British Jews Who Support Palestinians

British Jews and Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu won a fourth term in office. He won ‘because he ran as a bigot. ’ writes columnist Joe Klein in Time magazine. Klein has been a loyal Zionist all his life and still is, but now his idealism weakens: ‘ This is the sad reality; a great many Jews have come to regard Arabs as the rest of the world traditionally regards Jews. They have had cause. There have been indiscriminate rockets and brutal terrorist attacks on the Arab side. There has been overpowering anti-Jewish bigotry on the Arab side…But there has been a tragic sense of superiority and destiny on the Israeli side as well….Netanyahu has made dreadful Jewish history: he is the man who made anti-Arab bigotry an overt factor in Israeli political life. This is beyond tragic. It is shameful and embarrassing’. It took courage to write with such honesty. It took a perceptive and reflective Jew to articulate what millions felt around the world. He will, by now, have felt the slings and arrows of outraged zealots .  

A Muslim friend of mine, a doctor, is sceptical of Klein’s commentary: ‘Don’t be fooled. The man totally supports Israel. A few nice words and you think he has suddenly seen the light?. These are mind games to fool the world.’  On the same day a Jewish acquaintance expressed her disappointment: ‘ Joe should know this is not the time to attack Israel when even the US is moving away from our vulnerable homeland’.  It isn’t easy to be a principled and mindful Diasporic Jew. Accused of treachery by insiders and mistrusted by outsiders, they can’t win.

 Some still do censure the racist Israeli state, but carefully. Many don’t speak out because criticism of Israel provokes defensive, Zionist fury and bolsters diehard anti-Semites. Many of us Muslims are caught in the same bind: if we condemn Islamicist ideologues, defensive Muslims get furious and anti-Muslim hatred is boosted. In both cases keeping one’s own counsel feels like collusion, and it is.  In both cases, blameless people feel guilt by association and further guilt if they break ranks and are disloyal.( Tribal, communal, religious and national loyalties sustain most of the evils and injustices in the world today. Every school child should be taught to be sceptical and autonomous).

But back to Israel and British Jewry. A row is brewing here in the UK which encapsulates the points I have made above. In mid April, a three day conference is due to take place at Southampton University. The subject is International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism. Well, apparently, such  scholarly deliberations are completely unacceptable to over five thousand agitators, to emotive Eric Pickles who warns against far leftist ‘diatribes’ against this favoured state, to the Jewish Board of Deputies, to Fareham MP Mark Hoban to Mark Lewis, partner at the law firm Seddons, who came to prominence in some of the phone hacking trails. Lewis has warned that if this conference goes ahead he will not award training contracts to any student from Southampton. ( His firm has since stated that these are Lewis’s personal views) Such shocking intimidation by a lawyer, such an attack on freedom of freedom of expression and academic discourse and no furore breaks out in our mainstream media.

Now get this. The conference organisers are Professor Oren Ben-Dor, an ex-Israeli and George Bisharat  a Palestinian American professor, both universally respected academicians. The University is holding firm and has the backing of academics from top universities, several of them of Jewish heritage. It is not the first nor will it be the last time when such disputes break out. I fear we more of this will happen as public opinion shifts towards the Palestinians and their long struggle.  Hamas is a wicked and dangerous force in the Middle east. But Israel is now more wicked and dangerous.  Jewish thinkers and writers in the US, UK and Israel are now questioning the way the Holocaust has been cheapened and used to justify inhumane policies and actions. Read the book The Holocaust is Over: We Must Rise from the Ashes, by Avrham Burg, once a pillar of the Israeli establishment.  It is one of the bravest, most iconoclastic books ever written. Such nonconformists are savaged by extreme Zionists. And still they speak up,

Some of them, including actress Miriam Margolyes, emeritus Professor Moshe Machover and two dozen other big names, even refuted recent claims made by the Campaign Against Antisemitism  (CAA) which led to Theresa May announcing hasty new measures. Here is an extract from their public letter: ‘ The home secretary must know that the CAA was set up last summer not to fight antisemitism ( sic) but to counter rising criticism of Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza…Accusing critics of Israel and Zionism of antisemitism merely devalues the currency, while claiming the right for Jews to censor what others say about Israel is hardly the way to combat prejudice against them.’ The signatories accepted UK Jews were fearful, but asserted that it was far harder for Muslims. For this courageous stand, they were slammed and branded ‘self-loathing Jews’ . Singer and music teacher Deborah Fink, planned to sing a song for Bethlehem, divided and devastated by Israeli walls. She belongs to Just Peace UK, a largely Jewish group which strongly opposes Israel’s illegal occupation. Word got out and she was deluged with sick emails, several saying Hitler had killed the wrong Jews. Then there was Mike Marqusee, activist and incomparable writer who, tragically,  died of bone cancer earlier this year. His words were so truthful they hurt to read: ‘ Since each Israeli atrocity is justified by the exigencies of Jewish survival, each calls forth a particular witness from anti-Zionist Jews, whose very existence contradicts the Zionist claim to speak for all Jews everywhere’.

 I wish more of us Muslims acknowledged Jewish men and women  who, in spite of intolerable pressures, fight for Palestine, an ethical, just Israel and equality for all.  I wish more Muslims were as fair minded and honourable as these Jewish resistors.

The Independent, 30/4/2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom and Muslims

I do not understand what has happened. Millions of Muslims- particularly in the west- have become inward looking and closed off as the world becomes more open and connected than ever before in history. Our Prophet said: ‘God has not created anything better than reason, anything more perfect that reason’. Yet what do we see? Reason overtaken by killing rage and the crushing of the most fundamental human desires- freedom.

My book Refusing the Veil was published just before Christmas. It criticises the practice and its revival and confronts the spread of Saudi backed Islam across the world. Some female Muslim acquaintances invited me to a small gathering to discuss the book. These were reasonable, educated women. Here are some of the comments made:

‘Why did you have to write this, who gave you permission?’

‘Even to think these thoughts is wrong, you go and publish them? If you were in a Muslim country you would be in jail.’

‘If your mother was alive she would have slapped you for writing this’ When I replied that she refused the veil when she was 22, the woman came back: ‘ Then I feel sorry for you. She was the sinner and she made you one too’.

‘OK I have not read the book because it will dirty my pure thoughts, but if you are a Muslim, you follow Islamic rules without question. Are you even a Muslim?’ The fact that I am married to an Englishman only makes me more suspect and sinful.

Only two out of fourteen women defended my right to write the book. But then said they could never challenge Islamic practices so openly. To many such believers my mind is too free. ( How can a mind be too free?) Not all Muslims think like this- I have had warm responses too, but not publicly. They are too scared to speak up in the present climate.

This retreat from light to darkness is a modern development and a very disturbing one. I love my faith and fear for its future and the minds of millions of followers. I ceaselessly fight against racial and religious discrimination and western foreign policies which cause so much damage in the Middle East. But I am also grateful that I live in a place where I can speak freely, vote in fair elections and make the most of my life. The mayor of Rotterdam, of Moroccan background reflected the frustration of integrated Muslims when he said on Tuesday ‘ Pack your bags and f*** off home’.

Unelected Muslim leaders condemn terrorism well enough, but I do not hear them saying out loud and clear, that we have inherited freedoms that must not be taken away by men of violence.

Countless Muslims living in Islamic states would die for the life we western Muslims have. In Pakistan, Afghanistan, most central Asian states, Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Libya, even ‘liberated’ Iraq, people know they must not say what they think about their rulers or their Imams, not even to neighbours or friends. The only choice is to conform and live, keep your boiling thoughts locked in your own head. When in 2010, the Arab Spring unexpectedly arrived, Muslims rejoiced as they tasted freedom for the first time ever. I was in the Middle East in the most optimistic months. Spring turned to winter and even harsher restrictions were imposed everywhere. Now disappointed and frightened Muslims try to flee every day, to get to places where they can earn a living, be safe, most of all be themselves. Those people on boats who turn up on Europe’s shores want what the brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, had before they blasted it all away. And what do these terrorists or followers of terrorists do? Go off to join Isis, to live under its ruthless rules, as Coulibaly’s wife, Hayat Boumedienne has just done. Last week in Saudi Arabia Raif Badawi, a young Muslim who set up a free speech website was flogged fifty times. He awaits 950 more lashes and nine years in jail.

The past has a lot to teach us Muslims. Between the 8th and 16th Centuries, science and philosophy flourished across the Muslim world. Our first English scientists paid homage to the Arab thinkers, their evidence based work and questioning minds. That was when we were civilized.

During colonialism Muslim nations struggled against European rule, but were smart enough not to throw out the baby with the bath water. Though denied freedom of expression and democratic votes by the rulers, they wanted and valued those rights. Liberationists did not think those were ‘corrupt’ western values. Some of them were inspired by great European thinkers. For example, in 1899, Qasim Amin, an Egyptian, wrote The Liberation of Women. His arguments are similar to those of John Stuart Mill – that for society to progress, females had to have freedom and equality.

At the moment their countries became independent, elected leaders proclaimed freedom and democracy. ( Though soon afterwards, most of the nations turned into repressive autocracies)

Even in the home, humble people were passionate about freedom, political and personal. My mother’s generation, for example, would not let daughters into the kitchen before they had finished school: ‘ You must free your mind. We were told to cook, clean, marry and have children. Same life for all of us. But we mothers want something different for our daughters- to become independent, educated.’ Loving liberalism went hand in hand with deep faith and a moral life.

Freedom is a heavy responsibility. It cannot be limitless as many westerners have claimed this week. Public discourse is expected to be within bounds of decency and respect; language matters and the wrong word can incite high emotion. With internet mobs, this can get ugly fast. State power in Europe and north America overrides the citizen’s right to know or speak. Then there are all those ways in which free speech is monitored and regulated- laws in particular. Even in the 21st Century anti-Semites cannot sound off in our media and threats of libel action can stop the most assiduous investigations. Over the last two decades our free society has fallen into a damaging licentiousness. These things are never simply black and white or about them and us.

But without freedom and autonomy, humans become mental slaves. On Muslim websites adult Muslims today ask bearded old men if they can travel on busses or clap their hands or have birthday cakes for their children. Imams order mums to over the hair of young girls. White women converts tell me they are happier living within with rules, when decisions are made for them. And every day, free will is denounced as a sin. Conservative Muslims have no choices and don’t want them.

Last year I met and talked to a Somali man who had started to get in with al Qaeda types. He is wiser now but told me he was brought up in an unhappy home where the father was cruel and children had to do as told. They got him a wife he couldn’t relate to. He knew nothing about sex. He had never developed his own personality: ‘ I just had to do as they say, my father, the uncles, the Imam. In school they ask me what I think. I don’t know how to think. I was angry all the time, burning like a fire. I was born in a free country but they kept me a prisoner. My son will be more free. But I hope he has a better life’. I hope he does too. And that his father can keep him from radical Islam.

A version of this appeared in the Daily Mail, 14/1/2015

Beadings that Should make Us Muslims Weep

  It is Eid, the second annual Muslim festival. This is when we mark the end of Hajj and remember Abraham, who agreed to kill Isaac, his son, to  make the ultimate sacrifice, when God asked him to. It was a test of faith; God stopped the slaughter. The story appears in the Book of Genesis. God did not stop the slaughter of Alan Jennings, the taxi driver from Salford who went out to help desperate Syrians, or British aid worker David Haines or the two American reporters James Foley and Steven Sotloff.  All were beheaded by Isis, the decapitations broadcast around the world. Such followers swilling with hate and bloodlust, must make God and the angels weep and flee far, far away.      Some of us are not celebrating. No presents, no fine food or happy visits to friends and family. It is a small, quiet way of mourning for these men who were doing good and risking all for Muslims in devastated lands. In Manchester, people of all races and religions are filled with rage and sorrow. Kasim Jameel, knew Henning well and persuaded the taxi driver to join the aid convoy organised by Muslims to take supplies to Syria: ‘ I am totally heartbroken. When you lose someone so important to you, you can’t put it into words. Everyone who knew him from the convoys just can’t stop crying- grown men with beards’. Imams have denounced the killers with real feeling, so has the umbrella body, the Muslim Council of Britain, which, before this, tended to equivocate and was a bit unreliable. Young Muslims have started a #notinmyname campaign; Inspire, an impressively effective  counter-extremism organisation has launched #makingastand, to get Muslims to ‘pledge allegiance to their country and to respect human rights’. These responses are encouraging. But it isn’t enough. It absolutely isn’t enough. Jennings’s untimely death must be a watershed, a defining moment for western Muslims. We must change. Or rather, those devout Muslims who have been taking up Wahabi practices and others who feel only angry with the west must change. That is now our solemn duty. We can’t stop what is happening out there, but we can begin to honestly reassess how we behave, think, what we say, and do in this, our adopted homeland. To live  in ITAL PREVIOUS WDa nation, continent and sphere without being of ITAL PREV WD it is no longer an option. Too many Muslims believe that their civilizations have been hated in Europe since the Crusades, that westerners only ever want to humiliate, control and exploit them and their nations. And that the UK, US and EU encourage the oppression of Palestinians by Israel.  Human brains are big and capable of understanding complexity. These ardently held beliefs are true, but they are not the whole truth. I walked along Edgware Road in London the day I heard of the latest beheading. Stopped and asked people this question: ‘If you got £10,000, a free ticket and the chance to live anywhere in the world, where would you choose?’ Every single person, young and old, replied either ‘London’ or ‘England’. That told me two things: that there is no Muslim nation on earth today which is safe enough for the most homesick migrants and that here they have found some happiness and security. In a magazine article, Ahmed Babikir, 20, a maths and statistics student, whose parents migrated from Sudan, said most Britons still welcomed outsiders and that even when he felt picked on at school, he thought of those boys as his friends. Now, maybe some extremists will get to him and turn him, but so far he seems to have emerged out of these years of Islamicist turmoil with his head and heart intact. I am not advocating assimilation, not do I believe that our lives are easy. They are not. Muslims in high and low places are habitually attacked and demeaned by racists and nationalists. Extremist activities make this worse. Geopolitically, our government plays dirty and too often makes things worse for reasons of self interest. We fight back as best we can. The problem is – and I have been guilty of this too- that we have been consumed by these debilitating experiences and unjust policies. There are so many good people here who care and do more than they need to for Muslims. Henning and Haines were among them. Millions of indigenous Europeans support the Palestinian cause; they marched against the war on Iraq; they defend Muslim rights. White Britons who marry Muslims become our greatest allies. Muslims, on their part, give less back. Most still oppose mixed marriages, cultural give and take.  I am horrified when I hear the poisonous rants of some students in Islamic societies at universities and see what is out there on the web. It is time for parents, ‘community leaders’, Muslim politicians and commentators to say, over and over again, that we are part of this nation, not apart from it and that makes us the luckiest Muslims in the world. And that when Islamicists kill white westerners, they kill us too and all our futures. 

The Independent, October 2014

British Jihadis- What Do We Know About Them? Not Much

So why do young Muslims become Jihadis? It’s a question I have been asked over and over again, and more urgently than ever this week. The probing is understandable. When British born Muslim men appear on selfie videos, dressed up as Afghans, waving weapons and beseech their peers to join in an armed Jihad, it unnerves and alarms the entire, multiracial nation, including most Muslims. This is not how it was meant to be. The universal immigrant story of arrival, settlement, integration and betterment has been ripped up by these rebels. State surveillance and other authoritarian measures seem to have no effect on the radicalised. The families, various communities and mosques blame each other or say they can’t stop those determined to follow this path. On BBC 1 this Sunday, viewers were asked to vote on whether they thought British Muslims were complacent about this peril. 94% of those who responded answered ‘yes’, a sobering figure.

After the July bombings, anti-Muslim feelings ran high, understandably. In the years that followed, there have been periods of relative tolerance and of heightened tensions or hostility towards all Muslims and the faith. The gruesome murder of Lee Rigby by Islamicists repelled and frightened the most liberal citizens of these isles. Self exclusion from mainstream society by Saudi influenced  Muslim believers has made matters worse. The rise of extreme right wing groups, worse still. My co-religionists need to understand just how much trouble we are in and stop making excuses, or use ‘Islamaphobia’ as a fig leaf. I am not denying the dehumanization, unfairness and hatred we are experiencing. Academics at Teesside university have analysed a helpline and concluded that there has been a 20% increase in racist attacks on Muslims in the last nine months. Over 50% of the victims were women who wore headscarves or gowns and veils. Just a few days ago, Nahid Almanea,  a Saudi Arabian university student was viciously stabbed to death in Essex.  One line of investigation is that she was picked on because of her clothes. I personally strongly oppose veils and argue against them. But only savages would assault or violate a female because of her clothes. The government must take these hate crimes seriously.

Muslims, for their part have to fight the bigots and campaign for their rights. But at the same time, they must now start to take some responsibility for what is happening. Black Britons, British Hindus and Sikhs also face race discrimination and hatred. Why don’t they turn themselves into enemies of their state? And why do most Muslims not join Islamicist mercenaries?    

So back to the questions about Jihadis. I have assembled a pile of possible  factors and reasons: they are torn between various cultural expectations and values; some are alienated from their families; they feel terrible shame about dysfunctional Muslim nations and think they can go back to those times when Islam conquered large parts of the globe; they are sexually frustrated; they cannot accept the way the west makes and breaks rules, and the double standards; they feel the modern world has no place for them and so must destroy it; they want control and so on and on. I am speculating, trying to work out the various strands that jumble so lethally in these young minds.

In truth, I have been thinking about these unstable young men since 1997, long before 9/11, the London bombs, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and all the misery that has flowed from those.  Seventeen years ago, I got support from the Home Office, Local Government Association and  some charities to run a seminar on young Muslim men. I said then that they faced discrimination as well as internal cultural tensions and a deep sense of displacement. One Muslim youth leader even spoke of a ‘British intifada movement’. Top people from government departments attended and then clean forgot about what they had heard. After the London attacks, I tried to get the Home Office to fund a deep  psychological study of imprisoned radicals, but they weren’t interested. The Labour Government under Blair was keen instead on pointless interfaith dialogues and destabilising spy networks which, as far as I know, led to little intelligence and much aggro.  It seemed to me then and seems even more so now, that those in power don’t want to know about the psychological profiles of those who are  easily turned by captains of terrorism. Out state’s macho drive to punish and only punish is irrational and, in the end, counterproductive.

We should listen to Ahmed Muthana, father of two men, Nasser and Aseel,  who have gone off to join the hardline Isis army. He loves this country which he came to at the age of 13, an orphan fleeing interminable wars in Yemen. His children were born in the hospital near where they live, educated here. Ahmed doesn’t know who brainwashed them, paid for their travel, armed them. Most of all why they, his beloved boys  have ‘betrayed Great Britain’, their homeland. Nobody really knows why either. This insistence on not knowing will make an even more dangerous world in the future.     

the independent, 30/6/2014

 

Song for Secularism

 

Ukip hogs the limelight but the hot issue of the moment is religion in modern Britain. Cameron declared this nation ‘Christian’ and wants believers to be more evangelical. Must be why humble proselytisers rang the doorbell this Sunday- Seventh Day Adventists, and other messengers of Christ. I politely told them I would not be converted and that I kept my faith matters private. They were kindly, though disappointed, and two said they’d be back. Oh, please, no.

Our PM neatly passed over the Reformation, the break from Rome etc.  And the ongoing sectarianism between Christ’s people in Northern Ireland. In this Jerusalem, Catholics were and still are sometimes treated as second class, or suspect citizens. Some Christians matter more than others. When the coalition government – honourably and impressively- pushed through gay marriage laws, the phalanx of multi-faith objectors tried but could not stop parliament. Millions of Christians oppose this law. Was this not a Christian country when it was passed?

A group of eminent academics, writers, scientists and artists including Philip Pullman, Ken Follet, Professor Steve Jones and Professor Jim al-Khalili  – who presents science programmes on the BBC- reacted to the PM’s thoughtless and incendiary comments. Interestingly most savvy faith communities didn’t object. Of course they didn’t. Britain’s highly organised Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs and others know and rejoice that the man in charge is not a proper secularist. If they support his Christian mission, he will grant them influence in public affairs. Religion and politics are getting closer. God help us all.  

I have faith and pray and avoid the company of noisy, atheist wolves. Religion is a vital part of a decent, civil society. When Archbishops speak up for the poor ( and irritate Ian Duncan Smith) , when Rabbis offer support to asylum seekers, when Sikh priests give food to the hungry in their temples, when Muslim Imams encourage charity, when faith leaders oppose state violence, they are the nation’s conscience. But bit by bit, religions are demanding special rights and dispensations and with well honed piety, are emasculating human rights, equality and autonomy. ( They actually use the concepts of human rights and equality to get their own fiefdoms, segregation and legal adjustments) 

Here are a few examples: among Gove’s free school fiascos are not only hardline Muslim academies, but Christian, Hindu and Sikh ones too which secede from mainstream education and brainwash kids to unquestioningly follow what they are taught. And to think of themselves as members of that community and not our multipart nation. The Law Society has just issued a briefing note to lawyers about Sharia inheritance diktats which give females less or no inheritance at all. For Orthodox Jews, divorce is only possible if the husband agrees. That agreement is called ‘Get’. Without his permission she is a chained woman. The 2002 Divorce ( Religious Marriage) Act stipulated that without Get,  a civil decree absolute can be denied to the wife. Within Hindu families, religious texts are used as alibis to steal property rights from widows. The law does not protect them.   

Cameron’s call is religious braggadocio put out for political effect.  And it did fly. At the weekend, LibDem president, Tim Farron, confessed he was a committed Christian; Lord Rowan Williams ruefully spoke about empty churches and our ‘post-Christian’ age;  Jack Straw backed the PM; Tony Blair called for another Crusade against ‘evil’  Muslims and Muslim Baroness Sayeeda Warsi joined the unholy choir: ‘Politicians didn’t talk about their faith because they were seen as odd to do so…people don’t feel they can dress in a Christian manner, [they] can’t talk about Christianity and faith.’ And that, claims the Lady, our minister of faith, leads to increased support for far right groups. Silly comments, from a ministry of utter folly.

Let this go on and we could end up with abortion laws that kill women.  (Read Savita by Kitty Holland on the young Indian woman who perished because medical staff in a hospital in Ireland couldn’t perform a life saving abortion) And with kids never playing with those outside their religions. This is happening in faith schools of all denominations. My own daughter was treated as an outcast by some staff and parents in a Church of England primary school which my taxes help pay for. And with religious apartheid in Universities- already well progressed. And religious relativism.

Nick Clegg is right: disestablish the Church of England and cut the links between crown, state and church.  We must also stop religious leaders from getting into the Lords, phase out faith schools or make them mixed, and ensure there is one law for all. Politicians should be  democrats, not avatars of chosen gods.

This column is a song for secular democracy, the only fair, safe and universalising governance system. America, hyper-diverse and the most fiercely Christian nation in the west, is a secular state. Yes we can be too. And must.

  The Independent, 28/4/2014

Lee Rigby

The two sisters who worked for Nigella Lawson were found not guilty of fraud  just after the convictions of Michael Adebolago and Michael Adebolawle, the two brutal murderers of  Lee Rigby. Swiftly, shamefully, the fickle nation was gripped by the final act of the Lawson/Saatchi melodrama and  Rigby was forgotten. Not, obviously, by his grieving relatives who, in court, had watched the gruesome footage of the soldier being butchered and heard one of the killers justifying his barbarism.  And not forgotten by most of us Muslims who feel collective guilt about what happened and seek ways to make amends. Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in Leicester had a charity dinner in October to raise money for an education trust for Jack, the young son of Rigby. His widow attended the dinner. This week mosques have prayed for the young man as have Muslim families. I prayed too.

With passions running high, some of us have experienced  unspoken and viciously spoken hatred. Two emails asked if  I wanted to cut off the heads of all soldiers. (Me? I couldn’t cut the head off a very dead turkey.) This was after the catastrophic interview by John Humphreys on BBC Radio4’s Today programme.  Has the BBC a death wish for itself and the rest of us too? Once again it handed  air time to an extremist, bellicose Muslim, shunned and despised by British Muslims, including the most conservative. Anjem Choudary is an  ideological jihadist who uses words like sharp blades. He nicked John Humphreys here, cut there, shredded tough questions with counter-questions, left our nation’s scariest interrogator wounded. How thoughtless and brainless do you have to be to make such a choice the day after Rigby’s killers were sentenced?

The programme has form on this. When columnist Rod Liddle was the editor of Today, he amused himself by frequently featuring Abu Hamza, a latter-day malevolent Captain Hook but with worse breath. ( By the way I think Hamza should have been tried here, not sent off to the USA to face unspecified charges.) Our national broadcasters are not noble exemplars of Voltaire’s dictum: ‘I do not agree with what you have to say, but I‘ll defend to death your right to say it’. They are motivated by mischief. As Labour MP John Spellar said when condemning the interview, ‘It makes good radio’. Makes great TV too. Bring on the angry veiled bats, mad mullahs, bearded brigands, reformed terrorists, watch the ratings shoot up .  None of this whipped-up excitement helps anyone understand what Islamicism is and why it is spreading among young black and Asian males and possibly white converts. 

These angry, chaotic men are nomads, psychologically disjointed, rebels looking for a cause. Charismatic proselytisers get to parts unreachable by parents, educators, lovers or friends.  I am not making any excuses for them, but it is important to try and go beyond the usual and useless rhetoric of ‘extremism’. Banning imams and extremist sites will not stop the destructive rush or maddening roar in the heads of men like Adabolage and Adebowale. Since 9/11 there has been no attempt by the US or UK ( as far as I know) to explore the mental and emotional wellsprings of  terrorism. Why do some Muslims fall into violence while others opt for a life in politics, or doing good?  No deep research is carried out to discover the reasons for the disparities or explore the personality profiles of those who fall into Islamicism. 

The effect of western foreign policies too needs to be objectively investigated. Politicians who brush this aside are being criminally negligent. Bad, unjust policies and wars can make the sanest of us lose hope in the democratic system.  Two days ago the Gibson report confirmed our secret services were complicit in the torture of Muslims and cooperated with the US on rendition. This was under New Labour. Then on Friday, High Court judge,  Mr Justice Simon, ruled, ‘with hesitation’ that Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Bellaj could not pursue a valid claim of torture because, he said, it would damage US/UK relations. My insides turn to molten lava when such information surfaces or is pulled out of the secret state. Think then how it could affect impressionable, hot headed, rootless young men  

And finally,  we need reliable facts on how Wahabism, dark age Islam, funded by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, has infiltrated Britain, especially in educational and religious institutions. Imagine China trying to disseminate Maoism in the UK, in a veiled, but planned and systemic way.  There would, quite rightly, be an uproar.  But because of oil dependency, Saudi Arabia et al are free to do just that and are protected by our cowardly state.

Unless there is a serious, concerted effort to tackle these three evils, there will for sure be more savagery. Politicians and the media still don’t get it and don’t want to.    The Independent, 23rd December 2013   

Gender segregation in British Universities 1&2

Universities and Gender Segregation

The 10th of December, this Tuesday is Human Rights Day. It is my birthday too and insha-allah ( God willing) I plan to mark both by joining a demo outside Woburn House in Tavistock Square, London. These are the offices of Universities UK, ( UUK) an affiliate which describes itself as ‘the voice of UK universities’, being a bit presumptive I think, especially now.

 

In its wisdom, this august body has published guidelines on gender segregation at universities. The issue has been raised over the last few years by lecturers and students who complain that, for certain events, organisers and speakers expect men and woman to sit apart or not attend. Sexist dress codes and other behaviours are being spread and pushed in British universities by retrograde Islamic societies and individuals, most of them men, though there are always willing maidens who say yes, yes, yes to such diktats. UUK okays this Apartheid and offers up nauseating justifications. It’s done  in the name of free speech, yes really. ; ‘Concerns …[for the] beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief systems’. Furthermore, staff should not worry unduly about the rights and wrongs of this small matter.  

 

So as of now, separation in lecture halls and seminar rooms is fine so long as women don’t have to sit behind men (gee thanks!) but can be seated in lecture hall reservations. Separate but equal. Just how Boers ordered society in pre-freedom South Africa. So should gays have to sit apart from heterosexuals? Hindus be kept equal and apart from Muslims? If EDL members want to have meetings and insist blacks can only sit in designated areas, I suppose UUK would not object. Having conceded to the most objectionable demands once, they would absolutely have to again and again.

 

What will they do if a Muslim, female Mandela goes sits with the men? Will they carry her out and throw her down the steps? Some preachers on campus are today telling women to get back into the home, out of public life. Muslim women in jeans or with hair uncovered have been asked to leave lecture rooms by clothes vigilantes. Two Muslim LSE students harangued me for my unholy attire and views just a month back. The guidelines effectively endorse the most offensive prejudices about women: that they are a social and moral peril and if they sit with men, pornographic fantasies or molestations will make it impossible for anyone to concentrate on lectures, say, on Plato or the Life of the Prophet. Think of how grades will tumble, and league table results. One wonders who and what else universities will accommodate to get their hands on £9000 per year.

 

Throngs of students, academics, parents, politicians, and feminists should fill Tavistock Square and shout out loud. Not that they will, what with Christmas shopping and perhaps inchoate fears. Various student unions roll over, again and again before Islamicists and their outrageous demands- backing full veils, speeches by Wahabis- and thus far, there has been no clear condemnation from the NUS of this disgraceful document penned by the deluded UUK. This latest capitulation is a disaster for feminism, for university life, for modernism, for progressive ideals and for Muslims most of all.   

        

 Muslim education achievements are so abysmally low because our educators do not liberate them from dark age interpretations of Islam and instead encourage those. (Perhaps it’s a cunning plot to keep them down and out of mainstream life!) I know of female medical students – three Muslim and one Orthodox Jew- who will not touch male patients, of all male religious professional networks and even worse examples.     

 

I end with a poem by American poet Stephen Dobyns.    

 

A cry was heard among the trees,

not a man’s, something deeper.

The forest extended up one side

the mountain and down the other.

None wanted to ask what had made

the cry. A bird, one wanted to say,

although he knew it wasn’t a bird.

 

… They waited

for it to come a second time. It’s lost,

one said. Each thought of being lost

and all the years that stretched behind.

Where had wrong turns been made?

Soon the cry came again. Closer now.
To me it expresses the unspoken dread felt by millions of us, as reactionary religious practices stealthily enter heads, homes,  citadels and national institutions. How many wrong turns have been made by guardians of nations and other leaders? How many more twisted paths will they take us down? Our noblest sanctuaries have been infiltrated, our faiths corrupted by zealots abetted by western liberals, our so-called friends. Instead of being free and enlightened our universities are now closing off and surrendering to Saudi Arabian obscurantism. God, please, please help the young.  

 The Independent, 10th December 2013

Gender Segregation 2 

RESULT! In one week, we, a small group of stalwarts, Muslims and non-Muslims, who opposed sex apartheid in universities raised slumbering politicians and jolted gutless academics. Universities UK  (UUK) will reconsider its guidelines sanctifying gender apartheid in the name of freedom of speech and equal access. 

My column denouncing this advice appeared last Monday. On Tuesday, Human Rights Day, a bitterly cold night, protestors demonstrated outside the UUK Headquarters in central London. No UUK rep came out to speak to us.  ( Dear readers you should have been out there with us) .That evening, on Channel4 news I took on Omar Ali of the federation of Student Islamic Societies. He said uni segregation was no different from what happens in synagogues and mosques and that a liberal society should accommodate such ‘choices’. I argued that prayer houses were not state funded public spaces and that some choices ought never to be accommodated. The next day, Nicola Dandridge, UUK’s CEO was on the BBC Radio4 Today programme,. Presenter Justin Webb, probing, yet reasonable, put to her the arguments against male-female separatism. She rebutted them all, alight with self righteousness. I threw a glass of water at the radio. Missed the radio, broke the glass, picked up the pieces, almost weeping with rage. Such white liberals from left to right need to grow up. By Friday UUK had shed its earlier overconfidence and seemed to be wavering. I predict the guidance will be binned.

 This Talibanisation of British universities has got to stop. Now I think it might be.

The Independent, 17th December 2013

 

 

 

 

To Veil or not to Veil?

First a British judge, then dedicated educationalists running a British college have been defeated by the aggressive guerrilla army of Muslim Salafists and their misguided allies. At Blackfriars Crown Court  Judge Peter Murphy had ordered a 21 year old, veiled defendant to show her face . The accused was charged with witness intimidation and pleaded not guilty. Whatever the results of that case, she and her supporters certainly intimidated the judge, who backed down so the case could proceed. Birmingham Metropolitan College was similarly cowed and had to reverse a directive  which forbad students from covering their faces. One hooded lady crowd sourced a protest against the college. Some overexcited student union members, Muslim objectors and online petitioners have forced a reversal of that rule. Shabana Mahmood, MP for Ladywood, Birmingham, welcomed the College capitulation. Happy days. Muslim women can now to go to courts and  college in shrouds.

That all-covering gown, that headscarf, most of all, that face mask, affirm and reinforce the belief that women, if seen, are a hazard to men and society. These are unacceptable, iniquitous values, enforced violently by Taliban, Saudi and Iranian oppressors. They have no place in our country. So why are so many British females  choosing to give those messages about themselves?  Some think they are outsmarting anxious western institutions by covering up, winning dispiriting culture wars which will give them no advantage in our fast moving world. Young women in niqabs are either testing the state like teenagers do their parents or think their garb is political action- but for what? Many women, mothers in particular, have been brainwashed by proselytisers who want to spread conservative Islamic worship right across Europe and North America. They are well funded by sources based in Saudi Arabia and Gulf states. And then there are those vacuous females who argue it is their right to be objectified, that they must be allowed to live as invisible creatures in a free democracy. I don’t know which of these dubious forces prevailed in the examples above. But I do know that this trend is growing fast and cannot just be ‘tolerated’ as a minority tendency, just one of many choices people make in this multifarious nation.

Toleration is good but not when it prevents fair interrogation and robust argument. I have written hundreds of times about the prejudices and discrimination experienced by Muslims, and other minorities and no doubt will have to again. It isn’t easy being a Muslim anywhere in the world- not in Muslim lands or the west.  But when Muslims wilfully create problems and build barriers, anti-racists and egalitarians  have an absolute duty to engage with them critically and in good faith. I know frank engagement is avoided because it gives succour to the EDL, BNP, Neocons and manic anti-Muslim atheists. I too have to think long and hard before penning columns like this one. In the end though, I don’t think we should abdicate these grave responsibilities because so much is at stake.

The woman before the judge must know that she or others like her will never be judges or barristers themselves. Will she make her daughters do the same? This wasn’t the system picking on her- a defendant in a micro mini would have caused as much disquiet. And the aggrieved college student, what future does she imagine for herself? She denies herself jobs in so many fields for the sake of what? They keep apart from fellow Britons by withholding proper human interactions, watching without being seen. It’s not right or fair.

None of our sacred texts command us to cover our faces. Various branches  of Islam do not even require head coverings. These are manmade injunctions followed by unquestioning women. We are also directed always to accept the laws and regulations of the countries we live in and its institutions, as long as they are reasonable. For security, justice, travel, education and health identification is vital. Why should these women be exempt? We Muslims are already unfairly mistrusted and thought of as the enemy within. Niqabs make us appear more alien, more dangerous and suspicious. If it is a provocation for Ku Klux Klan to cover up so they can’t be recognised, it is for Muslims too.

This is a struggle between the light of the faith and dark forces here and also in post revolution Arab countries. The clothes symbolize an attempted takeover of the religion just when believers are looking for liberty, autonomy, democracy and gender equality.  Malala Yousafzai  doesn’t hide her determined face. Nor do our female Muslim MPs and Peers or civil rights lawyers. Some of the bravest human rights activists are Muslim women. Take Tamsila Tauquir awarded an MBE for her charitable work with Muslims and Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, which I co-founded seven years ago. The two of them, with other idealists, have embarked on an ‘inclusive mosque’ initiative, with pop up prayers in various venues, where men and women, gays and straight people, humanists and modernists can pray and lead prayers together. There are many others trying to promote progressive Islam, which fits our times and needs.

Saudi Islam zealots must fear these developments and want to crush them. Whether they know it or not, fully veiled women are part of this reactionary mission. Our state must not aid and abet them. The judge and the college should not have retreated and handed them this victory.

The Independent, 16th September 2013

Saudi Arabia: An Evil Empire

 

OMG, what was she thinking? Camilla, wife of our future king, wore a flimsy, unsecured  headscarf on her trip to Saudi Arabia. It rebelliously slipped off and almost uncovered all her hair! According to the strict, conservative Saudi Wahabi practice of Islam, uncovered hidden female tresses, old and young, are as licentious as exposed pubic hair. I was told this in earnest by a Saudi trained British Imam. The Duchess’ moment of shamelessness must have prompted diplomatic jitters. Did the British Embassy press a panic button and send officials to apologise profusely and genuflect even more abjectly in front of the rulers? Probably. Described as an ‘ally’ and ‘friend’ by the UK, US and other western nations, Saudi Arabia is a dominatrix, lashing the whip, inflicting humiliation on grateful, international partners.

There has been some bother over this official visit by Charles and Camilla to a country which has just mass executed seven men. The protests are both obtuse, silly and a distraction. World royals network, have strong common interests, understand and prop up one another, exchange bling and niceties and sometimes interbreed. Charles is keen on Islamic thought and aesthetics and seriously so, but never dips his fingers into the messy business of Middle East politics. To expect the prince to stand up for human rights is about as hopeless as expecting him to be an equal rights champion of his nation. He was not raised to do either, poor chap, so why waste all that outrage on him?

The real iniquity is the way our state with others sucks up to Saudi Arabia, while knowing its tyrannical governance and malevolent global influence. The official abuse and repression of  its citizens is so embedded, most victims are inured to the violations, the ultimate debasement. Iran, led by the abhorrent Ahmadinejad, also executes and tortures its people, but its women can drive, work, go to university and initiate divorce and get custody of their children. Saudi women are denied all those choices and rights. Yet western observers incessantly slam Iran ( rightly) but say much less about Saudi Arabia. Yes, very slowly, some pitifully small rights are being handed to women. For the first time female politicians have been given an advisory role and smart young women are able to work under restrictive conditions, but at this pace, the world will end before Saudi women achieve full human status. Black cloaks render them invisible and happily for the men, hide all unseemly marks of domestic abuse. The judiciary system is unaccountable focussed on the cruellest of punishments. People are spied upon, foreign workers enslaved, non-Muslims and non-Sunni Muslims treated with contempt or worse. Islam’s holiest shrines are found in one of the unholiest of lands, where even these monuments are unsafe.

Recently, as my colleague Jerome Taylor reported, bulldozers have been pulling down the oldest, most invaluable and precious structures in Medina, some going back to the birth of the faith. The men in charge have already destroyed most other physical remnants of history, ignoring the pleas of archaeologists and Islamic scholars. If it were happening here Charles would raise royal hell; there he fawns to the Philistines. Science isn’t safe either. We are seeing the first cases of a deadly, unknown virus which has killed over a dozen people. A man died in Jeddah and another in the UK after a trip to Mecca. Professor Ali Mohamed Zaki, an Egyptian doctor working in Saudi Arabia was deported after he found this new strain and got it analyzed by Dutch virologists.

Then there is the hushed and hushed up spread of Wahabi Islam from north to south, east to west. Saudi funded Wahabis are here, there and everywhere, successfully eradicating all diversity and ease in Islam, aggressively exporting their own brand. I have seen the results of this  infiltration in Tanzania, India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Egypt and across western cities. The ideology leavens and raises intolerance, extremism and in some instigates violence. The 9/11 killers and original, prototype Al Qaeda ideologues were Saudi led. In 2002, the Washington Post leaked a report by a hawkish Neocon defence consultant to the US government which warned that the ‘Saudis are active at every level of the terror chain, from planners, to financiers, from cadre to foot soldiers, from ideologist to cheerleader.’ The report’s hawkish recommendations to take over oil-producing desert lands were abominable, but the analysis was spot on. The White House and Blair’s lot  took no notice and instead sold that regime arms.

The oil’s the thing and I do understand that. But in December 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration, which provides independent statistical analysis, Venezuela was the second largest supplier of crude oil to the US. Saudi Arabia was the third biggest. So, why did the American and British spokespeople and commentators fearlessly slag off the late Hugo Chavez? Some of the criticisms were justified, others ideological and grossly unfair, but they didn’t hold their tongues as they do with Saudi Arabia, an evil empire  if ever there was one. By sending Royals to court them, our government endorses this evil and ensures none of us is safe. We should be mobilizing against this collusion but don’t. So it is our fault too.

The Independent 17th March 2013