Monthly Archives: December 2014

Al Jazeera and BBC News cover the UN Security Council vote yesterday on a resolution submitted by the Palestinian Authority calling for a peace settlement with Israel within a year and an end to Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian Territories by 2017.

The vote required nine votes in favour to pass but failed by one vote.

BBC News relays the voting pattern of the 15 members of the Security Council:

  • Russia, China, France, Argentina, Chad, Chile, Jordan and Luxembourg voted in favour
  • The US and Australia voted against
  • The UK, Lithuania, Nigeria, the Republic of Korea and Rwanda abstained

The Palestinians, who believed they had secured the support of nine countries to pass the resolution expressed surprise at Nigeria’s turn of heart. The Guardian reveals that “The apparent change by Nigeria, which is a rotating member of the council, came after both the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, phoned the country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, to ask him not to support the resolution.”

The US envoy to the UN, Samantha Power, said after the vote: “We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo. We voted against it because… peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table.”

The US’s position is particularly galling in its dependence on ‘hard comprises that occur at the negotiating table” when the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, himself expressed that Israel was on a fast track to becoming an ‘apartheid state’ if she failed to engage constructively in the US-sponsored peace talks.

Sir Alan Duncan, former Minister for International Development, expressed much the same disdain for Israel’s reluctance to get serious about peace in a speech earlier this year stating:

“Everything for a sensible agreement was offered by the Palestinians – borders, land swaps, the retention of some major settlements, a shared Jerusalem, a demilitarised Palestine. They even started by offering all these main components of a sustainable agreement, yet the Israeli Government finished by having offered absolutely nothing substantial… But we all stuck by the process.”

Sir Alan went further and criticised the support shown for a ‘process’ that had manifestly failed to deliver peace adding, “But the price we have paid for focussing only on the process is that we have increasingly lost sight of the principle. The principle that has been sacrificed and subordinated to the false dawn of process is the stand we ought to make on Israel’s illegal settlements.”

Despite this, and a non-binding motion passed by Parliament in October overwhelmingly supporting statehood recognition for Palestine, the UK abstained in yesterday’s vote. Not that this should come as any surprise to British supporters of Palestine’s right to self-determination. During Israel’s savage assault on Gaza this summer, neither the Prime Minister nor the Conservative Foreign Secretary could bring themselves to describe Israel’s brutality as disproportionate. And if the PM’s address at the Chanukah reception at Downing Street this month is anything to go by, we can expect a re-run of Conservative obsequiousness to Jewish voters as we approach the next general election. Not that this will prevent the party from falsely declaring its fulsome support for the two-state solution while it, hypocritically, does everything it can to prevent its realisation.

Randeep Ramesh in The Guardian reveals that the Henry Jackson Society has rescinded its secretariat role on the two all party parliamentary groups on which it serves, Homeland Security and Transatlantic Relations, after refusing to comply with new rules imposed by the parliamentary Standards Committee on transparency.

The Standards Committee introduced new rules at the end of last year including a requirement for APPGs to register material benefits. According to the rules, “APPGs should register their financial and material benefits by date of receipt as well as date of registration; APPGs which receive £12,500 or more should submit statements of annual income and expenditure; and secretariat support should be declared by APPGs and made available via their websites or upon request. The report also recommends individual or single source benefits to the sum of £1,500 be registered.”

The Guardian reveals the outcome of a complaint lodged by Professor David Miller, co-author of The Cold War on British Muslims, which extensively detailed the pro-Israeli orientation of many of HJS funders as well as the society’s contribution to a virulently anti-Muslim discourse following its merger with the Centre for Social Cohesion and its spawning of an offshoot organisation, Student Rights.

According to the parliamentary commissioner, HJS refused to comply with the requirement to “make available on request a list citing any commercial company which had donated more than £5,000 either as a single sum or cumulatively in the last 12 months”.

HJS responded to declare that the privacy of its donors was its principal concern stating,  “Our donors are entitled to privacy. We do not wish to expose them to unwarranted funding requests by publishing their details.”

The HJS has revoked its secretariat role as a result but not without important questions remaining unanswered as to why such a lack of transparency was ever permitted when major concerns have surfaced in recent years about the use of APPGs for lobbying purposes and the parliamentary passes that have been made available to officers of think tanks with clear policy interests operating at the heart of Westminster.

Miller told the Guardian, “in recent years, the Henry Jackson Society has become increasingly anti-Islam, expressing views characteristic of the far right. Its anti-Islam orientation appears to have garnered it increasing support from a range of conservative funders in both the UK and US. While it continues to pose as favouring a moral approach to foreign policy, it is dabbling in the politics of hate in an approach which is supposed to be the opposite of British values of fair play and the rule of law.”

While much has been made of ‘British values’ in recent months, on the back of the so-called Trojan horse scandal, Muslims could be forgiven for thinking that one stringent set of rules apply to them, and another lax set to others when it comes to promoting “tolerance of different faiths, religions and other beliefs”.

To their credit, some MPs when confronted with evidence of the HJS and Student Rights’ involvement in stoking anti-Muslim prejudice, have had the good sense to step down from the organisations.

The Henry Jackson Society’s brand of anti-Muslim prejudice and its neo-con foreign policy orientation has been uncovered in extensive detail by Spinwatch and others who have noted the transatlantic connections between US based think tanks and donors in a manner similar to a report by the Center for American Progress, which detailed the corporate donors who facilitate Islamophobia in the US through their support for right wing think tanks.

The HJS has also used the cover of a ‘neutral’ think tank to espouse its pro-Israeli commentary on the BBC but not without challenge. Fair News escalated a complaint involving Davis Lewin, an officer to one of the APPGs from which HJS has stepped down, after he appeared on BBC News during Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza this summer without viewers being informed of his pro-Israeli bias. After a similar error in relation to another pro-Israeli commentator who was presented as a ‘neutral commentator, Jonathan Sacerdoti, one would think the BBC would have learned its lesson on due diligence. Not so. The BBC Editorial Complaints Unit ruled that “the speaker’s [Lewin] pro-Israeli affiliation should have been made clear.”

What is certain from Spinwatch’s diligent exposition of the HJS’s activities in recent years and details of its financial backers, where they can be gleaned, is that few MPs and media organisations will be able to casually dismiss calls for greater transparency and accountability given the political influence exerted by HJS and its offshoots.

Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, in a guest column in the Daily Express yesterday outlined the work being undertaken by the Department for Communities and Local Government to tackle anti-Semitism following an escalation in reported incidents in the last year.

Pickles, referencing the DCLG report, Government Action on Anti-Semitism, writes of the funding to be made available to Jewish schools for security, tackling anti-Semitism online and tackling anti-Semitism on university campuses.

Pickles refers to some of the anti-Semitic incidents which have occurred stating, “Jews have been physically attacked, cemeteries desecrated and the walls of Jewish homes daubed with vile and offensive graffiti.”

He also takes aim at Tower Hamlets Council for displaying the Palestinian flag during the summer, in an act of solidarity with Palestinians, writing, “Even some councils have behaved irresponsibly. Like Tower Hamlets, engaging in their own municipal foreign policy by flying the Palestinian flag. These public bodies should be using their position of authority to actively reduce tensions, not stir them up.“

Pickles overlooks other councils which also displayed the Palestinian flag, such as Preston, Edinburgh and Glasgow. And the claim that the move was in some way an abuse of public authority, or an attempt to stir up tensions, ignores the democratic will of local communities who supported their local council’s in the flying of the Palestinian flag.

While the Government’s efforts to tackle anti-Semitism are to be lauded, it is difficult to ignore the more lacklustre response from DCLG in relation to rising Islamophobia.

In the year following Lee Rigby’s murder in May 2013, many police forces disclosed a doubling in Islamophobic hate crime across the UK, according to figures compiled by the Press Association on the back of FOI requests. In London, the Metropolitan Police Service recorded an eightfold increase in the two weeks immediately after Lee Rigby’s murder with Islamophobic attacks in May, June and July more than doubling in the capital. In our annual submission to the Office for Security and Co-operation in Europe, we have documented physical attacks, gravestones desecrated and vile and offensive graffiti painted onto the walls of Muslim homes and Islamic institutions.

In response to criticism from the Muslim Council of Britain last year, over the Government’s failure to take anti-Muslim hatred seriously, the Communities Secretary responded to explain the number of times Ministers had made statements condemning assaults on Muslims, security advice offered to mosques and other Islamic institutions to guard against attacks (note, no mention of public funding for security measures), and a number of feelgood initiatives that DCLG had introduced, such as the Big Iftar and commemorating Muslim contributions to the world wars.

As we’ve stated before, the Communities Secretary’s contrasting attitude to tackling anti-Semitism and Islamophobia clearly illustrates what the MCB referred to as the “collective unwillingness to treat anti-Muslim hatred seriously.”

But there is a further dimension to the contrast in Government responses to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. In a short comment piece in last week’s Jewish Chronicle, Marcus Dysch, shed light on current political manoeuvrings stating, “How do you know an election is on the way? Politicians suddenly fall over themselves to speak to the Jewish community.”

The Financial Times today discloses that the Government is to publish only summary findings from its review into the Muslim Brotherhood amidst concerns that the full report will antagonise Middle Eastern countries who had hoped the report would be more damning of the MB.

Ian Black in The Guardian last week wrote that the report was languishing on a shelf as Whitehall officials and Ministers sought to avert a crisis in relations with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two countries that have taken a hardline approach to the MB by proscribing it and a number of linked associations.

The FT claims the Government will publish “principal findings” in the coming weeks, six months later than the projected 2014 deadline.

Furthermore, the paper notes, “According to those who have seen the British report, it will not offer policy prescriptions, but instead seek to spell out a network of linked organisations, some of which are implicated in extremist activity. Ministers will then have to decide what to do about each of these groups, and are likely to launch further reviews into other organisations when the report is published.”

The FT observes that “The situation has been further complicated by the UAE’s decision to proscribe not only the Muslim Brotherhood but also a raft of other organisations, including the Muslim Association of Britain. The MAB has since contacted the Foreign Office to enlist its help in fighting against the ban.”

The targeting of associations purportedly linked to the Muslim Brotherhood mirrors the approach taken by the UAE which, in a terror list last year, designated the Muslim Association of Britain, Cordoba Foundation, Islamic Relief and US based advocacy organisation, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as ‘terrorist’ groups.

Moreover, the report’s singling out of linked organisations “implicated in extremist activity” raises questions about the definition of ‘extremist activity’ given, for example, claims to proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir despite the absence of legal evidence supporting proscription and explicitly political motives for doing so.

But as commentary on the Government’s review of the MB has asserted from the outset, this was an exercise in political expediency.

A year ago only 4 police forces recorded Islamophobia as a separate category of crime. MEND’s efforts have more than doubled that figure in a year to 10 forces, roughly equating to just under a quarter of all police forces in England and Wales. It is a striking achievement to say the least.

The challenge though has barely begun. With all UK forces starting to record Islamophobia as a crime, the need for a proper training programme for officers to help then correctly identify religiously motivated hate crime, and, most of all, awareness amongst Muslims of the need to report hate crime no matter how trivial, the challenge is far from conquered.

pcc

The Daily Mirror reports on controversial Sun columnist, Katie Hopkins’ latest media venture: “to do a documentary where I live as a Muslim in a burka.”

The Daily Mirror notes Hopkins’ stated intention expressed in a newspaper column in which she wrote that she would “like to go into central London and do the moonwalk in a burka but I probably won’t be allowed.”

Hopkins doesn’t explain why she would like to don a burqa for a documentary, nor why she wants to do a moonwalk in one in central London. If she was hoping for originality, she’s missed the boat.

Richard Peppiatt, a former journalist for the Daily Star conducted a similar experiment some years ago when he wore a burqa for a day for a feature article in the paper. Peppiatt later regretted his actions and his contribution to stoking anti-Muslim prejudice acknowledging that the article was “for a piece reinforcing the Star’s view that it [the burqa] should be banned in Britain”. Resigning from the paper in March 2011, Peppiatt highlighted the paper’s “hatemongering” and later expressed regret over the possibility of “incit[ing] acts of racially-aggravated violence” inspired by the Star’s divisive articles.

Hopkins herself has expressed support for a burqa ban. In a column written for The Sun earlier this year, Hopkins wrote, “Having two menacing eyes staring at me from a slit makes me feel like I have opened my letterbox to find someone looking in.

“If only the British Prime Minister would ban the burqa, then Britain would feel a lot more like home.”

The Daily Mirror ponders Hopkins’ motive suggesting that it “seems unlikely it is being done to gain empathy with people from other religions.”

Given Hopkins’ penchant for provoking reactions with her outlandish statements and her recent anti-Muslim remarks, the Daily Mirror could well be right.

BBC News explores the possibility of electronic voting being introduced in the UK after high voter turnout in the Scottish referendum, particularly among young voters, and the Labour party’s stated pledge to lower the voting age to 16 if it wins the next election, revived concerns about addressing voter engagement in electoral politics and boosting voter turnout.

A report published last month by parliament’s Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on voter engagement explored some of the reasons behind low voter turnout in British elections and assessed the likely impact electronic voting could have on reversing the decline in electoral participation.

The committee stated its belief that “online voting could lead to a substantial increase in the level of participation at UK elections” and recommended that the Government “comeforward with an assessment of the challenges and likely impact on turnout, and run pilotsin the next Parliament with a view to all electors having the choice of voting online at the2020 general election.”

The Electoral Commission conducted a pilot scheme on electronic voting involving a few councils during the local elections in 2007. In its evaluation after the exercise the Commission concluded that there should be “no more pilots of electronic voting without a system of individual voter registration”.

With the changes to electoral registration already established and individual electoral registration introduced in June 2014, the pre-condition set by the Electoral Commission appears to be satisfied. However, other concerns identified over electronic voting, such as keeping the ballot ‘secret’ and ensuring voters are not coerced into voting a certain way, alongside concerns about electoral fraud and duplicate voting, remain an obstacle.

Despite this, earlier this year the head of the Electoral Commission, Jenny Watson, argued in favour of ‘radical’ options, including e-voting, to re-engage voters with democracy.

The lingering problem of low voter turnout, engaging young people in democracy and the opportunities for change afforded by technology formed the basis of the inquiry established by the Speaker of the House, John Bercow MP, in his Commission on Digital Democracy.

The Commission, which is due to report its findings in the new year, was set up to “consider, report and make recommendations on how parliamentary democracy in the United Kingdom can embrace the opportunities afforded by the digital world to become more effective in representing all the people of modern Britain.”

Electronic voting is one of the themes being explored by the Commission. It is unlikely any recommendations will be implemented before the next general election but given evidence of the greater probability of non-voters voting if electronic voting were an option and its gaining traction, e-voting could indeed be on its way in the UK.

Hull Daily Mail carries an interview with a local leader, Imam Hafiz Salik, who was blinded in one eye after a brutal attack more than a year ago.

Imam Salik, of the Hull mosque and Islamic centre, presented an alternative Christmas message in the local paper a few days ago in which he alluded to the attack last November.

Imam Salik was travelling in his car with his wife and daughter when a group of people stopped his car in the middle of the road, opened the driver’s door and punched him in the face before running off. Imam Salik suffered major injuries and has undergone several operations to his right eye though his vision is still severely impaired. Despite a police appeal for witnesses, the perpetrators have not been apprehended. Imam Salik’s son expressed concerns over the ‘stalled’ police investigation earlier this year prompting Humberside police to release CCTV images in an fresh attempt to identify the attackers.

Talking to the local paper about the attack, Imam Salik said:

“The people who did it got away and have not been located since.

“But if they came forward, I would still forgive them.

“I do not think it was a planned attack and everybody can make a mistake in their life.

“I forgive them for what they did and will let them go on with their life.”

Imam Salik spoke of the support shown to him by the local community saying,

“I would like to thank everybody for the support throughout the year.

“There have been cards, phone calls, messages and emails from the general public, my friends and my family.

“People still come up and ask me how I am now.

“I really appreciate the support that everyone has given me.”

Ian Black in The Guardian today reports on the delays envisaged to the publication of another sensitive report by the Government months after the work is said to have been completed.

As with the Chilcot Inquiry report, which has suffered considerable delays to its publication despite evidence hearings having concluded many months ago, the Government is now delaying the findings of its review into the Muslim Brotherhood amidst claims that the conclusions have not lived up to the expectations of foreign governments in whose interests the review was said to have been established.

The review, presided over by the UK’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Jenkins, was to explore “the philosophy, activities, impact and influence on UK national interests, at home and abroad, of the Muslim Brotherhood and of government policy towards the organization.”

Earlier this year it was reported that the report’s publication had been deferred with a Whitehall official telling the Financial Times that “Sir John will say that the Brotherhood is not a terrorist organisation. The Saudis and Emiratis will then be very upset with us.”

Ian Black affirms much the same in today’s Guardian stating, “The twist in this bureaucratic tale is that Jenkins finished the job months ago and the government has been struggling ever since over how to translate his findings into policy recommendations. Nothing has been found to justify the accusation that the Brotherhood is involved in terrorism —something it strenuously denies.”

The publication of a list of proscribed organisations by the United Arab Emirates which included organisations that are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is a clear indication of the UAE’s orientation with its attempt to lump MB linked associations with terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and Islamic State.

This broad brush approach has been criticised by organisations that have been designated as proscribed by the UAE. The White House earlier this month issued a statement in response to the listing of US-based advocacy organisations on the list stating the US Government had “not seen credible evidence that the Muslim Brotherhood has renounced its decades-long commitment to non-violence.”

The delay to the publication of the review into the Muslim Brotherhood has run into the same difficulties as the Chilcot Inquiry with the approaching general election casting doubt on the likely publication of either before May 2015. In the meantime, the electorate awaits answers to poignant questions about the UK Government’s possible involvement in torture, rendition, human rights violations and the undermining of democracy at home and abroad.

 

BBC News and news site, On Islam, report on the charitable endeavours of Muslim communities this Christmas with the offer of food and warmth to the homeless and those dependent on food banks.

The Muslim owner of a restaurant in Buckinghamshire will be opening the doors to the homeless on Christmas day with the offer of a meal, clothes and a haircut for those who want to take advantage of the service.

And Muslims in Cardiff have opened a food bank service, We Feed, offering food parcels to needy families.

Usman Majid, owner of The Grill restaurant in Buckinghamshire said, “I think people resonate with that, there’s community spirit, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your background is, when it comes to charity and doing good things, people just want to help and get involved.”

Given the huge volume of negative media coverage Muslims generally receive, it is great to see their efforts in helping others and community building also receive some media attention.