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4161In the years after Britain withdrew from Iraq, allegations of misconduct by British troops were coming thick and fast. In 2010, the government established the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat). This was an investigative body that was supposed to bring together all the allegations and deal with them quickly. Perhaps predictably, that was not what happened. The investigation spiralled out of control and closed in disgrace in 2017. In the process, the entire field of human rights law had been called into disrepute, while stories abounded of soldiers whose lives had been put on hold during protracted investigations.

For my latest report for the Guardian’s Long Read section, I spent months interviewing people involved at all stages of the process to piece together how it went so wrong. As Britain faces the possibility of investigation by the International Criminal Court, this could have far-reaching consequences.

The collapse of Ihat seems likely to mark the end of serious attempts to investigate alleged crimes by British soldiers in Iraq, leaving questions about the scale of abuses and accountability unanswered. After such a public failure, what politician would want to reopen the issue? Yet, behind the headlines of corrupt lawyers and incompetent investigators, the true story of Ihat is more complicated. Both military advocates and human rights defenders agree that the scandal around Ihat was at the very least, politically convenient for the Ministry of Defence. With human rights lawyers cast as the villains, the MoD could avoid uncomfortable questions about its own role in training soldiers in procedures that breached the Geneva conventions. “At times, the MoD has been tempted to throw the uniform under the bus,” says Johnny Mercer, a Conservative MP who was instrumental in Ihat’s closure.

You can read the full article over at the Guardian’s website and the clipping is below.

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.

 

hero-landscape-grunwick_jayaban-desai_gettyimagesThis December I wrote a couple of pieces for The Pool, looking at different aspects of integration in Britain. The first dealt with Louise Casey’s government-commissioned report into integration. My piece dealt, particularly, with her disproportionate focus on Muslim communities and her emphasis on patriarchy and the oppression of women.

Casey talks a lot about not shying away from “tough questions” but much of her report covers common ground, reflecting prevalent prejudices and offering little in the way of new solutions. What good would an oath to Britishness do? Surely more effective strategies would be better funding for local services that can seek to access isolated woman with English lessons or simply information about the support that is available to them; for careers training, community groups, English teaching, and women’s refuges. This type of small-scale, local level community work has fallen out of fashion in favour of sweeping statements about extremism and a failure to integrate, but it is where our best hope lies.

You can read the full piece here.

My second piece for The Pool was totally different in tone. It looked back at the Grunwick Strike, a historic moment in 1976 when Indian women factory workers led a strike that was backed across the country. It was a remarkable moment of solidarity with the “strikers in saris”, which feels particularly poignant given the current political climate.

The Grunwick strike failed after 23 months. The factory refused to reinstate sacked workers or recognize their right to a union. But regardless of this ultimate defeat, it was a victory in race relations at a time when the broader political picture was bleak. The strike was significant because it was started by immigrant women bravely standing up to injustice – but even more so because it was not limited to those women or those immigrants. It became a wider movement against injustice and unfair working conditions, where people from different communities stood side by side. For 20,000 people to stand alongside a small group of disenfranchised Indian women was a moment of huge symbolism.

The rest of the piece is here.

Outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Photo my own.

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.

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.

naz_shahOne 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.

samira on naz shah final

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 15.49.58Much has been made of British citizens fighting in Syria and the problems they might pose on their return. (In November last year I wrote the first interview with a British veteran of the Syria conflict, for the Guardian). With high profile horror stories involving British jihadists, such as the videoed beheadings of British and American citizens, the emphasis in the UK has been on punitive measures: the stripping of passports, default criminalisation, and hefty jail sentences.

But what about people who may have joined ISIS or other militant groups, but haven’t been involved in active combat, haven’t committed any serious crimes, and want to reintegrate into society? I wrote an article for Al Jazeera looking at “soft” counter-terror programmes to exit people from extremist groups, which have been proven to be effective in other countries.

Some European countries, such as Denmark, are successfully running such programmes, whereby returnees from Syria and Iraq – who have not committed serious crimes abroad – are monitored, treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and given theological teaching and socioeconomic support. No such scheme is currently in place in the UK, but behind the scenes the Home Office is exploring softer measures to deal with the influx of war-experienced returnees.

You can read the full piece over at Al Jazeera.