20 October 2006

Apologies

I want to apologise for the increasingly long gaps between posting. I'm back at university now, teaching and researching, and spend most of my time commuting back and forth between Brighton and London. I'm also amassing a backlog of hugely significant activist projects, none of which I seem to have sufficient time to throw my energies into. Too much is happening at once. The global system is in overload, and crises are converging. North Korea toting its nukes; impending war with Iran; the carve-up of Iraq; the peak not only of global oil, but even global agricultural production and the imminence of energy and food shortages; contingency plans for the "internment" of Muslims and dissidents in the US and UK; the list goes on. Trying to keep up with and expose the extent of the mess we're in, as a society, as a system, is starting to take its toll on me; in particular, my wife and kids are suffering as a result. I'll be taking some time out from these projects for a while to sort my life out, get my head back into gear.

Will be back soon.

11 October 2006

Source Reveals CIA Electro-Shock Torture in Secret Detention Camps

"The electro shocks are administered without warning. This process is called 'loosening up'. When the person is screaming constantly between the shocks, the interrogators start talking to him in Arabic"
Memo by former British Army Officer Peter Wright, Recording Testimony of US Army Officer John Peirce, US Army Airfield Coleman Barracks, Mannheim, Germany


The Death of Democracy. CIA-style.

It's here folks. And it's official.

The final nail in the coffin comes with the instituting of the Military Commissions Act 2006, yet another draconian piece of anti-terrorism legislation that grants the US government almost absolute jurisdiction to act as judge, jury and executioner in the "War on Terror".

It's safe to say that, thanks to this and previous legislative attempts to consolidate unchecked state-power, the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been well and truly chain-saw massacred, by a "national security" bureaucracy intent on protecting its already stupendous ability to do exactly what it likes, regardless of the rule of law, democracy, or any of the other values and principles that are supposed to have been the prizes of western civilization.

This new Act demolishes habeas corpus, the basic element of due process, not only for non-US citizens, but also for anyone categorized as an "enemy combatant" -- as defined by none other than Mr. President. Does he have to give a reason or justification for such categorization? Does he have to supply any evidence for the decision? Is there any mechanism for assessing the strength of this evidence?

No.

It's unilateral. All Mr. President has to do is a sign a piece of paper claiming that the prospective detainee has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." This vacuous phrase means that anyone could be detained for the rest of their life, simply for contributing or participating in a group that Mr. President doesn't like; or even for simply criticizing the US government.

And worse still, unnoticed by many, this is the first piece of legislation that allows for US citizens to be defined as "unlawful enemy combatants", on the basis of which they can be detained with their civil and human rights severely curtailed.

Once detained, the Act deprives the detainee of all rights derived from the Geneva Convention. Civilians who have nothing to do with war can still be tried by a military commission rather than a normal civil court. There is no time-limit on the length of the trial, which could theoretically continue for until the detainee dies. The Act permits the use of classified intelligence evidence, and evidence extracted through torture. Evidence that the detainee is not necessarily allowed to even see or properly challenge. The Act also immunizes government officials for past war crimes.

Although the CIA practice of extraordinary rendition and torture has come under increasing scrutiny, the Military Commissions Act has now made it officially legal. Thousands of non-American innocent people have been abducted, trafficked across Europe and the Middle East, and then indefinitely detained for months and years, interrogated and tortured in secret prison centres, without charge. Even repeated decisions by the US Supreme Court condemned the practice, ordering the White House to put the detainees on trial or release them.

Britain is complicit, as is western Europe in general. The Council of Europe named the UK as among 14 countries assisting the CIA in the illegal rendition programme. So western civilization as we know it has been long engaged in the demolition of democratic principles enshrined in the will of the people governed by the rule of law. But the United States has led the way in stamping its seal of approval on the whole process. Neither Britain, nor Europe, is in any moral position to criticize the Act's legalization of practices categorized as flagrantly illegal under international law, as they, too, have been deeply involved.

New evidence from credible witnesses provides shocking new information about the scale of torture that the CIA, working secretly with various UK and European state authorities, has been involved in. A memo from a former British Army officer Peter Wright, who is currently head of one of the biggest scientific research organisations in Germany, recounts evidence from an American military police officer, John Peirce, stationed at the US Army Airfield Colman Barracks in Mannheim. According to the Wright memo, which is considered credible by Amnesty International Berlin, Peirce witnessed the torture of no less than three individuals by US Army and CIA officers. Below are excerpts from the document:

"... the 3 individuals were kept lying on their backs on a Standard US Army issue metal bed frame without a Mattress, all 3 of them were fitted to this bed with hand cuffs and foot cuffs so that they were in principle immobile. This condition had been [in place] for weeks which is easy to prove due to the very deep wounds due to pressure. The normal Toilet activates of a human being were also not allowed; they simply did this fixed to the bed and when the smell appeared US Army Inmates have to hose down the people with a fire hose and clean up.

The US Army has apparently selected this site due to the fact that a Detention site already exists and also due to the Airstrip also on site to allow ease of transport. The PFC [John Peirce] then went on to inform me of a more disgusting act that he has observed personally. The US Army fly in on regular occasions of 3 people 2 men one woman who are dressed not in uniform. It is common knowledge that they are from the CIA amongst the soldiers on base. They come to interrogate the 3 still chained to their beds by using electro-shocks by connecting one electrode to the bed frame and the other to a piece of copper wire wrapped around the Genitals, they bring with them each time a Device to allow this to be done.

First of all no questions are asked. The electro shocks are administered without warning. This process is called 'loosening up'. When the person is screaming constantly between the shocks, the interrogators start talking to him in Arabic, and the other detainees when they hear the screaming clap their hands and make other gestures and comments as they know also of what is happening. When the interrogators leave the Guard room, personnel have learned that to keep the men quiet they replace the professional electro-shock device with a field telephone. All 3 are wired-up to 3 field telephones in the Guard room office and if someone moans or cries they crank up the field telephone to give him a jolt of electricity to make him shut up. It is even a fun game to allow anyone who is willing to give a donation to a Serviceman’s widows organization, to crank the handle."

The US Army officer, John Peirce, who originally provided this information to Peter Wright has now disappeared, and efforts are underway in Germany to track him down.

The Wright memo is consistent with separate findings of evidence suggesting that German territory and airspace are being used for the rendition and torture of US prisoners. However, this is the first time that the kinds of interrogation methods being used by the CIA have been exposed in such detail, in particular the use of electro-shock torture.

This episode reveals the appalling depths to which western security services have sunk in the name of fighting the "War on Terror", and the extent to which western states hold the rule of law in contempt, when it comes to the pursuit and protection of vested interests.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly this morning talked about "non-negotiable" British values, such as respect for the law. But while government ministers preach to the public, and to the Muslim community, about the dangers of extremism and terrorism, western intelligence agencies have been busy terrorising and torturing thousands of innocent people in the name of defending our "security."

Islamic Feminism Resources

I'm posting some links here for those interested in reading up about Islamic feminist theory, and that will be it from me on this topic:

Islam and Feminism
An introductory survey.

Veiled4Allah
Discussions and comments on calls to ban all forms of the veil, from a Muslim women who wears the head-scarf. Focuses on basic issues of civil liberties.

Women in a Qur'anic Society
A summary article by a respected female Muslim academic discussing Islam, gender, and women in society.

Spiritual Role of Women in Islam
Essay on spiritual-ontological gender equality issues based on the Qur'an.

Women's Political Rights in Islam
Looks at Muslim history, as well as Islamic legal texts and sources, to discern the role of women as political subjects.

Legal Rights of Women in Islam
Attempts to correct the misconceptions about the idea that women are systematically marginalized or repressed by Islamic law.

The Fear of Hijab
One Muslim woman's attempt to understand why widespread western cultural revulsion at the phenomenon of women covering their heads with a piece of cloth.

The Veil and Sacred Space
A highly creative exploration of the meaning of the veil by a non-Muslim female academic.

Women in Islam, Judaism & Christianity
An intriguing comparative analysis of the what Islamic, Jewish and Christian religious texts say about women.

And an article on the head-scarf that might be of interest...

"Why do I Wear the Hijab?"

By Sultana Yusuf (a 17-year old Toronto high school student)

Published in Toronto Star: Young People Press.

A while back, a couple of girls in Montreal were kicked out of school for dressing like I do. It seems strange that a little piece of cloth would make for such controversy. Perhaps the fear is that I am harbouring an Uzi underneath it.

Of course, the issue at hand is more than a mere piece of cloth. I am a Muslim woman who, like millions of other Muslim women across the globe, chooses to wear the hijab. And the concept of the hijab, contrary to popular opinion, is actually one of the most fundamental aspects of female empowerment When I cover myself, I make it virtually impossible for people to judge me according to the way I look.

I cannot be categorised because of my attractiveness or lack thereof. Compare this to life in today's society: We are constantly sizing one another up on the basis of our clothing, jewelry, hair and makeup. What kind of depth can there be in a world like this?

Yes, I have a body, a physical manifestation upon this Earth. But it is the vessel of an intelligent mind and a strong spirit. It is not for the beholder to leer at or to use in advertisements to sell everything from beer to cars. Because of the superficiality of the world in which we live, external appearances are so stressed that the value of the individual counts for almost nothing. It is a myth that women in today's society are liberated. What kind of freedom can there be when a woman cannot walk down the street without every aspect of her physical self being 'checked out' When I wear the hijab I feel safe from all of this. I can be rest assured that no one is looking at me and making assumptions about my character from the length of my skirt. There is a barrier between me and those who would exploit me. I am first and foremost a human being, and not vulnerable because of my sexuality. One of the saddest truths of our time is the question of the beauty myth and female self-image. Reading popular teenage magazines, you can instantly find out what kind of body image is 'in' or 'out'. And if you have the 'wrong' body type, well, then, you're just going to have to change it, aren't you After all, there is no way that you can be overweight and still be beautiful.

Look at any advertisement. Is a woman being used to sell the product? How old is she? How attractive is she? What is she wearing more often than not? That woman will be no older than her early 20s, taller, slimmer and more attractive than average, dressed in skimpy clothing. Why do we allow ourselves to be manipulated like this? Whether the '90s woman wishes to believe it or not, she is being forced into a mould.

She is being coerced into selling herself, into compromising herself. This is why we have 13-year-old girls sticking their fingers down their throats and overweight adolescents hanging themselves. When people ask me if I feel oppressed, I can honestly say no. I made this decision out of my own free will. I like the fact that I am taking control of the way other people perceive me. I enjoy the fact that I don't give anyone anything to look at and that I have released myself from the bondage of the swinging pendulum of the fashion industry and other institutions that exploit females. My body is my own business. Nobody can tell me how I should look or whether or not I am beautiful. I know that there is more to me than that. I am also able to say no comfortably when people ask me if I feel as though my sexuality is being repressed. I have taken control of my sexuality.

I am thankful I will never have to suffer the fate of trying to lose/ gain weight or trying to find the exact lipstick shade that will go with my skin colour. I have made choices about what my priorities are and these are not among them. So next time you see me, don't look at me sympathetically. I am not under duress or a male-worshipping female captive from those barbarous Arabic deserts. I've been liberated.

9 October 2006

To Veil or Not to Veil: Is that the Question?

Many British Muslim women wear the head-scarf, or hijab. Some British Muslim women also wear the veil, or niqab, to cover their faces. These latter in particular are the type that make Jack Straw feel "uncomfortable".

Because he can't see their faces. And it, well, poses a really "visible reminder of our differences".

In addition was Straw's other important point: that veiling is a "statement of separation and difference"; and that it actually is responsible for the creation of parallel Muslim and non-Muslim communities. By putting his words carefully, Straw thus carefully prised open a whole new debate about the niqab/veil, a debate in which it is now perfectly politically correct to demand that Muslim women who wear the veil be forced to take it off.

So here we have yet another white, middle-class male trying to tell a bunch of women how they should live their lives, in particular how they should dress. The logic is the same as those Muslims who believe that forcing women to adhere to some sort of dress-code is justifiable. Both demands are on the same moral scale, and attempt to cut out the very subject of the debate, Muslim women themselves.

I was therefore quite heartened on Friday midday when I got a call from the newsdesk at the Independent on Sunday, who wanted to find a way of talking to Muslim women who wear the veil. I put them in touch with a friend of my wife, Sarah Hussain, who started wearing the veil several years ago as a matter of choice. I also advised them to contact the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, and Arzu Merali, who wears the head-scarf, and who is research director at the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

On p. 16-17 of the newspaper yesterday, they quoted, very briefly, the views of Sarah, Arzu, and an MPAC spokeswoman Catherine Hossain. I reproduce some excerpts here, so you can get an idea of what Muslim women themselves have to say about this issue (something it seems the rest of the media and others demanding that women stop veiling have little interest in):

Sarah Hussein, a student from Acton, West London, wears a full veil or niqab...: "The last two years have been a nightmare. I have had had abuse thrown at me so many times. When I was growing up I didn't wear a veil and then I made a spiritual decision to wear one -- I have experienced people's reaction to me when I was wearing the veil and when I wasn't, so I know this abuse is because I wear a veil. It is usually from white men in groups and it is when I am alone or with my family. They never say anything when my husband is there. I know it would be easier for me if I didn't wear my veil, but I shouldn't be dictated to as to who I am. I am not doing anything wrong, I am interacting with society and studying society."

Read these words carefully. It's all very well pontificating about the evil and oppression of a veiled woman, assuming that we know all there is to know about why a young modern Muslim woman might choose to wear it. But perhaps we should stop and think. Perhaps the gut-instinct, the cultural revulsion, the feeling "uncomfortable", is nothing more than the simplistic prejudice of seeing someone do things differently, in a way that one cannot understand. The task then is not necessarily to engage in a form of "liberal imperialism", commanding Muslim women to break free, throw off their veils, or ELSE! Perhaps the task is to build bridges of mutual cultural understanding.

Catherine Hossain is a nursery teacher and spokesperson for Ilford MPAC. She wears the hijab: "[Jack Straw] is creating a storm in a tea cup by saying some very 'headline-grabbing' things. I don't think it is far from the truth to say that it is for his own gain -- to become deputy prime minister... Talking about women taking off their veils is not going to help. It suggests that men are more integrated than women when there is no evidence for this."

Arzu Merali, co-author of a recent study into the Muslim community's reaction to veils and headscarfs: "Mr. Straw's abuse of power should not dictate to these women what they should wear. These women go to his surgery and are vulnerable and I suspect that they remove their veil because they feel they have to -- he is a powerful person. There is a perception that Muslim women are pushed around by Muslim men, but what Jack Straw is doing is no better than that. He is a bully."

However, the Independent on Sunday had these "Muslim views" at the bottom of a double-page spread that was taken up largely by a lengthy comment by Joan Smith in which she described how she "loathese the niqab and the burqa" as worn in Iraq and Afghanistan, and finds them "equally offensive on my local high street."

But Smith seems a little out of her depth. I have no doubt that in Iraq and Afghanistan, many Muslim women are forced to veil their face. But there are important caveats. The first is that, in predominantly Shi'ite Iraq especially, it is certainly not mainstream or traditional to wear the full niqab or veil (i.e. facial covering). Some women may choose to wear it. Others may indeed be forced. But the idea that the majority wear the niqab, and are forced to do so, is simply wrong.

However, there is undoubtedly a growing danger of women being forced to wear the head-scarf -- please note, that this practice of wearing a head-covering is also often referred to as "the veil" also, so the term "veil" needs to be properly defined depending on the circumstances. Look at US-occupied Iraq. The BBC reports that "UN officials in Baghdad say they are very concerned that religious extremists are intimidating women and girls into wearing the veil. In particular, some radical clerics have demanded that women -- even Christians -- wear the veil." (The veil referred to here, by the way, refers to the head, not the face). Similarly, The Guardian noted that the US-appointed governing council in Iraq, along with the dominant religious parties including those that now dominate the government, are responsible for climate in which Muslims girls "are being forced to wear the veil again."

And the same thing is indeed happening in US-occupied Afghanistan too. Violence against women there is not only as endemic as it was under the Taliban, it is explicitly condoned and actively facilitated by the Northern Alliance war-lord regime, with ministry officials policing women to ensure they comply with yet another national official dress-code.

I would like you to consider what was happening in 2003, as documented by Human Rights Watch, in western Herat, under the rule of Northern Alliance governor Ismail Khan. Khan was described by the Economist as "The west's favourite warlord", and "As good as it gets." The Economist goes on to praise Khan for promoting "open government" and other such "peaceful and enlightened" social programmes.

Perhaps Khan forgot the meaning of "peaceful and enlightened" when he was involved in what the 2003 annual Human Rights Watch report describes as follows:

"In western Herat, governor Ismail Khan ordered a number of announcements on television and radio about proper Islamic conduct, including instructions for all females to dress in Islamic clothes (taken to mean the burqa or chadori) and not to associate with men in public, and for men to refrain from wearing western clothes. Ismail Khan's troops began harassing women not dressed in the burqa or chadori--a more restrictive version of the hijab worn in neighboring Iran. Herat's police also began arresting unrelated men and women seen together; in several cases, men were taken to Herat's jail and beaten by police troops; women and girls were taken to a hospital, where police ordered doctors to perform forced medical checks to determine if the women and girls had had recent sexual intercourse."

A regional aberration? If only... HRW continues to look at what was going on the Afghan capital, where the president Hamid Karzai himself --an ex-UNOCAL consultant- resides:

"In Kabul, during the loya jirga, several conservative strongmen intimidated delegates, suggesting that if they spoke on Islamic issues or the Koran, they would 'face the consequences'. Sima Simar, a member of the first interim government, was accused of blasphemy, and told to appear in a court to face the charges (later dropped). Through 2002, there were reports of police forces storming wedding parties, insisting that playing music was 'illegal,' and arresting and sometimes beating musicians. Reconstituted Vice and Virtue squads patrolled Kabul, intimidating women without burqas and men wearing Western clothes."

[Incidentally governor Khan only became considered a problem when he "defied the central government and refused to hand over to Kabul most of the tax and customs revenue."]

In both societies, we have two US-backed governments which advocate a specific dress-code for women, to be policed as part of a theocratic social order. Smith is absolutely right to note these cases of systematic state-endorsed violence against women, and the manner in which certain configurations of power here actively justify the legal and physical control of female appearance. It's a shame that she misses out the all-important backdrop.

Note the backdrop: Both configurations of power include, at their helm, the forces of our Anglo-American "liberators", who are purportedly spreading forth democratization across the Muslim world. In the name of "democracy", we're still going around financing fundamentalists because, really, our leaders are not hugely interested in democracy, nor the human rights that our military interventionism consistently obliterates worldwide. They are far more interested in the more important matters of geostrategic and economic interests, particularly in terms of securing access and control over the world's most lucrative supplies of fast-dwindling hydrocarbon (oil, gas, etc.) energies.

The need for that access also explains why the US government, for instance, was happy to provide military and financial sponsorship to the Taliban from 1994 through to 2000, as confirmed in the Congressional testimony of people like Hon. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, former White House Special Assistant to Ronald Reagan. As one jubilant US diplomat remarked rather jubilantly:"The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did. There will be Aramco, pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that." Forget whether the Afghans wanted to live with that. That never was, and never has been, the point. The point is protecting UNOCAL, and related vested interests. And clearly still is.

There is, thus, a huge contrast between the decisions and plight of Muslim women in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those here in the USA, UK, or Western Europe. It is condescending and ignorant to attempt to group together Muslim women from these disparate regions into a single homogenous mass who can be defined and encapsulated under the same diagnosis. The fact is that the majority of those Muslim women in the west who wear some form of the veil (with or without facial covering, the vast majority do without), do so because they have made an informed choice to do so. Those who've taken the time to talk to Muslim women about this, rather than pontificate in an ivory tower, have by and large made great progress in bridging the subjective cultural divide. For instance, Mary Walker, who was a producer for the BBC2 series "Living Islam", drastically changed her views of the veil after talking to Muslims in 19 different countries:

"Just as to us the veil represents Muslim oppression, to them miniskirts and plunging necklines represent oppression. They said that men are cheating women in the West. They let us believe we're liberated but enslave us to the male gaze. However much I insist on the right to choose what I wear, I cannot deny that the choice is often dictated by what will make my body more attractive to men. Women cannot separate their identity from their appearance and so we remain trapped in the traditional feminine world, where the rules are written by men.

By choosing to wear the veil, these women were making a conscious decision to define their role in society and their relationship with men. That relationship appeard to be based more on exchange and mutual respect (a respect that was often lacking in the personal relationships I saw in the West), than the master/servant scenario I had anticipated. The Veil to them signified visual confirmation of their religious commitment, in which men and women were united, and for Zeenah and Fatima an even stronger commitment to a political ideal.

So were my notions of oppression in the form of the veil disqualified? If my definition of equality was free will then I could no longer define that oppression as a symptom of Islam. The women had all excercised their right to choose. To some extent, they were freer than me -- I had less control over my destiny. I could no longer point at them and say they were oppressed and I was not. My life was influenced by male approval as theirs -- but the element of choice had been taken out of mine. Their situations and their arguments had, after all, served to highlight shortcomings in my view of my own liberty."

It is this sort of self-reflection and analysis, as well as the previous deep-political critique, that was unfortunately completely missing from Joan Smith's Independent on Sunday piece. When Smith finally got round to the subject of Muslim women veiling in the UK, her comment was, typically, to portray the convictions and perceptions of Muslim women themselves as utterly irrelevant, and not worth any consideration at all:

"Muslim women in this country may be telling the truth when they say they are covering their hair and faces out of choice, but that doesn't mean they haven't been influenced by relatives and male clerics."

In one sentence, she dismisses the free decisions of millions of Muslim women as not even worth the freedom required to make them. These people must be oppressed! They must be coerced! The implication is that Muslim women are incapable of making their own choices and decisions, incapable of rational reflection, suffering from some sort of deep-seated inferiority, stupidity and/or vulnerability inherent to their peculiar Muslim psyche, requiring people like Jack Straw to stand up, take charge, and pressurize such women to change their backward ways. And immense socio-political pressure it is, whether or not it has been a legally-codified.

And of course, there is the wider issue of the alleged linkage between veiling and failed community relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. The fact remains that it is quite absurd to suggest that the phenomenon of parallel communities and so on has anything whatsoever to do with the fact that some women cover their faces. Straw's statement to this effect is a pathetic deflection away from policies of institutionalized racism and social segregation routinely deployed by local authorities under both the Tories and New Labour, including during Straw's tenure as Home Secretary.

Want to know why British Muslim Asians in areas like Blackburn and Bradford are separated off into impoverished ghettoised communities? Well, I wrote about this as a researcher at the Islamic Human Rights Commission, when I was doing a report on the Oldham riots. We found that institutional racism condoned by Oldham Borough Council was at the root of the underlying causative processes behind the rioting. Unemployment was twice as high for blacks and Asians, compared to whites. In particular, at 38 per cent, the unemployment rate for people of Pakistani and Bangladeshi ethnic origin is nearly five times that of white people. Housing conditions are also grim. Thirteen per cent of Oldham’s housing stock is “statutorily unfit for human habitation and a further 28% are in serious disrepair”. Areas with houses in such condition are predominantly inhabited by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Here is a relevant quote from my IHRC report (also available here) on the direct role of the local authority in manufacturing and consolidating these ethnically-defined parallel communities:

According to the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) this state of affairs is rooted in “a whole history of racism and social exclusion.” CARF reports that in 1993, Oldham Borough Council was found to have been operating “an unlawful segregation policy in its housing allocation”. The policy effectively “ghettoised Asians onto a rundown estate, while whites were given homes in a more desirable area.” The legacy of this policy, which has gone on for decades, has continued to this day, exacerbating an informal type of apartheid between the white and Asian communities. In 1990, Oldham Council attempted to cover-up a council housing allocation report it had commissioned which exposed a “staggering catalogue of discrimination.” The report found that Asians “spent longer on waiting lists, were more likely to be offered lower quality housing, and were segregated on specific estates around the town centre.” A Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) investigation into private housing conducted in the same year similarly revealed that at least two estate agents were “redlining­ the practice of confining different racial groups to their own areas.” Other problems include the fact that the Council has no race relations or quality officer; similarly, the local racial equality council was shut down two years ago.

Straw wants to blame Muslim women for the results of the racist and discriminatory social, economic, and housing policies of local authorities overseen by his own government, when it is such women who remain the principal victims of such policies. What a bitter irony indeed.

So if you're interested in genuinely tackling "Muslim ghettos" and parallel communities, you could start by writing to Home Secretary John Reid and asking what he's doing to reverse the deliberate entrenchment of "informal apartheid" between white and Asian communities dotted around the country, by corrupt local authorities.

And if you're rightly concerned about the rampant repression of women in Iraq and Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, you could start by writing to the Foreign Office and asking them to stop financing and supporting unpopular, tyrannical regimes throughout the Middle East.

And if you still think that covering the face is a danger to community relations, don't pontificate: prove it. I don't think compromising on yet more civil liberties at home is the way forward.

7 October 2006

The Muslim Problem

Muslims, it seems, are a problem. No, I should rephrase that. Muslims, it seems, are perhaps the problem of our times. Or at least one might be forgiven for believing that after the last few weeks and months. We've just had Jack Straw, the Leader of the House of Commons, and former Foreign and Home Secretary, tell us that Muslim women who cover the face with a veil or niqab make community relations "more difficult." And this is because, he says, concealing the face is "a visible statement of separation and difference."

So what is Straw saying? He's not just saying that he finds it "uncomfortable" to talk to a Muslim woman whose face he can't see. He's saying that the fact that some Muslim women choose to cover their face is a direct cause of communal tension, and a confirmation from Muslim women themselves that they indeed are different, and do not wish to engage in society.

Straw later went on to elaborate that he'd rather those Muslim women who wear the veil simply don't do so at all.

Straw's little outburst comes hot on the heels of a series of remarks, observations and political maneuverings consistently pointing at the various problems that Muslim pose to British, and western, society. In August, we had the 'liquid bomb' plot which both former and active military and intelligence experts have found to be either impossible or barely existing.

President Bush took the opportunity provided by the scare to declare that: “The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.”

The same phrase, a phrase he had never used before, he had also used that month to describe Israel's conflict with Lebanon. A conflict in which the preponderance of casualties was amongst Lebanese Muslims (as well as Christians).

And here in the UK, politicians, police and commentators described how the 'liquid bomb' plot proved that the threat came from British Muslims who, without any clear reason, without any obvious profile, from any social background even including a university education and a handsome employment, spontaneously decided to become suicide killers. By implications, we have a significant British Muslim problem. A problem of British Muslims spontaneously converting into Islamic fascists.

We then had Home Secretary John Reid's admonition to Muslim parents in East London that they ought to watch out for "tell-tale" signs of their childen undergoing this spontaneous profile-devoid, inexplicable process of conversion. What are these "tell-tale" signs? Rather than pointing, for instance, to the dangerous activities of notorious, entrenched, and proscribed extremist networks with terrorist connections like al-Muhajiroun and its successor groups, Saved Sect and al-Ghuraabah (and now al-Sabiqoon al-Awwaloon), Dr. Reid qualified his statements in an article in that most credible of tabloids, the Sun: "I appeal to you (the Muslim community) to look for changes in your teenage sons -- odd hours, dropping out of school or college, strange new friends."

**cough**splutter**

Sorry excuse me, it's just that this sounds a lot like me when I was, erm, busy failing my A-Levels at seventeen years old. Maybe I was spontaneously turning into an Islamic fascist but didn't realise? Maybe I should turn myself in?

Around the same time, the Pope decided to pipe in with a speech in which he quoted a Byzantine Emperor saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Some have suggested that angry Muslims took the quotation completely out of context, but an inspection of the rest of his text shows this not to be the case. The Pope, unfortunately, used the citation uncritically, and in support of his wider theological argument (a very questionable one at that) about the fundamental difference in Christian and Islamic views of the rationality of God's actions.

It took the Israeli military veteran and peace activist Uri Avnery, a self-described Jewish atheist, to take the Pope to task as follows:

"Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.

The story about 'spreading the faith by the sword' is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims--the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.


Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of 'Islamofascism' and the 'Global War on Terrorism'--when 'terrorism' has become a synonym for Muslims."

More recently, Tory Party leader and Prime Minister-wannabe David Cameron declared his brave plans to break up Muslim ghettos in British cities. That's right folks, Muslim ghettos: another big problem that Muslims pose to Britain, encapsulated in the phenomenon of (in Cameron's words): "Immigrant families who only ever meet people with the same country of origin. We need to find ways to avoid this."

Without even attempting to offer serious policy options to deal with the institutional discrimination and massive social deprivation behind the creation of "Muslim ghettos", Cameron suggested instead that "Islamic schools should in future admit a quarter of their pupils from other faiths", as if Islamic schools are actually a significant part of the problem. He didn't pause to wonder whether any Muslim schools in the UK had ever officially banned or prevented non-Muslims from attending (certainly not to my knowledge), or whether indeed non-Muslims might even be vaguely interested in attending a Muslim faith school, enough to fulfil his quota.

So Straw's remarks should not by any means be viewed in isolation. They are part of an inexorably growing western trend of problematizing Muslims, a phenomenon that is conjoined to concerted practices of western-backed imperial violence against largely (though not exclusively) Muslim populations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Occupied Territories, Lebanon and elsewhere, practices which are fast converging on an impending imperial onslaught against Iran. The casualty figures in dead and seriously injured from these extant military interventions is more than several million, mostly Muslim, civilians. Such processes actively facilitated by our governments in the Middle East and Central Asia cannot be compartmentalized away from processes of problematization of Muslim communities at home, where in the UK for example more than a thousand Muslims have been indefinitely detained under the Terrorism Act, out of which only half a dozen have been convicted. These external and internal processes are products of the same system, the same imperial social configurations.

As the 2005 report of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) on ‘Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims in the EU’ has documented, attacks on Muslims in western Europe have increased dramatically. Across western Europe, such attacks have accompanied an unprecedented escalation in

"... widespread negative attitudes toward Muslims; unbalanced and stereotypical media reports portraying Muslims as 'alien' to EU societies and as 'an enemy within'; verbal and physical attacks on Muslims and Muslim institutions and property; discrimination against Muslims in employment and other areas; aggressive political rhetoric used by right-populist parties to target Muslims;and security and immigration measures contributing to public perceptions of Muslims as a 'fifth column'."

One of the most authoritative studies of discrimination against Muslims in Britain was undertaken recently by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) in London, where I used to work as a researcher years ago. The IHRC survey has been described by the leading peer-reviewed Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, as providing “rich information from a large sample [whose research findings] are unparalleled in their focus and detail on a subject that has largely been overlooked and understudied.” The findings are rather shocking: overall, about 80 per cent of respondents reported experiences of discrimination because they were Muslim. In the face of this, the widespread feelings of discontent and victimization amongst Muslims is not only understandable, they are to some extent a perfectly rational reaction to an extremely disturbing national and international trend of hostility towards Muslims, expressed in forms of cultural, political and economic violence.

German social scientist Dr. Wolfram Richter, a professor of economics at the University of Dortmund, expressed his resulting concern as follows: “I am afraid we have not learned from our history. My main fear is that what we did to Jews we may now do to Muslims. The next holocaust would be against Muslims.” What we have been seeing over the past few months is the tail-end of a process that has continued since 9/11; a concerted political and cultural campaign the effect of which has been to portray Muslims as a dangerous, unpredictable group of 'others' who pose a problem to western civilization -- a problem that requires a "solution"; perhaps even a "final solution", if Dr. Richter's well-researched fears might suggest. It would be easy to dismiss Dr. Richter's comment as merely a groundless exaggeration. And while it may indeed be exaggerated, it is, unfortunately, not groundless.

3 October 2006

Australian journalist cites my 'liquid bomb' story

Antony Loewenstein, an Australian journalist and author of the bestselling book, My Israel Question (Melbourne University), has done a short incisive piece citing my liquid bomb plot critique on a leading online Australian newsmagazine, provocatively titled "Was the Heathrow 'terror plot' a political concoction?". The piece also links to Loewenstein's review of my book, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism.

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