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The far-right activist and the editor: how paper ‘sows division’ where an MP died

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 September, 2018 - 07:00
Danny Lockwood’s outspoken editorials and his meeting with Tommy Robinson have split opinion in Batley, home town of murdered MP Jo Cox

In the centre of Batley stands Jo Cox House, named after the MP murdered by a rightwing extremist during the EU referendum campaign. For many in the West Yorkshire town it stands as a reminder of the perils of extremism and the need for unity. Close by stand the offices of the town’s weekly newspaper, whose editor and proprietor is accused of aggravating community tensions through a series of anti-Muslim opinion pieces.

In January, Danny Lockwood, owner of The Press, met Tommy Robinson, former English Defence League leader and notorious Islamo-phobe, near Jo Cox House to discuss how the town’s Muslim and “established” white community were “completely at odds with each other”.

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The dark secret of Thailand’s child brides

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 September, 2018 - 22:00
Underage Muslim girls are regularly forced into marriage with Malaysian men, and the government turns a blind eye

One day this summer, 11-year-old Ayu married 41-year-old Che Abdul Karim Che Hamid at a small pink mosque on the banks of the Golok river in the far south of Thailand. Earlier that morning, Che Abdul Karim and his soon-to-be child bride had travelled over the border from Malaysia into the Thai province of Narathiwat for the wedding. After a short ceremony at 11am and a trip to the Islamic Council offices to get their marriage certificate stamped, the couple crossed back over the border. Ayu, was now Che Abdul Karim’s third wife.

In Malaysia, where men can legally marry girls under 18 if they get Islamic sharia court approval, Ayu’s case caused a national outcry in parliament and protests on the streets. But over the border in Thailand, where the controversial union took place, the response by the government and religious authorities has been notably muted.

A girl raped in her village was taken to a shelter, but the Islamic Council visited to try to make her marry her rapist

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Why “Jewish fears”, even if genuine, are misplaced

Indigo Jo Blogs - 31 August, 2018 - 19:02

A man standing on grass holding a sign bearing the words "For the many, not the Jew" in white on a red background.Last week I saw two blog articles published by self-described left-wing Zionists, one of whom I know through disability activist circles, about why they are concerned about the “rising tide” of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party which they accuse Jeremy Corbyn of encouraging or condoning. Both of them spoke of their past; the father of one of the authors came to the UK in one of the pre-war Kindertransports from Nazi Germany, the other grew up in the Anglo-Jewish community which she fell away from in adulthood, but the state of the Labour Party since Corbyn’s rise has reminded her of her Jewishness and of the fear Jews traditionally felt, i.e. that however integrated they felt they were, they would always be reminded of being outsiders after a generation or two and had always lived in fear of having to pack their bags (or grab the one they had kept packed just in case) and run. One of the pieces is by Andrew Gilbert and titled The Stolen Pen: the resonance of anti-Semitism; the other is by ‘Ermintrude’, a social worker I know on Twitter, titled On Zionism, Anti-semitism and Racism — A personal response.

In other news, Frank Field yesterday (Thursday) resigned the Labour whip in the Commons citing the issue as the major reason, though there is also a campaign to deselect him in his constituency party; the New Statesman carried an interview with former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and an editorial demanding that the Labour Party adopt the full IHRA definition of anti-Semitism including the disputed examples. I have made clear my objection to this demand and what it would mean, namely that there would effectively be no place for Muslims in the party.

Ermintrude explains Zionism thus:

Zionism for me, and many like me is not an ideology based on destruction and expansion, it is based on a complex history of a persecuted race who desire a homeland to exist. This does not mean this land has to exclude others who live there although the current government is oppressive, without doubt. To me, the inability to humanise ‘Zionists’ and to understand this definition is a blind spot for Corbyn and his ilk. I can desperately strive for peace in the Middle East while still fundamentally supporting the existence of an Israeli state, albeit a very, very different one to the one that exists now.

I don’t disagree that the idea of a homeland or state for the Jews is not in itself racist; however, the demand for a state in a place where another people lives, a people who were not significantly responsible for the Jews’ persecutions, where they would be forced to “budge up” or leave to make way for Jewish incomers, makes way for racism very readily. Zionists used such slogans as “land without people for people without land”. This can be interpreted in one of two ways: either that the land was actually empty, which it was not (and is thus either extremely ignorant or mendacious), or that Arabs are less than people, which is racist. Zionists do not like hearing their beliefs likened to imperialism or colonialism; however, it exploited the fact that, at the time, Palestine was under the control of a sympathetic white colonial power which allowed large numbers of them to settle and build militias. Furthermore, European Jews were further up the European racial hierarchy than native Arabs were: they were Europeans, whites, not colonial subjects.

And as for wanting “a very different [Israeli state] to the one that exists now”, that one exists now because of the people who live there: the people who elected a war criminal as prime minister, who elect leaders that expand settlements and expand a segregation infrastructure to support them, who maintain military service to support an army that, now that two of their four former enemies have signed peace treaties, a third is in the throes of civil war and the fourth is currently more engaged in propping up the regime in that country, serves only to harass ordinary Palestinians going about their business. It’s this sort of behaviour, not the perpetrators’ religion or ethnic background, that is the cause of Palestinian resistance and movements like Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) abroad, including here.

Regarding the Jews’ sense of endangerment and persecution, Ermintrude explains:

It was a lesson that was taught every hour of every day as we saw the tattooed numbers on the arms of our neighbours and family members. I don’t remember ‘learning’ about the Holocaust or the centuries of having to run because it just ‘was’. These were the stories discussed on Friday nights and Saturday lunches, the ones that just lived with us.

I remember my grandparents telling me that all ‘host’ countries turn against the Jews eventually. We are a race that can’t ever ‘settle’ beyond a couple of generations and nowhere will be safe, because eventually, eventually they will turn on the Jews.

But Jews have been living in the UK now for many more than two generations — more like four or five, at least — without any official persecution or any movement that makes anti-Semitism part of its platform having gained any significant traction. Even when the National Front made a certain amount of headway in the 1970s, its main targets were Commonwealth immigrants; even then, despite the demonstrably Nazi beliefs of the people at its centre, they knew they could not win votes by targeting Jews. This is not to say that no prejudice exists or that nobody is aware of Jewish stereotypes; there were Jewish boys at my boarding school and all of them were the target of racialised insults and, in some cases, violence (by contrast, I never heard of ‘Jew’ or Jewish stereotypes used as insults in three south London schools up until then). But the idea that Jews have no place living here, should “go home”, are not British or should not have the same rights as everyone else has no currency and has not had for a very long time, which is more than can be said for attitudes towards the more visible minorities that arrived after the War; it allows no-stun kosher slaughter which is banned in many countries in Europe and does not interfere in mainstream orthodox Jewish schooling, both of which benefit Muslims as well. To put it simply, Britain has been good to the Jews and the fact that Jews “feel threatened” does not mean they actually are.

And the substance of the claims of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party does not equate to any real threat, in my opinion. Many of them bear no resemblance to anything that would be classed as racism if the ‘target’ was any other minority; few of them relate to British Jews in any case, but to Israel or Israelis and often in response to actual violence from Israel itself (e.g. bombing civilian targets in Gaza or Lebanon). The majority of the reports are not about new incidents (“Corbyn said X about Jews today”) but old incidents from before he became leader, all of which were known of in 2015 and could have been brought up then (or when Owen Smith challenged him a year later), but his opponents have chosen to draw attention to them one by one. And absolutely none of them involve the use of racial slurs, threats of violence or other threats to British Jews or to their rights or citizenship, things other minorities face on a routine basis and do not always result in a media-led outcry — in fact, as with Boris Johnson earlier in August, there are open suggestions that it may increase their popularity.

Lastly, both articles plead that Jews be allowed to “define their own oppression”, which echoes the demands that have been made both on Twitter and in the mainstream media by other so-called community leaders (none of them, incidentally, elected by the whole Jewish-origin community and some of them not at all), as other minorities are supposedly allowed to. I’ve covered this in the past, but to reiterate: other minorities define their ‘oppression’ in terms of violence, threats, discrimination, policies supporting these things and racial slurs, not someone’s stance on a conflict in a foreign country that they take a different side in. I have yet to hear Hindu leaders in the UK, for example, condemn anyone as racist for their stance on the situation in Kashmir, Gujarat or anything else in the Indian Subcontinent that Hindus or Hindu nationalists are implicated in. I have sometimes heard Black people allude to racism in media coverage of, say, Robert Mugabe’s farm seizures (often with some justice: I have indeed heard White people say “Black people can’t farm!”), but never to the extent of demanding the resignation of a politician for that reason. The things which trigger accusations of anti-Semitism are often much more obscure than in other alleged incidents of racism and often do not target the Jewish community here at all. In some cases there seems to have been no basis to the claims at all.

The Labour NEC meets next week to debate whether to adopt in full the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism or the modified version favoured by Corbyn and his supporters. Much as I oppose Corbyn’s stance on Brexit (and would gladly see him removed as there needs to be a major party in opposition to this disastrous policy), adopting this would silence any but the most polite criticism of Israel or Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories (and filter down to places like student unions which are often dominated by Labour party organisations) and must not pass, regardless of the threats of right-wing MPs to resign or defect. However genuine some Jews’ fears are about Corbyn’s leadership, this is a campaign manufactured in bad faith by his opponents — a mixture of Tories, who have largely been silent about more obvious racism in their own party, and Labour centrists — who have dredged up old news and presented it as new time and again.

It isn’t racist to support the Palestinians’ right to their country, and to a vote in the affairs of the country that rules them, or to arrange boycotts of their oppressors, and it isn’t racist to be angry when innocent people are killed in bombings or otherwise suffer. What would be racist — at least discriminatory — would be to adopt a policy that would mean an entire religious community in this country were shut out of the party or subjected to an inquisition about their views on Jews or Israel if they joined or tried to run for office. We are already under-represented enough as a community and it would be unjust of Labour to adopt a policy to make this worse, just to assuage some people’s baseless fears. The legality of it should also be under question.

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Exhibition showcasing Muslim fashion to open in San Francisco

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 August, 2018 - 14:21

From Nike hijabs to couture gowns, the show explores the diversity of Islamic style

A major exhibition exploring the diverse dress codes of Muslims, and the first of its kind dedicated to displaying Islamic culture within a fashion context, is to open in September.

From the launch of Vogue Arabia to Uniqlo and Dolce & Gabbana branching into modest fashion lines, Islamic style has become a burgeoning global market in recent years – and a profitable one, too. Figures from Thomson Reuters forecast that the global fashion spend by Muslims will reach $373bn (£288bn) by 2022.

Related: Got it covered: fashion wakes up to Muslim women’s style

Related: Generation M: how young Muslim women are driving a modest fashion revolution

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Far-right Dutch MP cancels Muhammad cartoon competition

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 August, 2018 - 22:05

Geert Wilders drops plans for controversial contest in November following death threats

Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders has cancelled a planned contest inviting people to submit a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad following death threats and large-scale protests in Pakistan.

“To avoid the risk of victims of Islamic violence, I have decided not to let the cartoon contest go ahead,” the far-right opposition politician said in a written statement on Thursday night.

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Muhammad cartoon contest in Netherlands sparks Pakistan protests

The Guardian World news: Islam - 29 August, 2018 - 10:04

Islamist leader says ‘only jihad’ is sufficient to punish ‘blasphemous’ Wilders stunt

Hundreds of Islamists are planning to march on Islamabad to demand Imran Khan’s new government sever diplomatic ties with the Netherlands over a “blasphemous” cartoon competition.

The protest march on Wednesday, organised by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a political party dedicated to the punishment of blasphemy, presents the first major test of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) administration. Last year, a similar protest by the TLP shut down the capital for almost a month.

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Iranian activist jailed over hijab protests goes on hunger strike

The Guardian World news: Islam - 29 August, 2018 - 05:00

Farhad Meysami accused of having badges saying he was against the compulsory hijab

Human rights activists in Iran have said they are worried about a man on hunger strike who was reportedly jailed for protesting against rules requiring women to wear a hijab.

Farhad Meysami, 48, a doctor and publisher before becoming a civil activist, was arrested in his office in July and taken to Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.

Do you think wearing a badge that says "I am against forced hijab" is a crime?

Iranian authorities do.

They've arrested human rights defender Farhad Meysami & charged him w/national security offences for supporting Iranian women's campaign against this degrading practice. pic.twitter.com/I8YNzsAv8F

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Aung San Suu Kyi stays silent on UN report on Rohingya genocide

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 August, 2018 - 13:24

Myanmar leader uses first appearance since damning verdict to discuss literature

The world was waiting for her to speak. But the day after a damning United Nations report concluded that genocide had occurred in Myanmar under her watch, Aung San Suu Kyi used a public appearance to discuss only poetry and literature.

Arriving at the University of Yangon 24 hours after the publication of the UN fact-finding mission’s report, which concluded that the Myanmar military had carried out a genocide of the Rohingya in Rakhine and were responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states, the Myanmar leader chose to stay silent on all issues of politics and made no mention of the UN.

Related: The Guardian view on atrocities in Myanmar: hold the guilty to account | Editorial

Related: The principles that made Aung San Suu Kyi an icon are what undid her | Mary Dejevsky

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No turban, no sermon, just books for kids: meet Iran's travelling cleric

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 August, 2018 - 05:00

Book lover Esmail Azarinejad is a far cry from the Iranian theocrats who rail against America

“It was almost winter and Bear was getting sleepy,” the Iranian cleric reads aloud. He has taken off his clerical robe, put aside his white turban and is trying to entertain a group of children in one of Iran’s poorest villages.

In between phrases, he troops back and forth to make sure everyone is listening. “Are you with me?” he asks. “What did Bear want to do?” The children, who are painting their school walls, reply: “Bear had a story to tell.”

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Book Review: A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carré

Inayat's Corner - 27 August, 2018 - 14:26

I recall first hearing about George Smiley back when I was in Primary school. Alec Guinness was portraying him at the time in the now classic BBC TV adaptation of John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. George Smiley, the Cold War era English master spy. A thoroughly decent, professorial sort – he would surely have been an Oxford Don had he not been recruited into the “Circus” – who enjoys his visits to the British Museum and is pained by the frequent unfaithfulness of his wife. How could you not adore him?

Smiley was first introduced to the world in 1961 in Le Carré’s novel Call for the Dead. In 2009 Radio 4 produced dramatisations of all eight novels that had featured George Smiley up until then. These are available for purchase as part of a single collection via Audible and are highly recommended. And now, with Le Carré in his mid-80’s, we surely have in A Legacy of Spies what must be the final novel that will feature our hero.

A Legacy of Spies begins with George’s right hand man and protégé, Peter Guillam, now long retired and living in his ancestral home in Britanny, France. One morning, Guillam receives a letter from his former spymasters in London requesting his immediate return to assist with some legal inquiries.

It transpires that two of the protagonists who died in very tragic circumstances in the 1963 novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Alec Leamas and Liz Gold, had earlier sired a child each, and they are now intent on forcing the Intelligence establishment to admit that they – including Guillam – had deliberately used their parents as fodder to protect a British mole in the East German hierarchy. It is an ingenious plot device that allows Le Carré and us to revisit some of the dark scenes back in the fevered atmosphere of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

This allows for the pages of Legacy to be adorned with a cast of familiar characters including Control, Bill Haydon, Jim Prideaux and many others. It does mean that the reader will require knowledge of the plot of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to fully appreciate the nuances offered by this latest Le Carré offering. And if that means that more readers will now have to become students of George Smiley – well, that can only be a good thing.

As Legacy proceeds, Guillam keeps asking “Where’s Smiley? Is he still alive?” No one seems to provide a definitive answer. And when we finally do meet him, it is an encounter that fully does justice to him. We find him in a library, of course – where else? And what is he up to? Well, “…an old spy in his dotage seeks the truth of ages.” Smiley defends the Service as you would expect. They were not the same as their enemies.  “We were not pitiless, Peter. We were never pitiless. We had the larger pity.”

And what does the old spymaster now value at the end of a long life after duelling with some pretty merciless foes?

“I’m a European, Peter. If I had a mission – if I were ever aware of one beyond our business with the enemy, it was to Europe. If I was heartless, I was heartless for Europe. If I had an unattainable ideal, it was of leading Europe out of her darkness towards a new age of reason. I have it still.”

At a time when the achievements of Western civilisation and the insights provided by science are cheapened and derided by a host of global actors including an ignoramus US President on the one hand and closed minded religious fanatics and Brexiteers on the other, identifying Europe and reason as important goals to fight for is eminently  worthy of our beloved spy master. This is a magnificently fitting tribute from Le Carré to his most memorable creation.

Religion: why faith is becoming more and more popular

The Guardian World news: Islam - 27 August, 2018 - 06:00

Faith is on the rise and 84% of the global population identifies with a religious group. What does it mean for the future?

If you think religion belongs to the past and we live in a new age of reason, you need to check out the facts: 84% of the world’s population identifies with a religious group. Members of this demographic are generally younger and produce more children than those who have no religious affiliation, so the world is getting more religious, not less – although there are significant geographical variations.

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Anti-Boris Johnson campaigners allegedly attacked in Oxford

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 August, 2018 - 10:35

People calling for MP to quit over burqa remarks claim physical and verbal assault

Campaigners protesting in Oxford against Boris Johnson’s remarks about women wearing the burqa were allegedly attacked by two men, in the latest in a series of apparently Islamophobic incidents across the country.

Two men shoved and shouted at people calling for Johnson’s resignation at a stall in Oxford town centre last Friday, according to the campaigners. They then tried to kick the stall over, threw books on the floor, tore up newspapers and tried to take a megaphone.

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News Corp bites back after Uhlmann's spray on Liberal leadership | The Weekly Beast

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 August, 2018 - 00:34

Sharri Markson calls Uhlmann’s attack ‘disgusting and outrageous’. Plus: questions over ABC series on convicted baby killer Keli Lane

When Nine’s chief political correspondent, Chris Uhlmann, said News Corp and 2GB’s Alan Jones and Ray Hadley were “bullies” and “players” who were “waging a war” on Malcolm Turnbull, prominent media players agreed with him, including ABC 7.30’s Laura Tingle and the Conversation’s Michelle Grattan.

Must watch, brave and correct https://t.co/aNkKFam3fX

.@CUhlmann and @SharriMarkson go head to head on how Australian media impacts politics. #9Today pic.twitter.com/dQ15lHrgfh

Related: NSW to review sexual consent laws after searing Four Corners testimony

Related: ABC cuts begin to bite in the depleted newsrooms of Sydney | Weekly Beast

No Alan, pretty sure you can’t use that expression. pic.twitter.com/B6X42t8GPH

Margin Call: Rupert Murdoch and John Howard were received like rock stars at the 75th anniversary of the @TheIPA last nighthttps://t.co/5QE0cBQTRx pic.twitter.com/ZX1GFNIWIL

Related: Radio Birdman: brutally honest doco cements legacy of volatile Sydney punk band

Remember when Guy Pearce hosted Countdown with @kylieminogue & @JDonOfficial? Share your favourite ABC memories with us using #ABCyours https://t.co/VwCnt5LZea pic.twitter.com/RpjAB6Wgac

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Mosque where terrorist taught stripped of responsibilities for children

The Guardian World news: Islam - 23 August, 2018 - 13:54

Charity watchdog installs manager at London mosque where Umar Haque worked

The trustees at an east London mosque that employed a dangerous extremist who attempted to build an army of child jihadists have been stripped of safeguarding responsibilities by the charity watchdog.

The Charity Commission has installed a specially appointed interim manager at the Ripple Road mosque to take over procedures for the protection of children, as the regulator investigates its links to the convicted terrorist Umar Haque.

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Woman jailed in Indonesia for complaining that call to prayer is too loud

The Guardian World news: Islam - 23 August, 2018 - 04:27

Islamic groups criticise blasphemy sentence imposed on ethnic Chinese Buddhist who asked mosque to turn it down

Indonesia’s largest Islamic bodies have denounced the jailing of a Buddhist woman in Sumatra, after she complained about the volume of the adzan, or call to prayer, from her local mosque.

The Medan district court sentenced Meiliana, a 44-year-old ethnic Chinese Buddhist, to 18 months in jail after she reportedly asked the mosque to turn it down.

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China 'ejects' US journalist known for reporting on Xinjiang repression

The Guardian World news: Islam - 22 August, 2018 - 17:30

Foreign correspondents condemn decision to deny visa to Megha Rajagopalan

China has “effectively ejected” an American journalist from the country, a journalists’ association has said, after she won a reputation for hard-hitting reporting on the country’s troubled western Xinjiang region.

Megha Rajagopalan, a correspondent for BuzzFeed, wrote on Twitter that she would be moving on to another beat after the foreign ministry in Beijing “declined to issue a new visa”.

Related: Beijing blasts 'anti-China forces' for claim of million Uighurs in prison camps

Related: ‘We’re a people destroyed’: why Uighur Muslims across China are living in fear

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Mehreen Faruqi warns against 'normalisation' of racism in first Senate speech

The Guardian World news: Islam - 21 August, 2018 - 08:52

Greens senator says condemnation of racism by major parties means nothing as long as they politicise race

Australia’s first female Muslim senator has used her maiden speech to warn of the dangerous “normalisation” of racism by media and politicians, linking it directly to the more blatant discrimination by the likes of Fraser Anning.

Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi on Tuesday condemned the use of “dog-whistling and race-baiting as an electoral tactic”, revealing she had been the subject of thousands of racist and sexist messages and letters during her time in New South Wales’ upper house.

Related: Mehreen Faruqi to become first female Muslim senator amid Fraser Anning outrage

Welcome to @MehreenFaruqi who is set to take over the education portfolio for @Greens. And thanks to @sarahinthesen8 for her work in the role!

Related: Outgoing Lee Rhiannon urges Greens to resist 'careerism and bullying'

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Curtis Cheng's son calls for end to political 'scapegoating' of Muslims

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 August, 2018 - 22:52

Son of murdered police accountant says the actions of individuals ‘cannot be attributed to an entire group of people’

The son of murdered New South Wale police accountant Curtis Cheng has called for an end to political “scapegoating” of Muslims in Australia following last week’s speech by senator Fraser Anning calling for a ban on Muslim immigration.

Alpha Cheng’s father was shot in cold blood by a 15-year-old Muslim boy, Farhard Jabar, outside the NSW police headquarters in Parramatta in 2015. Two others were jailed for planning the attack and supplying the weapon.

Related: Fraser Anning and Bob Katter's anti-Muslim cry is about comfort, not survival | Yassir Morsi

Related: White supremacy was the mainstay of Australian federation. Little has changed | Paul Daley

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Muslimander TV: Are Asian lads lost, or is Mehreen Baig?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 19 August, 2018 - 18:28

A picture of Mehreen Baig, a young South Asian woman wearing a black top with a jacket of uncertain colour over it, walking along a fence, with a low sun to the side.Lost Boys? What’s Going Wrong for Asian Men (BBC iPlayer, available in UK only until about 12th September)

Last Sunday there was an hour-long programme on BBC2 purported to be about the problems facing young British Asian men in the UK. It was presented by one Mehreen Baig, a former teacher who previously took part in BBC2’s two-part documentary Muslims Like Us and has been a presenter on the BBC’s Sunday Morning Live. Despite good reviews in the secular press, a number of my Muslim friends were deeply dissatisfied with the programme: Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan in a review on Al-Jazeera called it “a lazy reproduction of racist, culturally essentialist stereotypes approved by an ‘insider’” while Ahmed Hankir offers a perspective from an actual British Asian Muslim man. To their credit, the Daily Telegraph also published a critical review from a Muslim, Hussein Kesvani, which is paywalled but the headline summarises it: ‘Young Asian men’ are facing the same problem as other men: a crisis of masculinity. I recommend reading all these reviews.

My immediate response was similar to Kesvani’s: the first part of the programme focussed on an ethnic community which has suffered a similar fate to many white communities in the same part of the country, namely seeing the industries their men worked in (for generations, in the case of the mostly white coal mining and steel working communities, and came here to work in, in this case) destroyed since the 1980s because of a combination of globalisation and politically-motivated privatisation and industry rundown. The problems in some of those places are similar to those in the northern Asian communities — men who were brought up expecting to go into a particular job and are now at a loose end, often living in towns and villages which lack any other industry or meaningful work opportunities. Not every section of the Pakistani or even Mirpuri community in the UK has this sort of challenge, any more than all white men, so it is an unrepresentative group to base a documentary about “Asian men” on. Boys falling behind girls in academic achievement is a found in some of these other parts of society as well where boys were traditionally brought up expecting to go straight into manual work.

Baig compares two very particular sub-sections of the British Asian community, the other being Ugandan Asians which she generalises as being of Gujarati origin, when in fact there is an actual Gujarati community in the UK which is made up of both Muslims and Hindus. East African Asians (who are not all Ugandan) are a mixture of Muslims, Hindus, Zoroastrians and offshoot sects from Islam such as Isma’ilis (the Damjis, the family Yasmin Alibhai-Brown comes from, are Isma’ilis). She presents the Ugandans as being somewhat less reverent than the Bradford Mirpuris, showing them drinking beer and a male comic dressing as a woman to make fun of Asian women. The implication is clearly that Ugandans are better integrated because they are less religious than Mirpuri Muslims, but there are other factors. Many of them were merchants in Africa who maintained contacts with each other when they moved here; Mirpuris were farmers who moved to the UK to work in textile mills, and this lack of entrepreneurial background and acumen may explain why so many are attracted to the multi-level marketing (MLM) ‘businesses’ Baig shows them involved in and does not make any attempt to investigate — they are, in fact, a scam with much in common with Ponzi or pyramid schemes, as they rely on attracting new participants rather than selling products or services, and any such scheme will collapse when there is nobody new to attract. There must, in other words, be many more losers than winners.

A picture of Mehreen Baig and two Asian men looking at a view of Bradford through a fence.Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan calls Mehreen Baig a native informant; her stance puts her firmly in the “Muslimander” tendency I mentioned in a post about the Boris Johnson affair — the type that ‘justifies’ the nonsense they talk about Muslims or Islam by saying “I’m a Muslim, and …”. She is relying on outsiders taking her word because she is “one of” the people she is peddling broad-brush stereotypes of. Her Twitter feed in the days after the programme aired illustrates this: it was full of retweets of positive reviews and well-wishing from various media friends and thank-yous from her. She was not interested in engaging with Muslim critics of her work, and in fact she blocked some of them including Suhaiymah. This was not a very representative picture of British Asians or the problems they face, and it did not even begin to consider racism or media and public hostility focussed on terrorism, which has been a given in discussion of “the Asian problem” since at least the 2001 riots: the problem is always Asian failure to integrate, brides from the village back home, sons treated like princes and girls like domestic skivvies, Asian-majority schools; it’s never racism, the fact that discrimination in the job market is rife, that some of the schools are just no good, not that they’re majority Asian.

The programme also had an irritatingly Dooleyesque quality: too much of it was focussed on Baig’s own reactions to what she saw, many of them banal — she once noted, for example, that the young people she met were fond of looking at the view, which showed only Bradford; it is actually quite a striking view and the city is set in a lot of the kind of natural beauty that people travel from all over the country to Yorkshire to see. A good documentary maker lets the subject matter do the talking rather than stamping their face and opinions all over it. I don’t think Asian Bradford boys are any more lost than any other group of boys from low-income backgrounds in England, and particularly the north of England, but they are certainly more stigmatised and this programme did not even begin to explore that.

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