Muslim blogs

Pakistan’s ReinKhanation: Do Election Results Signal a New Dawn for the Country?

The Platform - Fri, 17/08/2018 - 14:44

Many Pakistanis harbour hope for a new dawn on the nation as Imran Khan is sworn in as prime minister

The 25th of July saw a new wave of hope in the 200 million strong population of Pakistan, as Imran Khan won the general election to become prime minister. How he will fare in a country where no prime minister has ever completed a full term will be monumental in the country’s history.

The in-tray is not short of challenges for the prime minister-elect; corruption laces through every vein of Pakistan from traffic patrols to the judiciary. It is globally regarded as a hot spot for sectarian conflict and for the “War on Terror”. Amid growing Islamophobia globally and the constant political instability at home, whether a man given the moniker of “Taliban Khan” can deliver a tangible and positive change for the country will have huge implications.

As opposed to his counterparts, Imran Khan is not feudalistic and garners support not on the basis of caste and feudalism, but policy and change. This seems to bother western commentators whose eyes are fixed on a colonial narrative, whereby an independent-minded Muslim leader, outside of a western sphere of influence, prompts deep uncertainty and doubt.

These often grotesque displays of Islamophobia are evident in the coverage given to Imran Khan, and in particular of his advocacy to encourage peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan).

In response to US drone strikes which were allegedly aimed to specifically target 24 men, but have instead killed 847 innocent civilians including 142 children, Khan called for an end to drone strikes and an end to a one-sided relationship with western powers, in which the “Pakistani government tolerates drone strikes in return for aid money”. Khan has argued that peace talks are not a deplorable idea, and that “Pakistan, Afghanistan and America are in need of peace and a mutually beneficial, balanced relationship”. Many Pakistanis agree with him.

Years of brutal war have cost Pakistan countless innocent civilian lives, and the US and UK millions in taxpayers’ money. The country’s infrastructure, economy and tourist influx has taken a huge hit. Interference of both the American and Pakistani military in cases such as Operation Khyber and Black Thunderstorm have been futile in tackling the presence of Taliban fighters, or their ability to adapt and respond.

As the United States was the nation to instruct Qatar to host a Taliban office for peace talks, it is vital that at this juncture the United States supports Imran Khan’s decision to establish communication with the Taliban, rather than insisting on a violent approach. It is not Pakistan alone that needs peace to prosper; the international community does too. As Khan has said, “We need to establish peace in Afghanistan to stabilise the entire region and improve relationships; we hope to mediate this.”

Every election Pakistan conducts is fuelled with debates of international influence, army interference and vote rigging. This time, many have claimed that Khan has been appointed as the ladla (favourite) of the army, rather than legitimately voted for, due to his soft corner and support for the military of Pakistan. Accusations such as these are thrown about daily and regularly in Pakistan.

In these elections, however, the election commission was appointed by the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, now imprisoned on corruption charges. Meanwhile, the army personnel to oversee fair and free elections were agreed upon by the oppositional Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the then governing party (Pakistan Muslim League N). Though the opposition parties have made claims of rigging, these have been minor compared to the collective uproar in the 2013 elections. If Imran Khan and the army are indeed complicit in rigging the elections, they have certainly not done a good job. The party of Khan, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), does not hold a majority in neither the national assembly nor the most populous state, the Punjab.

Imran Khan has already proven his mettle in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province by creating a social welfare state, depoliticising the local police and making education more accessible, thereby raising literacy rates to nearly 70%. For many Pakistanis, these are noteworthy achievements that offer proof that Imran Khan can bring change to the rest of Pakistan.

Khan’s aims are to tackle corruption, raise the aspirations of the poor and labouring classes, make education an accessible right not a luxury, and to make peace with Pakistan’s neighbours. He is also the first South Asian leader to take an initiative on climate change by initiating the “Billion Tree Tsunami” project in an effort to restore the province’s depleted forests and fight the effects of climate change. This is a man that has fought the political elite all his career. And now he has been elected, Imran Khan wants to implement positive change and create a Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan).

I have spent time in Pakistan’s major cities over the last year, and it resonates within people’s conversations and hopes that they see a new, flourishing Pakistan under Imran Khan’s leadership. Economically, there have already been positive changes. The dollar has weakened against the Pakistani rupee, and there is a renewed confidence in the Pakistani economy and businesses over recent weeks.

On the 71st birthday of the birth of this nation, Imran Khan is taking his oath as PM. As Pakistan steps into a light, the world can support it or watch as Pakistan renews itself.

Image from here

Categories: Muslim blogs

Road Safety Protests Reveal Systemic Corruption in Bangladesh

The Platform - Thu, 16/08/2018 - 18:37

Crackdowns and corruption are hindering progress in Bangladesh’s troubled political landscape

Bangladesh is no stranger to mass-scale violence. Yet recent protests, along with the subsequent crackdowns, have marked a watershed moment in the country’s history.

While the country has experienced robust economic growth and infrastructural improvements, it continues to be plagued by a myriad of issues. One such issue is Bangladesh’s troubled urban transport scene, which has only become more complicated over time. Dhaka, a city of 18 million, faces traffic gridlock on a daily basis. Commuters lose a total 3.2 million working hours daily, travelling at an average driving speed of seven kilometres per hour.

Currently, there are 6,000 city buses in operation in Dhaka, carrying a total of 300,000 passengers each day. These buses habitually overload their poorly maintained vehicles with excess passengers. Powerful officials own several private bus companies, often providing patronage to bus and rickshaw drivers. Indeed, the Shipping Minister, Shahjahan Khan, is also president of Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Union. The drivers’ unions are dangerously belligerent, going on strikes whenever the question of disciplinary action for reckless driving arises among the populace.

On 29th July, two students were run over and killed by a speeding bus, after the driver lost control while trying to pick up passengers. This is a worryingly normal occurrence in Bangladesh, in which 2,471 people have been killed in road accidents between January and June 2018 alone. A wave of student protests followed, starting from 30th July. Schoolchildren, numbering in the tens of thousands, blocked roads and intersections, leading to deadlock in the city. On paper, the scope of the protests is limited to the issue of road safety. For many, however, it’s a rallying cry for addressing larger problems of systemic corruption.

The protesters published a nine-point demand, urging the government to improve road safety. When the government declared that they accepted the demands and urged the students to return home on 2nd August, many protesters remained sceptical, fearing a repeat of the Quota Reform Movement’s outcome earlier in May. In this movement, students had protested against the complex reservation system for recruitment in government institutions, where 54% of available vacancies in Bangladesh’s civil service are reserved for minorities and special interest groups. Although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised substantial reform, no public progress was seen in the three months that followed. Rather, leaders from the reform movement were systematically targeted, beaten, arrested and, in some cases, kidnapped.

Faced with a growing crisis that could go out of control, the government have pursued a severe crackdown since 3rd August. The police, in concert with pro-government groups, violently suppressed and injured an estimated 140 protesters and media representatives across the capital. Before the crackdowns began, internet speed was slowed down for 24 hours to 2G levels. This prevented live coverage of the attacks. Journalists and others covering the events were targeted and beaten by the attackers, who snatched and broke their phones and cameras.

On the night of 4th August, police arrested Shahidul Alam, an activist and prominent photojournalist, for criticising the government in an interview for Al Jazeera. Initially, the police denied knowledge of detaining him, before presenting a visibly limping Shahidul at court to seek a seven-day remand.

The crackdown culminated in a joint assault on several university campuses. These unidentified attackers – reportedly belonging to Bangladesh Chattra League (BCL), the student wing of the ruling Awami League – also vandalised vehicles, including one carrying US ambassador Marcia Bernicat. “Nothing can justify the brutal attacks and violence over the weekend against the thousands of young people who have been peacefully exercising their democratic rights,” the US ambassador expressed in an official statement. Since then, the UN, the EU and Amnesty International have also condemned the violence. So far, 29 cases have been filed against the protesters. Forty-one people, including 22 students of private universities, have been arrested. No cases have yet been filed against the unidentified attackers.

The current regime is in the middle of a near ten-year reign, headed by Sheikh Hasina. In the last 30 years, her party, the Awami League, and the opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), have taken turns leading the country. This perennial contest reached a turning point earlier this year, when Khaleda Zia, the head of the BNP, was sentenced to five years in jail in February, charged guilty of embezzling an orphans’ fund.

Over the years, Bangladesh’s standing in important indices has declined considerably. When the current regime first came to power in 2009, Bangladesh’s Corruptions Perceptions Index (CPI) rank was 139. Its CPI rank in 2014, when Awami League retained power in an election boycotted by the BNP, had slid down to 145, before slightly improving to 143 in 2017. Earlier this year, Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation rated Bangladesh as a new autocracy, measuring factors such as quality of democracy, market economy and governance. “These developments are worrying for citizens,” the report stated about Bangladesh, “because corruption, social exclusion and barriers to fair economic competition continue to be more prevalent in autocracies.”

According to experts, the hardline nature of the government crackdowns could reflect panic and anxiety about the looming elections. “I think they are worried that any protests against the government could bring the opposition out on the street,” said Omar Waraich, the deputy director for South Asia at Amnesty International. “They want to crush these protests immediately – they see them for not just what they are, but what they could be.”

At the moment, the movement has largely died down. Allegedly beaten in custody, Shahidul Alam has now been charged under Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information Communications Technology Act, which penalises those who criticise the government online, and will remain there at least until his hearing on 11th September. While the youth still harbour widespread resentment, there is an uneasy notable silence across most platforms. Social media and all forms of communications are being closely monitored by authorities.

Although a draft of the new Road Transport Act 2018 has been approved by cabinet, it has been met with substantial criticism. The maximum penalty for deaths in accidents is five years. In comparison, political dissidents can be jailed under Section 57 of the ICT Act for up to 14 years. The ICT Act itself is being reformed, but the punishments have been expanded to cover a range of offences and remain just as severe.

While further actions by citizens seem unlikely in the short term, the clouds of uncertainty circling over the south-east Asian delta have become murkier. It just might be that the calm that has descended upon Bangladesh represents a pause before a larger, deadlier storm.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Siding With The Truth

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Thu, 16/08/2018 - 04:47

Yesterday, August 14, 2018, marked the passing of five years since the massacre of at least a thousand innocent protesters and the injuring of thousands more in Cairo’s Rabaa Square. Merely writing these words will generate charges of siding with the ousted Egyptian President, Mohammed Morsi, and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. We need to ignore such diversionary tactics, regardless of the situation. We have to side with the truth.

The truth of the matter is that the Egyptian military, under the leadership of the current president, Abdel Fattah Sisi, made a decision to kill the fledgling democratic process of that country, and to punctuate that death by murdering the greatest symbol of opposition to their crime, the protesters assembled at Rabaa.

There are those who will argue that some of the protesters were armed. They well might have been just as they might have been agent provocateurs sent to provide a pretext for the massacre. What happened that day, however, was not the result of an effort to neutralize one or two or a handful of gun-toting individuals. The military intended to clear the square, thereby clearing the last symbol of opposition to the reinstitution of autocratic rule in Egypt. To do that job they prepositioned bulldozers, armored vehicles, helicopters, snipers and hundreds of soldiers with orders to shoot to kill. 

When the smoke cleared and the square was “retaken,” the bodies of thousands of dead and wounded littered the ground. A makeshift hospital to treat the injured had been burned to the ground with many wounded individuals still inside. Egypt’s brief experiment with democracy lay in ruin.

Why speak out against this atrocity now? To remind ourselves at this time when it is so easy to forget that violence is not an acceptable way for Muslims to resolve our problems. As Muslims slaughter each other in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, the fatwas justifying the carnage flow as fast as the blood. The Rabaa Massacre certainly had its share of justifying fatwas. At the end of the day these mockeries of our faith will only cease when we all adhere to, uphold, and sanctify a single prophetic proclamation: “The Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hand other Muslims are safe.” I side with that.


File photo: Supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi perform the weekly Friday prayers at Rabaa Adawiya square where they are camping, in Cairo July 12, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Categories: Muslim blogs

For the Sake of All of Us, Labour Must Reject the IHRA’s Definition of Anti-Semitism

The Platform - Wed, 15/08/2018 - 15:16

The Labour Party must uphold their own definition of anti-Semitism but British Politics needs to recognise discrimination is all of its forms

In the last few days Israel has killed a toddler and bombed a cultural centre in Gaza. Amid the suffocation of Israel’s siege, people are horribly bruised, but still they danced until such a haven was destroyed. They tried, as any of us would try, to maintain their humanity. Israel says it is the real victim, and in a sense that’s right; decades of paranoia contort the soul. Palestinians can stand up for their dignity and feel human for it, where Israelis are altered and damaged by meting out such violence in the defence of dispossession. None of this is unique – it is the sad truth of empire, long familiar to millions across the world.

Faraway in Britain, the Labour Party is now considering adopting the view of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) that it is anti-Semitic to call Israel’s existence a racist endeavour. The critique of this bid to turn Jews into soldiers and settlers is to be outlawed in the name of protecting us, and what of the indigenous population against whom our guns have been pitted for 70 years now? They are invisible. Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, recalled entering a Palestinian town in 1948 and seeing food left uneaten on tables as families fled. She was troubled, she said, by the resonances of scenes from Jewish homes in Europe just a few years earlier. That was the parallel she reached for then, and I think of the damage done to the young woman who witnessed that and then had to blot it out for the sake of her state-building project, eventually coming to deny that the Palestinian people even existed. She built parks for Jews in places where others had walked the day before: natives cleared out to make room for settlers. Jews from all over the world were told to be happy and free and to build homes atop the ruined homes of others. None of this is to be said, the IHRA insists. Tragically it endorses the presumption that defending Jews must mean defending Israel. It dooms the battle against anti-Semitism by tying it to racist violence, just as the battle against Islamophobia would be doomed if it demanded support for the Saudi war on Yemen or the Iranian state’s butchery in Syria.

There is an episode in the new series of The Handmaid’s Tale where diplomats from the dystopian Gilead attempt to establish friendly relations with Canada. When evidence surfaces of Gilead’s systemic abuse of women, the Canadians send them packing in a dramatic geopolitical repudiation of violence and injustice. This is how the crudest liberal humanitarians think their ‘international community’ really works. Palestine undermines that picture. Palestinians are rendered stateless, occupied, turned into demographic threats in their own homes or turned into refugees, and then here in Britain they are policed when they talk of the bulldozers that destroy their homes, lest they should offend others. Even in The Handmaid’s Tale, which wants to shock viewers with its unbearable horrors, it is taken for granted that beyond the borders of the killing, people sympathise. That is not the world we inhabit.

There are two groups of victims in this debate. It is worth stating that. While most are blind to the existence of the Palestinians, some ultra-Corbynites have turned denying anti-Semitism into a left-wing principle. Eager to fight a factional attack on Jeremy Corbyn, the likes of Pete Willsman and Chris Williamson barely stop to notice that the biggest group anxious about anti-Semitism are not cynical ‘Blairites’ or ‘Zionists’ but British Jews with honest concerns. They thus fail to apply (what should be) a left-wing intuition, that bigotry is not marginal or rare, but deeply embedded in hierarchical societies. The easiest response to experiences of suffering is to imagine a conspiratorial hand wrecking the world. That is how anti-Semitism proliferates. Anti-Semitism sits at the core of the western tradition because it is a mechanism for avoiding the conclusion that society is fundamentally unhealthy by blaming a few outsiders for all its problems instead. Many who think themselves noble and progressive might fall just a little into this seductive thinking. In the name of attacking Corbyn, Britain’s political mainstream has suddenly learned that lesson – it is difficult today to imagine the tabloids mocking a Jewish politician for failing to eat a bacon sandwich, as they did in 2015 with Ed Miliband, now that the subtle innuendos through which anti-Semitism spreads are under scrutiny. Labour should be much more confident and much more militant in battling anti-Semitism. In place of the sordid view that to acknowledge the existence of anti-Semitism on the left is to make a ‘concession’ to the right, we should condemn high-profile cases of apologism and denialism over anti-Semitism. That should form part of a meaningful bid to change the culture on the left. We ought to understand the battle against racism in much the same way as our most progressive instincts have always seen the battle against misogyny and homophobia: as a struggle to be fought within the left and not only against the right. On that view, understandable anger at smears against Corbyn’s Labour Party can never be a sufficient reaction to this crisis.

Confronting anti-Semitism will not be enough to end this saga. Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are profoundly and honestly entangled in the minds of many, so that plenty of British Jews see solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle as nothing but an attack on the Jewish collective. In that context, it is tempting to pull our punches and adopt the IHRA text in full. But all the nobility of anti-racist struggle is demeaned where it becomes a cheap attempt to make bad headlines go away, and where other victims of racism get thrown under the bus to that end. Nobody will be fooled by the back-pedalling. Labour will not stop the attacks on Corbyn by adopting the IHRA text – the campaign will only be egged on by accepting a document that treats a good deal of solidarity with a pummelled people as racism. As it scrambles to retreat and accept the text, Labour risks inviting endless complaints against its leading pro-Palestinian figures under the IHRA’s misshapen understanding of anti-Semitism – so the party would do better to tap into the best, most radical traditions of the left which treat anti-racism as a consistent principle. The currently prevalent binary among Corbyn’s supporters pits defensiveness against acquiescence. Some seek to batten down the hatches and refuse both the IHRA text and attempts to discipline prominent activists – those who have dismissed the existence of anti-Semitism as a problem in Labour or who have sailed close to anti-Semitic tropes – while others want to fold on both issues. In practice, that means nobody is advocating firm, uncompromising opposition both to bigotry directed against Jews and to state racism directed against Palestinians, which offers the only principled path out of this mess. Being at our anti-racist best may not be enough to guarantee that we win, but it does give us more hope of winning than if we bind ourselves miserably to some of the worst defensive or acquiescent reflexes currently common on the left, which only end up damaging us all.

If politicians now demanded that Orthodox Jews changed their dress code they would surely be called racists, though a decade ago Jack Straw asked Muslim women to do that and he remains a respected figure. If politicians said Jews should be at the bottom of the pecking order when allocating council housing there would be a furore, yet Margaret Hodge said that about migrants and is considered an anti-racist. One of the greatest canards of this anti-Semitism debate has been the frequent assertion that Labour was ever an ‘anti-racist’ party. The dog-whistles of Straw and Hodge show how far Blairism was from that, and the dog-whistles of Jackie Walker and Ken Livingstone show how far we still have to go in the age of Corbyn. It should be the job of the left to challenge complacency and to insist that prejudice is ubiquitous and often veiled behind tropes, that British Jews are subjected to it, too, and that our politics fights the suffocating force of discrimination, and champions human freedom without exceptions.

 A different version of this article first appeared at the Jewish Quarterly here.

Image from here

Categories: Muslim blogs

Wake Up and Smell the Ashes: Climate Change Is Our Problem Now

The Platform - Tue, 14/08/2018 - 01:53

Our consumerist generation must face the heat and bring about a shift in culture

The UK’s heatwave looks to be breathing its last, and I write this enjoying a glorious rainy downpour outside my window. To say the least, I found it uncomfortable. It got very, very hot, and I think, as a nation, we have proven to the fates controlling the weather that we have learnt our lesson and will never again complain about our good, reliable English weather. We are much more suited to a climate that is neither hot nor cold, a little bit rainy but not too much, occasionally snowy but never for too long and predominantly cloudy with the odd thrill of a thunder storm.

Now that it’s sizzling out, it’s easy to revert back to complacency about whatever remote changes are taking place to our climate. Climate change IS happening, just not really here. We’ve read the news stories and sent thoughts and prayers to distant lands hit by natural disasters with no real means of bouncing back in a hurry, but our firsthand experience is somewhat limited. We’ve never experienced the types of floods that kill thousands, wildfires that engulf entire towns, or had to limit our shower time because the taps are running dry. But, this summer has been noticeably hotter. Not just here, but everywhere. The planet seems to be literally catching fire; Greece was hit by a devastating wildfire in the Attica region, just north of Athens, two weeks ago, taking the lives of 91 people, most of them families on holiday. Wildfires in California have been raging for over a week now and aren’t expected to be under control until September, despite the staggering 14,000 firefighters attempting to control the blaze (fourteen THOUSAND). Sweden has seen an unprecedented number of wildfires this year and has had to call in reinforcements from neighbouring countries to try to control them, with some reaching as far north as the Arctic circle, thanks to unusually hot, dry weather.

The worrying element this year, however, is the distribution of these hotspots. Unlike previous years, where areas of unusually high temperatures were isolated to only a handful of regions, this year has seen a more generalised distribution of higher than average temperatures throughout the globe.

Hot weather is dangerous. Just like cold winters, high temperatures kill old people, children and anyone slightly less able to cope. Healthy twenty-somethings are perfectly fine to cope with a little dehydration at work and an overheated bus. A pregnant lady stuck on the bus may collapse, and an 87-year-old man living alone may also collapse, not be able to reach a phone, and have to wait until someone finds him. Japan’s heatwave this year mounted a death toll of 80 – including a 91-year-old lady collapsing in a field and two further elderly women being found dead in their homes. The Japanese government declared it a natural disaster and counted 22,000 people attending hospital with heat-related conditions. Our beloved but struggling NHS may just not cope with recurring crises of that level, let alone the issue of staff and patients being stuck on poorly ventilated, overheating wards.

Air pollution, however, affects us all, young or old. Made of up toxic particles produced from car exhausts and factories, air pollution acts as an insidious silent killer. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 24% of all death from ischaemic heart disease globally is due to air pollution, as well as 23% of deaths from lung cancer. In London, air pollution is exceeding safe levels in ALL areas, including schools, and has been implicated as a risk factor for the development of childhood asthma. If the numbers don’t convince you, I encourage you to spend a day on the London Underground and blow your nose at the end. The colour won’t lie.

Most importantly, the problems presented by our changing climate are no longer as far off as they have always seemed. Many climate organisations have been campaigning for us to create a better world for our children and for our children’s children, ensuring they still have beaches to enjoy, trees in their gardens, breathable air and a sizeable chunk of the planet that isn’t a swollen landfill started in the 20th century. But the threshold temperature – the temperature at which the climate tips into an unpredictable hot mess, rendering parts of the globe uninhabitable – is only 60 years away if we continue at this rate. To put this in perspective, the tipping point is predicted to cause sea levels to rise by between 10 and 60 metres. Two thirds of the world’s largest cities lie less than 10 metres below sea level, including New York City and Miami. Again, this tipping point is only 60 years away – this is most definitely our generation’s problem.

Reading (and writing) this can seem a little overwhelming. We have an existing stack of local and global disasters that already seem quite hopeless, and sometimes the magnitude of climate change can just seem too much. But climate change is a political problem and it’s also an economic problem – it’s not something that we cannot hope to fix. We are voters in a democracy (we hope) and, as such, we have voices. We are consumers in a market, and as such, we have money to spend in ways we deem fit. Money speaks and the right to vote is a powerful thing, one that we can sometimes forget how privileged we are to possess.

Governments can make the decisions to reverse these processes by investing in green energy production, by recycling our waste responsibly, by making efforts to push us away from being utterly reliant on coal, oil and gas, and promoting self-sufficiency on wind and solar. But the reality is, ours and many other governments are doing very little to pave any kind of change in the way we treat the planet. Donald Trump, of course, left the Paris Climate Agreement two years ago, approved the use of fracking, and has inexplicably promised to open more coal mines in the name of creating jobs, as well as explicitly denying the existence of climate change. Our Conservative government is too preoccupied with exactly which disastrous Brexit strategy to opt for, rather than deal with the fact that the UK physically does not have the capacity to recycle all of its waste. Meanwhile, political pin-up Justin Trudeau is making good use of the Alberta oil fields to fuel his country, no matter what effect it has on the First Nations people or the ocean, as well as expanding Canadian gas production (and helping to fund the war in Yemen).

At the same time, we continue to consume goods with insatiable hunger, encouraging disposable fashion and financing companies that will sell us what we buy, irrespective of what it takes to produce it. Businesses will, unfortunately, do what makes money, and if this means selling cheap t-shirts designed to last a few weeks or burgers containing horse meat at £1 for 20, they will probably just do it. If we buy it, they will sell it. Fast fashion encourages consumers to regularly change their entire wardrobe, with fewer and fewer clothes being recycled. Cheap polyester garments are non-biodegradable and are covered in toxic chemicals needed to dye them. Businesses like coffee chains have seen a massive upsurge in the last decade, but it was recently revealed that the majority of paper coffee cups aren’t recycled at all, with ministers then voting against introducing a levy on non-reusable coffee cups that would encourage people to use their own, reusable ones. Frappuccinos and iced coffees are an Instagram favourite and always sold in a plastic cup with a plastic straw, neither of which can be recycled, yet we buy more and more of them (as long as the milk is organic, almond or gluten-free).

If consumers made a point to no longer tolerate such irresponsible practices, a real culture change could be underway with regards to the ethos behind our energy production. Use of plastic bags in the UK has reduced by an incredible 85% since introducing the 5p charge in 2015 – a testament to an insignificant sum of money producing a real culture change by forcing consumers to actively decide whether or not they need a bag.

As consumers and citizens, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to call out companies wasting resources, to call out our government for doing nothing and to check our own actions – whether it’s using your own bottle, your own coffee cup, or simply ensuring you turn off the light when you leave a room.

Ultimately, if we do nothing, the heatwave just gone is simply a warm-up. The only thing to do would be to stockpile deodorant and plan a new route home that avoids London’s sweltering central line. But if this doesn’t convince you, let me remind you of what a starving polar bear looks like on a melting ice-cap.

Image from here

Categories: Muslim blogs

Being a White Ally in Divided Times

The Platform - Sun, 12/08/2018 - 11:41

White people can support marginalised individuals and communities through direct and indirect methods 

Many, by now, will have heard of the lone Swedish activist, Elin Ersson, refusing to take her seat on the Gothenburg flight in order to prevent the deportation of a young Afghan man. It is important to mention for this piece that the young man, Ismail Khawari, was deported back to Afghanistan the following day.

My interest here is more about the role of privilege and how it can be deployed in order to rupture. My focus will be on white allies and how they can, productively and actively, stand side by side with those marginalised and disenfranchised in the fight against white supremacy. Recognising how such privileges can help dismantle power structures using tangible, everyday acts prove not only compelling but an absolute must. Ersson, when boarding this flight, was evidently conscious and aware of the power she held in carrying out her direct action, albeit for a temporary period, and utilised it to dissent those she was facing. No doubt there will be legal consequences for her; however, no struggle in history has been successful without facing the brutality of those in power.

What further allowed her to assert her privilege was the use of social media platforms and her live streaming of the incident. This facilitated an interaction with an audience who could take not only inspiration from her, but also lend their hand in solidarity. Social media, despite many of its criticisms, demonstrates the sheer power of disseminating dissent, allowing room for discussions on abuses of asylum seekers and the power structures that enable them. But as much as this social media avenue democratises the platform for protest, it is essential to remember that even the attempt at such a protest reveals an inequality, and is most certainly tied to privileges not extended to all.

I personally admire Ersson and her bravery in standing up for her principles. The moment of frustration while watching the video was hearing a British man try to interrupt and manhandle her as he attempted to snatch her phone from her. Such public protests, especially when done alone, require an immense amount of strength and willpower. She received some solidarity from a fellow passenger, although it was clear that the lack of support caused her a great deal of anxiety and stress.

Direct action implies the use of actual physical, social and economic power to demand a change. A significant example from history would be that of Peter Norman, the Australian athlete who, in the 1968 Olympics, stood up against racism in sport by wearing the ‘Olympic Project for Human Rights’, which cost him his career. Or here at home, it would be that of Jeremy Corbyn when he took a stand against the apartheid in South Africa. A more recent example of direct action took place in France, in which a group of people subverted the decision to deport a Sudanese man from their town. In this small village, “1 in 4 people signed a letter demanding his regularisation, and half the town physically fought the police.” Yes, these strategies employed as a form of intervention may be more risky, but the centrality of white allies deploying themselves in this manner is crucial. Considering the current political discourse surrounding BAME communities, following the Brexit vote as well as the rise of the far-right, it is of upmost importance to have allies who are able to see the violence employed by the state, and to be able to carry out actions like those in the small village in France. Such actions literally save lives, which ultimately saves humanity.

Such privileges can also be displayed in silence as micro-interventions without having to directly or physically confront a harasser. There is a superb bystander guide created by illustrator Maeril who titled it, “What to do when you are witnessing Islamophobic harassment?” This lays out a strategic way to deploy privilege but done in a way where this person does not find themselves in harm’s way. Dissenting and expressing solidarity are absolutely vital when standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a marginalised community, although safety is of upmost importance too, which I believe is viable through micro-interventions.

As much as these privileges can be deployed by white people, it is imperative to recognise how people of colour have been treated when they have taken collective action in order to stand up to authority. People of colour have found themselves bearing the brunt of the law, in its harshest forms, when they have resisted and have had their humanity denied. Alongside the dehumanisation, many also find themselves in excruciating circumstances and also have their communities dragged with them. On the other hand, when white individuals have tapped into their privileges and done the same, as was the case with Ersson, it illustrates a power disparity instantly. This can easily be gauged through how an audience reacts and/or responds to such a protest.

Protests and direct action have always been racialised and people of colour are very much aware of this. When people of colour want to be heard, they have to do so by being much louder, and recognising the implications and consequences which are not extended to their white counterparts. For white people, displaying such a courageous act carries inherent privileges and fewer risks.

This is not to say that people of colour are in need of saving and require constant assistance of white allies. This is a mere attempt at starting a discussion on how those who seek to offer support to those marginalised should do so by recognising the power dynamics at play. People of colour know where the roots of the issues lie that affect them and do not need ‘exceptionalised’ treatment from allies. A simple act of listening what those communities want and how they would like you to get involved is a start. In fact, history has taught us that people of colour have resisted and risen despite the challenges, without allies – yet having allies by our side will surely further strengthen this fight. The fight that is on our terms and conditions.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Young Blood on the Roads of Dhaka

The Platform - Sun, 05/08/2018 - 10:30

Children face state brutality as they protest for road safety in the Bangladeshi capital

Bangladesh was created with the blood of our grandfathers in 1971, a liberation war the stories of which we’ve all grown up hearing. Take a walk through the capital, Dhaka, and you’ll notice even the street names reflect our proud history. My own father was in the army, so I grew up surrounded by that rich history. I’d always considered the atrocities committed during the war to be a thing of the past – until six days ago. Two children, Diya Khanam Mim, 17, and Abdul Karim, 18, were killed on July 30, 2018, when a reckless truck driver lost control of his vehicle. Approximately nine others were injured as well.

These buses and trucks are a reality of life in Dhaka. Every one of us is uncomfortably familiar with blaring horns, underage drivers, falsified licences and unfit vehicles barrelling down the roads. My sister still insists on taking my hand every time we cross the road.

The people demanded justice. The desire for safe roads did not seem to be too much to ask for. What was unexpected, however, were the protesters: tender-aged high school students. These teenagers, wearing their school uniforms and backpacks, gathered by hundreds. Their crowds hampered traffic on a major roadway, but they had public sympathy. The victims of July 30 had been school-going children, with bright futures ahead of them that will never be realised.

The demonstrations continued for six days. I, like so many others in the capital, expected pandemonium; we witnessed perfect order instead. These children, these teenagers, found their demand unfulfilled by the government and took matters into their own hands. For the first time in my memory, I saw emergency lanes on the roads. Children in their school uniforms – their school logos proudly on their chests – stopping each vehicle on the road and demanding to see whether the driver has a valid driving licence or not. Those who did got a large white “OK” written on the windshield with chalk. My own car carried one of these badges of honour. As for those who didn’t have a valid licence, they simply wrote “INVALID” in clear chalk over the drivers’ vehicles. Once again, I expected violence, and I witnessed order.

Social media roared in support. Pictures emerged of mothers carrying bags of food for these children trying to better their country. These protesters were like nothing we’ve experienced before. Instead of burning and breaking, they were trying to do the right thing – and it was working.

Until the news broke yesterday afternoon. Four male students were allegedly murdered, four females dragged into police boxes and raped. They were attacked by the Chattra League (a students’ political group allied with the ruling government, Awami League) and the police themselves. The government denies this, claiming rumour-mongering and demanding the students either return to school or go back home.

Yet there are photos, videos, even eye-witness’ accounts flooding Facebook and Twitter showing crowds of demonstrating students and passersby being chased and harassed by uniformed policemen. The gunshots in the background are ear-splitting. Their authenticity is doubtful, but the sheer volume of it is overwhelming. Some of these students allegedly had their eyes gouged out, with the gory, blood-covered pictures all over social media. Someone I know helped medically treat one of these maimed children.

I myself received a frantic call from a friend last night. He lives in Dhanmondi, an affluent district of the capital which currently resembles a war zone. He had gone to Bashundhara R/A, a residential area which is where his university campus is, and couldn’t leave because there were allegations of a protester having just been killed at the gate. The streetlights had gone out there, the mobile networks mysteriously jammed, and the roads began to be referred to as “killing fields”. He could not go home and was forced to take shelter at the home of another friend nearby. And through it all, the media has appeared to be as silent as the graves of Karim and Mim, the two young road victims who propelled this movement.

We’ve all read dystopian stories of teenagers rising up to overthrow a corrupt government. But here, we do not have a Dumbledore. Our Harrys, Rons and Hermiones are being crushed in the streets, our Lily Potters have to watch their children try and fail to build a safe nation. What did the protesting children want, after all? The girls who will face the trauma and stigma of rape for their entire lives, and the boys whose graves will be forgotten in a year – what did they truly want?

A Bangladesh where my sister does not have to hold the hand of her 22-year-old sibling to walk to the shop on the other side of the street.

These children are trying to bring about a dream that should already have been a reality. The fact that they’ve had to go to such lengths to get what they want implies a terrible flaw in our justice system. What we need is a government who truly listens to us: improved public transport, a stricter method of screening when it comes to granting driving licences, and above all, justice for Karim and Mim.

It truly does not seem too much to ask for.

Image from here

Categories: Muslim blogs

Poem: What Put The Diamonds In Your Owner’s Wife’s Ears?

The Platform - Sat, 04/08/2018 - 11:03

Introduction

The Irish housing crisis is so acute it has led to university students spending the first week of term sleeping rough in the university grounds in the hope that something turns up in terms of accommodation. In May 2018 there were 3,826 children in emergency homeless accommodation. In every major Irish town there are a good number of people sleeping on the street which was never previously the case. The causes are simple enough: hardly any houses have been built since the economic crash of 2008 when the Irish construction industry collapsed, with tens of thousands of construction workers being forced to seek work abroad; and though the deny it, the very much right of centre Irish government is ideologically opposed to the building of large numbers of council houses – an essential component to any solution to this crisis.

What Put The Diamonds In Your Owner’s Wife’s Ears?

after Bertolt Brecht

You clean collared columnists
should first help us fix the basic roof-over-head
dilemma, before penning your next sermon.

You shower, who preach careful now
and always know your own exact bank balance,
what is this mature democracy towards which you sweat?
Without a door I can safely lock behind me
to keep your pity at bay, civilisation
doesn’t even begin.

First bring those of us who get by on Supermacs
each our own mahogany table and a big, silver knife
with which to cut the turkey and ham into manageable slices
(with a vegetarian option for those so afflicted)
and answer us this:

What put the diamonds in your owner’s wife’s ears?
Or the Prince Albert ring in her boyfriend’s willy?
The fact you’re in there polishing phrases
and we’re out here in the undemocratic rain
which everyone – from the Primate of the Church of Ireland
to the Council for the Women of Consequence – agrees
must never be allowed land on you,

this is what keeps pinning diamonds
to your owner’s wife’s sad little lobes,
and puts the ring that winks up at her
in her boyfriend’s knob.

Image from here

Categories: Muslim blogs

China’s Racist Police State: The Persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang

The Platform - Mon, 30/07/2018 - 06:54

Britain has a responsibility to address the hardline measures that China has adopted in Xinjiang

As Chinese state media reported last week, the new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is in China today. No doubt trade and international security will be high on his agenda, but he should also find the courage to speak up about human rights and the repression of Uyghur Muslims.

China is one of 30 “human rights priority countries” identified by the UK Foreign Office. Their annual report, Human Rights & Democracy, published this month, describes significant human rights concerns regarding China. It states, “In 2017, there was increased evidence of civil and political rights being infringed in China, and of space for civil society being tightened further.”

The report describes severe restrictions on freedom of expression across China, with the right to freedom of religion coming under particular pressure: “There were continued reports of the detention, harassment and persecution of religious groups – including Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners – and of the destruction of religious buildings.”

A growing area of concern is the persecution of the Uyghur people in China’s north-western region of Xinjiang, the biggest region in China – to the north of Tibet, and bordered by Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and India.

The area was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China in 1949, but it has a distinct identity and culture. It is the home of the Uyghur people, who are ethnically Turkic and practise Islam, and who refer to it as East Turkestan.

It is also of immense strategic importance to China, being rich in natural resources, including uranium, natural gas and oil. It provides access to central Asia, an area China is increasingly seeking to influence as part of its Belt and Road initiative.

The Chinese government has encouraged Han Chinese to settle in Xinjiang, changing the ethnic make-up of the region. In 1949, Han Chinese made up around 6 per cent of the local population, whereas by 2011, this had risen to 38 per cent.

They have adopted increasingly restrictive policies towards the Uyghur people since the riots in 2009, where at least 200 people are reported to have died. Many of those who were killed were Han, and tensions between the Uyghur and Han populations remain high.

As the FCO’s Human Rights & Democracy report notes: “In Xinjiang, the authorities introduced intrusive security and surveillance measures and cultural restrictions targeted at the Uyghur Muslim population. Thousands of Uyghurs were held in re-education camps after returning from abroad.”

These techniques are nothing new for Chen Quanguo, who was installed as the new Communist Party chief in Xinjiang in 2016. He had previously overseen a tough new security regime in Tibet and has brought his hardline approach to the region, along with massive increases in spending on police and security personnel. This has meant grid-style policing and deeply intrusive surveillance, using both technology and human sources. As one writer puts it, “Xinjiang is the nightmarish extreme that the new technology makes possible: a racist police state.”

Amid these concerning measures, the UK government are particularly interested in Xinjiang. In 2015, then Chancellor George Osborne visited Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, being the first British minister to visit the region. Following him, former Prime Minister David Cameron is now leading a £750 million government-supported investment fund, designed to capitalise on the Belt and Road initiative.

Re-education camps

The latest, and perhaps the most disturbing development to come to light, is the internment of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities into “re-education camps”. Inmates are subjected to political indoctrination, and those who do not comply risk isolation, being denied food and water, and even physical punishment. These camps get a brief mention in the Foreign Office’s report, but the suggestion is that only Uyghurs who have travelled abroad are interned – which is incorrect.

The Chinese government denies the camps’ existence, but Dr Adrian Zenz of The European School of Culture and Theology in Germany has used the government’s own records to demonstrate that facilities have been built to detain people right across Xinjiang. By some estimates, as many as one million people have been detained. Children are being sent to orphanages because there are no adults left to look after them.

Jeremy Hunt is an admirer of Chinese culture and is likely to get a warm welcome. No doubt he will want to do business on his visit. But he must do the right thing and speak up about Xinjiang too.

Image from here

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Blessed Man

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Thu, 26/07/2018 - 15:35

The blessed man he asks himself,
“Who am I meant to be?”
The people come they praise his words,
But him they cannot see.

Am I for real? Am I a fraud?
Am I the one they see?
The blessed man he just stands tall
And sturdy like a tree.

And then he tries to answer well
The question phrased so plain.
The blessed man has no response,
Which amplifies his pain.

Then in his tears and solitude
He sees a shining light,
Which heals his heart, soothes his pain
And tells him he’s alright.

The blessed man he understands
That all the way he’s come,
Was just a way for him to know
His service to the One.

So now he sees with clarity
The path he chose to trod,
Was merely a book wherein is written:
You are a servant of God.

Categories: Muslim blogs
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