Monthly Archives: January 2013

Peter Oborne in his column in the Daily Telegraph today lambasts the government’s Justice and Security Bill and its obscuring the ability to “shine a light into the dark corners of our secret state”.

Commenting on the Bill’s progress through Parliament and a report into its implications for uncovering the extent of the UK’s complicity in rendition and torture, Oborne writes that after 9/11 and under pressure from the Bush administration, “Britain became heavily complicit in what is known as extraordinary rendition, or the kidnap and subsequent torture of individuals as a matter of state policy. It goes without saying that this activity is against the law, and wholly contrary to our international obligations as a signatory of the United Nations Convention against torture.”

In their report, Neither Just nor Secure, Conservative MP and chair of the APPG on Extraordinary Rendition, Andrew Tyrie, and Anthony Peto QC, of Blackstone Chambers, argue:

“In its present form, a strong case can be made that it will do more harm than good, not just to interests of justice and freedom but also to security,”

“That Britain allowed itself to be dragged into complicity in ‘extraordinary rendition’ – the kidnap and torture of individuals as a matter of policy – is a disgrace.

“That, nearly a decade later, the extent and limits of Britain’s involvement are still unknown is almost as shocking.”

The weekend papers last week, the Guardian and Daily Mail, published reports of cases currently before the High Court assessing whether the UK was guilty of “systematic torture” in Iraq with witness statements numbering 180, “with 871 to follow”, according to The Guardian.

The Government has sought to placate detractors by backing down and confirming the ‘closed material procedures’ will be ‘judge-led’ but the measures are insufficient for those determined to uncover the truth about security services’ conduct and the extent of state complicity in illegal practices of torture and rendition.

Oborne concludes his column stating, “the best intelligence officers admit that British complicity in torture has amounted to a thoroughgoing betrayal of our values, acted as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism, and made intelligence gathering more difficult. Deepening the secret state is a step in the wrong direction. The objective of any decent government should be to expose as much of the truth as we can about British involvement in torture, not to hush it up. It’s time for the Coalition to ditch its shameful little Bill.”

The Guardian reports on the outcome of an investigation by the BBC Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) into a Radio 4 Today programme discussion on the Naqba Day protests in May 2011 after a complaint that presenter John Humphrys had referred to the Golan Heights as being part of Israel.

The ESC in its ruling judged that the programme breached the BBC’s guidelines on accuracy.

The Guardian notes:

The ESC concluded that the Today programme had breached guidelines on accuracy for implying the Golan Heights were part of Israel.”

The ESC in its ruling stated, “The committee was satisfied, however, that this breach of the guidelines was inadvertent and was not knowingly misleading,”

“The committee did not consider that this breach of the accuracy guidelines raised any issues in relation to impartiality.”

According to the paper, “The complainant said that the implication of Humphrys’s comments was that Israeli military forces potentially had the right to use force because they were defending their territory.

“BBC management said that Humphrys was “reflecting on why Israeli forces thought they could defend their actions” and that this was not a case of bias but “opening a topic for discussion”.

“However, the complainant pointed out that the BBC’s own news website covering the same story acknowledged that the Golan Heights was “occupied” territory by Israel since 1967.”

The BBC is currently undertaking a review of ‘impartiality’ in its news output under the supervision of former ITV chief executive, Stuart Prebble. A report into its coverage of the Arab Spring was published last June.

BBC Asian Network covers the anti-Muslim bigotry experienced by a family in Bingham, Nottinghamshire in a programme broadcast today.

Murad Alam, whose family have suffered the indignity of offensive graffiti, verbal abuse and a cross wrapped in ham being left on their doorstep, speaks to the BBC about the impact on his family and the decision to move to another area to escape such abuse.

From BBC News:

“Murad Alam, 39, said his wife and two sons, aged eight and 10, had moved out of their home in Bingham, Nottinghamshire, to a “safe” place.

“Mr Alam said he had found his son plotting escape routes on his computer after the “horrific” attacks last year.

“My wife and children also had names called at them in the street,” he said.

“The first incident was when the big, wooden cross, wrapped in ham, fell into the house after a knock at the door,” said Mr Alam.

“He said they had names such as “Paki” and “tramp” shouted at them in the street. Mr Alam said his family had been left “terrified” by the attacks

“The kids have been abused a number of times; the eldest had smoke blown in his face by an elderly local gentleman.”

“Offensive graffiti was also painted on the path outside the family home.

“It really annoys me that they should use a cross and try and turn this into a religious argument,” said Mr Alam.

“My family were terrified from the very first incident; my wife had never experienced racism, neither had my kids.

“In fact I had to explain to my children what racism even was, because they’re so young they didn’t understand the concept that someone could dislike you because of your skin colour or religion.”

BBC News reports on the arrest of a man on suspicion of racially aggravated harassment after he posted abusive messages about Chelsea footballer, Demba Ba, on Facebook.

From BBC News:

“A 39-year-old man from Gateshead was detained on suspicion of posting the offensive remarks about the former Newcastle United player.

“Police said he was arrested on suspicion of racially-aggravated harassment and later bailed.

“Ba, who signed for Chelsea earlier this month, is due to return to Tyneside at the weekend to face Newcastle United.

“The post, on a football forum allegedly included swear words aimed at Ba, a devout Muslim, and has now been removed.

“A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “Police received a complaint about an offensive message posted on Facebook earlier this month.

“A 39-year-old Gateshead man has been arrested on suspicion of racially-aggravated harassment and has been bailed pending further inquiries.”

The Professional Footballers Association announced a six point plan last October to monitor and tackle racism and Islamophobia in football.

Matthew Norman in his column in The Independent yesterday picked up on the apology by Rupert Murdoch and the acting editor of the Sunday Times, Martin Ivens, for the cartoon published in last week’s edition that sparked accusations of anti-Semitism, as well as comments made by David Ward MP on Palestinian suffering.

Exploring the views that have long dominated and distorted the debate on ‘wishing an end to Palestinian suffering’, Norman argues, “Rupert Murdoch links sympathy for Palestinians to anti-Semitism. The truth is more complex.

“In this broiling climate of reflex brutality (one that has become more superheated in the intervening years), it is pointless to expect what follows to be met with anything other than hysterical denunciation by those who believe, with all apparent sincerity, that no distinction can ever be drawn between wishing an end to Palestinian suffering and willing the annihilation of the state of Israel.”

Norman critiques the “deranged viewpoint” of one infamous and vocal contributor, Melanie Phillips, and writes of the loss of nuance and proportion in a debate shaped by“tribal loyalties and [a] perversion of humanity”. He writes:

“Rupert Murdoch, who recently rebuked America’s “Jewish-owned press” for not supporting Israel slavishly enough, did not apologise for that show as he did for the Scarfe cartoon. More bizarrely, the same Melanie Phillips who thought Steve Bell’s glove puppets “disgusting” had not a word to say about The Puppetmaster [Binyamin Netanyahu].

“The twisting of tribal loyalties and perversion of humanity that define this debate have for too long spoken, however confusingly, for themselves. But if Melanie Phillips and her ilk want proof, as the World Holocaust Day arguments rumble on, that the relationship between anti-Semitism and sympathy for the Palestinians is a little more complex than she has seen fit to concede, perhaps her apparent preference for a pro-Israeli Jew-hater [Glenn Beck] over a pro-Palestinian Holocaust survivor [George Soros] might illuminate the path.”

The Sun profiles four Muslim converts in today’s paper ahead of the BBC3 programme tonight, Make Me a Muslim.

The article states:

“Every year, more than 5,000 Brits convert to Islam.

“More than half of those who make the switch are white – and 75 per cent are women.”

The feature profiles four women, Police Community Support Officer, Jayne Kemp; Alana Blockley, Claire Evans and model Ayesha Eunice Olumide, on their conversion and life as a British Muslim.

Read the article here.

The Times (£) front page story today covers the latest intervention by the Conservatives as part of their campaign strategy to “woo Black and Asian voters” urging companies to disclose the ethnic makeup of their workforce.

The paper reports:

“David Cameron has told the Cabinet to come up with policies to appeal to ethnic communities amid fears that without them the party will struggle to win an outright majority. One idea would encourage Stock Exchange-listed companies to state how many ethnic minority employees they have and how many they have recruited over the past year.

“The Prime Minister is to put himself at the head of a fresh pitch to black and Asian communities amid fears that Britain’s changing demographics could rob the Tories of key seats unless they act fast.”

Rachel Sylvester in her column in the paper today argues that Cameron will need to grasp the complexities of the “ethnicity effect” if the party is to secure a majority in the next general election. She states, “The implications for the next election are potentially huge. In nearly half of the 80 Tory target seats the black and Asian vote is larger than the Labour or Lib Dem majority that the Conservatives need to overturn…If the Tories cannot take those constituencies then it is hard to see how they can win in 2015.”

She goes on, “Conservative ministers have been told to visit temples, mosques and churches regularly, rather than just on holy days, and to build relations with community organizations…The party is mounting a charm offensive with the editors of ethnic minority newspapers and television channels.”

It will be instructive to see how these initiatives fly with members of BME communities. Interesting points of discussion are perhaps the exclusion orders imposed by Home Secretary, Theresa May, against Zakir Naik and Sheikh Raed Salah. Or perhaps the double standards on display in the decision to extradite Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan but not Gary MacKinnon. Or even the rather poor record of the party’s engagement with Muslim community organizations.

The EU Observer covers comments by the EU’s Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, on the threat posed by far right parties to the European project and the European Parliament elections in 2014.

EU Observer notes:

“Far-right political discourse is feeding hatred throughout the EU and could harm the European project in the upcoming 2014 European Parliament elections

“Disparaging words geared towards minority groups like Roma, Muslims, Jews and immigrants are becoming more common as elected officials attempt to woo a growing number of the voting electorate rooted in populist movements.”

In the last European Parliament elections, the British National Party gained its first foothold in a parliamentary assembly with Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons both winning seats.

The proportional representation electoral system used for the EP elections makes the possibility of far right candidates getting elected far greater than for other local and national elections.

The European Commission last October issued a statement of intent on introducing new legislation to exclude far right parties from qualifying for financial support by enforcing compliance with the EU’s core values, “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”.

The Sunday Express published a rather disturbing column by guest writer Mark Piggott, author of Out of Office, last week.

Piggott’s column is replete with a number of inaccuracies and false correlations, as he takes aim at the speech by Baroness Warsi last week on the “underlying, unfounded mistrust” that is fuelling anti-Muslim hostility in the UK.

Piggott opens with:

“It is unfortunate that Conservative peer Baroness Warsi picked last week to claim Muslims feel alienated in British society, while across London in Whitechapel arrests were made after Muslim gang members apparently filmed themselves confiscating alcohol from revellers in a pathetic attempt to impose a form of Sharia Law.”

Piggott goes on to list a number of anomalies which he feels detract from the core message of Warsi’s speech, that Britons display an alarming degree of anti-Islamic feeling.

He writes:

“Even now any newspaper which links grooming gangs with ethnicity is accused of stirring up racial violence yet although most paedophiles seem to be white, there does seem to be a problem with some Muslims and young girls.

“In such cities as Rochdale, Oxford and Rotherham, Asian men have been con­victed of passing young, vulnerable children round like toys. Warsi has nothing to say on why it is that for these men, white girls are seen as somehow subhuman. To Warsi, all Muslims are always the victims.”

Piggott seems to forget that linking grooming gangs to ethnicity is something the Deputy Children’s Commissioner has herself warned against in the interests of protecting young people whose aggressors hail from varied ethnic backgrounds.

He seems to forget too, that Baroness Warsi explicitly condemned the attitude of those who, she said, saw white women as “fair game”.

But then, Piggott in one part writes about “Asian boys” who “often drank booze and slept with white girls because they were “easy”” and then in another part refers to the “problem with some Muslims and young girls”. It would seem that drawing religion into the equation is quite deliberate and though the intent of the author may not be to stir up “racial violence,” protests and false claims circulated by the English Defence League about sex gangs would suggest that the consequences of “newspaper[s] link[ing] grooming gangs with ethnicity” are very real.

Piggott goes on to suggest those Muslims he considers more “moderate”,

“…those like Irshad Manji who advocate more moderate forms of Islam, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has written not only of Islam’s faults but also of the misguided policies adopted by Western politicians to make allowances for Muslims that no other ethnic group demands or receives.”

Hirsi Ali’s “moderate” credentials are on display in Newsweek’s cover story of last September, “Muslim Rage”.

Piggott claims that “Some Muslims do seem to revel in victimhood” and “self-imposed segregation…They struggle to find any relevance in their lives: their parents represent one culture, “Western” films, TV and music represent another and they are caught in the middle. Perhaps it’s no great surprise that some become angry… and worse.”

Much like Trevor Kavanagh’s column in The Sun last week, Piggott rehearses claims that have no bearing in facts. As Rob Ford wrote in his rejoinder to Kavanagh’s column

“Do Muslims identify with Britain? Are they proud of British democracy and institutions? Are they integrated into British political and social life? Yes, yes, and yes.”

It would seem the “knee-jerk Islamophobia” evident in Kavanagh’s article of last week is reborn in Piggott’s column in the Sunday Express. Something which merely reinforces the essence of Baroness Warsi’s argument that an “underlying, unfounded mistrust” is contributing to anti-Muslim feeling in the UK.

The Scottish Sun, the best-selling daily’s Scotland edition, published a feature article yesterday on Scottish Muslim convert Alana Blockley (pictured) and her journey into Islam.

Blockley, a Glaswegian, is one of five Muslim converts who will feature in a BBC3 programme to be broadcast on Wednesday, ‘Make Me a Muslim’.

In an interview with the Sunday paper Alana, who wears a headscarf, speaks of her fear of being verbally abused.

“She said: “If I didn’t have my car, and I took public transport, I know for a fact something would’ve happened to me by now.

“She added: “I’m scared to walk from my work, which is on my street, to my caravan where I stay on my own across from my mum and dad.

“Recently, I heard a ned [non – educated delinquent] being racist to a taxi driver as I was walking by and I put my hood up so nobody could see my scarf. It’s not nice.”

Speaking about the perception of strangers to her attire and accent, Alana tells the paper:

“When people look at me they wonder why I’m white. And then when they hear me speak they wonder why I sound different. You know when it’s happening and folk are staring. There’s a bit of shock there.

“They’re not used to seeing a white person wearing a headscarf. So at first they’re a bit confused and wonder if I’m from this country. It happens when I go to Morocco, they think I’m French.”

You can read the feature article here.

Make Me A Muslim is on BBC3, on Wednesday 30 January at 9pm