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Sayeeda Warsi, Iraq and the conflict in Gaza: A weekly round up

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“Morally Indefensible”

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi at a Hindu temple

 

There she was, the first Pakistani, Muslim woman to become the chairman of the Conservative party and also the first Muslim woman to sit on the front bench of a British party.

An outspoken woman, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi could certainly have been seen as an inspiration to many women who thought that their gender and skin colour were factors that would prevent them from becoming involved in politics or any other industry/sector so heavily dominated by white men.

I think it is so ironic that only now Lady Warsi has resigned that she has gained respect from Muslims in the UK – where were they all before? Too busy calling her a sell-out, I suppose. In 2009, she was pelted with eggs by a group of Muslims during a walkabout in Luton. The protesters accused her of not being a “proper Muslim” (what is one of those?) and of supporting the death of Muslims in Afghanistan. Warsi told the BBC that these men were “idiots who did not represent the majority of British Muslims”. Only now that she has resigned over Gaza has Warsi gained respect from her own people.

However, while I can appreciate the symbolism of it all, just what legacy has she left behind? She spoke out against the Asian grooming gangs, stating: “There is a small minority of Pakistani men who believe that white girls are fair game. And we have to be prepared to say that. You can only start solving a problem if you acknowledge it first.” When other commentators were in complete denial she spoke out and for that she must be applauded.

Douglas Murray said she could have done more for Gaza by remaining in her position, but in her resignation letter Lady Warsi hinted at the change in the government’s direction, which suggests that she felt as though she was not being taken seriously. Her party could have used her ideas and background to their advantage in order to to try to reach out to more voters. A former solicitor with her own law firm, there is no doubt that she is an intelligent woman and she was once named the most powerful Muslim woman in Britain.  I doubt that many in her party were very supportive of her –  an Asian woman will always find it more difficult to fit in a white man’s world.

Let us for one moment take her resignation at face value. Let us believe she resigned solely over the government’s “morally indefensible” stance on Israel. Yes, our government could, and should, be doing more to end the violence in that region and stop the killing on both sides. But do you know what I find “morally indefensible” Lady Warsi? I find it morally indefensible that only Palestinian lives seemed so important to you that you felt you had to resign. What was your position on the Syrians being either slaughtered or fleeing their country to live as refugees, not knowing when the conflict is going to end? What was your position on ISIS slaughtering thousands of people in Iraq? What was your position on the Ahmadis who were murdered in the Punjabi city of Lahore, the country from which your parents came to England?

My own view is rather cynical. She was never really popular with many Muslims, or other ethnic minorities, so resigning over Gaza could prove to be a huge PR boost for her. Nor was she very popular within her own party and instead of progressing in her political career, she seemed to be fading in the background. Her hint at Cameron’s leadership might be a revelation of her providing support to another prospective candidate who will listen to her concerns. She has since criticised her party for not attracting enough ethnic minority voters,  which is a bit rich coming from her seeing as she stood for as a candidate in the 2005 elections and lost. Whatever her reasons for resigning, I do not doubt that she will do well from this and it is certainly not the last we will hear from Lady Warsi.

 

Israel and Gaza

Pro-Palestinian march

If there’s anything that unites Muslims around the world it is the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine.

I vowed not to write about this issue, as it is very divisive and guaranteed to piss off one group of people or another. But I cannot remain silent. My analysis will not be on the conflict itself but rather the reporting of it and the reaction of some communities on this particular issue.

In my area, there was a protest outside a Tesco Express store, at which demonstrators were holding up signs calling for a boycott of Israeli goods and chanting “shame on Tesco”. I believe the protest was largely peaceful although some shoppers did claim to feel “intimidated”.

I believe an arms embargo should be imposed on Israel, as Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell said this week. But what will boycotting Israeli goods achieve – to me, that  is a form of collective punishment and we must not punish people for the actions of their governments or armies? Nick Cohen wrote a brilliant piece on London’s Tricycle Theatre banning the annual Jewish Film Festival this week because they received a small sum of money from the Israeli embassy. Do we boycott goods from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or India? After all, their countries routinely violate the human rights of their citizens, yet we hold Israel to a different standard.

Reports have suggested that anti-Semitism has increased in the UK and in Europe. I don’t think this conflict has made more people anti-Semitic, but rather it brings out the anti-Semites, reaffirming their dislike and hatred of Jews. I rarely agree with Mehdi Hasan but he was spot on when he said that anti-Semitism is still a problem in Muslim communities. That is not to say that being pro-Palestinian equates to being anti-Semitic – to suggest that is untrue and outrageous. But it shames me to admit that it has certainly “passed the dinner table test” (thanks Baroness Warsi) in the conversations in some of the homes at which I have been present and even on a radio discussion earlier this week. And unfortunately, some of those people do use certain Qur’anic verses to justify their dislike or mistrust of the Jews, claiming that Muslims can never trust the Jews. I understand not all Muslims engage in these discussions, I am simply recalling what I have seen and heard – I do appreciate that many Muslims have nothing but respect for Jewish people.

We don’t like it when Muslims are expected to denounce the extremist behaviour of Muslims or distance ourselves from the barbaric Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so why do we expect Jews to condemn the behaviour of the Israeli army and government, as though being Jewish=Israel.  And people constantly point out that many Jews are against the actions of the state of Israel, as though that should matter, as though the only “good” Jews are those who go on marches alongside pro Palestinian protesters, unlike those “bad Jews” who do support Israeli policies.

 

The ongoing crisis in Iraq

 

Kurdish fighters

US air strikes have successfully carried out four air strikes to defend those of the Yazidi faith from being indiscriminately attacked near Sinjar, in northern Iraq.

On Newsnight, Sindus Abbas of the Iraqi Turkmen High Representative welcomed the US air strikes in northern Iraq and said this should have happened “months ago”.

But who cares what the Iraqi people want when left-wing commentators here in the UK think we should not intervene. In a Twitter exchange with journalist David Aaronovitch, Owen Jones said that ISIS “will only be stopped when it is eradicated”. Not a vague statement at all. How exactly must ISIS be stopped? Simple – by “dealing with Sunni resentment” and, most importantly, NOT intervening militarily. Yes, there needs to be a long-term solution and there I will agree with Jones, but right now we can do something to help.

The Iraq war may have caused resentment within some Muslims around the world –  that is debatable – and I, too, was against the 2003 invasion, but sitting idly by while people are being slaughtered – the same people who are asking for our help – will surely cause more resentment.

It is easy to solely blame the West for the ills in the Middle East today. Yes, colonialism left a terrible legacy but for how long can we all continue to blame others? I think it is easy for people to blame the US or Britain because if they have no one else to blame they will have to accept the reality that the blame lies within themselves. And that is too uncomfortable for them to contemplate.

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Selective narratives and short-term memories

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Smoothing things over: Israeli President Shimon Peres hosts a Ramadan dinner Copyright @GPO

Last week, the entire world was engrossed in what was happening in Libya. Eyes were glued to the television screen as we watched the rebels march into Tripoli, cheered on by the international community in the ‘fight for democracy’.

While everyone was applauding Sky’s Alex Crawford for her ‘bravery and tenacity’ in reporting live from the back of a rebel pickup truck, 1200 miles away, however, there was no pause in the rockets in Gaza despite a cease-fire. Fighting resumed between Israeli forces and Palestinians in Gaza. This was barely mentioned in the mainstream media.

The conflict came about after two terror attacks on buses in southern Israel last Thursday killed fourteen people and wounded 31. The driver of the first bus claimed that the shooters were dressed in Egyptian military uniform. In addition Israeli forces shot five gunmen while Egyptian border police killed two more.  It appears that an Israeli military helicopter attempted to give chase and crossed into Egypt territory where it mistakenly attacked an Egyptian army unit, killing five and wounding several others.

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak issued a statement expressing his ‘regret’ at the deaths, but the Egyptians were having none of it, stating that the apology was not good enough. And so begins another diplomatic crisis calling in the ‘big guns’, i.e. the Unites States. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman landed in Cairo late Sunday in an attempt to defuse the tensions.

Israeli President Shimon Peres further tried to bring about peace between the two countries by hosting a Ramadan dinner in Jerusalem. Perhaps Peres served truly astounding latkes and falafels that evening, for soon afterwards the countries decided to work together to investigate just what actually happened last week.

Israel blamed Gaza’s Popular Resistance Committees for the attack and retaliated with Israeli missiles on 20th August, killing15 Palestinians, with 55 injured, including 12 women, 15 children, three elderly and one ambulance worker.

Egyptian security forces are reportedly searching the border region for the people connected to last Thursday’s terrorist attacks. According to a report in Egypt’s al-Shorouk newspaper, Egyptian forces are also mapping the tunnels underneath the Gaza border and intend to destroy them.

Does the blame actually lie with Gaza? Richard Lightbown, of the Palestine Chronicle, said that the Israeli government (unpopular at home) is trying to show that it can act with determination to protect her security, and ‘who better to blame than the residents of Gaza?’ While Hamas supposedly expressed delight over the news of the dead Israelis, they have yet to claim responsibility for the attacks. Both sides repeatedly attacked the other (ceasefire schmeasefire!) but unfortunately for Gaza, they do not have an Iron Dome to repel rockets.

An Arab diplomat told the AFP that Washington is pressing the Palestinians to abandon their plans to bid from UN membership next month. The general feeling among Palestinians is that this is the first ‘Israeli nail in the coffin’ for a state recognition, as they have ‘shot themselves in the foot’ and scuppered their chances once again.

When the media can be bothered to pay attention, themiddle-eastern narrative is quite interesting and ever changing. We want them to have democracy and freedom but we don’t think they can handle it. And what about those Islamists, it’s just a matter of time before they take over and fill the power vacuum, right? When Egyptians gathered on the streets in their thousands, we cheered them on but now Mubarak has been ousted the media is once again obsessed with potential Islamic extremists vying for power. The same is happening with Libya and now Palestine. Our memories have become shorter and our focus is more selective

Written by Iram Ramzan

August 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm

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