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Casey pulls no punches but will anything change?

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Pic Credit: Neil Moralee/Flickr
Pic Credit: Neil Moralee/Flickr

This is a cross-post from Sedaa

 

A much-awaited report which contains no big surprises received reactions that were entirely predictable.

From segregation and misogyny, to the child grooming gangs and Sharia councils, Dame Louise Casey’s lengthy, evidence-based report pulls no punches.

Towns and cities with high Muslim populations, such as Oldham, Rochdale, Blackburn and Bradford are mentioned as places of concern.

Some of them are areas with large numbers of people who came from Pakistani-administered Kashmir, particularly the rural region of Mirpur. They came to the former mill-towns which now suffer from industrial decline and high levels of deprivation.

Parents still ship their children ‘back home’ to get married, creating ghettos and a “first generation in every generation problem”.

Immigration itself is not a bad thing. The problem is when large numbers of immigrants arrive into areas where there are already large numbers of people from the same background. There is less of an incentive to integrate and learn English if most people in your neighbourhood are going to be from the same village in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Last week’s Policy Exchange survey “Unsettled Belonging” showed Muslims overwhelmingly identify with Britain. And there is a hope that Muslims will become more liberal and secular. But if Muslims choose to live in areas with a high Muslim population, those who are more liberal or non religious will find it difficult to express their views openly, for fear of being attacked. Islamists benefit from this type of environment, as they can say they are trying to cater for the growing Muslim population – remember the Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham.

Of course, some have suggested that “white people need to integrate too”. The report says:

“In recent decades, it appears that in some respects, rather than becoming more of a classless society, sections of white working class Britain have become more isolated from the rest of the country and the rest of the white British population.”

White British boys are falling behind students from other ethnic backgrounds, which will no doubt only help foster the narrative that no one cares about the white population. It partly explain why we have seen Britain voting to leave the European Union and the rise of parties such as UKIP.

In Oldham, two schools with one dominant ethnic group were merged to form one large school. The majority white Counthill School and majority Pakistani Breezehill School became the Waterhead Academy. Though the school is not doing so well academically it is helping bridge the divide among two communities.

If this model can be replicated then this can help community cohesion, as secondary schools tend to be places where young people from different backgrounds will mix. But there is no point in the Government talking about the need to end segregation if it is continuing to approve the creation of faith schools.

The report also finds – again, to no one’s surprise – that Muslims tend to marry spouses from abroad, particularly Pakistan.

But even if those people marry their fellow Brits, it is more likely to be someone from their “own community” – that is to say, someone who is either related to them or has links to the same village/town in their parents’ country of origin. So communities are hardly becoming more diverse.

Dame Louise also mentions Sharia ‘courts’ and the fact that many Muslim women are in unregistered marriages, which leaves them vulnerable. Critics of the report claim Muslim women are unfairly targeted in the review. Let’s admit it. Muslim women do face more barriers – mostly from their own communities.

When Muslim women themselves are saying that they are restricted by their own spouses or families, then why is it all being dismissed as being ‘Islamophobic’? When Muslim – and south Asian women in general – used to speak out against forced marriages, or African women were speaking out against female genital mutilation, were they also being racist and ‘Islamophobic’?

An important part of the review, which has been missed by most, is the reference to Prevent, which was introduced following the July 7, 2005 attacks on London as part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST.

Dame Louise talks about the anti-Prevent lobby who “appear to have an agenda to turn British Muslims against Britain”.  The report states:

“These individuals and organisations claim to be advocating on behalf of Muslims and protecting them from discrimination. We repeatedly invited people we met who belonged to these groups, or who held similarly critical views, to suggest alternative approaches.  We got nothing in return.”

Well that’s a surprise…

The report tackles the myths behind some of the stories which were very critical of Prevent.

Dame Louise writes about the infamous “terrorist house” case, in which Lancashire Police were reported to have interviewed a pupil referred to Prevent, after he had simply misspelled “terraced house” as “terrorist house” in a class exercise.

In fact, the pupil had also written that “I hate it when my uncle hits me”.  The teacher quite appropriately and acting in the best interests of the child, raised a concern.  A social worker and neighbourhood police officer then visited the family and concluded that no further action was required.  No referral to Prevent was ever made.  No Prevent officers were involved and Lancashire Police rightly maintain that they and the school acted responsibly and proportionately.

In an earlier case in May 2015, the parents of a 14 year-old boy started legal action after their son was questioned following a French lesson in which he had been talking about “eco-terrorists”.  After the lesson, he was reported to have been taken out of class and asked whether he was affiliated with ISIS.  His parents sought a Judicial Review, saying he had been discriminated against because of his Muslim background.

The truth is that the pupil was never referred to Prevent or Child Safeguarding (nor removed from the class), and there was no police involvement.  A concern about the boy was correctly raised by a teacher to the school’s Designated Child Protection Officer, who spoke to the pupil in an interview two days later which included asking whether he had “heard of Isis”. The Judicial Review was thrown out of court as totally without merit.

Yet the latter is still used as an excuse to bash Prevent and the boy’s mother, Ifhat Smith, still tells this story to anyone who will listen, despite her dubious links.

It is important that we discuss the issues mentioned in the report and the problems with segregation and mass immigration, rather than denouncing it all as ‘racist’. Indeed, some Muslim commentators have come out with the usual accusations of racism and Islamophobia; they are only interested in being defensive rather than actually coming up with any solutions.

No wonder we are having the same debate today as we were ten years ago. We’ve had similar reports in the past and I have no doubt we will have more in the future, saying the same things. There is little point in recommending what should happen now because it will only fall on deaf ears. Until there is a real political will to actually do something then nothing will change. In the meantime, I await the next report.

Murdered by my father: A review

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Murdered by my father. Source: BBC

Originally published for Sedaa on April 4, 2016

 

“Someone’s always watching. Trust me.”

These are the words uttered by college student Salma in the BBC 3 drama Murdered By My Father, as she warns her boyfriend to stay away before someone finds out that they are dating.

We have all been there, have we not ladies? Most of us, from South Asian or Middle Eastern backgrounds, where the notions of honour and shame are so important, have always been — and always will be — on our guards whenever we leave the house. Because no matter what you are doing, someone, somewhere, is always bound to catch you out and report you to your parents. Even when you least expect it. Even when what you are doing is entirely innocent it does not matter. Once word gets out it can blemish a reputation you must keep clean. Women will sometimes pay for this transgression with their lives.

Written by Vinay Patel, Murdered By My Father is a harrowing drama based on testimonials from survivors of ‘honour’ abuse. It tells the story of Salma (played fantastically by Kiran Sonia Sarwar), a young woman who lives on an estate with her widower father Shahzad (Adeel Akhtar) and younger brother Hassan (Reiss Jeram).

Like many girls of her age, Salma has a boyfriend, Imi (Mawaan Rizwan), except she has to keep it all a secret from her family and the wider community or else there will be hell to pay. Unfortunately for Salma, she is already promised to someone in marriage — the bland and unremarkable Haroon (Salman Akhtar). It is a painful reminder that her life is not hers, but simply on lease until the time comes for her family members, her community, to reclaim what was never hers. We belong to our fathers, brothers, husbands and the wider community. We are not individuals.

There is a scene in which Shahzad sees his daughter’s pink bra in the bathroom, a symbol that she is no longer a girl, but a woman, a sexual being who is a potential threat to his honour — that bullshit word that is a noose around most women’s necks.

“You carry all of us,” Shahzad explains to his daughter. “I get scared because when they look at you, they see me. You fail, I fail. When you’re safe, I’m safe. When you get married then I can die happy.” This type of emotional blackmail is often deployed as a tactic to ensure females toe the line. Shahzad is not portrayed as a monster, but a man who is trying to do right by both his family and the community. But the latter always wins in the end. It is important that we see this side of Shahzad first to show that these people can switch from loving parents to monsters who will take their children’s lives.

We see Salma and Imi meeting up secretly throughout the drama, savouring their moments of happiness because you know — as we all know painfully too well — that they can be snatched away from you in next to no time. On the day of her engagement, Salma is seen by her fiancé, kissing her boyfriend goodbye. The family and guests are allowed to enjoy their food, unaware of the storm that is about to be unleashed upon them.

 

 

And, inevitably, Salma is shamed and dishonoured. The ‘shame’ is also on Shahzad. He has no honour left because he failed to keep his “slag” of a daughter in check. “Take care of your filth!” Haroon spits at the man who will no longer be his father-in-law.

Salma’s younger brother is caught in the middle, wanting to do right by both his father and his big sister, the same sister who doubled as a mother-figure. Younger siblings are routinely put in the cruel position of spying on their siblings, to make sure they’re not up to no good.

Shahzad locks his daughter in a room and we see him fingering a blade, an ominous sign of what will happen. Salma manages to escape to her boyfriend’s house and they make plans to run away together, but she bravely decides to go back home the day after, to make mends, to apologise to her dad. She has nothing to actually apologise for — her only ‘crime’ was to have fallen in love, for wanting to live a life on her own terms and not dictated to by centuries-old honour codes.

Don’t go back, you plead to her. But you remember the title of the drama and you almost wish it weren’t a prediction. Poor Hassan is sent to the shop by his father to buy some sweets, not realising it’s the last time he will see his loving big sister alive.

She naively assumes it will all be okay if she apologises. After all, isn’t that what parents are supposed to do — forgive their children when they make a mistake? But not this time. There will be no forgiveness.

“I did everything for you,” Shahzad shouts at her. “I never asked for anything in return — only that you listen to me in one thing.”

She replies: “You asked me for loads. You just don’t know that you’re doing it.”

In the end it’s not the blade, but her father’s own hands that take away her life. The hands that had once fed her, clothed her, and even embraced her, are the very hands that take away the life he helped create. Shahzad then tries to take his own life, perhaps repulsed by his actions or, more likely, unable to face the community again after ‘losing face’ over this ‘shame’.

What I loved about Salma’s character is that she continued to fight until the very end. She could easily have been portrayed as meek and submissive, and given in to her father’s demands by marrying someone whom she did not love — just for the sake of her ‘honour’. Others will not have had that choice.

I am not ashamed to admit that it made me cry for hours afterwards. I wept for the many, many girls and women whose lives are taken for the sake of ‘honour’. I wept for the girls who were forced to choose between their family or controlling their own destiny. I wept for those girls who could no longer fight back and submitted to the family pressure.

And I wept because I knew that Salma could easily have been me.

Murdered by My Father is available to watch on BBC iPlayer.

Dreams of romance and redemption lure young women to jihad

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Originally published for The Sunday Times on 22/11/15
As you can imagine, there was a lot I had to say on this subject. There are certain parts of this article that I felt needed elaboration, so I have inserted an asterisk at the end of the relevant sentence and expanded below the main article.

 

IT seems baffling: why would any young woman from a free and liberal society choose the barbaric death cult that is Isis? Yet some women in Britain are actively recruiting for a group that orders women to cover themselves from head to toe and takes non-Muslim women as sexual slaves. To call these women “brainwashed” absolves them of any responsibility for their actions.

Some have suggested these women have vulnerabilities that are being exploited. Forgive them, for they know not what they do. Or do they?

There is no single pathway to becoming an extremist or terrorist, and women are just as susceptible to this toxic Islamist ideology as their male counterparts.

Some Muslim women are marginalised and disenfranchised. But my parents’ and grandparents’ generation were racially abused quite publicly and had fewer opportunities than we do today. Why did they not blow themselves up on buses or trains?

If anything, women face more pressure and oppression within their own families and communities than from the state.

For some there is the chance to be fighters and slay infidels themselves. A study by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue found evidence that these women “revel in the gore and brutality of the organisation”.

For other young women – and some are very young – there is a jihadist Mills & Boon element to it, as a friend of mine put it.

Kalsoom Bashir, co-director of the anti-extremist group Inspire and a former Prevent officer in Bristol, told me that after Yusra Hussein fled Bristol to join Isis in Syria last year, a teacher claimed some schoolgirls were more excited by Yusra’s marriage to a jihadist fighter than anything else.

“They seemed to think it was exciting and romantic,” Bashir explained. “One teacher told me that she was concerned some girls might think going to Syria was a form of redemption. A few had come out of relationships with boys who had used them badly. They felt dirty and that they had been bad Muslims, as sex outside marriage is considered a sin.”

This is not a surprise. From a young age Muslims are taught that too much interaction with the opposite sex is haram (impermissible). In many of the Islamic societies in British universities, the “brothers” and “sisters” are kept apart. No wonder these young women are tantalised by the prospect of marrying a young, attractive fighter.

Much has been said about Hasna Ait Boulahcen, the “party girl” suicide bomber who blew herself up in Paris last week*. She had a sad childhood, we are told. She never really practised her religion and had boyfriends, her friends and neighbours said.

Yet this is typical behaviour from terrorists. Women such as Aitboulahcen believe they will get their rewards in the hereafter.**

Condemnation alone is not enough when this poisonous ideology is not being tackled and it is ideology that is the root cause.

People from my generation have been taught to divorce Islam from culture; told that our south Asian heritage was oppressing us whereas Islam would liberate us and deliver all our God-given rights.***

This alone does not create terrorists but it certainly contributes to a victim narrative that prevents Muslims from tackling this ideology and instead blames western foreign policy for the creation of Isis.

There is widespread distrust of the government’s Prevent strategy, with university student unions actively pledging to work against it.

Speakers with extremist views are regularly invited to universities to whip up hysteria and spread false information. This must stop or we will continue to see more women, and men, going to Syria.

 

* Of course it has now emerged that she was not a suicide bomber at all.

**By this I mean that many Muslims – and those of other religions – are nominal Muslims. It is rare that you will find a Muslim who will practise everything that is expected of him and him and her, for example praying five times a day, because we’re all hypocrites. Therefore it is no surprise that jihadis have dabbled in drugs and alcohol or committed various “sins” before “repenting” in the hope that they will be forgiven in the afterlife. If anything this demonstrates the powerful role that ideology plays in recruiting would-be jihadis or so-called jihadi brides.

***This may require a separate article/blog but I shall explain as briefly as I can here. What I mean by this is what we are constantly told to avoid mixing culture and religion. Culture, we are told, is what has oppressed us. People ‘confuse’ culture for Islam, therefore we need to follow ‘true’ Islam.  This led to some good things – inter-race marriages being one – but this meant that it is difficult for young people to identify with their parents’ culture, or Britain, and Islam is put before everything – that being a very austere, black and white form of Islam that leaves no space for colour. When you consistently hear that Islam will liberate us, that the Caliphate is what we need, it is no wonder we have ISIS.

 

Written by Iram Ramzan

November 24, 2015 at 9:21 pm

Farewell Glen Carrigan:  Homoscientificus 

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RIP Glen. I wish we could have spent more time together before you died. You will not be forgotten

Homo economicus' Weblog


Just learned that blogger Glen Carrigan of Homo scientificus passed away this week. He wrote about “Psychology, humanism, health, and society” and you may have caught him on The Big Question(photo above from his blog post on) and various podcasts.

Whilst he may not be with us, the humanist ideals he espoused will live on. I just wanted to share something from a blog post he did following the General Election this year.

My heart goes out to all those that knew him.

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“Remember, we can engage in democracy all year round, and perhaps we should actively do so. Having an idea, meeting people, making new friends and creating a plan is how it all starts. I recently heard a friend when asked “what can we do?” about a particular topic answer: “Get up from your armchair and actually do something.” This was at a conference concerned…

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Written by Iram Ramzan

October 2, 2015 at 8:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A women-only mosque is dangerous for men because it could take away control from them

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On Sunday, the Muslim Women’s Council had a public consultation on proposals for a women-only mosque in Bradford. It follows the opening of a women’s mosque in the US earlier this year. There are also plans for something similar in India.

You would think that in a city where there are many people of South Asian and Muslim origin, this would go down a treat. The proposal has been met with a mixed response. Bradford West’s newly-elected MP Naz Shah has already come out against it, writing in the Guardian that she does not want to see “greater gender segregation, or women’s involvement pushed to the margins”.

When this idea was first proposed a few months ago, the topic was discussed on the BBC Asian Network’s phone-in show.  On their Facebook page, one comment read: “Islam has given rights to women but within limits not to abuse and go on the feminist band wagon. I know of plenty of mosques in Bradford that cater for women so I don’t understand why the need for women only run mosques?”

Another read: “Hmmmmm a mosque for woman [sic]! Aren’t woman [sic] better praying at home? They have a lot of family commitments hence it’s never been made [obligatory] for her to pray in a congregation. Women are not obligated to pray in congregation, they cannot be Imams. In fact, the best place for them to pray is in their homes, not that this means a ban from our mosques! Therefore, not sure how this can be called a mosque.”

You know what the disheartening thing is? These were women commenting, not men.

Although the prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, “If the wife of anyone of you asks permission to go to the mosque, he should not forbid her,” another hadith quotes him as saying, “It is more excellent for a woman to pray in her house than in her courtyard, and more excellent for her to pray in her private chamber than in her house.”

Men receive more blessings and rewards from God if they pray in a congregation whereas women are told that staying in the home is best for them. With this entrenched in the psyche of many Muslims, it is no wonder that women are often excluded from the mosques, where even if they are (begrudgingly) permitted to enter, the facilities for them will be poor.

For this reason, Hind Makki, an American Muslim interfaith activist based in Chicago, created the Side Entrance Tumblr blog, which showcases women’s spaces in mosques around the world. The photos of women’s facilities range from fantastic to pathetic.

I have often gone to my local mosque to hear a (male) scholar give a talk on various topics; the women would be seated upstairs, watching the scholar on a live television feed. Sometimes it would be a struggle to hear him speak as the babies and children would be running around making too much noise.

Female leadership

Some men -and women – object to women leading prayer and giving sermons; others worry if women’s-only worship catches on elsewhere, it could divide communities along gender lines. As opposed to what? Men and women are already segregated in the mosque! Considering that the genders are segregated in many aspects of life, surely then the men will not object to having their own, private space. Right?

What we must bear in mind is that a separate space means that the women have more autonomy. Even though the women are shunted to the back of the room in the mosque, or seated upstairs hidden out of sight, the men know that, at the end of the day, the women are there, under the same room, where the men can control exactly what sermons are being read out, and what women are learning. A women-only mosque is dangerous for men because it could take away the control they have yielded over women.

A more progressive idea, in my view, is the London-based Inclusive Mosque Initiative, where everyone, even gay Muslims, are welcomed with open arms, and women lead men in prayers. Perhaps this (controversial) model only works in London, which has always felt like a separate country. To those of us north of the Watford Gap, such a model is lightyears ahead.

Moreover, not all women would be comfortable praying alongside men. The idea should be to have a space where women can feel comfortable and included in an environment where they have traditionally been excluded. This is why the mosque in the US seems to work; in this BBC interview, we can see and hear a woman doing the call to worship – something women never do – and some of the women do not even have their hair covered.

In a statement on its website, the MWC write: “Muslim women have been marginalised for many decades by Mosques in the UK which are male dominated, patriarchal spaces. This has led to a frustration amongst women who would like to be included in religious spaces.”

Sounds great. But the statement goes on to say, “We disagree with the view of women leading mixed congregational prayers and this will not take place under the MWC umbrella… Our intention is not to be divisive, nor to go against the values and principles of Islam, but to provide a space for the community which shows how women can lead and be included in places of worship and also impact positively on their families and communities.”

This is sending mixed messages. Either you believe women can, and should, be in positions of leadership or you don’t. Just because an initiative is led by women doesn’t necessarily mean that it is going to be radical or progressive. Women, as we are aware, can often be the vanguards of patriarchy.

I am not against the idea of a women-only mosque as such; rather, I am more interested in what types of views they will promote and whether they really will challenge the status quo. It remains to be seen as to whether this initiative is going to be a force for the good.

Perhaps this is not something that should be a long-term solution – it is a reaction to an age-old problem. When you marginalise and disenfranchise a section of society (in this case half the population) it is not a surprise when they decide to create their own space.

Segregation should not be the answer but this is a small step in what could possibly be a radical shift for the next generation of British Muslims. It depends on which scholars and imams they decide they get on board.

Written by Iram Ramzan

August 3, 2015 at 6:09 pm

Countering Extremism and Extreme Responses

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Blogger John Sargeant on “extreme reactions to extremism” – well worth a read

Homo economicus' Weblog

“POLITICAL EXTREMISM INVOLVES TWO PRIME INGREDIENTS: AN EXCESSIVELY SIMPLE DIAGNOSIS OF THE WORLD’S ILLS, AND A CONVICTION THAT THERE ARE IDENTIFIABLE VILLAINS BACK OF IT ALL.”

JOHN W. GARDNER

A counter extremism speech by the Prime Minister, concerning Islamists or nationalists, is no substitute for effective government policies that will combat extremism while still living up to the liberal principles that they seek to defend. Coherence seems to be absent – a few weeks ago Cameron was telling us not to say “Islamic State”; instead use the Arabic “Daesh” abbreviation. Now he uses ISIL where Islamic State is part of the abbreviation (as it already was with Daesh). The impression given is a Prime Minister whose opinions reflect the last person he spoke to about extremism. Someone that is prepared to do U turns after seeing which way the wind blows. Considering the storm that Islamists and their apologists will…

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Written by Iram Ramzan

August 3, 2015 at 5:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Glenn Greenwald Needs To Stop Being A Cheerleader

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John Sargeant is on it as always

Homo economicus' Weblog

Glenn Greenwald likes to call people tribalists and cheerleaders. He should know, he used to be one in praise of George W Bush. Now, he is a tribalist where everything comes back to the evil of Bush and Blair. I engage with his desire to say that Tony Blair, rather than Saddam Hussein, is the one to blame for innocent people being killed.

Glenn Greenwald chose the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 bombing to write a piece criticizing the terrorism that killed over fifty people and injured over 700 civilians as they commuted on the tube and a bus in London. He also mentioned the brutal terrorist attack in Tunisia days ago where about thirty British tourists were killed by a gunman.

Well, no, he did not once mention any of that. In his piece: TONY BLAIR AND THE SELF-EXALTING MINDSET OF THE WEST: IN TWO PARAGRAPHS his focus was on…

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Written by Iram Ramzan

July 9, 2015 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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