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hero-landscape-rexfeatures_yarlwoodAfter a spate of terrorist attacks in Europe, we are hearing a lot about early intervention work – particularly deradicalisation programmes. In the Autumn 2017 issue of the New Humanist, I wrote a long feature examining what exactly these programmes are and how they function around the world. You can read the full piece over at the New Humanist, and the clipping is below.

Yet the very terminology is disputed: what does radicalisation actually mean? By their nature, these schemes tend to be secretive, meaning little accountability on where they draw these boundaries. And if there no evidence that a crime has been committed, there is nothing to prosecute for. So how do deradicalisation programmes function, here and abroad? Should we be using them more? And do they work?

I’ve also written a few bits of analysis for The Pool:

The government is still subjecting vulnerable women to abuse at Yarl’s Wood

This piece looks at a new report, which raises more serious questions about the existence and treatment of women at the notorious detention centre.

Post-driving ban, what does feminism in Saudi Arabia look like?

I explored feminist activism in Saudi Arabia, and argued we should be careful to avoid applying Western feminist ideals to other cultures.

Theresa May’s race audit is useful – but only if the government acts on it

The news in the government’s race audit – that life is harder for minorities – shocked no one. What would be surprising is a clear strategy to tackle the inequality.

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ensafFive years ago, Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison and 1000 lashes. His crime was starting a website that discussed liberal ideas. In June, I interviewed his wife, Ensaf Haidar, who now lives in Canada with their three children. She has been campaigning tirelessly for his release.

The think tank Freedom House has characterised the media environment in Saudi Arabia as one of the “most repressive in the world”; Badawi is one among dozens of prisoners of conscience. But, despite the risks associated with talking freely about politics and religion in her home country, Haidar is defiant. “I always thought Raif had the right to express his opinions and engage in whatever public debate he wanted to. My opinion hasn’t changed. I would do nothing differently if I could go back. This is the 21st century. It was his right.”

You can read the full interview over at The Pool.

As well as being a freelance writer, I am deputy editor of the New Humanist magazine and often cover issues related to free speech and secularism. (I’ve also written before about Raif Badawi’s case.)

I wrote a column in the latest issue of the New Humanist about the tragic death of another free-thinker, self-described humanist Mashal Khan who was murdered at his university halls in Mardan, Pakistan.

For all the public outpouring of grief and anger, there has been little attention paid to the law itself. Introduced by the British during colonial rule, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are among the world’s most repressive. Attempts at reform were halted entirely after the assassination of two politicians advocating the cause in 2011 – Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti.

The rest of the piece is here. I’ve been writing about Pakistan’s blasphemy laws for many years now – starting with this 2011 piece for the New Statesman. I’ve also written about violent attacks on atheists in Bangladesh. You can find more examples of my coverage on these issues elsewhere on the website.

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.

 

we-went-to-an-english-class-for-muslims-body-image-1453391069-size_1000In January, David Cameron announced extra funding for English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes, to be targeted at Muslim women in order to counter extremism. It was quite a semantic leap to link women’s language skills with the wider problem of extremism, and was particularly odd given swingeing cuts to ESOL budgets in recent years. To get a fuller picture of the story, I went to an ESOL class in east London, mainly populated by, yes, Muslim women, and found that extremism is less of an issue than slashed budgets that make it harder for colleges to access vulnerable students. You can read the article over at Vice magazine.

In this classroom in Tower Hamlets College, the majority of the 14 students are Muslim women, and all are originally from Bangladesh: the demographic Cameron claims his new initiative will be aimed at. The threat of deportation, says Rebecca Durand, another teacher at the college, has really shaken students here. “We don’t want language-learning to be linked to any sort of threat,” she says. “That’s really frightened the people I’ve talked to in my class. People are motivated because they want to learn English.”

The following week, Ofsted announced that schools could be downgraded if students wore the face veil and it was found to be affecting learning. (Are you sensing a theme here?). In another article for Vice, I spoke to teachers about their views on this potential ban of face veils in schools.

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.

Lawyers protest against cuts to legal aid.

Lawyers protest against cuts to legal aid.

Legal reforms don’t tend to be headline news. But cuts to legal aid could have – and is already having – a devastating impact on our legal system. Lawyers’ fees are to be cut, and the criteria for eligibility for legal aid has already been tightened. Legal aid – ensuring access to justice and a fair trial regardless of wealth – is a crucial part of our justice system, and these swingeing cuts are putting it at risk.

This is already having an effect, as I found out while writing a feature on legal aid cuts for the New Statesman (published 13 January). You can read the full piece at the NS website, and here’s a short excerpt:

Taken together, the effect on both civil cases (like family law and immigration) and criminal cases (like assault or theft) is devastating. “What we’re seeing is the unemployed, the poor, the marginal, being prevented from accessing justice,” says Ben Bowling, professor of criminology and criminal justice at King’s College London. “The first thing that will happen, to put it crudely, is that people will be put off taking action against state abuses, for example. At the moment we have justice by geography and this will be justice by wealth. Allowing ‘ordinary’ people to seek redress in court is, in a sense, a way of defending the poor – and that is not a vote winner.”

The piece was well-received, with the shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter recommending it on Twitter, among others: