Sunday, 29 August 2010

'Police chiefs misled Birmingham city council over Muslim CCTV'

The Guardian carry a detailed report here about last week's city council scrutiny inquiry into 'Project Champion'. Below is the presentation made on behalf of the Sparkbrook Respect party councillors to the committee hearing.

"On behalf of all three Respect councillors in Sparkbrook I welcome the opportunity to give evidence to this hearing. We believe the issues surrounding Project Champion, and its successor, are of critical importance to this city. They raise fundamental questions about trust in West Midlands Police, community cohesion, civil liberties, and how we combat the threat of terrorism."

Saturday, 28 August 2010

BNP in crisis

This cheered me up. Apparently the BNP are wracked by debt, internal feuds, resignations, and lawsuits for unfair dismissal. They have been thrown into crisis by the loss of their 28 councillors at the general election and the success of anti-fascist campaigning. You can read more here. Hopefully it won't be long before the EDL follow suit. Best wishes to anti-fascist campaigners in Bradford today.

Friday, 27 August 2010

France's ban on the veil has nothing to do with women's emancipation

"If there were any doubt about the motivation for the ban on Islamic face coverings passed by the French national assembly in July, the Sarkozy government's actions in August have laid them to rest.

The issue isn't women's emancipation, for all the pious rhetoric we've heard about equality being a "primordial value" of the French nation. It isn't the danger that terrorists and robbers will hide behind burqas in order to blow up buildings or rob banks – the exemptions in the law for motorcycle helmets, fencing and ski masks, and carnival costumes quickly dispel that argument. And it isn't about enforcing openness and transparency as an aspect of French culture.

Outlawing what the French call "le voile int├ęgral" is part of a campaign to purify and protect national identity, purging so-called foreign elements – although many of these "foreigners" are actually French citizens – from membership in the nation. It is part of a cynical bid by Sarkozy and his party to capture the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim animus that has brought electoral gains to the rightwing National Front party and to disarm the Socialist opposition, which has so far offered little resistance to the xenophobic campaign."


Thanks to the invaluable Islamophobia Watch website for highlighting this excellent article from Joan Wallach Scott, author of The Politics of the Veil.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

'All in this together'

The ConDem coalition says it may cut government departmental spending by between 25% and 40%. Both Cameron and Clegg claim these are fair cuts, 'we're all in this together' is their matra. In fact, the Financial Times reports that the poorest 20% in society rely on public services for over 60% of their incomes, but the richest 20% are barely affected, being 5 times less dependent on public spending for their incomes. Following yesterday's report stripping away government spin about the budget being 'progressive', it is clear that it will be poorest in Birmingham who will be hit hardest by government cuts to public spending.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Drop aid, not bombs

This morning's news once again highlights the desperate need for aid in Pakistan. Millions are going without because of a lack of helicopters for transportation. Imagine the political impact across the Muslim world if the American and British governments announced a ceasefire in the war in Afghanistan to divert resources for aid relief? That would win hearts and minds. But while the people of Pakistan have been let down by world leaders, the public's response to their plight has been uplifting. And no where more so than in Britain. According to one leading aid agency, the British public is 'leading the way and shaming politicians across the world with the generosity of its response to devastating floods in Pakistan.' You can read the full story here.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Empty words?

Despite everything that has been written and said about the death of Khyra Ishaq,  Birmingham City Council are considering axing up to 36 front-line staff who work with vulnerable children. How can such cuts possibly better protect those children most in need of council protection? I have said before I was afraid Con Dem cuts are putting vulnerable children more at risk. I hope I am proved wrong. I fear I won't be.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Birmingham hit hardest by housing benefits cuts

According to the homelessness charity Crisis, Birmingham will be hit hardest by Con Dem plans to axe £1.8bn of housing benefits. Nearly 19,000 of the poorest households in the city will be directly affected, more than any other local authority in the country.

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, sums up the impact: 

"The Government promised that in cutting the deficit it would protect the most vulnerable, but these figures show that thousands of those who are in greatest need will have their income hit when they can least afford it. As vulnerable private tenants see their income slashed they will inevitably fall into rent arrears or debt and face the spectre of homelessness.

The Government must totally rethink these cuts now. Not only would a surge in homelessness cause damage for generations to come in the West Midlands, it is also counter-productive. The costs to society of somebody who has lost their home are huge compared to keeping someone in accommodation."

Sunday, 22 August 2010

'US troops to leave Iraq'. Not quite...

50,000 US troops are still to remain. And part of the void left by the departing troops is to be filled by private security contractors. According to one estimate there is already in Iraq a 'surrogate army' of 150,000 private security contractors.

The US troop withdrawal is more about appearance than reality. And that reality is the primacy of US strategic interests.

Iraq commentator Michael Schwartz points out while the US been forced to scale back from its 'most ambitious hopes..to transform Iraq into a ferocious ally of the U.S. and Israel, and use it to attack Iran. They still want to have 50,000 troops in Iraq as a strike force in the Middle East and for Iraq to be a linchpin of American control over oil production…The goal remains to pump 12 million barrels a day out of Iraq to break OPEC's control of the international oil system.'

Hannah Gurman blows away the smoke about the US reducing troop numbers because its occupation has been a 'success'. Sanitation, safe drinking water, a regular supply of electricity remain for millions of Iraqis a memory of what life was like under Sadaam. The country's healthcare system, once the pride of the region, has been literally taken part; 'new studies reveal soaring cancer rates in Fallujah and other cities that were heavily targeted by U.S. forces. This news comes against the backdrop of a mass exodus of doctors from the country. Twenty thousand of Iraq’s 34,000 registered physicians left Iraq after the U.S. invasion. As of April 2009, fewer than 2,000 returned, the same as the number who were killed during the course of the war. The shortage of doctors in Iraq is just one facet of the much bigger population displacement as a result of the war. As of January 2009, there were still 2 million Iraqi refugees living outside of the country, and as of April 2010, there were 2,764,000 internally displaced people living in Iraq.' 

The human cost of this war to the people of Iraq has been anything between 5-10 million people 'murdered, maimed, homeless, unjustly imprisoned, tortured and impoverished'. Tell that to Tony Blair at his next book signing.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

EDL Bradford ban

The EDL have been banned from marching in Bradford on 28 August. After a campaign supported by many thousands of people, the Home Office has agreed to back calls from Bradford Council to prohibit the march.

When the EDL first came to Birmingham, the police went out of their way to claim it was just another political protest; taking the claims of non-violence from the EDL at face value. Since then the EDL gangs have shown their true colours, not least in Dudley where they once again went on the rampage in an attempt to attack the local Muslim community. Freedom of expression is an important right. But nobody should have the right to organise a campaign of violence and intimidation against others because of their religious beliefs. The true nature of these thugs is finally dawning on the authorities. I hope that this ban will allow the police to do their job and protect Bradford from violent racist gangs seeking to provoke a dangerous confrontation.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Thatcherism with piety


There has been much in the media about the ConDem's first 100 days. Playwright David Hare eloquently and succinctly captures the sickly essence of what this government is all about.

'At the end of this decade, we hit a perfect storm. A financial crisis, precipitated by banking malpractice, coincided with the moment at which New Labour had diluted the principles of social democracy to a point where its founding ideals ceased to be recognisable. When organised finance and the public interest came into direct conflict, the left had neither an analysis nor a coherent plan beyond firefighting. Into this vacuum stepped David Cameron.

In one sense, he's a traditional blame-the-victim Thatcherite. But his special gift is to gild Thatcherism with piety: not just "do this", but "do this, it's good for you". Margaret Thatcher at least had the courage to despise the poor. Cameron befriends them by sticking hymn sheets in their hands while rifling their pockets. She adored the rhetoric of class war; he indulges the blokey pleasures of exhortation. He is a man who because he cannot imagine chooses instead to preach. Internationally, he is null.

Michael Forsyth was asked on Question Time whether the economic crisis wasn't providing visceral Thatcherites with the perfect cover to fulfil their dream of destroying the welfare state. "No, no," he said, "this is economics, not ideology." Cameron was asked whether, when the crisis was over, he planned to restore the familiar provisions of public service. He said not. Somewhere between the hypocrisy and the realism of these two irreconcilable positions lies the future of Cameronism.'

Thursday, 19 August 2010

A con artist at work

It's a good job it is Ramadan and I'm fasting, or I would have choked on my cornflakes reading this. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is trying to convince us that Britain will be a fairer place after slashing public spending by up to 40%. Really? Deprived inner city areas like Sparkbrook ward will be better off without the Building Schools for the Future programme and free school meals? Or without the winter fuel allowance? Or without more active state support and intervention to reduce the chronic levels of unemployment that already exist?

These cuts are hitting the poorest and most deprived areas hardest and Nick Clegg has betrayed those who voted Lib Dem in the mistaken belief they would help make Britain a fairer place.

The good news is that more and more Lib Dem voters are seeing through the lies they were spun before the election.  Sky News has the Lib Dems at just 8% and in the latest You Gov poll '59 per cent of respondents believe the Lib Dems had sold out their principles in joining the coalition, 62 per cent said it was no longer clear what they stood for, and only 14 per cent believed the coalition would last more than four years'. The sight of Clegg pontificating about cracking down on tax avoidance while hiring tax avoider Phillip Green as his 'efficiency adviser' is enough to turn anyones stomach.

The longer this government goes unchecked the more they will roll back all the gains made by past generations that really helped to make Britain a more equal society. And make no mistake that is the Tory agenda. They are 21st century Thatcherites, and nastier with it. The Lib Dems are the soft underbelly of this coalition. If the new Thatcherites are to be stopped, then cracks have to be opened up in this government. It is imperative that the Lib Dems are made to pay a heavy price at the ballot box.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Today's Advice Bureaux

Will be held  between 11am & 12 noon at Sultan Bahu Trust, 17-21 Ombersley Road, B12. If you have a problem you need help with, just turn up, you don't need to book an appointment in advance.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Save our Connexions service

Every day brings more tales of job losses at the hands of the Tories and their Lib Dem lackeys. Young people are going to be hit hard as job opportunities dry up, and more people with good grades are going to find there is no university place available for them.

Most people would probably think this was just the moment to boost advice and support services to help young people into work, education or training. For the Tory and Lib Dem wreckers on Birmingham City Council it is just another chance to take an axe to public services.

All 270 staff at the Connexions service in the city have now been issued with redundancy notices. Connexions sees hundreds of young people every week, helping them find the right job or course for them, and helping to keep them on track. Now that service faces closure or savage cuts.

The trade union UNISON is launching a campaign to save the service and the jobs that will be affected. On Thursday 19 August, the day the A-level results are released, campaigners will be leafleting and gathering petition signatures outside their offices, including at the Broad Street HQ (100 Broad Street,B15).

UNISON is asking for support, and has set up a Facebook group - Save our Connexions Service. To find out more, contact connexions@birminghamunison.org.uk

Monday, 16 August 2010

First the good news

It is reported that an oil field with up to 1.8 billion barrels of oil may have been found in the north of Afghanistan. The country may have up to 1 trillion dollars worth of mineral resources. As an indication of the potential for rebuilding a nation wracked by decades of war, it should be good news.

But will these natural resources remain as national assets to be exploited for the benefit of all? With vast armies from oil-hungry nations already dug in for a long war, the chances can't be very high.

Many of us believed that the invasion of Iraq had more than a little to do with the enormous oil reserves in the hands of state-owned Iraqi companies. Tony Blair, while compiling evidence of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, tried to reassure a sceptical public. Back in 2003, he said, "Oil revenues, which people falsely claim that we want to seize, should be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people". It wasn't believeable then, and it isn't believable now. Just a few years later, draft legislation on the Iraqi oil industry sought to pave the way for privatisation, opening the door for American and British oil companies to move in.

If the USA is looking for a way out of the mess it has made of Afghanistan, let's hope the smell of oil won't persuade it that it needs to stay that bit longer. The discovery of extensive natural wealth in Afghanistan should be a blessing not a curse for its long suffering population.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Pakistan floods fundraising event

Later today Islamic Relief are holding a fundraising event for the victims of the floods in Pakistan. The Grand Iftar will start at 6pm, Crystal Plaza, Armoury Road, Small Heath, Birmingham B11 2RQ. Tickets are £10. There will be a three course meal plus auction and eye witness account. To book ring 0782 715 8061/0121 380 2380. It promises to me a very large event for a very worthwhile cause. Please give generously.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Desi Download - The Pakistan Floods

The floods in Pakistan and the response of England's Pakistani communities is the subject of a special half hour edition of Desi Download - the pick of the week radio programme and podcast produced by the BBC Local Radio Asian Community Specialist team. It includes eyewitness accounts, reaction from those still searching for loved ones and the relief effort being coordinated in Mosques and community centres from Scunthorpe to Southampton. There is also reaction to President Zardari's visit to Birmingham, including the first media interview with the shoe throwing protester who's actions brought the rally to a standstill. To listen to Desi Download - The Pakistan Floods - click on this link. It is only available online for a few more days so make sure to catch it. And please donate generously to aid organisations. Oxfam are one of the many organisations doing heroic work.

LATEST UPDATE: The Desi Download link has been corrected.

UPDATE: Apparently the link no longer works. The item is supposed to be available until Tuesday and I have contacted the producers for an update. In the meantime, check out this latest report on the floods from the BBC.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Soccer Mums

On Wednesday night my family and I attended our first ever England football game. It was a really enjoyable and interesting experience. I owe a big thanks to Mark Perryman and his Philosophy Football colleagues (in the photo with me and my boys) for making it happen.

Considering the negative publicity about how the crowd were going to react after the disappointment of the World Cup, I was surprised the atmosphere on entering the stadium was pleasant and warm. Although the crowds were not as mixed as what you would see on a typical London street, there were lots of people of different ages and backgrounds.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Ramadan Kareem

Ramadan started this week and the next month is a very special one in the Islamic calendar. For Muslim families everywhere it is a time for reflection. It is a time when we fast throughout the month from sun rise to sun set. That is no mean feat especially in Summer months!

The physical discipline and detox involved is very much linked to a focus on spirituality and emotional connectedness to others, especially those who have less. So the idea is that less really is more - more inner strength, more empathy and more inner peace and satisfaction. This is of course the opposite of what advertisers encourage when they seek to create ever more 'need' for material things  so that our greed - whether for food, or the latest fad is constantly fed. By creating a sense of dissatisfaction we want more but are still often left with a sense of unease and emptiness.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Talking to the enemy

The situation in Afghanistan continues to depress. Civilian causalities have risen dramatically and the war is getting more brutal. Yesterday's media carried this shocking account of the flogging and murder of a pregnant Afghan woman by the Taliban for allegedly having an 'illicit affair'. Western policy is failing and talks with the Taliban are inevitable. Later today BBC Radio 4 broadcast the first of three programmes on conflict resolution entitled Talking to the Enemy. The series looks very interesting and includes an interview with Alastair Crooke from Conflict Forum. Part one is broadcast tonight at 20:45pm, 2nd and 3rd episodes on the 18th and 25th August.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Countering the cuts myths

There is a growing amount of powerful analysis on the web taking apart the propaganda behind government cuts. The latest Red Pepper carries a succinct critique of some the myths being used to justify them, especially around the issue of debt. My Respect colleague Andy Newman does likewise. I stumbled across The Other Taxpayers Alliance website which is worth bookmarking. And the economist Mick Burke sent me a link to this LA Times story about Ireland, held up by some on the right as a successful example of how slash and burn policies can revive the economy. The reality is somewhat different, as Ireland finds itself 'with unemployment exceeding 13%, consumer demand crippled, and growing concern that it has been sucked into a downward spiral from which escape grows more difficult by the day.' 

We are all having to become economists these days and these are just a taster of some of the useful resources on the net to help us do us. If you have any others to recommend, please email me the link at: yaqoobsalma@yahoo.co.uk

Monday, 9 August 2010

Can you pass the terrorism quiz?

Who said 'Afghan freedom fighters are an inspiration to those who love freedom'? Do you know how many suicide bombings Iraq experienced before the 2003 US invasion? True or false: Revenge is an important cause of terrorism?

Informed Comment sets the questions. You might be surprised at the answers.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

We should listen to Tony's call

With the announcements of £87.5 million worth of cuts to Midland hospitals, Cameron's attack on council tenants, and the closure of children’s nurseries across the city, the ConDem onslaught continues apace. There is a desperate need for a huge public campaign of resistance to it. I was glad therefore to add my name to Tony Benn’s rallying call and I was encouraged by Hilary Wainwright’s excellent article in the Guardian. It was not profligate public spending that created this economic mess. It was banker’s greed and irresponsibility. How can it be right that all the rest of us have to pay the price for that? We should listen to, and echo, Tony’s call.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Vacuous feminism

I know it is a bit late in the day but I have just come across this brilliantly funny demolition of Sex in the City 2 by movie critic Mark Kermode. If you have already gone to see the film, no doubt you will fully emphathise. If you have not, and are waiting for the DVD, his message is, protect your brain and don't bother. Take ten minutes out and enjoy….

Thursday, 5 August 2010

'Take them down!'

You can read a report about last night's Police Authority meeting here. Once again, the community sent a clear and loud message about what they think of spy cameras.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Get the story right!

I see the Birmingham Mail are continuing to create confusion about the nature of the campaign against Project Champion by blurring the distinction between CCTV cameras and ANPR cameras. Neither my opposition to Project Champion, nor that of the Birmingham Against Spy Cameras campaign, is about opposing CCTV cameras per say. It is about the use of ANPR cameras which have a specific anti-terrorist surveillance remit. We believe Project Champion undermines civil liberties, community cohesion and trust in the police, by making the Muslim community a 'suspect community'.

The issue will get another airing tonight at 7pm in a public consultation meeting at the Bordesley Centre, which is at the top of the Stratford Road by the Camp Hill roundabout. I would encourage everyone to attend.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

A milllion voices for a million homes

Recently I received in the post a pamphlet from the public sector union UNISON about their campaign for affordable housing. Entitled, ‘Unlock the door! – a million voices for a million homes’ it is excellent publicity in support of a very important cause.

As UNISON West Midlands Regional Secretary Roger McKenzie points out in an accompanying letter to councillors, the National Housing Federation estimates that the number of affordable homes built this year could slump by 65%. For the many thousands of people in Birmingham languishing on housing waiting lists, this is desperate news. It is almost unbearable to have to break it to those who come to my surgery fraught with anxiety about how much longer they will have to live in overcrowded conditions that this government is going to worsen their plight.

Yet, there is a solution that could help resolve this immediate crisis. There are 62,000 privately owned empty properties in the West Midlands. As UNISON points out, ‘what is needed is a fiscal stimulus that encourages property owners to get their empty homes back into use and help for councils and housing associations to enable them to help’. For a longer term solution, we also need a house building programme. And before anyone says we can’t afford it, such a programme makes sound economic sense. The House Builders Federation estimate that for every 10,000 additional homes built an extra 15,000 direct jobs are created in the construction industry.

UNISON are campaigning for a government commitment to deliver one million affordable homes across the UK by 2015. You can support their call for more affordable housing campaign by signing their online petition here. You can also support the campaign by getting your MP to support Early Day Motion 255 calling for the government to safeguard the building of social rent and affordable homes which, so far, only a few of Birmingham's MP's have signed in support.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Support the Pakistan floods crisis appeal

As the scale of the human tragedy caused by the floods in Pakistan increases, the Pakistani community here is digging deep to support relief efforts. With over 1,100 dead, millions displaced, and the rains worsening, the victims need all the help they can get. One of the best and most respected charities in Birmingham helping to fundraise is Islamic Relief. You can donate to them by ringing 0121 446 5682 or via their website. Please give generously.

'Nick Clegg's shameful U-turn on cuts'

New Statesman editor Mehdi Hasan maps Nick Clegg's journey from opposition to the Tories' 'macho' cuts before the election, to his enthusiastic support for them afterwards. It is well worth the read for a reminder of the way Lib Dems voters have been deceived. I am not surprised they are down to 12% in the opinion polls.