Rumy Hasan's blog posts

Sectarianism and Other Concerns over Scottish Independence‏



As someone part of whose upbringing was in Scotland, I have kept a keen eye on the issues surrounding the independence referendum, much more so than the southern folk among whom I live. Part of my schooling was in a state primary school in Lanarkshire (quite near Glasgow) geared for Protestant children - there was a school for Catholic children not too far away. When I asked my father why all my classmates supported Rangers Football Club, and were most hostile to Celtic, their great rivals in Glasgow, he simply told me that this was because Rangers was the club for Protestants whilst Celtic was supported by Catholics.

Even though I hailed from a Sunni Muslim background with its condescending attitude towards the Shia and other smaller sects, this was my first encounter with sectarianism and I did not like it. Wind the clock forward to the present day and I do worry whether in an independent Scotland sectarianism might be intensified. Whilst it is true that its origins lie in Northern Ireland (a reminder of this was the march by Unionists in Edinburgh last Saturday) Scotland has not managed to root this ill out completely - even though, just as in the rest of Britain, the role of religion for most people is rapidly fading. Yet the Scottish government, like its Westminster counterpart, still accords privileges to religions, especially in education, thereby retaining a fertile ground for sectarian tensions. This profoundly important issue has been neglected in the Referendum campaign by both sides but remains an elephant in the room. Unintended and unexpected consequences can follow major changes.

When our family moved to England, we felt that we had changed home within the same country, moving across the borderless border: there were no cultural, linguistic and climatic shocks, just a change in the accents of the local people; though it became tiresome when Lanarkshire was constantly being confused with Lancashire! Bearing this in mind, I wonder if the push for independence is not a case of what Freud termed 'the narcissism of small differences'. This would certainly be the view of many people around the world for whom the key impact of the peoples of this small island is summed up in three words: 'The British Empire'. For the colonised, it made not the slightest difference whether the colonial master was from Aberdeen, Birmingham, or Cardiff. And few would dispute that a union now over 300 years old has not only been one of the oldest but also one of the most successful in history.

Of course, supporters of the 'Yes' campaign would point out to examples where the differences are anything but small, such as no prescription charges, much lower student tuition fees, and much less private sector involvement in the NHS in Scotland; and these are indeed crucial reasons as to why they may well win. The SNP, often derided as the 'Tartan Tories' in the past, has adhered to social democratic policies with admirable conviction leading to a public school-educated octogenarian friend of mine to quip that East Sussex should also join up in a devolved or independent Scotland; the moral of which is that differences which have arisen post-devolution are not desired by a good many people even in the relatively prosperous South East of England.

Whilst an independent Scotland will resolve the 'West Lothian question', by removing the social-democratically minded Labour and Lib Dem MPs from Westminster, it also increases the likelihood of an entrenched Tory majority which cements the differences. Even though this potential political fall-out has been discussed in the media, it seems that, as yet, people south of the border have not given it much thought. Not that they can do much about it given that the vote in the referendum does not extend to them.

The same thinking applies to illegal wars of aggression: Alex Salmond leader has consistently railed against the war-mongers in Westminster to great effect. The late, marvellous novelist, Iain Banks had argued that he 'would vote for independence purely never to be part of any more unnecessary illegal, immoral wars'. On the face of it, a most principled stance. But the wars launched by the Blair government against Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 were supported by key Scottish members of his cabinet including Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and John Reid and, lest one forgets, Blair himself has strong Scottish connections. So the wars were about politics, not 'Scottishness' versus 'Englishness' or 'Britishness'. Moreover, to his credit, another Scot, Robin Cook, resigned from the cabinet after the vote for war against Iraq was passed. Cook would doubtless have been a leading light in the 'Better Together' camp and attempted to convince the likes of Iain Banks that his reasoning was rather too emotional and not based on reason and facts.

It is also a shame that Banks was not alive to witness lessons being learned when parliament voted against the war on Syria a year ago. Again, remove the Labour and Lib Dem MPs from Scotland, with their anti-war proclivities, and you risk the likelihood of Westminster voting yes to future 'illegal, immoral wars'. Perhaps these reservations will not be of much concern to many in the 'Yes' camp, but as is now widely acknowledged, independence will have profound implications in all parts of the UK - some of which may well be distinctly problematic. Whilst independence almost certainly does not risk turning Scotland into another Ireland or Iceland there is, however, no denying that in many crucial respects, it will result in its weakening.

Published in Huffington Post 16th September 2014

Interview with Voice of Russia on the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham



Schools and the Failure of Multiculturalism and Multifaithism



The spat between Michael Gove and Theresa May focuses on the failure to tackle Islamic extremism in Birmingham's schools. Whether such failure can be attributed to one party or the other is, in fact, a moot point. The real problem has deeper roots: it resides in the failure of multiculturalism and multifaithism. Given that both the previous and present governments describe Britain as being a multi-faith society, it is entirely to be expected that leaders of those groups for whom their faith trumps all other indicators of identity, will seek robustly to instil the imprimatur of the values and practices of their religion. In this context, recent statements made by Prime Minister David Cameron and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles that Britain is essentially a Christian country, are most unhelpful in that they provoke many within the faith minorities to emphatically say 'no we are not', and to assert their own non-Christian faith identity with even greater vigour.

This fundamental truth has not well been understood by the political establishment. Rather, like the previous government, the present Coalition government's concern has been on tackling Islamist terrorism following 9/11 and especially since the 7th July 2005 bombings. It is precisely this thinking that led Michael Gove to appoint Peter Clark, former National Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism, to review the evidence of the Trojan Horse plot. This detracts from core of the problem of heightened faith identities that are facilitated by high levels of segregation in communities and in schools.

Indeed, concerns about segregated schooling go back decades. As far back as 1985, the Swann Report on education highlighted the dangers of 'separate schools' for ethnic minorities. Two decades later, Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, warned in 2005: 'Do we want a ghettoised education system? ... Schools play a crucial role in integrating different communities and the growth of faith schools poses a real threat to this. These things need to be thought through very carefully before they are implemented'. In a similar vein, in 2007, Commission for Racial Equality Policy Director Nick Johnson cautioned that Britain risks becoming a 'mini America' dominated by racially and religiously determined schools, and warned: 'If a Muslim child is educated in a school where the vast majority of other children are also Muslim, how can we expect him to work, live and interact with people from other cultures when he leaves school? This is a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode'. Given that practically nothing has been done to tackle the roots of the problems, that is, to tackle the very high levels of segregation and promote genuine integration, such a proverbial 'time bomb' has indeed exploded in Birmingham, and will doubtless do so in many other towns and cities.

This reasoning and warning is absolutely correct. A natural consequence of residential segregation is that schools in inner cities have also become segregated: in the 21 Birmingham schools that were inspected by Ofsted, children of Muslim parents comprise over 90 per cent. Channel 4 News reported that in one school, only one child was non Muslim; the white mother of the child thought that though a secular, state, school, it felt like a Muslim faith school. Indeed, this is precisely what has been happening: parents and governors of these schools are attempting to convert them into de facto Muslim faith schools. And here is something that has not been remarked upon: what is giving cause for concern re attempts by Islamists to take over state schools in Birmingham is precisely what has been made lawful in Free schools and faith schools. Abandoning children to such schools, which are plainly not fit for purpose for modern Europe, is nothing short of a dereliction of duty.

The rising level of segregation is not only a phenomenon of 'white flight' but also the flight of those from other religious-ethnic minorities. Polite society may not notice, but the stark reality is that Hindu and Sikh parents do not wish to send their schools where there is preponderance of Muslim children and vice versa. So what have arisen are 'mono-faith' neighbourhoods and schools. Given the enormous importance of the formative years in life, this phenomenon can have a highly significant and lasting effect on how children from different backgrounds relate to each other. Put bluntly, there is likely to be a deleterious impact on integration and cohesion from heightened levels of segregation of children and this surely does not at all augur well for the goal of a socially cohesive society. If segregation of communities is not a desirable outcome and is an obstacle to improving social cohesion, then it is certainly also true for children in schools.

Michael Gove's call that school children must be taught 'British values' is inadequate given that there is simply no agreed definition of what these values are. Rather, it is imperative that a child's accident of birth should not preclude a broad, critical, tolerant education; this must necessarily be secular. Moreover, this needs to be combined with children from minority communities mixing with others, especially with those from the majority white society. These enormously important lessons need to be learned and acted upon by both the government and the opposition.


First published in Huffington Post 13th June 2014

Interview on BBC Radio 4's 'Thinking Allowed' on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism‏



I come in after about 13 mins:
Interview with Laurie Taylor on BBC Radio 4, 21st May 2014

Trojan horse: The responsibility for the situation in Birmingham's schools lies ultimately with mistaken government policies


April 17, 2014 Thursday 12:01 AM GMT
Trojan horse;
The responsibility for the situation in Birmingham's schools lies ultimately with mistaken government policies


LENGTH: 229 words

Sir, The alleged "trojan horse" plot in Birmingham is an instance of the problems arising from Britain being a multifaith society and attendant high levels of segregation by religion across the country ("More schools are investigated over claims of Islamic takeover", Apr 15).

Claims include the segregation of girls from boys, the withdrawal of girls from sex education, PE and music lessons, the treatment of female staff and bullying of non-Muslim staff. That Mark Rogers, the city council's chief executive, seems unworried by these phenomena - because they do not demonstrate "radicalisation" - is worrying.

These phenomena are already present in faith schools, and religious free schools, such as Al Madinah Free School, Derby, and Madani High School, Leicester, (where an advert for a science teacher stated that only men need apply).

The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, stressing that "we are a Christian nation", only invites faith groups to retort "We are most definitely not". For these religious-ethnic minorities, faith is by far the most important determinant of identity, and "leaders" of these groups do everything they can to ensure their flock remains wedded to beliefs and customs of their religion and culture. So, the "trojan horses" in Birmingham schools are no surprise - they flow from misguided government policies.


Published in The Times 17th April 2014

‘Trojan Horses’ in Birmingham Schools should come as no surprise



The 'Trojan Horse' plot in Birmingham - where some 25 schools have apparently been targeted for takeover by Islamic extremists - is yet another instance of the problems now rising as a consequence of Britain supposedly being a multifaith society; a view shared by all the three main political parties. Accordingly, a green light has been given to more faith schools, religious Free Schools and academies, which are allowed to run on the basis of a religious ethos. A laissez faire approach to culture and religion has contributed to significant levels of self-segregation, isolation, and lack of integration among some religious-ethnic minorities, not least Muslims. This is highlighted by the fact the Muslim population in which these 25 schools are located is more than 90 per cent. It is worrying that it took a maverick politician such as Nigel Farage to point out the reality when he described parts of Britain as being 'unrecognisable'; a view that most of the population would agree with.

Since the 'Trojan Horse' letter came to light, some 200 reports have been received by Birmingham City Council, including claims that boys and girls are being segregated in classrooms and assemblies, pressure on girls to cover their hair, sex education being banned, the prevention of the teaching of non-Islamic faiths in religious education classes, and non-Muslim staff being bullied. Yet all this is precisely what has been happening in Free Schools such as Al Madinah in Derby (which Education Minister Lord Nash found dysfunctional) and the Madani faith school in Leicester. But none of this should be surprising: on the contrary, it is entirely to be expected that leaders of faith communities wish to impose values and practices in schools in their neighbourhoods that are in accordance with their religion. The reason for this is that the emphasis on a multifaith society facilitates the primary identity of some minorities being on the basis of their faith.

In Birmingham, and elsewhere, community leaders and parents with strong religious identities seek to 'protect' their children - especially girls - from Western secular influences which, quite frankly, they find immoral. Such protection is indeed likely to be on offer as schools in segregated communities and faith-based schools vigorously police the behaviour of pupils strictly in line with their religious doctrines and cultural mores. An inescapable outcome is the accentuation of divisions along religious lines, so that there is a plethora of 'monofaith' neighbourhoods. This is not only profoundly harmful to schoolchildren who are seen as no more than properties of their parents, but flies in the face of the stated goal of increasing integration and social cohesion.

A pointer to the dangers ahead was provided a decade ago at the Muslim Islamia School, one of the first to be granted voluntary aided status. In regard to the teaching of evolution, the school's view was 'we approach Darwinism theory [sic] in a phenomenological way. We say, 'there is a theory believed by some, that we are descended from apes. It's just one idea among many'. In regard to the teaching of other faiths, the head teacher stated 'we can practice any religion we like. We pray five times a day, we learn the Koran in the traditional manner ... One thing we never do is celebrate Christmas'. The oft-quoted quip 'schools are for teaching and not for preaching' is inverted - indeed preaching and brazen indoctrination is the order of the day - with values that are widely at variance with those obtaining in modern Europe.

The push to expand faith schools and religious free schools and academies in Britain is particularly odd for it suggests wilful neglect or disregard of the sobering example of Northern Ireland where state schools are divided on the basis of faith; as such they are sectarian in character and have long been a powerful incubator of the schism between Catholics and Protestants. An educational policy whose aim is cohesion and inclusion would take serious note of this tragic, divisive phenomenon, learn the lessons, and ensure that it is not repeated in any other part of the country. But evidence shows that the lessons have sadly not been learned.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has appointed Peter Clark to review the evidence of the Trojan Horse plot. But, as has rightfully been pointed out by key people in Birmingham, Mr Clark is the wrong candidate given his earlier role as National Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism. This highlights a key problem with government thinking: their only real concern is the potential for Islamist terrorism but little regard for the damage to schoolchildren and for community cohesion from those serious about ensuring that members of their communities rigidly adhere to their faith. Bob Jones, the elected West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, is correct to state that 'My main concern is that the Secretary of State is attempting to divert attention away from the governance and diversity issues that might be embarrassing to his policies and approach to school governance'. Indeed they should be embarrassing and it really is high time that the both the government and the opposition grasped the nettle that a firm commitment to a rounded secular education is what is needed for the benefit of children and for society at large, and act accordingly.

Published in Huffington Post 16th April 2014

Review of Deconstructing Zionism: A Critique of Political Metaphysics by Gianni Vattimo and Michael Marder (eds)



Whilst the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the interminable ‘peace process’ is never long out of the news, the political underpinning of Israel – the self-proclaimed ‘Jewish state’ – is rarely discussed in the mainstream media and political circles in the west. It has long been thought axiomatic, indeed plain common sense, that a homeland for global Jewry is right and proper hence obviating the need for the interrogation of the basis for such a state. This presumption is set aside in this collection of papers (of varying relevance and quality) as an array of philosophers subject the ideological basis of Israel – Zionism – to a sustained examination and critique.

In their introduction, the editors Gianni Vattimo (an MEP and philosopher at the University of Turin) and Michael Marder (a research professor of philosophy at the University of the Basque Country) make clear the aims of this book (p. xii):

At the bottom of mutually incompatible land claims simmers the desire to erase the trace of the Other, along with the traces of this very erasure. The Israeli Occupation endeavours to reduce the Palestinian trace to a pure absence, while claiming for itself the honor of strong and undisputed historical origins, the genuine (biblical) rootedness in the Land of Israel. Indeed, in the mindset of Zionism, the two things are inseparable: the presence of Jewish origins and the absence of Palestinian traces are two sides of the same counterfeit coin … Although they both work with limit concepts, deconstruction and weak thought are not satisfied with “sitting on the fence” (or, in this case, on the wall). Far from purely academic exercises, their forays are practical and political interventions, responding to the singular demands of justice. Derrida once said that deconstruction is the possibility of justice. He had in mind deconstruction’s extreme sensitivity to the context of its engagements, as much as to the subtle forms which violence can assume, for instance, in the name of universality. To deconstruct Zionism is, therefore, to demand justice for its victims – not only the Palestinians who are suffering from it, but also for the anti-Zionist Jews, “erased” from the officially consecrated account of Zionist history.

Unfortunately, the first chapter that follows the robust and stimulating introduction, by Slavoj Zizek, is confused and displays little understanding of the issues at hand. He begins with a non sequitur: a discussion of the far right Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik and his cold-blooded killing of nearly 100 people (mainly youths) in 2011 – and does not recover from this false start. There is pontification on issues such as multiculturalism, immigration, and Islamism with little understanding of these profoundly important and contentious issues in the western context. Indeed this short chapter has little to do with the subject matter at hand: the deconstruction of Zionism.

Mercifully, after Zizek’s incoherent ramblings, Gianni Vattimo returns to provide a pithy and coruscating critique. He asserts:

‘[t]he Nakba was the archetype for all Israeli politics since 1948; moreover, it was understandable given the proposal to preserve the Jewishness of the state and therefore to close off every possibility of return for the refugees and also to foreclose every demographic or social expansion of the Arab population. Doesn’t this mean that what makes Israel “unacceptable” as a state is its racist-colonialist-anti-egalitarian original sin?’

Indeed it does and there is now a plethora of incontrovertible evidence to show that Israel is not only racist-colonialist, but also, de facto, an apartheid state (the 80th session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, held in February-March 2012, found Israel in violation of the crime of apartheid in the treatment of its Palestinian citizens inside Israel by determining that many state policies within Israel violate the prohibition on apartheid as enshrined in Article 3 of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination).

The longest chapter (‘Is Judaism Zionism?’) by Judith Butler helpfully utilizes the writings of Hannah Arendt on critiquing not only Zionism but the nation state, especially from the perspective of the stateless. She makes the key point that ‘Jewish history comes to bear on Palestinian history through the impositions and exploitations of a project of settler colonialism’. In various insightful quotes of Arendt’s, this is perhaps the most prophetic:

‘even if the Jews were to win the war [of 1948], its end would find the … achievements of Zionism destroyed … The “victorious” Jews would live surrounded by an entirely hostile Arab population, secluded inside ever-threatened borders, absorbed with physical self-defense to a degree that would submerge all other interests and activities’.

Israelis and Zionists around the world would vehemently disagree, arguing that far from Zionism being destroyed, it is thriving as evidenced by Israel’s achievements. Moreover, the militarized nature of the state is a price worth paying for to have the prize of a Jewish state. But this begs the question: how long can this laager-like state last?

Walter Mignolo continues the theme of Judith Butler in ‘decolonizing the nation state’ and argues that while Israel offered a solution to the Jewish people, it also became a problem for the Palestinians – and makes the contentious argument that to solve the conflict would require more than peace agreements – it would require decolonizing the form of the modern European nation-state. Whilst Israel was/is indeed a life-threatening problem for the Palestinians, it did not provide a solution to all Jewish people as evidenced by the fact that most Jews do not live in Israel. Furthermore, about a third of Jewish Israelis have dual citizenship, and large numbers have, in recent years, availed themselves of their second passport by undergoing a reverse aliyah to North America or Western Europe.

Artemy Magun focuses on the similarities between Karl Marx and Hannah Arendt on the ‘Jewish Question’, and their overarching critique of religion per se. Interesting as this is, it does not get to grips with the subject matter at hand.

Marc Ellis, in a fascinating chapter ‘Notes on the prophetic instability of Zionism’, argues that ‘in the framework of deconstructing Zionism, solidarity here means a critical embrace of Jewish history and contemporary Jews with the hope that the end of the violence of the Jewish state will bring Jews back to an ethical path’. He elaborates upon this in the concluding section with a laudable wish:

‘[b]y hollowing out the Jewish claim to Palestinian land, eventually Jews in Israel and around the world will acknowledge the wrong done to the Palestinian people. Then, Jews will embark with Palestinians in creating Israel/Palestine where both live together in equality, justice, and peace’.

Christopher Wise discusses Jacques Derrida’s concept of spirit/specter and its indebtedness to the Hebraic notion of ruah and forcefully concludes that peace and security can be achieved on the basis of international law, notwithstanding its flaws, rather than on regressive theologies of ‘blood election’.

Ranjana Khanna’s chapter ‘Rex, or the negation of wandering’ is little more than observations of various authors and has little of substance to say about Zionism. In contrast, Santiago Zabala in ‘The hermeneutical stance’, defends the ideas of Heidegger – despite his affinities with the Nazi regime – to argue that,‘political Zionism does not only represent the “massive dispossessions of Palestinians in 1948, the appropriation of land in 1967, and the recurrent confiscations of Palestinian lands that continues now with the building of the wall and the expansion of settlements” but also the discharge of Being. If Being must remain discharged from the standpoint of Zionist nationalists who can then proceed with their programs of occupations and segregation, then philosophy has the obligation to retrieve its remainders’.

In the penultimate chapter, Michael Marder returns to the theme of ‘trace’ elaborated upon in the introduction but rather than utilizing deconstruction, uses the device of synecdoche to make the case that the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes is the consequence of ‘the exclusionary synecdoche that effaces and destroys much more than it reveals and constructs. This is not to say that Zionism was “blind to the presence of Arabs in Palestine”; rather, it was (transcendentally) blind to the justification of and the right to their presence’.

The final chapter by Luce Irigaray does not deal with Zionism so, along with the papers by Zizek, Magun, and Khanna, sits oddly in this collection. She does pose the question as to whether the feminine practice of hospitality represents a value to be considered and extended outside the family and asks: ‘[w]ould current conflicts, in particular the Arab-Israeli conflict, be possible if feminine hospitality would spread into and shape civil life? And does not a world culture require such an evolution’? These are plainly difficult questions to satisfactorily answer but even if the answer is yes, there is no agreement as to how a feminine hospitality can be realized.

Though of uneven quality, this collection of papers is, nevertheless, a welcome addition to the critique of Zionism. There is, however, a serious lacuna: an absence of the voice of a Palestinian or Arab given that, apart from Jews, the greatest impact of Zionism has been on Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular – the example of Nur Masalha who has written extensively on Zionism and the Palestine Nakba readily comes to mind. Setting aside this reservation, there is likely to be consensus among Arabs (especially among Palestinians) that perhaps the best deconstruction of Zionism – at least of the dominant political variety – was by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, during a conversation with the Zionist leader Nahum Goldmann, a few years after the creation of Israel:

Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We come from Israel, it’s true, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? They may perhaps forget in one or two generations’ time, but for the moment there is no chance. So it’s simple: we have to stay strong and maintain a powerful army. Our whole policy is there. Otherwise the Arabs will wipe us out (cited in Nahum Goldmann, The Jewish Paradox, 1978, p. 99).

But one ought to be cognisant of the fact that for Palestinians the priority is not only the deconstruction of Zionism but of its dismantling – so that, to paraphrase Marc Ellis, all who presently reside in Israel/Palestine, together with refugees who have the right to return, live together in equality, justice, and peace. One hopes that such a sobering and hopeful thought will be readily accepted by the contributors of this volume.

Published in E-International Relations 14th April 2014

How Britain's Increasing Diversity Is Affecting Foreign Policy Thinking



In his recent trip to Afghanistan, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband firmly stated that he would support British military intervention in future conflicts if it was "in the national interest". However, judging by recent statements made by senior figures in Britain's military, security and police establishments to two national newspapers, it will be in Britain's national interest not to engage in wars. At its core, their message is simple and straightforward but of profound importance: the changing nature of the British population is affecting its foreign policy options.

This was made clear in The Guardian on January 23rd by senior figures at the Ministry of Defence (MOD) who recognise a resistance to British troops being deployed in countries from which some UK citizens or their families once came - that is, from an increasingly ethnically and religiously diverse nation. Naturally, the focus of their thinking is on military actions in Muslim majority countries. As a consequence - and remarkably, given Britain's long history of wars - the MOD officials rule out a repeat of an Afghanistan-or-Iraq-style invasion. Though the ultimate decision to go to war is the prime minister's - possibly following a vote in parliament - the sentiments, and advice therein, are unambiguous.

The vote against military intervention by the House of Commons on 30th August last year to punish President Assad of Syria for his alleged use of chemical weapons against rebel forces is the first pointer to this new thinking. It is attributed not only to the changed demographics but also to the deep-seated opposition to wars from all sections of the population: a large majority was against war on Syria notwithstanding the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron gave a firm undertaking that the attack would not involve boots on the ground.

Relatedly, in an interview with The Sunday Times published on 16th February, senior security officials say that about 250 British-based jihadis who went to train and fight in Syria have returned home. The head of London's Metropolitan police force, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe expressed fears about the threat posed by these returnees: "There are a few hundred people going out there. They may be injured or killed, but our biggest worry is when they return they are radicalised, they may be militarised, they may have a network of people that train them to use weapons". In fact, these young men were already radicalised back home - which is why they decided to go Syria to wage jihad, a country that few will have any material connection with.

The responsibility for this lies with failure of government policy on both the foreign and domestic fronts. In regard to the former, the follies of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have indubitably radicalised significant numbers of Muslims as was predicted by many. In regard to the latter, both the present and previous governments have stressed the importance of faith identities, and of Britain being a 'multi-faith' society. To this end, national and local governments have granted separate rights, resources, institutions, and exemptions to the law to different faith communities. It is worth noting that census figures show that the Muslim population of Britain rose to almost 5 per cent in 2011. One ought not to be surprised if some of these citizens believe that their primary allegiance is indeed to those of their faith around the world to the point of waging jihad in support of them, as is presently happening in Syria.

The subtext behind this thinking can be explained by 'blowback', a term coined by former University of California professor Chalmers Johnson, where any future war 'comes home'. In other words, the British authorities are worried that future military interventions, above all in Muslim-majority countries, risk triggering jihad on home soil. The suicide bombings in London on July 7th 2005 provided a marker for this; and hundreds of hardened, trained, jihadis from Syria is certainly concentrating the minds of British politicians and helps explain why even the most hawkish of them are in no mood to join in any military assault on Iran.

Scotland's First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party Alex Salmond has understood this well by his repeated assurance that an independent Scotland will not partake in illegal wars. This has gone down well not only in Scotland but in the rest of the UK also; especially since none of the leaders of the three main UK parties have followed suit with similar assurances.

In the hundredth anniversary of the start of World War 1, the media has been awash with remembering and analysing that 'Great War' and indubitably, the slaughter of millions shown in graphic footage, is also acting to keep war-making postures at bay. There is now a real sense that the Defence budget should be for this stated purpose, given added poignancy by substantial cuts to it. Indeed, this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the closure of the War Office whose explicit purpose it was to wage wars on other countries as part of the imperial imperative.

Some leading commentators such as Simon Jenkins of The Guardian are even arguing that given that Britain has no enemies to speak of, now is the time to focus solely on defending the home soil as indeed is done by many countries in Europe. Switzerland is frequently cited as an example to follow. For a country that a century ago possessed the largest empire in history, this change in thinking is truly astonishing. Yet, this could help forge all the disparate peoples of the country together into a 'post-imperial identity' and achieve that great 'big society' goal of the political establishment and indeed of society at large, that of social cohesion under a common citizenship.

Published in Huffington Post on 7th April 2014

The Law Society should withdraw its guidance on sharia law (letter to Telegraph)



The Law Society should withdraw its guidance on sharia law

Parallel legal systems should be prohibited

6:59AM GMT 27 Mar 2014

Comments84 Comments

SIR – Sadikur Rahman expresses concern at the Law Society’s choice to issue a practice note to solicitors for drawing up “sharia-compliant” wills that conform to Islamic law. If we are serious about having the same law for all, then parallel legal systems must be prohibited, including all religious courts and tribunals.

Sharia laws are inherently discriminatory. This was recognised by Britain’s highest court in 2008, when the government attempted to remove a woman and child to Lebanon. In a 5—0 ruling, the Law Lords argued that there was no place in sharia for the equal treatment of the sexes and it would be a “flagrant breach” of the European Convention on Human Rights for the government to remove a woman to Lebanon, where she would lose custody of her son because of sharia-inspired family law.

Unfortunately, in the same year, Lord Chief Justice Phillips, who later became President of the British Supreme Court, mistakenly argued the opposite during a speech, “Equality before the law”, at the East London Muslim Centre: “There is no reason why principles of sharia law, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution.” This doubtless encouraged advocates of sharia-compliant laws and the Law Society.

The Law Society must withdraw its discriminatory and divisive guidance.


Published in The Daily Telegraph on 27th March 2014

Similarities Between Abbas and Buthelezi



When Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority (PA), visited South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s memorial, he aroused controversy at a press conference on 11th December by declaring:

‘No we do not support the boycott of Israel … But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal. … But we don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel’ (Quoted in The Star, South Africa, 11th December 2013).

Despite the growing influence of the BDS (Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions) campaign against Israel (for example, on the 9th February, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that ‘Netanyahu convenes ministers to discuss growing Israel economic boycott threats’) Abbas and the PA have never supported it – so his comments were a confirmation of this stance. This flows from the Oslo Accords of September 1993 (Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements) to which Abbas is strongly wedded. Article XI concerns Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation in Economic Fields; Annex III concerns the Protocol on Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation in Economic and Development Programs and Annex IV concerns the Protocol on Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation Concerning Regional Development Programs.

Given Oslo’s stress on cooperation, acts of non-cooperation such as BDS are excluded. Pioneered in apartheid South Africa, the aim of BDS by civil society is to apply non-violent measures – including rigorously and consistently exposing the crimes of the targeted regime – to fight against injustice and repression where the government concerned refuses to undertake meaningful reforms, and where international institutions are unwilling to robustly intervene. Effective BDS, therefore, implies harming a regime in order to force change. Abbas and the PA diligently adhere to this interpretation so not only do they oppose BDS, they also refrain from diligently publicising the myriad breaches of international laws and conventions by Israel.

It is somewhat ironic that Mahmoud Abbas made his position clear in South Africa whilst his hosts and people across the world were mourning the loss – but also celebrating the life – of a man and his movement which had most forcefully pushed for BDS against the apartheid regime and helped bring it down. Another irony is that the apartheid structures were dismantled soon after the signing of the Oslo Accords of 1993; clearly Yasser Arafat and the PLO leadership had chosen a very different path to that taken by Mandela and his ANC colleagues. Indeed, rather than emulating Mandela, both Arafat and Abbas followed the path of Mandela’s rival, leader of the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

During the 1980s, as the anti-apartheid struggle intensified, buttressed by an international campaign for BDS, Buthelezi’s IFP not only opposed BDS against the apartheid state, but collaborated with the South African Defence Force – which provided training for Zulu militias. Buthelezi had bought into the logic of autonomous ‘homelands’ for the African populations – known as ‘Bantustans’. All rulers of homelands were reliant on the South African state and economy for their survival but, for such collaboration, they were denounced by anti-apartheid campaigners both at home and abroad as agents of the apartheid regime, particularly Buthelezi since he was by far the most powerful leader of a Bantustan (KwaZulu).

Abbas and the Palestine Authority have adopted a similar position: the PA relies on the Israeli economy to fund it, and its leaders have benefited from such Israeli largesse. However, unlike the IFP, the PA’s security forces do not and have not received training from the Israeli Defence Force as this would be deemed too politically risky given that it would display open collaboration with the forces of occupation. So, in the main, Americans (via the United States Security Coordinator (USSC)) train and equip the Palestinian Authority Security Forces. It matters little, however, given that Israel benefits from the security umbrella provided by the PA in the West Bank which has, de facto, taken over responsibility for the occupation from the Israel Defence Force, largely paid for by the Americans with help from the EU.

There is another important similarity: just as the South African state used Buthelezi and the IFP as an ideological shield against proponents of BDS, so Israel is similarly finding Abbas and the PA helpful in this regard.

Buthelezi’s politics quickly unravelled following the release of Mandela in 1990 and South Africa’s first democratic elections of 1994 which led to the dismantling of apartheid structures and concomitant Bantustan policy. However, in order to ensure a peaceful transition, the new ANC government made generous concessions to Inkatha, including significant provincial autonomy to KwaZulu and making Buthelezi Minister of Home Affairs. But all involved in the anti-apartheid struggle were agreed that Buthelezi and his IFP had played a treacherous, anti-liberation role. Indeed, as far back as 1980, on the 25th anniversary of its Freedom Charter, the ANC accused Buthelezi of complicity in the crime of apartheid, and labelled him a ‘police agent’, ‘a collaborator’, and ‘jail warder’.

So it is paradoxical to find that the main organisation in the world’s oldest liberation struggle – that of the Palestinians – is following the path of a man and his organisation that those at the forefront of the great anti-apartheid struggle had so clearly and cogently denounced as an enemy agent. They might not expect Mahmoud Abbas to be another Mandela but they would most likely be bemused by him being another Buthelezi.

Yet, the similarity between Abbas and Buthelezi throws up an enormous difference between the two liberation struggles. On the one hand, Buthelezi’s collaborationist politics were pretty marginal – the IFP could not block the isolation of South Africa and of it being reduced to a pariah state, brought about by the BDS campaign. In stark contrast, the collaborationist politics of Abbas are conducted by the leader of what has historically been the largest Palestinian organisation (PLO/Fatah) and, in terms of relative size, equivalent to the ANC. That said, a core reason as to why Fatah lost to Hamas in the 2006 elections was precisely because many of its supporters realised that it had completely abandoned resistance for collaboration. Moreover, in the absence of elections since, its support will doubtless now be a fraction of what it had been.

It is fair, therefore, to argue that the ‘Buthelezi path’ taken by Mahmoud Abbas and the PA has led to the continuing deterioration in the situation of the Palestinians, with no sign of an independent Palestinian state in sight. Moreover, the illegal Jewish settler population in the West Bank has risen steadily: from 111,000 in 1993 to about 500,000 at the beginning of 2014. But, such counter-productive politics are not just the preserve of the present leadership. In an article in a 2001 issue of the New Left Review written towards the end of his life, the Palestinian-American academic and activist Edward Said pulled no punches regarding the degradation of the PLO/Fatah:

 ‘As for the Oslo “peace process” that began in 1993, it has simply repackaged the occupation, offering a token 18 per cent of the lands seized in 1967 to the corrupt Vichy-like Authority of Arafat, whose mandate has essentially been to police and tax his people on Israel’s behalf. After eight fruitless, immiserating years of further ‘negotiations’, orchestrated by a team of US functionaries which has included such former lobby staffers for Israel as Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross, more abuses, more settlements, more imprisonments, more suffering have been inflicted on the Palestinians’.

However, it is important to acknowledge that the problems do not stem from the Oslo Accords but go back much further. For example, in his book Confronting Empire, the writer and activist Eqbal Ahmad (who had been a close ally of Edward Said) relays meetings he had had during the 1970s with Yasser Arafat and other PLO leaders (at Arafat’s request). He arrives at the following conclusion following a meeting in the mid-1970s (the exact date is not given):

 ‘They [the PLO leadership] listened respectfully … Some gave lectures that were essentially ignorant … I had seen enough. They defeated themselves more than the Israelis did’.

This might be an unduly harsh judgement but is one that South Africans who had been at the forefront of their liberation struggle would not find too surprising: on the contrary, they would argue that had they followed the collaborationist path of Buthelezi and the IFP, apartheid would still be in existence today. This hugely important lesson has not been learned by Mahmoud Abbas and the PA.

Published in Counterpunch 21st March 2014

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