16th October, 2011

Jagjit Singh – a tribute

by guest at 5:51 pm    

This is a guest post by Parvinder Singh.

The music legend Jagjit Singh sadly passed away on Monday in the Indian city of Mumbai. He was 70 years of age and had died of a brain hemorrhage. Like myself, millions had grown up with his music and songs. Many of them he had earlier sung with his beautiful and talented wife, Chitra Singh. Over the years though, the couple have had to endure horrific tragedies, particularly in relation to the deaths of their son and daughter. That pain and loss would cast a shadow on much of Singh’s compositions.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Jagjit Singh perform live in London and was immediately captivated by his soft and warm voice and his take on the Ghazal, the musically form of Urdu ‘shayari’ or poetry. Without realising it, he had brought alive the words of the 19th Century poet Mirza Ghalib like no one before him. Such was his impression on me then, that I began to learn to read the Urdu script so to understand fully what was being said.

Yet Jagjit Singh was no ordinary singer from the subcontinent. He crossed borders and faiths in his quest to bring poetry to ordinary folk. From the Urdu verse and the Punjabi poetry of Shiv Kumar Batalvi, to the Punjabi Tappe, Hindu Bhajans and Sikh Shabads. Before his untimely death, he was in the middle of a tour with renowned Pakistani ghazal legend, Ghulam Ali.

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13th October, 2011

Sayeeda Warsi on Britain – Pakistan relations…

by guest at 2:33 am    

guest post by Rima Saini

The first of a series of four events presented by the RSA, City University London and the Samosa was a resounding success with a keynote speech by Conservative Chairman Baroness Warsi followed by a fiery Q and A session with Anwar Akhtar, director of The Samosa.

Anwar Akhtar began the lecture with an insight into his personal connection with Pakistan, drawing attention to the inspiration that British Pakistanis such as Amir Khan and Baroness Warsi herself are to those both here and in Pakistan, as strong British patriots with a love for their ancestral home.

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3rd October, 2011

Boycotting The Durga Puja

by guest at 9:31 am    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji. She blogs here.

Calcutta currently is in the midst of the Durga Puja – the 10 day carnival celebrating the goddess Durga. It is the annual climax of Calcutta’s cultural ethos. Not having grown up in Calcutta, I had never actually attended this celebration as a child. So at 30 when I moved to the city, I was fascinated and curious. I photographed the celebrations from every angle and asked a million questions.

Hundreds of pandals— elaborate temple like structures of bamboo, cardboard and jute—are are set up all over the city, which house the idols of the goddess and her family. There are different ceremonies marking each of the 10 days with enthralling symbolisms. Yet, within a couple of years my puja fever had died down, and that was largely because I didn’t appreciate a lot of what I was discovering about the pujas. So much so, that over the last 5 years, I have consistently boycotted the Pujas and urged others to do the same. Here are my reasons why:

> At the end of the celebrations all the idols are immersed in the Hoogly – the city’s river, a tributary of the Ganges. There are more than 40,000 idols dumped into the Hoogly every year. These idols are larger than life, some of them 10-20 feet tall, and most are made of non-biodegradable materials like concrete, fiberglass and metal. These don’t wash downstream. They sink to the bottom and make the river bed one big junkyard.

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Filed under: Culture,India
1st September, 2011

Visually Impaired British Asians

by guest at 7:50 pm    

This is a guest post by Sarah of Same Difference

Earlier this week, BBC Radio 4’s In Touch ran a programme called Visually Impaired British Asians.

The programme looked at the specific issues affecting British Asians with visual impairments. Research has suggested that South Asians are more likely to have several eye diseases than the general population. However, expectations among their community about what they are able to do are limited.

The programme raised the very important point that awareness of sight loss related diseases needs to be raised among British Asians in order to prevent them. The importance of eye tests was also emphasised.

For several reasons, British Asians may be missing out on support that is available to people with visual impairments. The programme looked at some of these reasons. For example, many older Asians in Britain are unable to speak or read English.

As part of the programme, presenter Peter White spoke to a South Asian adviser for the RNIB, who speaks to patients in their own languages. She raised the point that older British Asians are used to natural, holistic remedies for health problems and may find medical solutions, such as laser surgery, too extreme.

Peter White also spoke to a South Asian social worker who is registered blind herself. She now has her own organisation helping other South Asian people with sight loss. She recalled the case of one woman who could not believe that blind people could leave their houses! This woman, herself, had not been allowed, by her husband, to leave her house. The point was raised that for cultural reasons, South Asians think that if people with sight loss leave home alone, they are not being looked after and protected well enough by the family.

Finally, the point was raised that organisations need to be sensitive to the cultural needs of South Asians.

I found the programme very interesting and very educational. I believe that this is a programme that all British Asians of all ages really need to hear. If you agree, please click this link to listen to it on BBC iPlayer.

22nd August, 2011

Interfaith unity from the ashes of the riots in England

by Jai at 8:00 am    

Despite all the violence and destruction that occurred across England during the recent riots, there were also some heartening developments. Most well-known, of course, is the reaction of Tariq Jahan, the inspirational father of one of the young men murdered in Birmingham as they attempted to protect the local population from the rioters. Mr Jahan’s extraordinary dignity and calls for peace on the basis of our common humanity played a huge part in preventing the situation from spiralling into even worse violence.

Tariq Jahan’s actions have effectively resulted in him becoming a national hero in Britain, and some of the most moving articles have come from unexpected sources such as The Telegraph and the Daily Mail. The outpouring of support and praise for Mr Jahan has included commenters who are openly expressing deep regret for their previous prejudice against Muslims.

A prayer event in Birmingham ahead of the funerals of Shazad Ali, Abdul Musavir, and Tariq Jahan’s son Haroon was attended by approximately 20,000 people, both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and invited speakers included visitors from one of the local synagogues. An online book of condolence has also been launched by Birmingham city council.

Interfaith unity and friendship

Inspiring examples of interfaith unity and friendship also occurred across the country during the riots. For example, Sikhs were heavily involved in joint efforts to protect the local towns & cities as a whole and the associated places of worship, including the defence of mosques. Correspondingly, Muslims also volunteered to protect Sikh temples. And a joint Sikh-Muslim prayer vigil was held at the site of the murders of the young Asian Muslims in Birmingham, attended by several hundred people and involving both Sikh and Muslim prayers. A photo of the candlelit vigil is displayed at the top of this article. You can also watch an interview of Harpreet Singh, one of the Sikh organisers of the joint vigil, in the video below.

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15th August, 2011

EDL tried to take advantage of looting

by Rumbold at 9:55 pm    

Throughout the looting/riots, the EDL attempted to capitalise on the situation, and use it as an excuse to promote themselves and as an excuse for some violence.
Cambridge saw EDL vigilantes clear Mill Road (an important road in the town centre) of imaginary looters, only to be told by local traders that they were not welcome. Meanwhile a senior Met police officer warned of more attempts by the EDL to hijack local communities defending themselves, with places like Enfield being hit.

Nor did the EDL stick to its alleged belief of only being anti-Islamic extremism. An EDL gang attacked a bus with black youths on it in London, whilst EDL posters online flooded forums with racist language directed primarily against blacks:

The English Defence League have reverted to type, with torrents of sickening anti-black racism on their divisional Facebook walls, peppered with the N-word, and description of black people being “monkeys” and “apes”. Since their existance, the moderators have tried to brush all of their non-Muslim racism under the carpet, pretending that the EDL have only one enemy, Muslims, but since the rioting began in London, the far right group have switched tack to virulent anti-Black racism of an extreme and disturbing nature.

Now graffiti is going up condemning the riots, signed by the EDL. Compare and contrast such behaviour with how many victims of the looting reacted. In Birmingham, Tariq Jahan, the father of one of the three men killed by looters, called for calm:

Today we stand here to plead with all the youth to remain calm, for our communities to stand united. This is not a race issue. The family has received messages of sympathy and support from all parts of society … I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites – we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home – please.”

Others held vigils or banded together to clean up the area. If there is a silver lining in all this senseless violence and destruction then it will be the renewed bonds that now exist between many people in the worst affected areas, which is what a healthy society depends on.

Filed under: Current affairs,EDL
8th August, 2011

Did EDL ally Pamela Geller already know about Norway terrorist ?

by Jai at 8:00 am    

Pickled Politics senior editor Sunny Hundal briefly mentioned the following subject in his recent article discussing the fact that the atrocity in Norway highlights “a new form of prejudice”, but it’s worth providing further details. Pamela Geller is the American author of the virulently anti-Muslim blog Atlas Shrugs and the executive director of the organisation “Stop Islamization of America”; like SIOA’s co-founder Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, Geller was repeatedly cited in the 1500-page manifesto of the Far-Right Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik (described by the Norwegian police as a “Christian fundamentalist”).

Geller herself, who is originally from a Jewish background but describes mainstream liberal Jews as “lost souls” and “self-hating wretches”, was given a huge public platform by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News last year during the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy. She has consistently been at the forefront of promoting extremely bigoted anti-Muslim propaganda; you can read a comprehensive list of examples via Media Matters for America here and here, and via The American Muslim here.

It turns out that Pamela Geller received an email in 2007 from a Norwegian contact who sounds disturbingly similar to Breivik. Geller approvingly published the email on her Atlas Shrugs blog on 24 June 2007 without naming the author; in response to a query from one of the commenters there, Geller confirmed that she was deliberately hiding the author’s identity so that he would not be investigated and prosecuted. After the recent massacre in Norway, Geller quietly edited her article in order to remove the email’s explicit references to weapons, ammunition and equipment; unfortunately for Geller, her actions have been noticed by multiple readers and the original unedited version of the article had already been cached elsewhere. (More details, including relevant URL links, can be found here).

Therefore, this has the following possible implications:

1. Pamela Geller had personally been in contact with Anders Breivik and even promoted his email on her own website, but she deliberately hid his identity in order to protect him (and did not report him to the authorities) despite being aware of Breivik’s extremely violent rhetoric and the fact that he was stockpiling weapons & ammunition;

2. Alternatively, Geller was not emailed by Breivik himself but there is currently another violent Norwegian out there with aims and attitudes which are disturbingly similar to those of Breivik, and whose identity Geller is deliberately hiding.

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4th August, 2011

Against capital punishment

by Rumbold at 10:17 am    

After a vigorous online campaign, it looks as if the return of capital punishment may be debated in parliament soon, with pressure on the government to announce a free vote. Campaigners want the death penalty restored for crimes such as the murder of police officers or children, and have the support of a number of MPs.

I have never really been convinced by the moral arguments against the death penalty. There are some who argue that executing a criminal for murder is stooping to their level. On that basis then, imprisoning a kidnapper for ten years is also stooping to their level, as they are being confined and held against their will. Nor is killing someone relatively quickly and painlessly notably more inhumane then locking them up for years in a drug-addled and violent prison, where the risk of assault is common and gangs control the situation.

What makes me opposed to capital punishment is the possibility of error. Courts and juries make mistakes. It is awful every time this happens, but it does and will continue to do so, whether because certain evidence hasn’t come to light, or the defence is poor, or because of other factors. Given that jailing an innocent is the ultimate failure of a justice system, there needs to be as many safeguards in place in rectify any such situation. If someone has been imprisoned and is later freed as a result of a miscarriage, they cannot be given those years back, but they can be compensated and be free from then on. There is no such recourse with the death penalty.

The other common argument used in favour of the death penalty is cost. Yet in America, whose legal system is largely based on the same principles as ours, the average death row prisoner spends around fourteen years there before being executed. In terms of expense, the state of California has found that is costs an extra $90,000 per prisoner per year to keep a prisoner on death role then jailed ordinarily for life without parole. Assuming similar figures for this country, the average criminal sentenced to death would therefore cost around £775,000 more than someone who is in prison for fourteen years.

31st July, 2011

Slutwalks in India

by Rumbold at 6:47 pm    

Delhi is the latest city to see a ‘Slutwalk’, where hundreds of protesters took to the streets to highlight abuse of women and the killing of female children:

One protester told our correspondent: “Every girl has the right to wear whatever she wants, to do whatever she wants to do with her body. It’s our lives, our decisions, unless it’s harming you, you have no right to say anything.”

Another protester said: “There are a lot of problems for women in Delhi because a lot of women do face sexual harassment and just a couple of weeks ago the chief of police of Delhi said that if a women was out after 0200 she was responsible for what happens to her, and I don’t think that’s the right attitude.”

The march provoked plenty of debate amongst feminists in India. The marchers focused on the issue of clothing and consent, but also highlighted the general levels of violence against women in India (as Rita Banerji pointed out in a previous piece, rape is the fastest growing crime in India).

A Slutwalk had previously taken place in India, in Bhopal on 17th July, where the march was recast as ‘Besharmi Morcha: PrideStride for Women’ . Yet this was not as widely reported, and only 150 went on the march. Nevertheless, Bhopal did well in getting in ahead of Delhi. None of these problems are unique to India however, and every country could use a Slutwalk.

Filed under: India,Sex equality
26th July, 2011

Further exposure of mass murderer’s links to British far-right

by Rumbold at 9:03 am    

The BNP and EDL were under greater pressure last night after their connections with the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik were laid bare:

The Norwegian fanatic has been in close contact with hundreds of British right-wing extremists for two years, it emerged last night. He chatted about ‘tactics’ on social networking sites with hundreds of members of the English Defence League (EDL) and the British National Party (BNP) and attended demonstrations and meetings here… Breivik has claimed he was recruited by two English Right-wing extremists at a UK meeting in 2002 attended by seven others.

It is good to see that far-right groups are being put under increasing scrutiny. For years we have seen neo-Nazis and their allies convicted of various terrorism-related charges, from plotting terror campaigns to detonating nail bombs. Yet much of the mainstream media has rarely focused on this threat, apart from when trials were going on. Even then, the coverage has seemed muted at times. This should be a wake up call for many that there are armed and dangerous far-right extremists out there, who are willing to slaughter their fellow citizens in the name of their twisted ideology.

Nor should the EDL and BNP be ignored in this debate. Whilst they will publically disown convicted terrorists like Anders Breivik, there is a significant overlap in many areas of their respective ideologies, which is why Anders Breivik was able to get on with so many BNP and EDL activists.

14th July, 2011

Immigration rules for dependents tightened

by Rumbold at 11:40 am    

The government has announced new proposals which add further restrictions on people bringing spouses and other dependents from abroad, and lengthening the amount of time which they can claim benefits:

Currently, non EU Spouses of British citizens now get “indefinite leave to remain” in the United Kingdom after two years of marriage but under the new measures they would only do so after a period of five years as well. In addition, the government wants to also reform article 8 of the European Human Rights Convention, that stops the UK from deporting illegal migrants because of disruption to family life.

Recently, convicted terrorists have used that clause to prevent their deportation from the United Kingdom. The Home Secretary Theresa May earlier this month expressed her concern about convicted criminals and terror suspects abusing the European Human Rights Convention.

There are also going to be restrictions on Britons who cannot financially support themselves bringing over extra dependents:

British citizens who are poor or unemployed could be prevented from marrying the spouse of their choice if new family migration proposals become law. The government wants to introduce a new minimum income threshold for those looking to sponsor a spouse, partner or dependants to come to the UK. Under the proposals the unemployed or those living on less than around £5,000 a year would be banned from doing so, while the probation period before spouses and partners can apply for settlement in Britain would be raised from two to five years.

The Guardian headlined the piece as “Poor to be banned from bringing spouses to the UK from overseas”, and providing for foreign dependents has always been a difficult issue. Given that migrants have no access to public funds for the first few years (and this would be extended under the proposals), the question is how would the foreign spouse support themselves if their partner could not support them?

For a long time, one of the main risks of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ rule has been that vulnerable migrants (such as women feeling domestic violence) couldn’t get the help they need. The coalition government established a pilot last year to provide these women with help, such as emergency housing and possible residence. Hopefully this will be extended and expanded as a way to combat this major problem with the ‘no recourse’ rule (which is a good one generally).

4th July, 2011

Call centres choose Britain over India

by Rumbold at 9:31 am    

This is good news, and a consequence of rising costs in India, China and other places, as workers get paid more in those countries:

New Call Telecom, which competes with BT and Sky to offer home telephone services, broadband and low-cost international calls, is opening a call centre in Lancashire after being attracted by low commercial rents and cheap labour costs…

[The chief executive] said: ‘We did a cost and service analysis of returning home and there was an absolute parity between what we are paying for a third-party call centre in India and here in the UK.’ Mr Eastwood will employ 25 staff at rented premises in Burnley.

It also reflects non-wage issues too:

He says using British staff will also cut costs in the average amount of time taken to deal with customer inquiries. ‘The average handling time in the UK is three minutes. But if you go out to India, you need to add another minute unless it’s a very efficient operation, so that means we can actually reduce the headcount with the saving. In India in the past decade, as call centres have grown, real-estate prices have gone up massively, while salaries have also crept up.’

New Call will pay £4 a square foot for space in Burnley, which Mr Eastwood says is similar to that in Bombay and New Delhi.

As emerging market economies get richer, setting up businesses in places like the UK will become more attractive. Already companies from places like India are buying up companies in the UK, and thus employing tens of thousands of people.

Filed under: Economics,Economy,India
29th June, 2011

No freedom of speech for Palestinians

by Sunny at 8:17 pm    

Sorry, was someone from the Libdems claiming that their coalition government cherished freedom of speech? Bollocks.

The home secretary, Theresa May, has ordered “a full investigation” after a leading Palestinian activist in Israel entered Britain despite a travel ban.

Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was detained at 11pm on Tuesday and taken to Paddington Green police station in west London.

Sarah Colborne, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in London, said she was appalled by the decision to detain Salah. “This is a legitimate organisation which Israel has never moved to ban. Raed Salah regularly speaks at venues across Israel, where he has considerable support amongst the Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population.” He had been elected mayor of his home town, Um al-Fahm, three times and never been convicted of anti-semitism in Israel.

It doesn’t really matter does it? This govt will allow in people like Geert Wilders, who regularly espouse racist garbage against Muslims, but those rights don’t extend to Muslims (I’m in favour of both sets of racists being allowed in).

He’s also a politician from Israel. So the govt will allow in Israel ministers like Avigdor “fascist” Lieberman, but not Muslim politicians from Israel. The usual suspects who screamed censorship when Geert Wilders was banned in 2009, will no doubt be celebrating this too.

Forced sex change operations in India

by Rumbold at 8:44 am    

Discrimination against girls in India is well known and documented. Campaigners have long highlighted the skewed sex ratio, the abortion of female foetuses and the murder of baby girls. Now let another method to reduce the number of girls has been revealed: forced sex change operations:

The row emerged after newspapers disclosed children from throughout India were being operated on by doctors in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.

Doctors confronted in the investigation claimed that girls with genital abnormalities were being sent to the city’s clinics to be “surgically corrected” and that only children born with both male and female sexual characteristics were eligible for the procedure. But campaigners said the parents and doctors were misindentifying the children’s conditions to turn girls into boys.

The surgery, known as genitoplasty, fashions a penis from female organs, with the child being injected with male hormones to create a boy. Dr V P Goswami, the president of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics in Indore, described the disclosures as shocking and warned parents that the procedure would leave their child impotent and infertile in adulthood.

No doubt this is just the tip of the iceberg either. It is unlikely that Indore is the only place where this happens. Nor is legislation likely to be effective to stop this. What is needed is proper enforcement of the laws and a change in a mentality that views girls as something shameful compared to boys.

Update: There has been some doubt cast on this story by an Indian newspaper, which is a rival of the newspaper where it was first published.

27th June, 2011

The caste system in Britain

by Rumbold at 9:44 am    

Nick Cohen reports on a disturbing new piece of research from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research into the caste system in Britain:

Faced with the prospect of confronting the prejudices of core supporters, the Labour government preferred holding on to seats to living by liberal principles and backed away from extending anti-discrimination law to cover caste. With Labour gone, campaigners for just treatment for tens of thousands of British Asians have a glimmer of hope.

They are trying to persuade the coalition to take seriously a study of bullying and harassment conducted by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. It is a dispiriting read – little more than a list of pointless cruelties. The Indian supervisor of an NHS worker discovers that he is from a lower caste and makes his life such a misery he becomes ill under the pressure and is suspended; a social services care worker refuses to help an elderly woman wash herself because the old lady is from a lower caste and so it goes on through dozens of examples.

Caste discrimination is something which isn’t discussed much in the media, yet even non-Hindus from India can be swayed by it. The report was predictably dismissed by the Hindu Council UK, which claimed that the report’s real aim was to persuade Hindus to convert to Christianity (Sunny has long been a critic of them). The lack of a discussion around caste highlights a staple of treatment of minorities; that discrimination within these groups are often ignored, instead treating them as monolithic blocks which should deal with their own problems.

Filed under: Current affairs
17th June, 2011

Benefit fraud statistics contradict political rhetoric

by Rumbold at 10:11 am    

Attacking ‘scrounging’ and ‘fraudulent’ benefit claimants has become a favourite pastime of politicians recently, with both Labour and Conservative ones competing to bash them. On this basis, one would assume that there is a high level of benefit fraud, with many claimants getting money that they are not entitled to. Yesterday the DWP released its own estimates of benefit fraud. It found that around 0.8% of the money allocated is due to fraudulent benefit claims. So 99.2% of benefit claims are legitimate. More money is lost to error than fraud.

The 0.8% represents a high absolute figure (£1.2 billion), and should be tackled, but demonising the vast majority of claimants as fraudsters doesn’t just mean that benefit claimants are being unfairly criticised (it can happen to anyone), but also that it distracts attention from the real issues in the benefit system: the complexity of the system and making it more worthwhile for benefit claimants to work. Given the high levels of fraud amongst MPs, all those attacking benefit claimants would be better off looking to themselves, particularly as a number of those selfsame politicians claimed excessive expenses.

(Via: Richard Exell at Liberal Conspiracy)

Filed under: Current affairs
14th June, 2011

Bahraini medical staff put on trial for treating wounded

by Rumbold at 12:35 pm    

Robert Fisk reports from Bahrain, where 48 surgeons, doctors, paramedics and nurses were put on trial for allegedly attempting to overthrow the monarchy. Their crime was to have treated anti-government protestors. Mr Fisk argues that the trial is going ahead at the behest of Saudi Arabia:

In truth, of course, the Khalifa family is not mad. Nor are the Sunni minority of Bahrain intrinsically bad or sectarian. The reality is clear for anyone to see in Bahrain. The Saudis are now running the country. They never received an invitation to send their own soldiers to support the Bahraini “security forces” from the Bahraini Crown Prince, who is a decent man. They simply invaded and received a post-dated invitation.

The subsequent destruction of ancient Shia mosques in Bahrain was a Saudi project, entirely in line with the kingdom’s Taliban-style hatred of all things Shia. Could the Bahraini prime minister be elected, I asked a member of the royal court last February? “The Saudis would not permit this,” he replied. Of course not. Because they now control Bahrain. Hence the Saudi-style doctors’ trial.

Disgraceful. This show trial should certainly be the last straw in any UK co-operation with the Bahrainis.

3rd June, 2011

Campaigning against societal norms and customs

by Rumbold at 1:57 pm    

Nesrine Malik has a good piece on the Women2Drive campaign in Saudi Arabia and the difficulties faced by campaigners who are protesting against customs rather than just laws:

Manal al-Sharif, the woman who attracted global attention to the Saudi Women2Drive campaign when she posted videos of herself driving on YouTube, was released earlier this week from Dammam prison. As a condition of her release she signed a pledge that she will not participate in the Women2Drive initiative and has officially withdrawn from the campaign. In her statement, she expressed “profound gratitude” to the king, who apparently had ordered her release…

Campaigns of this kind need to be personalised – to have a galvanising figure who can provide a role model and inspire others. But becoming that person in a traditional society can be nothing short of social suicide. Although Sharif is feted in the media and celebrated online, she still has to survive and raise her children among fellow Saudis who might be more disdainful. In an attempt to deflect attention, she said in her statement that she hoped the “Manal al-Sharif file is now closed”.

Ms. Malik points out that there are no written laws relating to female driving, yet it is banned because a ban in enforced in practice.

31st May, 2011

Why the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad matters

by Sunny at 6:14 pm    

Pakistani TV is reporting that the body found today of a dead man was indeed that of journalist Saleem Shahzad. I hadn’t heard of this case earlier but I’ve been horrified by it.

A few days ago Shahzad wrote an investigative article for Asia Times pointing out that Al-Qaeda elements and the Pakistani navy had been negotiating over some prisoners. When the talks broken down, Karachi naval base got bombed.

Al-Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and al-Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al-Qaeda links, an Asia Times Online investigation reveals.

Pakistani security forces battled for 15 hours to clear the naval base after it had been stormed by a handful of well-armed militants.

Shahzad was Asia Times Online’s Pakistan Bureau Chief. He pointed out that the Pakistani security forces were getting worried that senior people were harbouring sympathies for al-Qaeda. When these people were arrested, al-Qaeda elements got involved and eventually stormed the base.

A few days ago, before the second part of the investigation was published, Saleem Shahzad went missing. Human Rights Watch pointed said the Pakistani ISI had him. Now he’s found dead, with signs that he was tortured. Sickening.

Ahsan Butt on FiveRupees is spot on:

I literally cannot believe that the ISI acted with such impunity. They can pick someone one up, torture and murder them, and expect absolutely no legal recrimination.

Remember, these people’s job is to protect us. But they torture and kill us, and protect Osama bin Laden and Hafiz Saeed instead.

They do this in Balochistan most every day, what with student activists, nationalists, and regular party workers ending up in gutters, but they have made the entirely rational calculation that no one in Pakistan cares about Balochistan — watch the video in this Cafe Pyala post if you don’t believe me. This feels somehow different, because his abduction was front page news. And yet they still went ahead and killed him.

This isn’t just about the intimidation and murder of journalists. This is also about hiding the truth that Pakistan has more to fear from Al-Qaeda and militants than it does from the Americans. But since the media is intimidated into keeping quiet the true extent of al-Qaeda infiltration.

Moscow gay pride protest marchers attacked

by Rumbold at 10:17 am    

Peter Tatchell, who went to Moscow to protest against the government’s decision to ban the gay pride march, reports on the violence directed against him and others by both neo-Nazis and the police. A number of observers pointed out the collusion between the neo-Nazis and the police:

I went to City Hall to protest but was separated from our Moscow Gay Pride group. Neo-Nazis identified me for attack. Being alone and with the police refusing to protect us, I had to escape down alleyways to avoid a beating. I was not arrested.

By banning Moscow Gay Pride, Russia has defied a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that it must be allowed to proceed. Some of us now plan to press the Council of Europe to suspend Russia’s right to vote in the Council’s parliamentary assembly. Russia must not be permitted to defy the European Court with impunity.

The two non-white protestors at the march were both arrested and put in solitary confinement, before eventually being released. Russia has long seem homophobic attacks and official harassment of LGBT activists and individuals.

28th May, 2011

How Asians in the USA are doing

by Sunny at 10:20 am    

There’s an interesting study into the demographics of the different Asian communities in the USA.

Jeanne Batalova examined the size, distribution, demographics and socioeconomic characteristics of immigrants from Eastern Asia, South Central Asia, South Eastern Asia, and Western Asia.

Using the most recent government data available, it was found that:

· Immigrants from Asia number more than 10.6 million, accounting for 27.7 percent of all foreign born currently residing in the United States. The largest groups of immigrants from this region are from the Philippines, India, China (including Hong Kong), Vietnam, and Korea.

· While California, New York, and Texas are home to nearly half of all Asian immigrants in the United States, nearly or more than half of the immigrant population in Hawaii (78.2 percent), Alaska (51.6 percent), West Virginia (51.6 percent), Michigan (45.5), and Virginia (41.4) are from Asia.

· Immigrants from Asia are more likely than the overall foreign-born population to be proficient in English and be naturalized US citizens, and are more likely than both the foreign born and the native born to have a Bachelor’s degree.

· Asian immigrants accounted for about 58 percent of immigrant physicians and surgeons and for roughly 60 percent of immigrant registered nurses practicing in the United States.

· South Eastern Asians made up the largest proportion of the Asian-born population, followed by those from Eastern, South Central, and Western Asia.

What is with Asians and becoming doctors huh? And why are so many of them settling in Texas of all places?

23rd May, 2011

Damning: how BBC coverage is biased against Palestinians

by Sunny at 2:12 pm    

Former BBC journalist Tim Llewellyn has a damning article in the Guardian today, exposing the BBC’s failings when reporting on Israel / Palestine.

He says:

There is no attempt to properly convey cause and effect, to report the misery, violence and pillage that demean and deny freedom to the Palestinians and provoke their (limited) actions.

For example:

>> In the bulletins they examined, the BBC gave 421.5 lines of text to Israeli explanations of why they attacked Gaza: the “need for security”, “enemy rockets”, “to stop the smuggling of weapons”. The BBC devoted 14.25 lines to references to the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories and 10.5 lines to the blockade. The BBC repeatedly stressed the word [Israeli] “retaliation”, and also implied that police stations bombed by the Israelis were military targets, describing other casualties as “civilian”. It described these civilian installations as “targets”. Newspapers such as the Guardian did point out the distinction.

>> “The offer that Hamas was said to have made, to halt this exchange [rockets v shells and air strikes] … was almost completely absent from the coverage,” say the authors. They cite a BBC reporter saying: “Israel feels itself surrounded by enemies, with reason.” They add: “We have not found a commentary noting that ‘Palestinians feel themselves to be subject to a brutal military occupation, with reason.’ Israel’s official view is given as fact, they say, but the Palestinian view, on the rare occasions it is found at all, is not. Israelis “state”, Palestinians “claim”.

>> Any Israeli casualty is headline news, shown in high quality images. BBC teams are based in West Jerusalem, de facto Israeli territory, and are on hand. Arab casualties may be shown in reports of a funeral, usually agency film, the victim anonymous. The Israelis, it seems, are for the BBC “people like us”. The Arabs are “the other”.

>> For example, the BBC consistently describes illegal Israeli settlements as “held to be illegal”. But they are illegal. Even the Foreign Office says so. The BBC always adds “Israel disputes this.” Well it would, wouldn’t it? Why these caveats?

Shame on the BBC for not improving its coverage of the Middle East.

And I’m sure people will say ‘just watch Al-Jazeera instead’, but that ignores the BBC not only has a duty to proper journalism but also reaches vast parts of the country in a way al-Jazeera can’t.

19th May, 2011

Indian Girls “Missing” Worldwide

by guest at 11:21 am    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji

Many assume The 50 Million Missing Campaign I run is about the female genocide – the mass and deliberate annihilation of women — in India. However, this is a phenomenon that concerns other countries too with sizeable Indian communities, like the U.K., the U.S., Norway and Canada.

In India the elimination is systemic and in many forms. But in expatriate communities, while issues like dowry violence and honour killings do exist, the most prevalent method of elimination is female feticide. The reason is, while western governments are compelled by law to deal with homicides, they are unwilling to address the systematic extermination of women through sex-selection.

A study published [subscription required] by researchers at Oxford University, reveals that 1500 girls went ‘missing’ from the Indian communities in England and Wales between 1990 and 2005. The 1500 figure indicates that 1 in 10 girls, who should have been born according to normal birth statistics, had been selectively aborted. The study raises another important question. This practice is not evident in the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities in the U.K., even though all three countries share a common history and culture, and the same social preference for sons.

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4th May, 2011

Victim forced to pay compensation for refusing to cheer attacker

by Rumbold at 7:01 pm    

This case from America was truly shocking. A high school cheerleader has lost a court case against her school and will have to pay the school $45,000 (£27,300) in compensation.

What was worst was not the case itself, but how it came about. The unnamed cheerleader (‘HS’) was sexually assaulted by Rakheem Bolton, an athlete at her school. He pleaded guilty to the assault, but the charge of rape against him was dropped, so he was allowed back onto the basketball team (because being convicted of sexual assault isn’t a bar to representing a school it seems).

In a subsequent game, ‘HS’ refused to cheer her attacker when his name was mentioned, which prompted her expulsion from the cheerleading squad. The school deserves plenty of criticism for this, but so do the courts, especially given the way in which they dismissed her appeal by branding it “frivolous”. Whatever the merits of awarding ‘HS’ compensation, the anger of a sexual assault victim at being punished for failing to cheer her attacker is not some ‘frivolous’ gesture. The court said:

“As a cheerleader, HS served as a mouthpiece through which [the school district] could disseminate speech – namely, support for its athletic teams,” the appeals court decision says. “This act constituted substantial interference with the work of the school because, as a cheerleader, HS was at the basketball game for the purpose of cheering, a position she undertook voluntarily.”

So the school wasn’t at fault for allowing a sex attacker to represent them, rather it was the victim for trying to rebuild her life by taking part in something which mattered to her? Disgraceful.

3rd May, 2011

How do we identify the real cost of Bin Laden and al-Qaeda?

by Sunny at 1:52 pm    

There are lots of different ways to assess the cost of the ‘War on Terror’ over the last ten years.

One of the cost to people’s security and way of life; i.e., numerous terrorism acts in the UK, Patriot Act in the US, increased security measures at airports, suspicion at fellow citizens, terrorist scares etc.

Another is the loss of life; not just the Britons and the Americans who died on 9/11 and 7/7 but the thousands of innocent Iraqis and Afghanis who died as a result of bombs and raids. The innocent dead in Spain, in Bali and terrorist attacks in other Middle Eastern countries such as Syria.

Then there is the financial cost of the WoT. Ezra Klein at the WashPo says this is what Bin Laden really wanted to see escalated:

“We, alongside the mujaheddin, bled Russia for 10 years, until it went bankrupt,” he later explained. The campaign taught bin Laden a lot. For one thing, superpowers fall because their economies crumble, not because they’re beaten on the battlefield. For another, superpowers are so allergic to losing that they’ll bankrupt themselves trying to conquer a mass of rocks and sand. This was bin Laden’s plan for the United States, too.

And how much did this cost the US alone?

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the price tag on the Iraq War alone will surpass $3 trillion. Afghanistan likely amounts to another trillion or two. Add in the build-up in homeland security spending since 9/11 and you’re looking at another trillion. And don’t forget the indirect costs of all this turmoil: The Federal Reserve, worried about a fear-induced recession, slashed interest rates after the attack on the World Trade Center, and then kept them low to combat skyrocketing oil prices, a byproduct of the war in Iraq. That decade of loose monetary policy may well have contributed to the credit bubble that crashed the economy in 2007 and 2008.

Then there’s the post-9/11 slowdown in the economy, the time wasted in airports, the foregone returns on investments we didn’t make, the rise in oil prices as a result of the Iraq War, the cost of rebuilding Ground Zero, health care for the first responders and much, much more.

Different people will of course focus on different aspects to this war. All are important costs. And in each case its arguable that the cost incurred in order to “defeat Bin Laden” was exactly what Bin Laden would have wanted and was way in excess of what anyone anticipated.

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