The last few pieces drawn from the reporting I did in the Middle East late last year are now out.
For the Spring issue of the World Policy Journal, I wrote about how Syrian women in Jordan are adjusting to life without men.
Studies show that at least a third of Syrian refugee households in Jordan are headed by women – meaning that, as in Sara’s case, there is no male provider. This is not unusual in war-time, given that men tend to enlist or be drafted. The number of female-headed households was thought to be even higher among displaced Iraqis during the first Gulf War . . .
Many of these women, hailing from traditional societies where men are the primary household earners, must work for the first time, even as they care for their children. As they deal with tough economic realities, many are also navigating bereavement, trauma, and loss.
The piece is no longer available for free online, but can be accessed here, and the first few pages of the clipping are below.
In the Spring issue of the New Humanist, I wrote a piece about the persecution of minorities in Iraq, and how their cause is being taken up by the far right in the west.
Dalu’s anger stems, in part, from a feeling that people overseas are not paying attention to the suffering of his community. But the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq has been exploited by international actors for many years, in ways that often exacerbate the problem. This raises serious ethical questions not just about assisting marginalised groups, but about the way these issues are discussed. In an era of increasing divisions and a worldwide narrative of a “clash of civilisations”, the situation of minorities in Iraq has been used to feed a dangerous discourse that does no favours to people like Dalu. How can outsiders support these groups without worsening the situation?
I was absolutely delighted to be selected as a media fellow for a programme run by Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Social Difference. The programme, titledReligion and the Global Reframing of Gender Violence, aims to question dominant narratives about gender based violence, with a particular focus on the Middle East and South Asia. Along with two other media fellows, I attended an academic conference in Jordan (a book containing all the papers should be out at some point this year), and then went on to do several weeks of reporting in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. My focus was on gender-specific issues in the refugee crisis; I’ve had a few pieces already out based on the reporting I did, with some longer articles in the works.
ISIS’s crimes against the Yazidi community were an international sensation – but despite this attention, many in northern Iraq do not feel they are getting the support they desperately need. I interviewed Yazidis who are taking action to help their community.
Telskof is a Christian village in Iraq’s Niniveh plain. It was occupied by ISIS – but now the militant group has been cleared out, and residents are moving back. I interviewed people there about the struggles of starting over.
Syrian refugee women are incredibly vulnerable to sexual exploitation due to their precarious economic position and uncertain immigration status. In Lebanon, I met one particularly brave woman, who has escaped forced prostitution and is now working to help others in the same situation.
Women’s empowerment has long been a development buzzword, but a narrow focus on getting women into low-paid work may be marginalising them further. I drew on material from Jordan and Iraq to examine the occasional failings of empowerment programmes.
In 2014, a series of allegations surfaced about schools in Birmingham. The central claim was that a group of Muslim men had conspired to take over governing bodies in order to “Islamise” schools. The story quickly became a national – even international – scandal. The media descended on a small corner of Birmingham, and the ripple effect went up to the highest levels of government.
Yet three years later, there is still no evidence that there was a conspiracy. So what happened? I spent over a year working on a piece for the Guardian’s Long Read section, investigating events at Park View – the school at the centre of the scandal – and schools affiliated to it. I spoke to former teachers, students, politicians and council workers to try and build up a picture of what happened and what went wrong in the handling of it.
Three years on, the Trojan horse affair remains perhaps the best known and most polarising story about Britain’s relationship with its Muslim citizens. For many, the story has come to symbolise the failures of multiculturalism and the threat that hardline Islamic ideology poses to the future of the country. It was mentioned in the 2017 Ukip manifesto, and it is rare for a month to go by without some reference to the scandal in the rightwing press. (Several reports this year in the Telegraph and the Times have warned of a “new Trojan horse plot” in different parts of Britain.) For others, it is a confected scandal promoted by rightwing newspapers, the product of a climate in which all British Muslims are viewed with suspicion, and complex questions about faith and integration are reduced by politicians and the media to hysterical debates about terrorism.
You can read the full story over at the Guardian, and the clipping is below. (I also wrote about the Trojan Horse affair at the time, in this 2014 article for the New Humanist)
I’ve got a column in the latest issue of the New Humanist (out now) following up on the long piece I wrote about attacks on secularists in Bangladesh. The column looks at rising intolerance across India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and at some of the historical reasons for this.
These tensions were enforced by colonisation and then by Partition; divisions encouraged to cement power. Occasional outbursts of horrific communal violence have punctuated the Subcontinent since it was carved up at the end of the British Empire. Indeed, India and Pakistan were born amidst bloody Hindu-Muslim riots in 1947 that left an estimated 1 million people dead.
I also wrote something for The Pool, looking at the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK in the aftermath of the horrendous terror attacks in Paris. My piece took as its starting point the Sun’s headline that one in five British Muslims has “sympathy with jihad” and focused particularly on violence against hijab-wearing Muslim women.
The Sun’s headline, bigoted as it is, does not exist in a vacuum. It is the natural product of a political and media culture that demonises British Muslims at every opportunity, creating the spectre of a terrifying “enemy within”. This has real consequences.
I’ve also continued to report on UK politics for Deutsche Welle, including this article on Britain’s relationship with India and China, and this on David Cameron’s plans for airstrikes on Syria. I regularly interview different people for the New Humanist, where I’m assistant editor. One recent example is this Q&A with David Wootton, the author of a new book on the history of science. And I wrote this article for Index on Censorship about the situation for atheist bloggers in Bangladesh.
One of the coalition’s flagship education policies was to establish free schools, which can be set up by anyone. The idea was to allow leadership and to encourage communities to address their own needs. But in practice, it hasn’t always worked out well.
In a piece for the New Humanist, I examined a specific type of free schools: those with a “religious ethos”. I visited Durham to report on the closure of a Christian-ethos school there.
The controversy in Durham feeds into two separate debates. The first is about the success or failure of the free schools programme. (The Labour Party has been highly critical, and made it a manifesto promise to overhaul the policy). The second is about the wider role of faith in education. The two issues are clearly linked. A recent report by the government’s Social Integration Commission warned that Britain’s education system is increasingly “segregated” along lines of social class, religion and race. It said that free schools have contributed to the fact that children increasingly spend their formative years in surroundings “dominated by a single faith group or community”, and advised that no further faith schools should be allowed to open unless the groups planning them can prove that pupils will mix with children from other backgrounds.
The rest of the piece is here and the clipping is below. (NB I’ve written on education policy before, notably in this article for the New Statesman about Hackney’s Mossbourne School).