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Teaching union criticises Ofsted chief over hijab ban for young girls

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 March, 2018 - 17:57

Amanda Spielman’s comments on young Muslim girls wearing headscarf could increase race attacks, says NEU

The country’s largest teaching union has criticised the head of Ofsted, accusing her of pressuring schools into banning the hijab worn by young girls, amid a claim that the watchdog’s position could lead to “increased physical and verbal attacks” on Muslim girls.

The motion to be debated at the National Education Union (NEU) meeting in Brighton over the Easter weekend takes aim at recent remarks by Amanda Spielman and her concerns over Muslim girls as young as five wearing the headscarf.

Related: East London primary school backs down over hijab ban

Related: Schoolgirls wearing a hijab is a path to extremism? Now that’s a leap | Samira Shackle

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MPs condemn Leave.EU tweet on Labour antisemitism

The Guardian World news: Islam - 29 March, 2018 - 19:09

Tweet claims Labour ‘can’t be bothered’ to deal with antisemitism because party is ‘so reliant’ on Muslim votes

MPs have issued a formal protest over an Islamophobic tweet by the Leave.EU campaign that implied Labour could not be bothered to deal with antisemitism because there were more votes in supporting Muslims.

Is it any wonder that Labour can't be bothered to deal with the disgusting antisemitism in their party when they are so reliant on the votes of Britain's exploding Muslim population? It's a question of maths for these people, not justice!

Support us at https://t.co/ntwXbJeHQw pic.twitter.com/klQoCIzxYF

I hope any Conservatives involved with https://t.co/O6VJ2wszdV now withdraw. Worst kind of dog whistle. https://t.co/2JFwYAYVo2

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When racists rage against racism

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 March, 2018 - 21:51

A Facebook post showing a mural, the centrepiece of which is an image of a number of old, grey-beareded, stiff-collared men playing a Monopoly game where the board rests on the naked bodies of men. Above the image of the mural it says "It's happening again! Get the full story on davidicke.com where I defend against the false accusations and gross misinterpretations of my mural by self-interested British politicians and the mainstream media. #FreedomforHumaniy".The controversy that started last week when someone dug up a five-year-old Facebook comment by Jeremy Corbyn on a picture of an anti-Semitic mural by an obscure London artist has not gone away. What is surprising is that he is still leader. The number of MPs who have spoken out is small; they have not threatened to defect to any other party or resign as of the next general election, or made a challenge to Corbyn’s leadership. There are a lot of supporters who have criticised his stance and called on him to take a stronger stand, but others who remain convinced that he can do no wrong and that this is all a conspiracy to undermine his leadership and others who believe it is quite consistent with his previous behaviour, that he may not be an anti-Semite as such but he does not mind rubbing shoulders with people who are. I have a couple of theories as to why the response to this has been so limited compared to even previous rows about the same issue.

First: the Labour MPs who are taking the strongest stance know they are in the minority within the party. They have tried to remove him once; their candidate lost by a large margin as Corbyn’s supporters are (or at least were) the majority of ordinary party members. There are no other strong parties for them to defect to; the Liberal Democrats are hugely weakened from the 2010-15 coalition and the subsequent devastating result in 2015 which was only slightly reversed in 2017 and not all of them represent constituencies where the Lib Dems were ever strong. The Tories, as already discussed, are far more tainted by racism than Jeremy Corbyn. There is no place for a Scottish or Welsh nationalist MP in a north London constituency and the Greens have yet to win a constituency beyond Brighton. There is simply nowhere for them to go.

Second, there have simply been too many “wolf cries” about anti-Semitism and there is fatigue to it; now that a genuine case has been unearthed, albeit from years ago, very many people are unwilling to listen. The previous cases involved hostility to Jewish individuals (e.g. the MP Ruth Smeeth) that was assumed to be anti-Semitic for whatever reason, or someone suggesting that Israel has no right to exist — again, years before they became an MP — because the difference between a ‘reasonable’, ‘moderate’ supporter of Palestinian rights and an “anti-Semite” is that the latter will suggest a solution to the Palestinian situation that does not (a) acknowledge that it’s all the Arabs’ fault and (b) leave Israel dominant. The anti-Semitism in the mural in this case would only have struck an educated person as such, and the artist’s explanation makes it clearer that this is what it was (in that the elderly stiff-collared figures were Rothschilds and the like) — there were no Stars of David or any other overt Jewish symbols, so it’s possible that at first glance it didn’t appear anti-Semitic.

Speaking as a Muslim, I would find it easier to condemn minor incidents of anti-Semitism if mainstream politicians would condemn and isolate those guilty of far more severe incidents of Islamophobia — notably, that of Boris Johnson who remains foreign secretary despite countless casual and premeditated incidents of Islamophobia and other racism over the years. It appears that this prejudice is considered a more serious and shameful matter than any other expression of prejudice at a time when Muslims have faced a long-running vilification campaign in both tabloid and (former) broadsheet newspapers and frequent undercover investigations to find out if prominent Muslims have opinions white people might not like, which do not have to be racist or in favour of terrorism; Channel 4’s Dispatches earlier this week ‘exposed’ Cardiff-based Muslim activist Sahar al-Faifi for suggesting that the government might have taken their eye off a particular terrorist for political gain. Muslims are being targeted with ‘investigations’ on prime-time TV calculated to foment suspicion, with front-page attacks on our culture and on individuals, and by organised gangs of football hooligans and by individuals ‘provoked’ by what they read in the papers and see on TV. There’s a Twitter thread going round with a ‘test’ of whether someone is an anti-Semite, and one of the criteria is that they will not condemn anti-Semitism without qualifying it with a comparison to the suffering of any other group; but it has to be looked at in the context of other prejudices. Anti-Semitism is not unique, it is not greatly unlike other forms of racism and neither have been its consequences. The mural Corbyn is being condemned for approving of uses stereotypes of a Jewish élite; much of the material targeted at Muslims refers to ordinary Muslims, not a few wealthy financiers.

Some of the most racist individuals in this country’s media and politics, and those who are at least tolerant of other prejudices, are among the first to identify and condemn anti-Semitism. Why is this? It’s clearly not because they’re against racism in general, except when it uses obvious nasty words (which gives the game away; best keep to euphemisms). It’s not even because of “where it leads” (i.e. the Holocaust); there have been two other genocides since (Bosnia and Rwanda) and the rhetoric used to justify both (e.g., blaming ordinary people today for historical grievances, comparing people to vermin and so on) was very similar to that of the Holocaust. It’s because they regard a prosperous, mostly white minority whose religious mainstream is closely linked to the Establishment both here and in the USA as less deserving of hostility than a more visible and obviously ‘different’ minority. This is not anti-racism. It is racism itself.

Finally, I have a suspicion that some expressions of anti-Semitism come from a desire to provoke and outrage polite opinion rather than out of a belief in what is being said. The Daily Mail, in their front page yesterday, proclaimed that British Jews had been “goaded beyond endurance by the rise of anti-Semitism in Labour”. There is a certain satisfaction in goading someone who is self-righteous, hypocritical or both and baiting a racist with the one form of racism he can’t stomach falls into that category. Of course, tu quoque or accusing your critic of being a hypocrite is not really a defence; someone else being racist does not make being a racist acceptable. But all the same, demands to condemn one particular form of racism ring hollow when they come from racists.

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Prevent let the Parsons Green bomber through the net. That can’t happen again | Ian Acheson

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 March, 2018 - 09:00
Our counter-terrorism strategies are modelled across the world, but after this clear failure, they need an overhaul

Ahmed Hassan’s murderous intent on a tube train at Parsons Green was thwarted by good luck, rather than the elegant architecture of Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy. This ought to be a cause for serious concern. The Iraqi teenager was very well known to authorities at the time of his terrorist attack last September. During the trial it emerged that he was being managed by the Prevent strand of our national strategy Contest.

Prevent is a paradox. It is the most publicised yet least understood weapon in our counter-extremism tool box. A combination of inexplicable paralysis by government and relentless opposition by a small number of ideologically motivated pressure groups such as Cage has distorted both its objectives and its operation.

Related: 'A duty to hate Britain': the anger of tube bomber Ahmed Hassan

Direct money now being spent on bollards to activities which will ultimately obviate their use

Related: Far-right referrals to Prevent programme up by more than a quarter

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The Paris attack suspect is in jail. But still he is inspiring others | Imran Armani

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 March, 2018 - 06:00
Salah Abdeslam is becoming a figurehead for would-be terorrists across Europe, as the latest French atrocity shows

Last Friday, 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim killed four people and injured 16 others after taking hostages in a supermarket in south-west France. It has since emerged that he was known to French intelligence services, who were concerned he was at risk of Islamist radicalisation. Lakdim himself was shot dead, but his motive for the attack shines a light on the continuing threat posed by another Islamist extremist, still being held behind bars.

Lakdim had demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the sole survivor from the group behind the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people. Abdeslam had evaded the security services for months, but was eventually caught hiding in Molenbeek, the suburb of Brussels where he lived and grew up.

In Molenbeek during the week of the hearing, I felt a degree of sympathy for him. One young man said: 'He has a point.'

(November 13, 2015) Paris attacks

Related: French supermarket siege: memorial service held for victims

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Austrian full-face veil ban condemned as a failure by police

The Guardian World news: Islam - 27 March, 2018 - 12:49

‘Integration’ measure has resulted mainly in warnings for wearing smog masks or animal costumes

An Austrian ban on full-face coverings introduced as part of an “integration” policy aimed at limiting the visibility of orthodox Islam in public life has been criticised by police after it emerged that the law has mainly resulted in the issuing of warnings against people wearing smog masks, skiing gear and animal costumes.

Figures published by the weekly news magazine Profil on Monday show that 29 charges citing the “anti-face-veiling act” have been filed with police since the law came into force last October.

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‘Sloven Health’ fined £2m

Indigo Jo Blogs - 26 March, 2018 - 22:26

A black and white picture of a white teenage boy wearing an open-necked white shirt with a dark coloured jacket over it, standing in front of some railings behind which a man is walking; there are trees (presumably those of Hyde Park) in the background.Today, the Hampshire based NHS trust Southern Health was fined nearly £2,000,000 for health and safety breaches in regard to the preventable deaths of two patients: Connor Sparrowhawk, the “Laughing Boy” of the Justice for LB campaign who died in the bath as a result of an epileptic seizure in 2013 in the now-closed Slade House unit in Oxfordshire, and Teresa “TJ” Colvin, who killed herself in a Southampton mental health unit where she was receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder following childhood abuse. The case was the result of several years of campaigning by the families of the two victims in which Connor’s family in particular were vilified in internal memos in the trust and subjected to whispering campaigns and personal abuse by both Trust and county council employees, but the campaign resulted in being vindicated in court on multiple occasions, notably at Connor’s inquest in 2005 which found that his death was preventable and contributed to by neglect. (Today’s sentencing remarks can be found here in PDF form.)

I tweeted when I read this news that I hoped the money could come out of the relevant people’s pensions or the “PR frippery fund” rather than from the healthcare budget. (A good example of the latter was the trust’s “going viral” leadership development programme and “viral quality” courses and the videos they made to promote them, while the trust and its leadership in particular were under investigation for these two deaths, among others: Nico Reed’s for example). At the time I was on the way down to the south coast to visit a friend who was recently admitted to one of Southern Health’s units for reasons (in some respects) not far removed from Teresa Colvin’s. She told me that nearly all the women on her unit were rape victims (“so don’t be a woman”). I wondered if services were much better in Hampshire, the trust’s core area, than they were in the former Ridgeway Partnership area (an old trust based in Oxford that maintained a chain of units from Wiltshire to Buckinghamshire), but I’m not so sure.

Picture of Teresa Colvin, a middle-aged white woman with shoulder-length brown hair, holding two small dogs in her hands. Behind her is a river estuary with trees and buildings on the other side.She is mostly happy with the way she is being treated and likes most of the staff, with one exception. But she said funding problems were very obvious: a lot of the time there was not enough staff to look after everyone properly, especially at night where on one occasion, two of the three staff that were on duty were looking after individual patients leaving a third to look after everyone else. She also told me that several patients had walked out of the hospital grounds and down to the nearby railway line where it was thought they intended to jump under a train, that units had been closed in her area with no replacement, meaning that when she was waiting to be admitted a few weeks ago she was threatened with being transferred to anywhere in the country, even Yorkshire (the unit is, in fact, only about 15 miles from home). These problems are, of course, not limited to Southern Health by any means. She also said she had not seen a psychiatrist since being admitted and that the unit did not appear to have regular ward rounds, unlike other psychiatric units. This has led to her not knowing whether she was likely to be sectioned, which she suspects will happen but has no idea when.

So, I find it worrying that the best form of justice we can expect for people who have died as a result of neglect in the NHS is a massive fine for the trust (the psychiatrist who was the responsible clinician when Connor was in Slade House has also been suspended for a year, although this has no effect as she is no longer in the UK). Can trusts be forced to protect healthcare budgets from such fines, so that it comes out of less essential areas and staff are not laid off (or lost because other organisations offer better pay, not necessarily in healthcare), so that activities are not cut to the bone leading to patients being confined for longer periods (particularly if on section) and having nothing to do (even on a weekday afternoon) but sit outside and smoke?

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Thinking of becoming a Tory?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 24 March, 2018 - 09:24

Front cover of the Spectator from November 2005, headlined 'Eurabian nightmare', with a crescent linking various cities and a star at LondonThis week someone dug up a Facebook post from October 2012 by a muralist called “Mear One” which shows a mural of a bunch of bearded figures (which he explains as representing Jewish bankers) playing monopoly over a group of huddled human bodies, underneath a pyramid-and-eye symbol (the one that appears on the American Great Seal and on the one-dollar bill). The Facebook post with a picture of the mural has approving comments from Yvonne Ridley and Jeremy Corbyn (who was not considered by anyone a potential party leader at the time); the latter said “you are in good company; Rockerfeller (sic) destroyed Diego Viera’s mural because it includes a picture of Lenin”. Corbyn has claimed, through a spokesperson, that he “was responding to concerns about the removal of public art on the grounds of freedom of speech” but that the mural “was offensive, used antisemitic imagery which has no place in our society, and it is right it was removed”. This does not really chime with the sentiments he expressed in the comment — his first sentence was “why?”, as in “why would they want to remove it?”. I’d not be surprised if his leadership does not survive this, but anyone thinking of defecting to the Tories over this needs to look at their record of supporting and promoting bigotry.

The Tory party is the home of Boris Johnson. Johnson is well-known as the foreign minister who has made diplomatic gaffes that embarrassed his country on numerous occasions and as the mayor who commissioned the “Boris Bus” vanity project resulting in buses with an unused rear platform and a useless rear staircase and also spent millions of pounds of public money on another vanity project, the Joanna Lumley Garden Bridge, which has been abandoned since he left office. However, while he was an MP the first time round, he was also editor of the Spectator, generally considered the major magazine of Conservative thought in this country until the launch of Standpoint, which represents a mixture of neo-con and “muscular liberal” thinking and boasts Julie Bindel and Nick Cohen among its writers as well as the likes of Douglas Murray. Under his editorship, the Spectator printed some of the most egregiously bigoted material about Muslims I have ever seen in a supposedly respectable publication: claims by Mark Steyn that Muslims were taking over and would soon outbreed the native population and some drivel by an Indo-Guyanese Christian calling himself Patrick Sookhdeo, since undone by multiple sexual assault and witness intimidation charges, which I summarised in a previous blog post:

His accusations were baseless and in some cases ludicrous — in one case he accused the Muslim community in the UK of attempting to “sacralise whole neighbourhoods, such as Birmingham, by means of marches and processions”, a claim that betrays such obvious ignorance of basic British geography that it beggars belief that it got past the editor. It also has no basis in Muslim doctrine or practice: there is no ritual march of any sort in Islam (the only ritual that involves a procession takes place at the Hajj, which cannot be done in Birmingham), and no such thing as sacralising a neighbourhood. There is a custom of marches to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad in some sections of the community, but after the march is over, the streets revert to their normal function as thoroughfares for traffic.

The magazine cover (and with the exception of Matthew Parris, the collection of the most bigoted writers on Islam of that time) followed riots in a number of cities in Europe, mainly in France and triggered by the death in an electricity substation of two boys who had been fleeing the police (who were notorious for harassment of minority youth), though the star was on London (where there had been no riots, albeit an unrelated bomb attack three months earlier) and most of the crescent passed through completely unaffected areas, though this did not stop Islamophobes talking of Muslims lighting a “burning crescent” across Europe. Johnson’s reporting on Islam and terrorism at the time, like the American blogosphere and right-wing media bubble it drew its ideas from, had all the hallmarks of racism; the blaming of the religion and the community in general for the actions of the few, for example, and the fear-mongering about Muslim numbers, the conspiracy theorising, the overstatement of “Muslim power” in which European governments were accused of chasing favour with Arab governments or Muslim minorities (the origin of the ‘Eurabia’ doctrine) when they ‘should’ have been helping the Americans in Iraq.

Islamophobia is not Johnson’s only connection with racism, both in his own speeches and writings and as an enabler, as editor of the Spectator. He published an article by Taki Theodoracopoulos which claimed (essentially summarising Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve) that “Orientals … have larger brains and higher IQ scores. Blacks are at the other pole”. Johnson himself wrote that the Queen must love the Commonwealth because it supplies her with regular audiences of “flag-waving piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.

So, if anti-Semitism disgusts you then you may be tempted — whether as an MP or as a voter — to defect to a party which has not shown any signs of this particular prejudice for some time but while the Tory party continues to give high office to a man who has openly peddled similar prejudices against other minorities while running the magazine most closely associated with the party, it should not be considered a destination for anti-racist defections. If you can live with both the casual and ingrained types of racism coming from Johnson but anti-Semitism is too much for you, it doesn’t mean you are not racist, it means you are a hypocrite.

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Fiyaz Mughal Slanders Imams Over Anti-Semitism

Inayat's Corner - 24 March, 2018 - 07:55

Each day I receive an email from Jewish News Online in which they highlight some stories. Yesterday’s edition contained an article by Fiyaz Mughal entitled “Chief Rabbi right to call out ‘see no evil hear no evil’ mantra on anti-Semitism.” The article was in support of the call from the UK’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mervis, for Muslims around the world to be more vocal in standing up to anti-Semitism. Mughal writes:

“The fact that there has not been one single Imam who has publicly spoken up about the need to tackle anti-Semitism within and beyond Muslim communities, is telling.”

When I read that I did a double take. Whaaaaat? Not a single Imam? In the whole world? Really? What was Mughal basing this on? How much research did Mughal actually do before he came up with that astonishingly sweeping claim? It took me all of ten seconds to type in the words “Imams condemn anti-Semitism” into Google and it turned up quote after quote by Imams across the world condemning anti-Semitism. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Here’s an extract from a Reuters story “Euro imams, rabbis pledge zero tolerance for hate preachers”:

“Seventy European Muslim and Jewish leaders pledged on Wednesday to show “zero tolerance” to hate preachers of any faith including their own ranks, citing what they called rising religious intolerance on the continent. Imams, rabbis and community leaders from 18 countries agreed to jointly counter bigotry against Jews and Muslims…”

That certainly sounds like Imams speaking out against anti-Semitism both “within and beyond” does it not? Several years back the Muslim Council of Britain (whose affiliates include hundreds of mosques) and the Board of Deputies of British Jews issued a laudable joint statement in which they said:

“We condemn any expression of Islamophobia, Anti-semitism  or any form of racism. We call for Muslim and Jewish communities to redouble efforts to work together and get to know one another.”

So, many Imams have indeed spoken out against the evil of anti-Semitism.

And how about Muslim communities? Just a few months ago, I recall reading a wonderful story in The Independent about a group of Muslims in Leeds who went to show solidarity with the congregants of a synagogue that had been defaced with racist graffiti. It was a really heart warming gesture. This story is especially poignant because in his article Mughal notes several examples of Jews displaying support for Muslims who are victims of anti-Muslim bigotry, but tellingly provides no examples of Muslims standing up in solidarity with Jews. At best one would say that conducting basic research  is clearly not a Fiyaz Mughal strongpoint. If one was inclined to be less generous, however, you might say that Mughal was rather dishonestly giving a very selective and partial portrait in order to deliberately bolster his misleading argument.

And then there was this contribution in the Jewish Chronicle from your present writer over a decade ago where I said:

“We have to be honest, and I think there has been a real danger – because passions are so heated around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – of genuine disputes over Israeli policies sliding to an easy, or casual, form of anti-Semitism…Muslims as well as others ought to be cautious about that. It would be absurd if, after being on the receiving end of prejudice, we ended up being prejudiced ourselves.”

And there are plenty of other similar examples one could quote from. All forms of bigotry, whether it is prejudice against Jews, Muslims or any other religious group, ought to be vigorously challenged. We should be wary of making sweeping generalisations of any group of people.

So, why did Fiyaz Mughal make such a manifestly false claim in the Jewish News in support of the Chief Rabbi? Interestingly, Mughal acted in much the same obsequious manner last summer when following the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in London Bridge and Borough Market – a time when public figures would normally have been extra careful not to encourage division in the UK – the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, wrote a very ill-judged article in the Jewish Chronicle saying:

“…it is time now for the diverse Muslim communities of the UK to stand up and be counted – to go beyond mere condemnation. I believe they need to stage a huge rally of their own in a prominent location such as Trafalgar Square.  Muslim religious and secular leaders must make the point loudly and publicly that these attacks are a perversion of Islam and the attackers will be liable to be punished after death and not rewarded in heaven. Every British mosque should be holding its own protest against terrorism, proclaiming Not in our Name.”

To their immense credit around 100 British Jews from a number of different synagogues and unaffiliated individuals wrote an open letter strongly rebuking Jonathan Arkush saying:

“We particularly reject the assertion that members of a religious or ethnic group must quickly and publicly denounce any members of that group who act repugnantly. We hope you will remember that this has been used to persecute Jews in living memory. Just as we as Jews have no responsibility for the actions of Jewish terrorist groups, Muslims are not personally responsible for the actions of groups such as ISIS. Finally, we are deeply troubled with your presuming to enforce a mandatory public reaction on the entire Muslim community in the wake of these attacks. We commend the Muslim community leaders who have spoken out against the terrorists, but it is not for us to dictate how people in grieving communities should respond. We stand with all our Muslim sisters and brothers, and all people of faith and no faith, in love and healing from these atrocities – together.”

It was a highly commendable letter which displayed genuine solidarity with British Muslims at a sensitive time when the terrorists and their supporters would have been desperately trying to set communities against each other.

But how did Fiyaz Mughal respond? Did he also roundly criticise the President of the Board of Deputies for trying to “enforce a mandatory public reaction on the entire Muslim community”? Of course not. The very next day, Mughal wrote an astonishingly ingratiating article for the Jewish Chronicle rushing to Arkush’s defence saying that Arkush comments were “sensitive and thought through – and carried with it a deep sense of empathy and care for Muslim communities.”

A couple of years ago, Fiyaz Mughal was the subject of a fawning interview in the Observer by that notorious supporter and propagandist for the illegal war against Iraq, Nick Cohen. In the article, Mughal accused his opponents in the Muslim community of being “charlatans”. Well, there are certainly some charlatans around, no question. Perhaps Fiyaz Mughal should take a good hard look in the mirror.

Boko Haram kept one Dapchi girl who refused to deny her Christianity

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 March, 2018 - 05:00

Schoolgirl Leah Sharibu would not renounce her faith despite friends begging her to pretend to accept Islam

The only Christian girl among the Dapchi schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram last month could have been freed along with her schoolmates but refused to renounce her faith, according to her mother.

Leah Sharibu refused to accept Islam, resisting the entreaties of her classmates to pretend to do so, her parents learned from snatched conversation with her friends.

Related: Boko Haram returns more than 100 schoolgirls kidnapped last month

Instead of photocalls, some Dapchi parents wanted​ to​ talk to the returned girls to find out what happened

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Mosques launch anti-radicalisation scheme as alternative to Prevent

The Guardian World news: Islam - 22 March, 2018 - 17:55

Exclusive: Safe and Secure programme aims to address same issues as controversial government strategy but without stigma

An anti-radicalisation programme billed as an alternative to the government’s much-maligned Prevent strategy has been launched in mosques.

Related: I’m a doctor, not a counter-terrorism operative. Let me do my job | Adrian James

Related: As anti-extremism chief, I hear my critics – but I’ll listen to victims too | Sara Khan

Related: The latest Prevent figures show why the strategy needs an independent review | Miqdaad Versi

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Indian ‘cow protectors’ jailed for life over murder of Muslim man

The Guardian World news: Islam - 22 March, 2018 - 14:06

Eleven men were part of mob that attacked Alimuddin Ansari, who was transporting beef

Eleven cow protection vigilantes in the Indian state of Jharkhand have been sentenced to life in prison for killing a Muslim man who was transporting beef.

They are thought to be the first people convicted for violence in the name of the cow.

Related: On patrol with the Hindu vigilantes who would kill to protect India's cows

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Why I’m not closing my Facebook account (yet)

Indigo Jo Blogs - 22 March, 2018 - 11:24

A red billboard with the claim "Turkey (population 76 million) is joining the EU. Vote leave". The poster has an image of a British passport with footsteps leading to it.Since the scandal broke about Facebook data being leaked to Cambridge Analytica, a New York-based political consultancy which served the Trump and Brexit campaigns and used the data to channel propaganda to susceptible voters, I’ve seen at least two people I follow on social media suggest that it’s time to close our Facebook accounts and it’s become fashionable to ask the question as a matter of when I’ll delete my account, not if. Yet I’ve not seen many people close their accounts (although, if they were not on chat, I would not notice it immediately) and my feed is as lively as it was before. I’m not planning to close my account just yet and this is why.

First, there is no real alternative. There have been other social media systems before and since Facebook but none of them have the flexibility and feature set. When Google launched Google+ a few years ago, I immediately said I would not be switching because it lacked any kind of group or discussion forum feature, which is why I suspect it never caught on, despite having access to Google’s existing user base (and despite Facebook’s reliability problems at the time). MySpace foundered not long after Facebook came on the scene, largely because its home pages were often saturated with graphics and animations which made browsers crash or at least slow down drastically while Facebook’s was clean and uniform (it was set up so that artists could promote their work, and has retreated into providing this niche service). Other niche social media apps have disappeared because they could not compete with Facebook (Friends Reunited being the best-known example). If I was to close my account I would simply lose contact with most of my friends — my friends in the learning disability activism community in particular — because along with Twitter, that’s how I keep in contact with them; I have never met most of them and do not have their numbers. The alternatives are just as problematic as Facebook — they are also data-mining companies (this is how they can make social networking available free of charge) and are also notorious for using data for profit and for colluding with various secret police forces, particularly China’s.

Second, the data breach and the use of the data is consistent with how social media already works: the “echo chamber” effect. People already select the channels they want to read news and views from, be they left-wing or right-wing, and the content will be skewed accordingly. As is documented elsewhere, they get the impression that the whole world thinks the way they do, and sometimes get a rude awakening when a general election does not go the way they expected. So the propaganda that supposedly tipped the balance in favour of Trump was targeted at people already receptive to it. I don’t believe that they (or their computer programs) are really clever enough to precisely target the propaganda at swing voters.

Third, I doubt the propaganda that resulted from this breach had as big an effect as is being made out. In both the UK and the USA, the mainstream print and broadcast media (print especially in the UK, broadcast especially in the USA) is already notorious for its right-wing, anti-welfare, anti-immigrant and (particularly in the US) anti-science bias. These media already have a record for driving irrational and vicious policies, especially on immigration; the law that requires that any non-citizen with a criminal record be deported, even if the offence was years ago, time had already been served (or it wasn’t that serious) and they had their whole families in the USA (or were an adoptee whose American ‘parents’ had neglected to get them citizenship), traced back to a campaign whipped up by the right-wing broadcast media and the same was true of the “foreign criminals” crackdown in the UK in 2006, which also led to people who had lived in the UK for years being locked up and threatened with deportation over matters that were thought to have been settled long ago. In the UK, where Cambridge Analytica are also known to have tried to influence the Brexit referendum, a number of the biggest-selling daily newspapers had taken an anti-EU stance for years, often peddling downright misinformation, and Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, had been a regular on TV and radio panel shows such as Question Time. It’s true that both results were narrow and so a small influence could have made all the difference, but there were so many other factors in both cases and CA could not have had any influence in a country with responsible and balanced media.

And let’s not forget that Hilary Clinton won three million more votes than Donald Trump. Trump won the post because of an electoral college system designed for the era of slavery and which persists in counting provincial (mostly white) votes as if they were of greater importance than the votes of people in major cities. He also profited from mounting resentment among American whites of a Black president, which may well have been reflected in the rise in police shootings of unarmed Black Americans in the second half of his presidency and from promises he made to bring jobs back to “rust belt” states in the north and east which had supported both Obama and previous Democrat candidates, promises he has yet to fulfil. The Brexit referendum was held largely because David Cameron wanted to settle the matter within the Tory party and the result could have been avoided had a threshold been set of, say, 60% in favour given the dire consequences of even the vote, let alone Brexit itself.

Donald Trump won because there were enough voters racist enough to vote for a racist; the Brexit referendum went the way it did because of years of mainstream media misinformation. Facebook’s influence could not have been that great. I won’t be deleting my account (on which I don’t post much personal information anyway) because the costs to me are too great and the benefits too meagre. I’m well aware that Facebook has edged competitors out of the market and destroyed the blogging community I was once an active member of, but until there’s a better alternative, I’m staying.

Image source: Geograph, posted there by Neil Theasby. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

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Why disrupt a picket line?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 21 March, 2018 - 21:09

A white woman wearing a black puffy jacket with orange trimmings, with her finger pointing in the direction of the cameraFootage has emerged of a group of trans activists, all women, one of them perhaps trans, protesting at a Bectu union picket line outside a cinema in Brixton (where there is a long-running pay dispute) on the grounds that one of the women on the picket line is a TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) who attended the same meeting I went to last month organised by Woman’s Place UK. The women chanted “TERF, TERF” and shouted that she was not there in solidarity with anyone. The incident took place on International Women’s Day (8th March) and the focus of the protest has been named in the Morning Star as Paula Lamont, an elected member of the union’s Sector Executive Committee (SEC) who was visiting as an elected official. The accusation that she was “not in solidarity with anyone” is curious; she was there in solidarity with workers who were striking for a living wage, an issue not directly connected to the matter they were protesting about. (Note: ‘sector’ refers to BECTU itself, a media and entertainment workers’ union, within the wider Prospect union.)

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am against people on the Left who are opposed to the proposed reforms of the Gender Recognition Act colluding with Tories (by approaching the Tory press with stories about disputes about gender within trade unions and the like, for example) and blaming Jeremy Corbyn for something which has support on both wings of the Labour Party and in other parties as well, and things which are ongoing practices in the NHS and social care at a time when the Labour Party is not in power. Some of those I have seen agitating on this basis are people with a long-standing animus towards Corbyn, people who blame him for anti-Semitism, weakness on Brexit and other issues and once Corbyn is out of the way, the Tory press support will likely evaporate.

However, to disrupt a picket line where people are striking for a living wage is not helping ordinary, struggling people either: workers need to be able to organise without the threat of disruption from people with no connection to their issue. People can believe two things at the same time and it’s possible that a third party will share one of these beliefs but not another: someone can be an enthusiastic advocate for workers’ rights and the living wage but have a conservative stance on transgenderism or be resistant to the demands for accepting self-identification, for example. I often enough agree with the stances of people like Nick Cohen on civil liberties, libel law and alternative medicine while being nauseated with his pro-war stance and his sneeringly arrogant attitude to religion and religious people. These activists did not like Paula Lamont appearing on that picket line, but are they members of that union, or any union? Perhaps the members of BECTU find her an effective enough campaigner that they can overlook these things. It’s their union, not yours.

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'Christianity as default is gone': the rise of a non-Christian Europe

The Guardian World news: Islam - 21 March, 2018 - 00:01

Figures show a majority of young adults in 12 countries have no faith, with Czechs least religious

Europe’s march towards a post-Christian society has been starkly illustrated by research showing a majority of young people in a dozen countries do not follow a religion.

The survey of 16- to 29-year-olds found the Czech Republic is the least religious country in Europe, with 91% of that age group saying they have no religious affiliation. Between 70% and 80% of young adults in Estonia, Sweden and the Netherlands also categorise themselves as non-religious.

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Richard Dawkins to give away copies of The God Delusion in Islamic countries

The Guardian World news: Islam - 20 March, 2018 - 12:19

Author and the Centre for Inquiry planning free ebook versions of his books in Arabic, Urdu, Farsi and Indonesian following a ‘stirring towards atheism’ in some Islamic countries

Richard Dawkins is responding to what he called the “stirring towards atheism” in some Islamic countries with a programme to make free downloads of his books available in Arabic, Urdu, Farsi and Indonesian.

The scientist and atheist said he was “greatly encouraged” to learn that the unofficial Arabic pdf of the book had been downloaded 13m times. Dawkins writes in The God Delusion about his wish that the “open-minded people” who read it will “break free of the vice of religion altogether”. It has sold 3.3m copies worldwide since it was published in 2006 – far fewer than the number of Arabic copies that Dawkins believes to have been downloaded illegally.

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The sorry state of English as a second language teaching provision | Letters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 March, 2018 - 18:00
Everyone who needs classes should be able to access them. That is why it’s so baffling that the government has slashed funding

What saddens me about Sajid Javid’s announcement (Javid: 770,000 people are not able to speak English, 14 March) is that when his mother learned English there was a fully functioning LEA adult education service which trained and employed hundreds of volunteers to work alongside professional teachers in providing English courses for all residents for whom it was not their first language. When more proficient in English, they could join the plethora of classes available to practise their English and integrate in a natural way with other members of their community, make new friends and follow new interests.

What a pity this was trashed in 1992 by his Tory predecessors as part of the general process of removing education from LEA control, which is still continuing today through the increasing spread of school academies. Tens of thousands of schools were utilised in the evenings to provide courses that were attended each week by over 2 million people. How many schools today are similarly used? Most of them stay dark and learning opportunities for adults today are severely curtailed unless they are prepared to pay over £100 for around 10 hours’ tuition. The aspiration that there should be a provision of education “from the cradle to the grave” has been wilfully destroyed.
David Selby
Retired adult education adviser to Lancashire LEA, Winchester

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A third of UK Muslims report abuse or crime while studying

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 March, 2018 - 10:47

Most victims believe acts were motivated by Islamophobia, NUS survey finds

A third of Muslim students have experienced abuse or crime at their place of study in the UK, with most victims believing it was motivated by Islamophobia, a National Union of Students (NUS) survey has found.

The Muslim Students Survey was launched in 2017 to try to gain a better understanding of the experiences of Muslim students in further and higher education and received 578 responses among UK-based students.

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Enough of the naivety about Putin

Indigo Jo Blogs - 17 March, 2018 - 19:18

A picture of an English cathedral with a tall spire, with a large two-storey red-brick house in front, across a large lawn.Last week the British prime minister, Theresa May, took most of the action she had promised to do after the Russian government did not answer for the attempted murder of a former spy and his daughter in Salisbury two weeks earlier. The attack used a nerve agent developed in Soviet Russia, an organophosphate compound of military grade (that is, much stronger and purer than the organophosphates that are notorious for making sheep farmers very ill), which it is thought no state other than Russia still has stocks of, and the victim is someone it is thought nobody other than his former homeland would want to harm. The action consisted of expelling 23 diplomats on the grounds that they were undeclared ‘security’ personnel. There was a suggestion that the Kremlin-backed TV channel RT (originally Russia Today) may have its licence to operate in the UK revoked and that England may not send a squad to next year’s World Cup in Moscow, but there is absolutely no talk of military reprisals.

What disappoints me about the reaction of the Left to this incident is the instinctive hostility to the idea that Russia must be responsible and to any governmental reaction. There has been a suggestion that when Tories want to bury bad news, they start a war, a claim that does not really have any basis in recent history; the last time we were involved in an aggressive war, there was a Labour government and the British involvement in the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi (initiated by the Libyan people, not the US president) had widespread public support which, though not universal, cut across left-right boundaries. In this case, there is no question of war. Let us not forget that this is the second time a Russian exile has faced an attempt on his life in this country and that the method used was one that endangered public health: Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London in 2006 by two Russians who put the radioactive metal polonium in his food, causing his death from radiation sickness weeks later.

The attitude of the Russian state is the clearest indication that they were behind this. If they had no involvement, one would expect their reaction to British suspicions to be sympathetic, forthcoming and helpful, even though the victim was an enemy of theirs; it has in contrast been sarcastic and contemptuous and allies of Putin have responded with various conspiracy theories such as that the assassination attempt was a distraction from Brexit — similar nonsense is being touted by the Canary-reading Left here. Let’s not forget that Theresa May opposed Brexit, that good relations with Russia are essential if we are to make anything approaching a success of it, that Salisbury has been a Conservative constituency since 1924 (and for most of the time since 1886 in fact, with three brief interludes of where a Liberal was elected) and that Wiltshire (which is a unitary authority outside Swindon) voted narrowly in favour of leaving the EU. Why would the British government harm someone who has helped them so as to damage relations with a foreign country for no reason, when there are already plenty of good reasons to limit the activity of untrusted Russian exiles here — including multiple suspicious deaths and one previous known murder?

As for Jeremy Corbyn, it appears that he does support downgrading diplomatic relations and some of the media have wasted no time in portraying him as a “Russian stooge” (explicitly on the Daily Mail’s front page, and implicitly in the backdrop to a BBC Newsnight feature on the controversy, featuring him in a hat altered to look Russian against a red-tinged background of Russian architectural features, for example) — behaviour that is more worthy of the media in Putin’s Russia than of a free country. I think perhaps he should have waited a while to make any reservations known, as both Labour and Tory MPs are eager for any opportunity to make him look weak, naive and instinctively anti-western, as a lot of his supporters in fact are. I don’t think for a moment that Theresa May would have staged something like this to put out a trap for Jeremy Corbyn; there are many ways of doing this without giving a police officer a dose of nerve agent. But with so many enemies on his own back and front benches and so many admirers who actually have such a loathing for their own country that they would side with Putin, he could really have shown better judgement on this.

And finally, let nobody be naive about what Vladimir Putin is capable of: he’s a product of the old Soviet KGB who keeps his people in line with tales of external threats and conspiracies against them. He’s largely responsible for the terrible destruction in Grozny and elsewhere in Chechnya after the republic broke away from Russia in the 1990s, and the power behind the throne of the notorious, thuggish ‘president’ (i.e. dictator) Ramazan Kadyrov, who is thought to have ordered the murder of the Russian investigative journalist and human rights advocate Anna Politkovskaya. He is currently backing dictator Bashar al-Assad of Syria, an old Soviet ally whose secret police, before and after his own people rebelled against him after the Arab Spring, were infamous for the use of torture and rape in their prisons. I’m barely scratching the surface here; this is a ruler with no democratic aspirations and no respect for the rule of law either in Russia or abroad (he has already started a civil war in a neighbouring country and annexed part of it, remember) and under whose rule corruption has thrived and political and press freedom has been greatly curbed if not ended as far as criticism of the government is concerned.

If anyone was seriously talking about war, I would be opposing it strongly and would expect the leader of the Opposition (as well as many MPs on both sides) to do so as well; it’s disproportionate and we could not win. But we cannot have normal relations with this despotic, murderous gangster regime while they are linked to assassinations on British soil. One does not have to be a hardline nationalist or even patriot to understand that.

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