Muslim blogs

The Monk of Mokha

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sun, 21/01/2018 - 19:43

“The Monk of Mokha,” Dave Eggers chronicle of the revival of Yemeni coffee through the efforts of an unlikely young man, could well have been entitled, “The Mad Adventures of Mokhtar Alkhanshali.” If fiction is art and nonfiction life, this book would definitely qualify as life imitating art. The unlikely evasion of certain death, the meeting of impossible deadlines, the left turns when a right would have led to disaster, the literal rise from the outhouse to the penthouse; all of this and more could not have been conjured up by the bestselling minds inhabiting the world of fiction.

Eggers book, however, is far more than a fast-paced adventure. It follows the evolution of a confused boy into a confident man. The details of Mokhtar’s personal growth could well fit into the template of a Horatio Alger, rags to riches, American dream novel. In this case the hero is not the child of European migrants fleeing a desolate life in Europe for the unbounded opportunities of America. Rather he is the child of migrants from the poorest country in the Arab world (perhaps the richest in immaterial ways) who struggled as farm workers in California’s central valley. They are people who marched, fought and died in the movement led by Caesar Chavez. He is the child of a family some of whose relatives are scraping by as janitors and doormen in San Francisco. He is the child of a large family crammed into a one bedroom apartment in the wretched Tenderloin neighborhood of that city.

While the hardships of many folks in the Bay area’s Yemeni community would meet the above description, there are success stories and we meet some of them in these pages. Self-made millionaires like Mokhtar’s grandfather, Hamood; hustlers who are able to build chains of bodegas or produce distribution networks into fat cash cows. Young entrepreneurs like Ghassan Toukan –once tormented by Mokhtar in an afterschool class operating in a neighborhood mosque– who are able to ride the tide of tech into respectable standards of living. And, of course, Mokhtar himself, a most improbable Yemeni American success story.

In telling this story Eggers does something else. He humanizes both the Yemeni and American Muslim communities and sheds light on both in very interesting ways. Perhaps the secret to Eggers success in this regard is that he did not intend to write a “let’s all empathize with the Muslims” feel-good story. The book is written as Mokhtar narrates the events comprising it. In the process we learn that American Muslims are a community as culturally and economically diverse as the country itself. We meet Mokhtar, a Yemeni American Muslim; Justin Chen, a Chinese American Muslim; Giuliano Sarinelli, an Italian American Muslim; Borana Haxhija, an Albanian American Muslim, Jeremy Stern, a white Muslim convert with Jewish roots; and many more. We are also given a glimpse into some of their struggles, insecurities, vulnerabilities, trials and triumphs.

The discerning reader also discovers the hope the Arab Spring brought to many in Yemen and how those hopes were dashed by a destructive civil war. Similarly we come to know how incompatible the mindless violence of Al-Qaeda and ISIS are with the Islamic and cultural ethos of Yemen. We see the devastating impact of American-made, Saudi-dropped bombs on the everyday lives of ordinary people in that country. We are shown how a single individual and his family, Malik, can keep a dying tradition alive and we learn how a man who understands the cultural reality of the women of his land can do more to dignify and empower them than legions of foreign feminists.

All of the human triumph and tragedy Eggers brings forth is set against the historical backdrop of the rise, demise and rebirth of coffee. We learn of the first, second and third waves of coffee’s history as a global commodity. Along the way we venture from the exhilarated goats who alerted the plant’s discoverer to its stimulating qualities, to the Monk of Mokha, who along with his dervishes popularized and began the cultivation of the crop, to the rarified aromas of specialty coffeehouses in places like Mill Valley, California.

Like many great works, Eggers’ book is multifaceted. It combines, in a single moving narrative, history, politics, biography, psychology, adventure, drama, despair, hope, triumph and the irrepressible, indomitable nature of the human spirit –at its best. It also accomplishes something those of us who believe in God will surely appreciate. It shows how God can choose, guide, protect, use and elevate whosoever He desires from His servants. That Mokhtar should be chosen to revive Yemeni coffee and in the process introduce incredible reforms into the Yemeni agrarian system is not surprising. After all, his name, Mokhtar, literally means “chosen.”

I have known Mokhtar from his past “rags” to his present “riches” and I can say that in the most meaningful ways he has not changed. While the Raiders and Warriors are running away from Oakland to the glitzy lights of Las Vegas and San Francisco, Mokhtar has headquartered his company in the hardscrabble Fruitvale community of East Oakland, minutes away from the BART station where Oscar Grant met his untimely demise. Still humble, still curious, still seeking to serve.

In the way that Homer Smith, the unsuspecting hero of “Lilies of the Field,” was deemed a saint, so to Mokhtar. God used him to accomplish something great, despite his imperfections. That being the case, while Shaykh Ali ibn Omar al-Qurashi al-Shadhili is the Monk of Mokha, Mokhtar Alkhanshali is the Monk of Mocha. I, for one, can drink to that.

Note: The book will be in the stores at the end of this month, In Sha Allah. It is must reading.…/the-mon…/9781101947319/

Categories: Muslim blogs

America, Stop Exporting Your S**t!

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sun, 14/01/2018 - 16:50

America, Stop Exporting Your S**t!

Trump and the millions of racist Americans he faithfully represents love to point out the problems of what Vijay Prashad refers to as, “The Darker Nations.” However, there is no acknowledgement of what we and other western nations have done to create what Trump so derisively referred to as s***holes countries.

Haiti is a prime example. They never mention that one of the principal reasons Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country is because it spent much of its first century of independence paying reparations to France to the tune of an estimated forty billion dollars. What would forty billion dollars have done to spur development in a tiny island nation like Haiti? Furthermore, what does it say about the honor of the inhabitants of that s***hole that they dutifully paid that staggering sum to begin with? They are certainly far more honorable and dignified than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC.

They also fail to mention how we collaborated in supporting the brutal dictatorships of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvalier over the Haitian people.  When they were finally able to breathe the fresh air of democracy and elected a champion of the poor, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, we systematically undermined his presidency for years (after an initial show of support) until we finally sent in a military unit to kidnap him and dump him in the Central African Republic in February 2004.

Many Americans like to talk about Haiti’s dependence on outside aid but they never mention how President Bill Clinton destroyed Haiti’s indigenous rice economy for the benefit of rice farmers in his home state of Arkansas, America’s largest rice producer. If anyone doubts this occurred consider the crocodile tears Clinton shed when confessing to and then apologizing for this crime in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 Haitian earthquake.

A Facebook post could not begin to provide enough space to detail the coup d’tats, proxy wars, resource plunder, weapon sales, assassinations, sabotaged elections and other crimes America has committed in Africa. Our imperialist and neo-imperialistic policies have aided the underdevelopment of Africa in clear tangible and intangible ways. Now we are threatening the further militarizing and destabilization of the Continent via USAFRICOM.

After all of that our president has the audacity to refer to these nations as s***holes. Most of the s**t we detest in Haiti, Africa and many other places vexing us has “Made in America” smudged on it. If we don’t want to have to deal with s***hole countries we need to stop exporting our s**t all over the world. Unfortunately, that will be difficult to do because our own toilet is broken and the sewage is rising fast and it stinks.

Before appealing for emigrants from Norway, we need to acknowledge that something is rotten in the State of Denmark.

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Greatest Thing My Mother Taught Me

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sat, 06/01/2018 - 17:00

I was not blessed to be able to enjoy the presence of my mother throughout my adult life, as she passed away when I was eighteen-years-old. I was able to benefit from her mentorship and wisdom during my formative years, even though many of the lessons she taught me I did not fully appreciate until recently.

Perhaps the greatest thing she taught me was the following: “Son, no one owes you anything.” She added a practical twist to those simple words by letting me know, for example, if I wanted to be dressed to impress at the beginning of the new school year then I had better get a summer job because with seven children to feed and clothe, alone as a single mom, she was not going to be able to contribute to my wardrobe anything more than a single outfit which she would design and sew herself.

So in the summers I would head to the tobacco fields of the Connecticut River Valley to join the Puerto Rican and Jamaican migrant workers to offer my services to Culbro, Inc. During the school year I would sometimes have two paper routes. In junior high and high school I worked as a school janitor, emptying trash cans, sweeping, mopping and buffing floors long after the buildings had been abandoned because I had to perform my duties after football or track practice -during some years.

Some people might think that my mother’s advice was a formula for cynicism, but the opposite proved to be the case. Once I internalized that great lesson I have not expected anything from anyone, and in that I firmly believe that no one owes me anything, I have never been disappointed. For me that has meant the ability to love freely, to give freely and to live free. On the other hand, the copious good I have received from countless people who I have been blessed to cross paths with has all gone on the positive side of life’s ledger.

It was only after I accepted Islam and had spent long years studying and living the religion did I realize that my mother had helped to lay the foundation for actualizing the reality of Tawhid in my life, namely that we are to trust in and rely on Allah, the great giver of all gifts who will never disappoint us.

For the careful reader, I concede that there are God-given rights owed to us. Discussing how they are to be secured for ourselves in light of what I am mentioning here is a subtle discussion for another day. We are however enjoined to do everything in our power to secure those rights for others. What I am discussing here is at the level of personal expectations in a sometimes selfish and uncaring world.

So I say to all of my young brothers and sisters who may be just embarking, independently, on the wonderful and fascinating journey of life: no one owes you anything so don’t anticipate that you will be given anything. If you have dreams it is up to you to chase them. If you have a plan it is up to you to implement it. If you have a gift it is up to you to share it. You will never be disappointed so you will be able to freely love, live and give. Seeking the pleasure of God and not reciprocity from humans will be the wind filling your sails. Far from being bitter and lonely as you traverse the road before you, you will be enraptured by the incredible people Allah sends to help you along and because you never expected that help you will be moved to a realm of boundless gratitude. Godspeed and may Allah bless you.

“...and whosoever places his trust in Allah, He suffices him.” Qur’an 65:3

Categories: Muslim blogs

Hard Questions

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Sat, 06/01/2018 - 02:21

As we North American Muslims enter a new year it might be beneficial for us to ask ourselves some serious questions. A bit of soul searching has never harmed anyone. The type of questions I have in mind involve a set of challenges to some of the prevailing trends which currently occupy our minds and in many ways imprison our hearts. They are not meant to be offensive or hurtful, rather to stimulate a little reflection.

First of all, what does it say about our religion if for over 1400 years Muslims did not have clarity on a series of fundamental issues which are totally disconnected from the rapidly evolving technology that defines our modern or postmodern condition? For example, if we are not sure if our prayers are valid if we are flying in an airplane, that confusion should be understandable as there were no planes during the time of the Prophet (blessings and peace upon him). However, did we as an Ummah have to wait for over 1400 years to be informed as to how to dress? Did rulings on issues like the incumbency of Hijab for women, the Sunnah of head covering for Muslims men (one would be hard pressed to find a picture of a practicing Muslim man from the 19th Century without some sort of head cover), modest attire for men and women, and related issues have to wait until our time to be properly adjudicated?

What even moved us to seek “Fatwas” on such issues? Was it the strength of our quest for liberation or the weaknesses of our faith? Similar questions could be asked about our sexual mores. What are the implications for our religion if for 1400 years we did not know who it was lawful to go to bed with? Did our scholars lack the hermeneutical prowess to understand the texts related to such matters or do we lack the self-restraint for their insights to matter anymore?

Are the textual foundations which inform such matters so vague or ambiguous that an alternative feminist reading of them would, by way of example, produce a drastically different set of rulings? Have we forgotten that a woman, Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her), once discouraged women from joining the prayer in the masjid while a man, Abdullah bin Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), vigorously defended that right.

Reflections along these lines lead to a deeper question. Why is it so critical at this particular historical juncture that the Islam which survived the Crusades, the Mongol invasions, the great Bubonic plague and other existential threats be changed to accommodate a system of thought which is responsible for the most destructive forms of ecological degradation the world has ever seen; the greatest disparities in income distribution yet known to humankind; the means (nuclear weapons) to end all life on this planet; and the deepest crisis of meaning and purpose yet faced by our species? Is it because the less ugly face of modernity is so alluring that it blinds us to these and other unsavory realities or is it because the universality of secular education among Muslims in the West has robbed us of the confident faith of the illiterate old lady who scoffed at Imam Fakhruddin Razi?

We do not know where all of the social, ecological, cultural, political, economic and scientific experiments which currently define our age will end. Based on developments all around us only a fool would say that the prognosis is good. We do know what Islam has done and is doing for human beings all over the world. It gives Muslims who are witnessing their people brutally murdered and systematically forced from their lands and homes in places like Myanmar the will to live and to forge on. It makes the people of Niger among the most optimistic people on earth despite the fact that they are among the poorest. It renders the Palestinian people among the most hospitable people on earth despite the inhospitality they have faced from those who would remove them from their ancestral home. It gives the people of Ache the power to view the tsunami which decimated their coastal lands as a test from God, which took their homes, livelihoods and loved ones, but only increased their faith.

I am not an overly idealistic dreamer who would deny the daunting challenges and threats we currently face. However, I am hopeful enough to believe that despite the challenges and threats we face there is much to appreciate in Islam. And so, I’m offering this simple prayer for our community: may 2018 find us much more grateful for our religion.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Jayaben Desai: The Forgotten “Lion” who Shook the System in Britain

The Platform - Tue, 19/12/2017 - 21:34

Jayaben Desai’s bold fight for workers’ rights which began in north west London is humorously brought to life on stage

Last year​ marked the 40th anniversary of the Grunwick industrial strike that took place at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories. Commemorations marking its 40th anniversary, Grunwick 40, ​were staged at Willesden Green Library in London, and the events have now been portrayed in a new play called We Are The Lions Mr Manager.

The Grunwick Strike ​was a seminal moment in the workers’ rights movements, when a worker was dismissed for working too slowly, ​creating a wave of popular disquiet, and resulting in many other workers quitting in support ​of their colleague. The Grunwick factory had become notorious for its low pay and harsh conditions, where management mainly hired workers of south-east Asian and African-Caribbean ​origin. Workers at the time complained about dehumanising and humiliating practices at the factory such as having to “raise your hand to go to the toilet”, long hours with mandatory overtime, low pay and a climate of racism and harassment from the management​, who it was said actively dissuaded white people from working there because of the low pay.

Although the height of the strike ​created national headlines and was featured every night on the news bulletin, it has all but been forgotten in recent times. It once captivated the nation’s attention because the leader ​of strike action, Jayaben Desai, was a woman of small stature, ​distinctly marked in the public imagination with her sari and handbag​. Desai was one of those dismissed from the factory after refusing to do overtime and being caught speaking about the unjust conditions at the factory with other workers.

In We Are The Lions​, Desai is played by the fiery Medhavi Patel,​while the factory manager, among other roles, is played by Neil Gore who is also the playwright. The small two-actor production, directed by Louise Townsend, attempts to ambitiously tell this story that was a major precursor to the weakening of the trade unions under Thatcher and decades after her government. With the multi-talented Gore and Patel’s spirited portrayal of Desai, both actors manage to tell the complex tale with ​fluidity, never losing the audience’s attention for even a moment.

The fictionalised ordeal of Desai and her narration is at the heart of this play. This is particularly important because, as the author Graham Taylor explained at the press night, when he was writing a chapter in his book, Grunwick – The Workers’ Story, the publisher refused to include ​Desai’s formative role and agency within the strike, remarking that she would likely not appeal to “rank and file” trade unionists. ​Regrettably, ​to this day there is ​little written about Desai, except in Amrita Wilson’s book A Voice – Asian Women in Britain. This neglected perspective informed Gore’s decision to write the play.

Putting Desai centre stage works perfectly, not only because it is historically accurate and the right thing to do, but because of her charisma and oratorical power. The title of the play is from one of her many witty retorts to the factory manager who referred to the unrest by the workers as a “zoo”, to which she replied: “…in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr Manager!”

Actress Medhavi Patel told me how fortunate she felt in being able to play a character such as Desai because they rarely come up for British Asian actors, especially women. ​By utilising her own Guajarati contacts, Patel managed to speak to Desai’s family who told her that Jayaben had been a strong believer in non-violence and was influenced deeply by Gandhi. She was also an avid Hindu and ​clearly felt age presented no overwhelming barrier to her ambitions, for instance, learning how to drive at 63. (Desai passed away in 2010 at the age of 77.)

Gore manages to tell the story with his own brand of comedy. His characters (including several minor roles he assumes himself) are jovial to varying degrees. Yet the comedy does not take away from the play, as Patel’s fierce and indignant speeches root us ​very much within the plight of the Grunwick “strikers in saris”. Patel manages to masterfully navigate being indignant at the treatment of workers and the ineptitude of unions in one scene, to impersonating factory owner George Ward in another scene, which got many hearty laughs from the audience.

We Are The Lions Mr Manager was entertaining without trivialising historical significance. This is a piece of interactive theatre, with folk music from the period interwoven into the scenes, bringing life to a long forgotten part of British history.

It is a small production ​that packs a punch and probes many questions regarding the rights of workers in our times, and the power of unions to resist and mobilise. Fundamentally, it throws open the debate about the state of trade unions, whose decline is rooted in the Grunwick strike that they so badly failed in. It also alludes to the relevance of unions in today’s society where employment conditions are arguably more precarious than they have ever been.

The spring tour of We Are The Lions Mr Manager by Townsend Productions begins on 5 February 2018 at Harrogate Theatre and continues until May 2018. Limited number of tickets remain. See available dates here and follow the page to purchase your tickets.

Photo: Rukiya Gadid [left] Townsend Productions [right]

Categories: Muslim blogs

Opening Doors to New Authors of Documentaries at the Whicker’s World Foundation

The Platform - Wed, 13/12/2017 - 22:55

Ania Ostrowska speaks to Jane Ray and Jane Mote about diversity in documentary filmmaking and why the Whicker’s World Foundation chose to widen the criteria for television documentary awards.

The diminishing role of public service broadcasters in commissioning and funding thoughtful documentaries from the authors’ lens makes foundations like the Whicker’s World Foundation (WWF) crucial to the survival of documentary-making community. As third edition of Whicker’s World Awards application process is underway (closing on 31 January 2018). I’m meeting Jane Ray and Jane Mote, consultants on the WWF Awards team, to find out more about the “Whicker spirit” behind the foundation and the awards themselves.

The foundation was created by late journalist and broadcaster Alan Whicker (1921-2013) – most famous for presenting TV documentary series Whicker’s World between 1988-1994 – to support the making of “quality documentaries.” Since 2015 the foundation, chaired by Whicker’s partner and collaborator of over 40 years, Valerie Kleeman, has been awarding substantial documentary production grants: £80,000 for original film & TV documentaries by first-time directors and up to £7,000 for audio documentary projects.

It’s a chilly November morning, but both my interviewees exude warmth and enthusiasm. Jane Ray, the Foundation’s Consultant Artistic Director with almost 30 years of experience in both radio and broadcast documentary, had met Alan Whicker when working on radio documentaries in the 1990s. Since then, they worked together with “growing affection and respect”, but it still came to Jane as a surprise that she was named in Whicker’s will as the person to organise the documentary awards scheme for the Foundation.

Jane Ray brought Jane Mote on board, an international TV executive with an illustrious career, including working for the UK edition of pioneering documentary channel Current TV, which featured both user-generated short films and progressive news pieces. “Together we make a good team of Janes,” chuckles Jane Mote. Indeed, the two Janes cover key aspects of both radio and TV documentary commissioning and production, as well as of developing documentary talent internationally.

Jane Mote sees their mission as nurturing “the next generation of talent”. I’m curious to know about the underlying values of the WWF, but also about what makes them different from other funders. The “Whicker spirit”, the passion for telling exciting stories wherever they are found, translates into the foundation’s international range. Applications are open to filmmakers from around the world and Jane Ray mentions documentary makers hailing from diverse locations, including a woman the Polynesian island of Tonga last year. The project pitched must be the documentarian’s first feature, and they should approach the WWF in the early stages of their project.

The pitched documentary must be “authored”, which for the WWF means it “can only be done by a person who brings the proposal to us,” says Jane Ray. The emphasis on the author, their passion as well as access, makes the WWF awards different from organisations like Bertha Foundation, which funds projects championing “social justice without compromise”. Jane Ray explains that not explicitly calling “social justice” campaign films is in keeping with Alan Whicker’s belief: that if you make your audience like the characters on screen, often with the use of humour, “then you’re half way towards seeing things from their point of view”. It also needs to be a television documentary, as Jane Mote insists, “we don’t want documentaries that aren’t going to get seen” like those on the festival circuit. I appreciate their practical approach – far from snubbing TV audiences, they emphasise the medium’s significant outreach as the factor that can make a real difference.

Starting this year, one of the most interesting changes to the Film & TV Funding Award is the lifted age restriction – although it is for the “emerging” filmmaker who can be of any age. They tell me that it was partly the career trajectories of two previous winners, Alex Bescoby and Pailin Wedel, that made them understand not only that “talent for documentary can emerge at any age” but also that “it’s life itself that makes best documentarians” rather than a linear progression from college to film school to filmmaking.

The 2016 winner Alex Bescoby is a non-shooting historian, whose passion for the subject won him the award. Researching a different project in Burma in 2014, Alex felt that all the changes happening in the country led to a very future-oriented approach in the media, neglecting Burma’s past. He pitched a documentary telling the story of the members of Burma’s royal family who went into hiding after King Thibaw’s death in 1916. Jane Mote stresses it is the applicant’s ability to tell the story, and stay with it, that matters. She does admit that although Alex was joined by his friend Max Jones as a cameraman and co-director, awarding a non-filmmaker was “a bit risk for the first one”.

Both Ray and Mote were thrilled by the diversity of stories they will get as a result of opening the door “wider than before”, yet still insist that the award will go to the best story. Jane Mote shares how after having received a low volume of applications from women docu-makers in the first year, they partnered with Chicken & Egg Accelerator Lab to “get the message out there that we are open for women applicants.” Although it didn’t guarantee “preferential treatment”, it was indeed Thai director Pailin Wedel who pocketed the 2017 award. Her project, Hope Frozen, will tell a story of two-year-old Thai girl, Einz, the youngest person and first ever in Asia to be cryogenically frozen. In the film, currently in production, Pailin probes whether the girl’s father’s decision will bring relief to the grieving family.

I can’t help but tell my interviewees about some of the insights I gleaned from my doctoral research on British women documentarians, namely, that some women start their documentary careers later in life after their children are independent. I suggest this makes age the not-immediately-obvious “diversity” category. This, in addition to people of any gender from less privileged backgrounds, who often can only afford to have creative careers after their material needs are secured. Jane Mote confirms that outreach and marketing remains one of the most challenging tasks they face.

“We’re looking for people with extraordinary talent who are there for the long term,” asserts Jane Mote, and they are willing to support winners with networks including legal contacts. Saying goodbye, I am taken by this ethos and the visible passion of both women.

You can apply for Whicker’s World Foundation award here:

Photo Credit: Film still from Hope Frozen (Pailin Wedel), the winner of the 2017 Film & TV Funding Award

Categories: Muslim blogs

Children Lead the Fight Against Climate Change

The Platform - Mon, 11/12/2017 - 19:19

Fatima Jichi speaks to Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn, director of the Global Legal Action Network, the organisation that is challenging governments in Europe for their failure to adequately cut greenhouse emissions.

Two out of three people in Europe will be affected by weather-related disasters by the end of the century, leading to as many as 250,000 deaths annually. These predictions come from the largest study to date on the impact of climate change, published in The Lancet Planetary Health. The authors call for states to “urgently curb climate change and minimise its unavoidable consequences, as emphasised by the Paris Agreement”.

We don’t need to wait until 2100 to see the devastating effects of climate change – we’re experiencing it today, not in the faraway shores of America or South-East Asia, but right here in Europe. In June this year, 156 fires erupted across Portugal, claiming over 60 lives and injuring over 200 people. This was the largest loss of life due to wildfires in Portugal’s history. These fires have been linked to climate change and the unusually high temperatures over the summer. Closer to home, we have seen extreme weather conditions, storms and floods this year. We’ve set our children on a bleak path and are doing very little to mitigate this.

However, where we have failed to take action, children are stepping up. In Portugal, kids are learning and talking about climate change. Mariana, five, thinks “adults should be more careful, they shouldn’t release smoke into the air.” She has joined a group of Portuguese children taking European states to the European Court of Human Rights in an innovative legal challenge against climate change.

The case is brought on their behalf by the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), an organisation which seeks to challenge injustice through legal action for the disempowered. I spoke to Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn, to learn more about the legal challenge. Gearóid is the director of GLAN and an academic fellow at Lancaster University Law School where he specialises in public international law, human rights and public health governance. He tells me the challenge – spearheaded by Gerry Liston, a solicitor and legal officer at GLAN – came about following conversations with locals in Portugal around the fires and an acknowledgement that climate change had a strong role to play. “We wanted to bring ground breaking climate change litigation that takes a human rights approach to climate change,” he explains. “We want to challenge the inadequacy of current government policies with regards to greenhouse gas emissions. Our applicants are young because they are the ones who will be most affected by climate change.”

The UK, Portugal and 45 other members of the Council of Europe – an international human rights organisation distinct from the EU – are signed up to the European Convention of Human Rights. This treaty ensures our basic human rights are protected, such as the right to life and the right to private and family life. Convention rights have been enshrined in UK domestic law since Parliament passed the Human Rights Act 1998, and our government is bound to protect them even after Brexit.

In Gearóid words, GLAN’s case, broadly speaking, “relies on the idea that states who are signed up to the Convention have positive obligations to take reasonable measures to secure rights of people in their jurisdiction. The scientific evidence is crystal clear that climate change poses a risk to our enjoyment of rights. As European countries have the means to halt their emissions, this raises the question: why aren’t we?”

GLAN will be instructing Garden Court Chambers, a leading human rights set in the UK. The lawyers will be asking the Court to decide two things: “Firstly, that these countries must significantly strengthen their emissions-cutting policies and, secondly, that they must commit to keeping most of their existing fossil fuel reserves where they belong – in the ground.”

They hope the case can have impact outside of courtroom too by drawing public attention to the immediate impact of climate change in Europe. “This is not a future problem,” Gearóid asserts. “It’s here, affecting us now, and will affect future generations in stark and difficult ways. Kids have the right to be angry about our current state and action needs to be taken. This is the biggest threat to our human rights at the moment.”

Within three and a half weeks of launching their CrowdJustice campaign to raise funds for the case, they had reached their initial target of £20,000. They have since added a stretch target of £100,000, as more people continue to stand with Andre, nine, Simao, eleven, Mariana, five, Claudia, eighteen, Martim, fourteen, Leonor, eight, and Sofia, twelve, to support their CrowdJustice campaign and be a part of the solution. As Gearóid explains, “The money will go towards both enabling our lawyers and experts to fully prepare what will be a very complex case.”

In addition to their work on climate change, Gearóid and the team at GLAN are also working on additional projects looking at corporate complicity in violations of human rights, challenging slave labour supply chains and continuing their work on the intersection of international criminal law and migrant detention. Please support their important work and get involved – we all have skills to contribute and this fight belongs to us all.

Image from here.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Poem: Exit

The Platform - Sun, 10/12/2017 - 19:18

As Theresa May hails a breakthrough in Brexit negotiations, Kevin Higgins gives an Irish view of a post-divorce Britain.


For Darrell Kavanagh in his hour of need

There will be no more thunderstorms
sent across the Channel by the French,
no acid rain floating in from Belgium.
Pizza Hut will offer a choice of
Yorkshire Pudding or Yorkshire Pudding.

You’ll spend the next twenty-seven bank holidays
dismantling everything you ever bought from IKEA.
The electric shower your plumber,
Pavel, put in last week will be taken out
and you’ll be given the number of a bloke
who’s pure Billericay. Those used to caviar
will have jellied eels forced
down their magnificent throats.
Every fish and chip shop
on the Costa del Sol will in time
be relocated to Ramsgate or Carlisle.

All paving stones laid by the Irish
will be torn up to make work
for blokes who’ve been on the sick
since nineteen seventy-six.
Those alleged to be involved in secretly
making spaghetti bolognaise
will be arrested and held
in a detention centre near Dover. Sausage dogs
will be put in rubber dinghies
and pointed in the general direction
of the Fatherland. Neatly sliced
French sticks topped with Pâté
will make way for fried bread
lathered with Marmite.

There’ll be no more of those new
names for coffee your gran
can’t pronounce. The entire royal family
will be shipped back to Bavaria, with the exception
of the Duke of Edinburgh who’ll be given
a one-way ticket to Athens. Curry
will no longer by compulsory
after every twelfth pint of Stella,
which itself will only be available
by special permission of the Foreign Office.

We’ll give India back its tea, sit around increasingly
bellicose campfires in our rusting iron helmets,
our tankards overflowing with traditional Norse mead.

Image from here.

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