losing its status as a safe haven in the region thanks to a heightened terror threat from neighbouring Somalia. I was researching several in-depth features which are forthcoming, but I also wrote this short blog for the New Statesman about the impact that the terror threat is having on tourism:
The beach was deserted. Not just typical low season – slightly quiet, as you’d expect – but truly not another soul in sight. White sand, strewn with seaweed, stretched as far as the eye could see. It was an instant, brutally visible, result of international terror alerts.
On 16 May, the British Foreign Office warned that there was a “high threat” of terrorist attacks on the Kenyan coast. Tour operators First Choice and Thomson Direct cancelled flights and evacuated 400 British tourists. The decision to evacuate was mainly due to insurance concerns but it was high profile and understandably caused panic among other holiday-goers. The US, Australia, and France also issued travel warnings about Kenya’s coast, particularly the area surrounding the coastal city of Mombasa. The hundreds of cancellations stretch all the way to October.
You can read the post at my New Statesman blog.