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    10th October, 2007

    The Iraqi campaign event yesterday

    by Sunny at 11:59 pm    

    Yesterday evening we had our event at Portcullis House in Westminister, lobbying the government to grant asylum to Iraqi employees of the British armed forces. I wrote an article about it on comment is free.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Events, Middle East

    The deluded face of anti-racism

    by Sunny at 3:12 pm    

    The gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who I respect a lot, went to the Al-Quds rally on Sunday.

    The Al Quds protest was supposed in support of justice for the Palestinian people,” said Peter Tatchell. “That’s a cause I support. I am against Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and its divisive Berlin-style wall.

    “But I object to the way the Al Quds demonstration also supports the tyrannical, anti-Semitic Iranian regime and its fundamentalist, terrorist offshoots, Hamas and Hezbollah.

    Same here. And you would think that it would be the position self-styled anti-racists would take too. Except, he was subjected to abuse and called a paedophile.

    “As soon as I turned up, I was subjected to a barrage of violent, threatening abuse from large sections of the crowd. Some started chanting: ‘Tatchell is a Zionist, Tatchell is a paedophile. Get out! Get out! Get out!’

    “Despite this abuse, we handed out leaflets criticising the Iranian regime, which a number of the Al Quds marchers took and read. Following at the back of the march, we were subjected to a torrent of hatred all the way from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. A few of the Al Quds marchers shouted things like: ‘You are all Zionists and CIA agents. How much money did Bush pay you to come here today?’

    Oh, and they tried to beat him plenty of times. This is the march supported by the 1990 Trust, which is apparently, “promoting human rights through advocating racial and economic equality.” Yeah, great work guys. Well done for supporting such people and marching with Hizb ut-Tahrir. You help the cause so much.

    Filed under: Race politics

    How do we define ‘British values’?

    by Sunny at 8:43 am    

    The current edition of Prospect Magazine says:
    In July, Gordon Brown published a green paper called “The Governance of Britain.” The final section said that we need to be clearer about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and what it means to be British. It proposed “to work with the public to develop a British statement of values.” We asked 50 writers and intellectuals to give us their thoughts on this statement and what should inform it

    I was one of the 50 asked to contribute.
    Here is my short response.

    Continue Reading...
    9th October, 2007

    Homophobia Watch

    by SajiniW at 7:15 pm    

    Following on from Sunny’s post, the clash of cultures and attitudes continues. This time - Stateside.

    The recent murder of US desi Satender Singh has been a bone of contention between recent immigrant groups and authorities.

    Gay rights activists blame Singh’s death on what they call “U.S.-Latvia Axis of Hate”, a reference to a virulent Latvian megachurch preacher who has become a central figure in the hard-line Slavic anti-gay movement in the West. Two Slavic men, one of whom had fled to Russia, were being charged in Singh’s death, which was characterized as a hate crime.

    The increasingly ferocious anti-gay movement in the Sacramento Valley centres amongst former Soviet immigrants, some of whom are representatives of international extremist anti-gay movement Watchmen on the Walls. The Watchmen are popular among US & European Christian fundamentalists. They are known for presiding over anti-gay rallies where gays and lesbians are pelted with bags of excrement and joining US Pentecostals in West Coast states to picket anti-homophobia protests.

    What bothers me most is that not only is this deplorable behaviour imported; it also continues to be supported by existing networks of hate. I’m interested in seeing how US authorities deal with this kind of behaviour, where actual action of dealing with these perpetrators may push authorities into the trap of ‘racism’ alongside the collusion of generalised apathy towards the attitudes of those who committed the crime.

    Filed under: Current affairs

    Self-censorship over Israel

    by Sunny at 4:52 pm    

    I’ve always believed that fear of offending the “Muslim community” over something a bit controversial is a form of soft racism; the belief that they are likely to start rioting or blowing things up the minute some get annoyed. Unfortunately there have been far too many real examples (and plenty fake ones around Christmas) of organisations, especially local councils, changing things for “fear of causing offence”.

    Of course it’s not limited to them. On comment is free today there are two articles on self-censorship by groups on the basis that Jews are so sensitive that any criticisism of Israel is likely to invoke cries of anti-semitism (ok, Melanie Phillips is that crazy, but let’s ignore her for the moment). In both cases two sets of people complain: the organised lobbies/groups (Muslim Council of Britain, Hindu Forum, Anti-Defamation League, AIPAC etc) who make it their job, and their supporters who rarely come from the community that is supposed to be offended. It’s the modern way to show how right-on you are: put a ‘Support Israel or else…‘ or a Palestinian / Hamas button on your blog.

    David Golberg ends with:

    In the obsession to find anti-semites lurking under every stone, you can no longer differentiate between the important work of supporting Jewish students intimidated on campus by Muslim and far-left groups, resisting the pernicious proposal to boycott Israeli academics - or gratuitously insulting, in the name of Jewry, the brave, decent and morally upright Desmond Tutu.

    Richard Silverstein’s article is even better:

    When Israel lobby defenders respond to the censorship issue they point out that the victims of lobby pressure often benefit from controversy stirred up. But that misses the point. In a fair, reasonable and tolerant world none of these victims would have to expend the enormous energy needed to combat the campaigns against them.

    Liberal Jewish bloggers who report on these outrages understand that the Israel lobby retains enormous reach in its ability to pre-empt speech and manipulate the public debate. But our conviction is that the more these incidents see the light of day, the more the power of the lobby to stifle debate will wane.

    Now, play nice kids! I don’t want to ban more of you for being abusive.

    8th October, 2007

    Melanie Phillips’ sanctimonious bullshit

    by Sunny at 6:48 pm    

    Oh look what we have here:

    BSkyB, Channel 5 and the Daily Express are each to pay “substantial” damages after apologising over incidents of libel in the high court yesterday. BskyB and Channel 5 have paid substantial libel damages after linking a family to a terrorist plot. In February Sky News and Five News ran a story that five men had been charged with offences under the Terrorism Act and that one had been charged with plotting to kidnap and kill a member of the armed forces.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Media

    It’s not enough Mr Brown

    by Sunny at 5:55 pm    

    Those of us pushing the ‘give-Iraqi-employees-of-British-armed-forces-aslyum-in-Britain’ campaign were thrown a few crumbs by Gordon Brown today:

    Mr Speaker, I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of our civilian and locally employed staff in Iraq, many of whom have worked in extremely difficult circumstances exposing themselves and their families to danger. And I am pleased therefore to announce today a new policy which more fully recognises the contribution made by our local Iraqi staff who work for our armed forces and civilian missions in uniquely difficult circumstances.

    Existing staff who have been employed by us for more than twelve months and have completed their work will be able to apply for a package of financial payments to aid resettlement in Iraq or elsewhere in the region, or - in agreed circumstances - for admission to the UK. And professional staff — including interpreters and translators — with a similar length of service who have left our employ since the beginning of 2005 will also be able to apply for assistance. We will make a further written statement on the detail of this scheme this week.

    This is a poor sop because of the ‘twelve months’ qualifier. It is unlikely most employees would be given contracts for anything approaching 12 months and this attempt by Brown to give the impression he cares is very poor. We are not impressed.

    The event tomorrow is therefore still going ahead, albeit now at Portcullis House. I’ll be there saying hello to attendees so do drop in to show your support if you can.

    Update: The US government made the same decision recently after a media campaign. via Bloggerheads.

    Filed under: Events, Middle East

    Trying to make sense out of Pakistan

    by Shariq at 11:13 am    

    Benazir Bhutto was a corrupt Prime Minister. Nawaz Sharif was a corrupt Prime Minister. Yet I support allowing both, to come back to Pakistan and take part in the political system, providing that the Army maintains a strong presence and Musharraf is allowed to continue as President, with the power to dismiss the elected government.

    Continue Reading...
    6th October, 2007

    No election!

    by Sunny at 7:05 pm    

    Gordon Brown has dismissed any chance of a November election. Thank the lords! Oh, and Clairwil is away this weekend so she won’t be entertaining us with surreal videos from the 70s. So consider this your weekend open thread for idle chit-chat.

    Filed under: Current affairs

    Campaign success!

    by Sunny at 10:18 am    

    The Times reports this morning that the government is to offer asylum to hundreds of Iraqi interpreters and other key support staff and their families.

    Update: Contrary to my earlier optimistic tone, this news may not be as good as we thought. Dan Hardie, who has been spear-heading this campaign, says that the Foreign Office is still not aware of this change in policy and neither are the army or people hired by them. The Times seems to have quoted an anonymous Downing St spokesperson but no official statement has yet been made.

    The event on Tuesday will still go ahead.

    Filed under: Current affairs
    5th October, 2007

    An email response I got

    by Sunny at 3:30 pm    

    A friend of a close friend sent me this in an email yesterday:

    I’ve read your Guardian article and it’s very good. (check out the number of comments!) I agree with it fully. I also believe that as Muslims (inc those of other minority faiths) we expect others to understand ‘us’ (ie the minority) yet we fail to embrace other minorities and their differences and are quick to condemn their ‘kuffar’ ways. My first experience of this was during many of the anti war marches when we encountered the ‘lefties.’ Here were the white, lefty lot yet they were campaigning on ‘our’ behalf and on ‘our’ issues. How often do we campaign on issues that are not seen as ‘ours’??? I think we (minorities) still look at issues from our narrow spheres and as we are always feeling constantly attacked in a globalised world, we want to shut the door and eat our samosas whilst verbally condemning the telly for bringing this news……!

    Zubeda was happy for me to publish this and use her name. On the campaigning side, I made the same point about Sikhs two years ago: that the political apathy and lack of interest in other issues is just appalling.

    Filed under: Religion, Organisations

    The inhumanity of man

    by Rumbold at 2:28 pm    

    Johann Hari reports on a little-known conflict in the centre of Africa (I had never heard anything about it). The article is a long one (6,000 words), but well worth reading.

    Continue Reading...

    Poll: Do you want a General Election?

    by Leon at 12:08 pm    

    With all the polling, posturing and speculation about whether Gordon Brown will call a snap General Election perhaps it’s time us Picklers gave our views? Consider this a political open thread for wild conjecture, sheer speculation and, dare I say, sensible commentary!

    Filed under: Current affairs

    Who do you represent?

    by Rupa at 8:17 am    

    If you’re an Asian foraying into media/arts/academic arenas is there anyway you can separate your work from your ethnicity? I found myself at an ‘in conversation‘ event this week with the Guardian’s Sarfraz Manzoor onstage at the British Library plugging his new book where this question arose.

    Manzoor seemed shocked that anyone would want to pay £6 to turn up - which probably explains the lack of Asians in the audience. The only other Asian there bar me asked him how he felt as a spokesperson for Muslim youth. This scenario has been termed by academics including me as ‘the burden of representation‘.

    Manzoor described “the Muslim thing” as “an open goal”, continuing: “If I’ve got something to say about Muslims I know people will allow me the space to do so”.

    On the other hand he agonized, “I don’t want people to only accuse me of talking about Islam. I’m not actually that interested in religion. I like other things as well”. And to illustrate he told us his next commissions were on the moon landings, Philip Roth and Bruce Springsteen, although the last one had been on whether immigrants should be forced to learn English.

    In my own little way I’ve got gigs out of my cultural background as both Muslim and Asian. I’ve found as an academic researching youth culture it’s taken as a given that I’ll be studying bhangra although I’ve always been a Smiths fan. But whining white indie guitar boys are less attractive to publishers than multiculti music in the world we inhabit.

    As a friend once put it “I’d rather be a token than unemployed”. The burden of representation argument can be applied to allsorts of things. I found East is East a stinking turd of a film but people who liked it reckon it should be accepted as a comedy not a representation of anything. What do other people think?

    This is a guest post. Rupa blogs here.

    4th October, 2007

    World’s biggest Sufi festival

    by Sunny at 2:54 pm    

    A picture from Sehwan Sharif, on the Guardian website, the world’s biggest Sufi festival, held in Pakistan.
    Thanks to Zak.

    Filed under: Current affairs

    New religious hatred law comes into force

    by Sunny at 5:24 am    

    Given the uproar it caused when first mooted, the introduction of the Religious Hatred Act seems to have gone unnoticed. Either way, it came into effect on 1st October.

    Here is the Home Office press release…

    Continue Reading...
    3rd October, 2007

    Cameron calls for election: will Brown bottle it?

    by Leon at 5:30 pm    

    Well there we have it, a longish speech which amounted to ‘C’mon if ya think ya ‘ard enuff!!” from David Cameron. Re-using his party trick of no notes or auto cue the boy David had a lot to say that…erm…I can’t quite remember right now. Nothing really seemed to stick in my mind other than him swearing and the closing music (reggae music at a Tory conference!?).

    Maybe there was more to his speech than attacking Brown, perhaps this will give him the poll bounce he needs but it doesn’t seem to matter either way. What matters more, it seems, is his throwing down the gauntlet and Brown’s response.

    So, will Brown bottle it? Or is the election about to be called?

    Sunny adds: If Brown calls an election now, which is very likely, I will curse him hard for reasons outlined by Justin.

    Update: Poll speculation is rising here, the first of the decision making polls comes out tonight at 7pm.

    On freedom of speech and controversy

    by Sunny at 3:52 pm    

    I wrote an article published on CIF today titled: “Muslims should embrace free speech“. It is aimed more at brown people generally since I don’t believe British Sikhs and Hindus have learnt to deal with free speech or criticism/ridicule of their religions either. But the angle is a controversy involving Muslims hence the title. Anyway. In the article I say that it’s not just brown people who miss the point on free speech, pointing to calls by Brownie and Norm Geras as examples of demanding censorship.

    In reply, Norm says:

    Both in the post he links to and in this follow-up I made it clear that I support the freedom of universities (and their constituent faculties and schools) to invite any speakers they want to. This doesn’t mean, however, that a university is obliged, out of respect for the principle of free speech, to invite absolutely everybody. They may choose, and in choosing, they may observe certain standards: standards, for example, to do with respect for the truth. I think the invitation to Ahmadinejad was ill-judged. That is not the same thing as opposing free speech.

    I’m afraid it’s not as simple as that. Censorship and free speech are absolute concepts but they don’t take into account distribution of power and access to media. For example, a newspaper may publish something offensive about Muslims in the name of free speech but not bother publishing something offensive about Christians (or Diana) as a matter of taste. There is censorship and there is self-censorship.

    Similarly, I would delete anyone who comes here and starts spouting f*** Muslims for the sake of being offensive. But a bigger platform like Facebook (or the internet) should maintain adherence to free speech regardless of who is being insulted (Islam, Judaism, America, India, Israel etc) so we can all have the same standards. Similarly, for Columbia university to decline an invitation to President Ahmadinijad amounts to academic self-censorship. Let him come and make a fool of himself like he did; what’s there to be afraid of? As long as they don’t break the law, nutters like Louis Farrakhan and Sheikh Qaradawi should be allowed in if they allow fascists like Le Pen and Nick Griffin to spout off endlessly.

    Update: Another example of academic self-censorship.

    Another update: To clarify to Norm, I was talking about declining an invite to MA after it had been issued, as in the case of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in my earlier update, not issuing one to just anyone.

    Sex and love; the secular and religious

    by Sunny at 1:56 am    

    I quite like this article by Alex Stein on CiF, in particular these paras:

    Religious people often lazily argue that the secular world is obsessed with sex, citing the soft porn that seems to have permeated every corner of popular culture. But the truth is the reverse. It is the religious world that is obsessed with sex. As a result, it dangerously misunderstands it. The secular world is actually quite comfortable with sex, although this comfort often manifests itself in unpleasant ways. Maybe that’s knowledge for you.

    Religion starts from the belief that sex is a fundamentally holy act, one that should be performed (if at all) only by a married heterosexual couple. This creates an extraordinarily high level of expectation regarding the sexual act, one that is often impossible to attain. In contrast, secular culture emphasises the carnality and banality of sex. It is able to reach heights that can sometimes only be described through the metaphor of spiritual language, but often it doesn’t. And that’s OK. Sex is great even when it doesn’t “transcend”.

    The problem is that religion encourages an unhealthy attitude to sex. By holding it just beyond the reach of the practitioner, it becomes an obsession, a dangerous weapon being sinfully flaunted by non-believers.

    I broadly agree with this although it’s a bit Abrahamic religions centric. Hinduism in contrast places huge emphasis in understanding and de-mystifying sex. It’s a shame the current generation has forgotten all that too.

    Filed under: Humour, Moral police

    Sayeeda Warsi’s vision for the future

    by Sunny at 1:27 am    

    This is the speech Sayeeda Warsi gave at the Tory party conference. Music to my ears, again.

    Last week the Commission for Racial Equality published their final report which said that Britain is a more divided nation now than it was ten years ago. This is a disappointing indictment of the last decade.

    But we shouldn’t lose heart because in Britain we have a proud history of meeting the challenge of bringing people of different backgrounds together. Community cohesion is how we all live together with ease, how we feel comfortable in our communities and the way in which we bind together as a nation…

    Continue Reading...
    2nd October, 2007

    Inside a Shariah court

    by Jobeda at 3:35 pm    

    Last night’s This World documentary on BB2, Inside a Shariah Court was actually a very dangerous programme. It is dangerous because it tackled a hideous political issue in an authored documentary style, which is completely inappropriate. This approach meant that there was only one voice analysing the situation, and worse, in attempting to apply it to our own society.

    The BNP would never have been given this kind of platform - I agree the BNP should have a voice because I believe in free speech, but fascism would never be allowed without a dissenting voice alongside it. Why does the BBC think Shariah is any different?

    Continue Reading...

    Commemorating the Past

    by Rumbold at 11:08 am    

    Who has the right to commemorate the past?

    A week or so ago British tourists upset the BJP and others in India by trying to visit Lucknow in order to commemorate the actions of the The Rifles (a British regiment) during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Lucknow is widely held to have been one of the centres of the Mutiny (or the First War of Independence, as some Indians know it), and the tourists were accused of wanting to celebrate the retribution meted out to the natives by British forces.

    Continue Reading...

    Burma protest in London on 6th

    by Sunny at 9:28 am    

    BBC Online reported on Sunday that around 3,000 people turned out Saturday in solidarity with the Burmese monks. Interestingly enough, the protest was almost entirely organised and popularised through Facebook. The main group, which now has over a quarter of a million members, points out that on 6th October there is a planned Day of International Action across the world. Be there or be square.

    1st October, 2007

    Losing my religion (at the Labour conference)

    by Rupa at 4:12 pm    

    “British Muslim Citizenship and Integration” - four words, almost Rubiks cube like in the number of implications, associations and combinations that could come out of them.

    Similarly like a Rubiks Cube, every time “British Muslims” are referred to they are seen as a problem that resolving. All this was left at the door of the Fabian Society to address in the last session at the last fringe meeting on the last day of Labour’s annual conference in Bournemouth.

    Diehard delegates gathered in the surroundings of Connaught Hotel to hear Higher Education Minister John Denham MP, John Biggs (GLA member for East London), Zareen Roohi Ahmed (British Muslim Forum) and little old me spout forth on these subjects.

    Labour candidate Rupa Huq writes on the event…

    Continue Reading...

    Sayeeda Warsi and the BNP

    by Sunny at 9:06 am    

    So, Tory party peer Sayeeda Warsi gives an interview to the Independent on Sunday and says:

    “The BNP will look at what issue it is locally that they can exploit and the other political parties are not seen to be dealing with and they will play to that,” she says. Far from ignoring the issue of immigration, she thinks it should be confronted head on. “I think we need to have the debate. One of the problems why the BNP has been allowed to grow is sometimes certainly the Labour Party took the view that if we ignore them they will just go away,” she says.

    Indeed, she says, people who back the extreme-right party, criticised for its racist and homophobic agenda, may even have a point. “They have some very legitimate views. People who say ‘we are concerned about crime and justice in our communities – we are concerned about immigration in our communities’,” she said.

    Predictably, some people have gotten quite angry. But they all miss the point…

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Race politics, The BNP
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