Thursday, 7 July 2011

Time to take a step back

This week I told party members, friends and supporters of my decision to resign as the Councillor for Sparkbrook. It has not been an easy decision, but it is one that I have had to make in the interests of my health.

For some time now those close to me have been very aware that I have been battling with health issues. Unfortunately over the past 12 months it has taken a turn for the worse. I have found it increasingly difficult to keep up with my very busy schedule, and to satisfactorily fulfil the commitments that my role demands.

As a result of my worsening health I simply cannot continue to represent Sparkbrook in the way that I think its people deserve.

I was elected as a councillor in 2005, and again in 2010, and I have always felt it was a real privilege to work for Sparkbrook. There are so many examples of initiative and commitment, and so many people who come together to achieve better things for the community.

To all those who I have worked with over the years, and to those who have campaigned, supported and voted for me, I offer my sincere and humble gratitude.

I am proud of our work as Respect Party councillors since 2005; proud that we stood up to the parties of war and big business; and proud of the representation we gave to people who had been let down by the big parties who took them for granted.

For the time being, I have to take a step back and give myself the time and space to concentrate on regaining my health. However, I am not retiring from politics just yet! I still have things to say and - health permitting - I hope to continue with occasional media appearances, writing and public speaking.

I may have been forced to resign as a councillor. But I remain as committed as ever to the struggle for a world free of war, racism and poverty.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Fighting 'hate speech' smears on Sheikh Salah

Writing in the Guardian newspaper Hanan Zoabi, a member of the Knesset, where she represents the Balad Party, asks how Sheikh Raed Salah's "struggle for equality" has become a "form of racism?"...To answer Zoabi's questions and to explain the extraordinary decisions to ban, arrest and deport the Palestinian leader Sheikh Raed Salah from Britain it is necessary to understand the long standing role of influential pro-Israel, neo-conservative lobby groups in Westminster and Washington.
More from Bob Lambert here.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Public sector workers are fighting for us all

When hundreds of thousands of public sector workers go on strike, the government should take note. These are not the ‘militants’, the ‘extremists’ or the ‘bully boys’ that feature in the fantasies of the Tory media.

These are hard-working, mostly low paid, men and women who keep our vital public services going despite inadequate resources and ever worsening conditions. When these people, who are at the heart of our communities, feel they have no other choice but to walk out, we should all realise that there is a serious grievance that must be addressed.

Protest today at arrest of leading Palestinian activist

Protests have been called across the country in response to the arrest of leading Palestinian activist Sheik Raed Salah in London. He had been due to speak at a meeting in the House of Common this evening organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign attended by Labour MP's including, Jeremy Corbyn and Birmingham's Richard Burden.

A vigil is being held at 6.30pm today outside Waterstones in the city centre. Please email the Home Secretary and request a reconsideration of the deportation order to allow a court appeal. Call the Rt Hon Theresa May on 02072195206 or email at:

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Mental health care in crisis

This week my Politics & Media show on the Islam Channel examined mental health provision after a warning by Professor Dinesh Bhugra, the outgoing president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, that overcrowded and understaffed psychiatric wards are leaving patients fearful for their safety and unable to make proper recoveries.

I was joined in the studio by Polly Falconer, Head of Mental Health Training at the Afiya Trust and Ayesha Aslam, a psychotherapist who runs Sakoon Muslim Counseling services.

Parts 1 & 2 below. More online later.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Alice Walker to join aid convoy to Gaza

"It is justice and respect that I want the world to dust off and put – without delay, and with tenderness – back on the head of the Palestinian child. It will be imperfect justice and respect because the injustice and disrespect have been so severe. But I believe we are right to try."
More here.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Advice Surgery

Today's advice surgery is at 11.00am at Sultan Bahu Trust, 17-21 Ombersley Road, Birmingham, B12. Map here.

Monday, 20 June 2011

I will be interviewing Billy Hayes later...

Later today I will be in London to record my Islam Channel show. One of my guests this week is Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU).

Billy will be talking about the government's austerity agenda and union resistance to it, and its attack on multiculturalism.

Billy is outspoken critic of the David Cameron's 'muscular liberalism'. (Read his latest comments here and follow his blog here).

The programme will be broadcast tonight between 7 & 8pm.

100 women take part in Slutwalk

Despite the poor weather around 100 women joined Saturday's Slutwalk. The Birmingham Mail have a report here. I went with my family and thoroughly enjoyed taking part.

It is clear from the national and global reaction to the idea that a new generation of young impressive feminist activists are finding their voice.

Well done to the organisers and special thanks to Olivia Sparrow for the photos.

Why we are losing the war in Afghanistan

Having blundered in, the west found it had unwittingly taken sides in the complex Afghan civil war that has been running since the 1970s, siding with the north against the south, town against country, secularism against Islam, Tajiks against Pashtuns. We installed a government and trained an army that in many ways discriminated against the Pashtuns. It is the largest ethnic group in the country yet, under Karzai, Pashtuns from the south make up only 3% of the Afghan National Army. Not surprisingly, almost all Pashtuns supported the insurgency.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Brian Haw RIP

Some sad news. After a long illness the peace campaigner Brian Haw has died. Brian was the instigator on June 2 2001 of the peace camp opposite parliament. He maintained the camp for 10 years, literally around the clock, in opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Explaining his motivation, Brian said, 'the children of Iraq and other countries were every bit as valuable and worthy of love as my precious wife and children. I want to go back to my own kids and look them in the face again, knowing that I've done all I can to try and save the children of Iraq and other countries who are dying because of my government's unjust, amoral, fear - and money-driven policies'.

For his conscience and dedication, we are all in his debt. May he rest in peace.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Solidarity with Saudi women car drivers

The struggle for women's rights in Saudi Arabia put down an important marker on Friday when at least 29 women defied the country's de facto ban on driving.

The campaign has been inspired by Manal al-Sharif, a young mum and computer expert who has received international attention, and a week in jail, for posting a film of herself driving on YouTube.

Although women are not formally banned from driving, to all intensive purposes they are. Women who drive get harassed and arrested by the authorities. In 1990 50 Saudi women were sacked from their jobs and banned from foreign travel for organising a similar protest.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Support the Slutwalk

Health permitting, this Saturday I will be speaking at the 'Slutwalk' in Birmingham city centre.

I will be taking part for one simple reason; there is no place in a civilised society for sexism and violence against women.

And it is simply unacceptable to blame women for male violence against us, irrespective of what we wear or how we act.

The view that women can be at least partly to blame for being raped is widespread.

According to an Amnesty International survey, about 1/3 of people think women are partly to blame for being raped if they were under the influence of alcohol, had been flirting, or were dressed 'provocatively' at the time of the incident.

The consequence of these kinds of views is that they help create a culture which helps legitimises physical and sexual assault against women.

And the statistics are shocking. Globally, 'up to 6 out of every 10 women experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime'.

In the UK an estimated 3 million women experience violence every year, and many have to live every day with the legacy of violence from their past.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A Sunday bike ride

Sparkbrook Neighbourhood Forum in conjunction with Saheli Women's Group and Push Bikes have organised another bike ride for this Sunday, 19th June.

They are meeting at 10am at the Mac in Cannon Hill Park and bikes can be hired for free.

These bikes rides are good fun but places are limited and they getting booked fast. For more information ring Razia Shabnam on 0121 772 1224.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

‘People are getting more and more afraid of each other’

Dutch Muslims and Jews unite to oppose ban on religious slaughter

In a sign of growing religious intolerance in Holland, the Dutch parliament is set to introduce a law which will essentially ban kosher and halal slaughter. The proposals has united a coalition of animal rights and anti-Muslim groups.

The measure is being viewed as part and parcel of a European wide attack on multiculturalism: ‘Many Jews and Muslims see the ban as part of a growing European hostility to immigration and diversity. Geert Wilders the far-right Dutch politician, has called for the Netherlands to ban the burka after France curbed the public wearing of the Islamic face veil; politicians including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s David Cameron have proclaimed the failure of multiculturalism; and anti-immigration parties such as Finland’s True Finns have been increasingly successful at the polls’.

The Amsterdam Jewish-Moroccan Council has organised protests against the law with ‘with imams and rabbis marching together in opposition to it'.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Prevent and Neo-Conservative Ideology

The Muslim Council of Britain are doing a great job collating commentary on Prevent. Bob Lambert is the latest to submit. Read his analysis here.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Equality Act is not just 'red tape'

As part of its initiative to abolish unnecessary bureaucracy, the government is asking whether the Equality Act 2010 should be scrapped.

It tells you all you need to know about this government’s attitude to equalities that they consider ‘red tape’ legislation designed to protect people from discrimination.

Tell them what you think, here.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

'Muslims call for action against hate crimes'

'Islamophobic attacks have been on the rise, with an increase in assaults, vandalised mosques and desecrated graves'. More here.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Homophobia in Tower Hamlets: how a small group of bigots are trying to stitch up the East London Mosque

The picture of Tower Hamlets as a hotbed of Islamically-inspired homophobic violence – which has previously been promoted by Johann Hari, Graeme Archer, and which the LGBT activists' statement now tries to uphold – is just a myth. There were far fewer homophobic crimes reported in Tower Hamlets last year than in Westminster or Islington, while the percentage increase was much less than in a number of other London boroughs. There is no evidence that it is Muslims who have been disproportionately responsible for the homophobic crimes committed in Tower Hamlets. Nor is there any indication that those members of the Bangladeshi community who have engaged in homophobic attacks did so because of their religious beliefs. But it becomes clear that the purpose of the LGBT activists' statement is not to provide an objective analysis of homophobic violence in Tower Hamlets. Rather, their aim is to smear the East London Mosque as its source.
Typically insightful analysis from Bob Pitt at Islamophobia Watch.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Responses to Prevent

Good article by Medhi Hassan in yesterday's Guardian and insightful observations from a variety of commentators on MCB's website. Read them here and here.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

Conspiracy theories are rife, and some people feel the need to share them with me all the time.

There was an interesting discussion on yesterday's Today programme about their growth and why otherwise sensible people sometimes believe them.

Jonathan Kay, author of 'Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America's Growing Conspiracist Underground', is the guest.

He admits he has never wins any arguments with conspiracy theorists, and describes the experience of engaging in one as descending into an never ending 'rabbit hole'.

Believe me, I know the feeling.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

'Birmingham universities rubbish claims of "complacency" at extremism'

TWO Birmingham universities have rubbished claims made by the Home Secretary of “complacency” in tackling radicalisation and Islamic extremism at UK universities. A Birmingham City University spokesman said: “We are confident that extremism is not a problem at this University; we offer a safe community for students, staff and visitors. We are fully informed on Home Office advice in this area and work closely with local agencies." A spokesman for Aston University said: “We feel fostering mutual respect and providing opportunities to discover more about different faiths and cultures is an extremely important step to helping avoid extremes of views.”

More here.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Cameron and Blair: the real counter-terrorism coalition

I will be commenting on the new Prevent report as soon as it is published today. This article by Dr Robert Lambert sets the scene. Bob is co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC) and former head of the Muslim Contact Unit in the Metropolitian Police. He is one of the most insightful and astute commentators around on anti-terrorist policy.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The rise of far right parties in Europe

Thanks to Islamaphobia Watch for highlighting this interesting article on the growth of the far right across Europe:

The success of many far-right parties is predicated on a significant public distrust of Muslims. Over half of Danes believe that Islam hinders social harmony; three-quarters of citizens from the former East Germany want to ‘seriously limit’ the practice of Islam; half of Britons associate Islam with terrorism; four in ten French people see Muslims living in their country as a ‘threat’ to their national identity; more than half of Austrians believe that ‘Islam poses a threat to the West and our familiar lifestyle’. 

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Support the Connexions service

More than a million young people are unemployed. Yet the government is taking an axe to Connexions, a vital service that helps young people find work, education and training.

An early day motion has been tabled in parliament that calls on the government to “reverse its policy and instead to provide sufficient funding to the Careers and Connexions Service to help our young people plan and organise their futures”.

The EDM, and the names of the MP’s who have signed it, can be viewed here.

If your MP hasn’t signed it yet, please contact them and ask for their support. You can contact your MP directly, using this website:

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Commemorating the Nakba

Thanks to Azim for sending me this film he made of last month's Nakba commemoration outside the Israeli embassy.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Tonight at the movies: Chronicle of Protest

Chronicle of Protest  is a new documentary about the movement against government spending cuts in the universities and beyond with students, activists and citizens of the real “big society”. 

Participants in the film include Terryl Bacon, Terry Eagleton, Mehdi Hasan, Joe Kelleher, Josie Long, Len McCluskey, Blake Morrison, Paul O’Prey, Nina Power, Michael Rosen, Lee Salter, Clifford Singer, Sly and Reggie, Mary Warnock and more. With songs by Banner Theatre.

The film starts at 7.30pm tonight. It will be introduced by director Michael Chanan and followed by discussion.

It is being screened at Birmingham Library Theatre

The event is organised Trestle Table Film Night in collaboration with the New Statesman and Roehampton University.

Tickets cost £4.

Newsnight interview Arundhati Roy

Thursday, 2 June 2011

University campuses are not 'hotbeds of radicalisation'

With the government set to release a revamped version of their counter radicalisation strategy, Prevent, I am expecting there to be new clamp downs on freedom of speech.

The 'mood music' for this has been created by right-wing think-tanks and commentators who have been creating the impression that our universities are virtual breeding grounds for violent extremism among Muslim students.

Well, not according to chief executive of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge.

In an interview in the Daily Telegraph she upholds freedom of speech, dismisses claims that 'that because wild things are said at university that automatically equates to radicalisation”, and cites advice from the security forces that “that there is not necessarily a link that they can prove between open debate in universities and violent extremism subsequently.”

More here.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Sparkbrook's secret admirer

Last night's 'Secret Millionaire' was a treat.

It featured the inspirational story of Aria Taheri.

Aria arrived in Birmingham over twenty years ago as an asylum seekers and has since become an IT millionaire.

Sparkbrook obviously had a big impact on Aria, (or 'Harry' as he called himself in the programme), when he first lived here all those years ago.

He was revisiting to see what the area was now like, and to see if with his wealth he could give back to a community that had given so much to him.

Not surprisingly, the experience of being an asylum seeker had a defining impact on the person Aria has become.

His visit to St Chad's Sanctuary (which is not in Sparkbrook, but never mind) to meet recent asylum seekers was moving.

Contrary to Sun-style headlines about asylum seekers sponging off the system, the vast majority just want the opportunity to better themselves.

As one Zimbabwean women that he spoke to said, 'give us chance to work - that's much much better. To be self sufficient is the most excellent thing'.

The organisation is maintained by the dedication and love of an Irish nun, Sister Margaret.

Aria's £15,000 donation will go a long way in helping her to continue providing invaluable support to one of the most vulnerable sections of our society.

Dynamic women doing fantastic work in the community was a feature of the programme, so it was no surprise to see Mary Mockbill appear!

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Announcement of new Gaza aid flotilla marks anniversary of Mavi Marmara attack

Today is the first anniversary of the Israeli massacre of nine Palestinian solidarity activists aboard the Mavi Marmara.

The Turkish ship was bringing humanitarian aid to the besieged population of Gaza.

Among those present were two friends of mine, Kevin Ovenden and Sarah Colborn.

The murders were a shocking blow to the international Palestinian solidarity movement, but it has since emerged unbowed and undeterred.

Turkish NGO's have announced plans for a new flotilla, comprising 15 ships and intending to bring 1500 human rights activists, politicians, artists, and journalists to Gaza this June.

There could be no better tribute to martyred Palestinian activists than to see the international solidarity movement they made the ultimate sacrifice for reemerging strengthened and unbowed.

Germany to go nuclear free

The German government has announced it intends to shut all its nuclear plants by 2022.

It intends to become a 'trail blazer' for renewable sources of energy.

At present nuclear energy provides 23% of Germany's total energy needs.

The change in policy comes against a background of Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster and pressure created by a powerful anti-nuclear movement in Germany.

The move has been widely welcomed, though not by everyone.

The utility companies are threatening legal action and have warned the phasing out of Germany's reliance on nuclear power will lead to winter black-outs.

This has been dismissed by the German government, who are planning their own green new deal, with massive investment  in more solar, wind and hydroelectric power.

At present Germany employs around 370,000 in the renewable energy sector. This is expected to increase significantly. As Chancellor Angela Merkal said:

"We believe that we can show those countries who decide to abandon nuclear power - or not to start using it - how it is possible to achieve growth, creating jobs and economic prosperity while shifting the energy supply toward renewable energies."

The counter argument is that whatever its dangers, the benefits of nuclear power outweighs them and help reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the warming the planet, causing floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

With more nuclear power plants planned in this country, we are led to believe that there is simply no alternative. There is a political consensus that nuclear power is intrinsic to meeting Britain's energy needs.

The issue has even divided stalwarts of the environmental movement, like George Monbiot and Caroline Lucas.

However, if an environmentally conscious country like Germany can decide to end its nuclear porgramme, and in a way that will create jobs and economic growth, isn't it time for policy makers here to start having a serious debate about our reliance on nuclear power, instead of just dismissing it?

Sunday, 29 May 2011

'There is nothing wrong with standing up for what you believe in'

Gil Scott-Heron, who died yesterday, was a poet, writer, musician and political activist. He combined them all to leave an indelible mark on the world of music.

As this Observer interview highlights, the experience of racism, and the struggle against it, was a defining influence throughout his life.

A pioneer of rap, though he 'often bristled at the suggestion', Gil Scott-Heron was one of those very rare musicians who's music captured the anger and disillusionment of black America in the 1970's and 80's, as the hopes of the civil rights movement receded.

He gave voice to an experience of African Americans, but his music and message appealed and inspired beyond.

Perhaps because of his own well documented problems with drug and alcohol abuse, he had insight and empathy with those who had fallen upon hard times and were a little bent and broken by the pressures of life.

Maybe it takes one poet to best appreciate another. If so, the last words belong to Benjamin Zephaniah, who described him as 'Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Bob Marley all mixed up'.

Somehow, the world today seems a lesser place without Gil Scott-Heron. May he Rest In Peace.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Rafah crossing reopens today

One of the most dramatic consequences of the overthrow of the Mubarak regime has been the decision of the Egyptian government to reopen the Rafah crossing. This is an important step in the lifting of the siege of Gaza which has been in place since June 2007. You can read Israeli and British coverage here and here. The video is from the Iranian news channel, Press TV.

Friday, 27 May 2011

'Obama, hands off our spring'

Soumaya Ghannoushi is one the most astute commentators on the Arab revolutions, and lots more besides. Yesterday's Guardian carried another excellent article from her, this time focusing on the reality behind the rhethoric of Obama's recent speech on the Middle East and the 'historic opportunity' it could provide for the United States. Read it here.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

'Judge waits for medical report on racist who threatened Birmingham councillor'

Around two years ago I was on the receiving end of racist and threatening abuse from a 'racist extremist'. Thankfully the police caught the individual in question and he was given a suspended 18 month jail sentence. Unfortunately, that sentence has not proven to be a sufficient deterrent, though it is possible the culprit is suffering from mental health problems. If that is the case, I sincerely hope he gets all the medical help he requires to help him recover. The Birmingham Post have the full story here.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Libyan war costs £38 million per week

The cost of the war in Libya is over £38 million a week, has already has topped £100 million after just two months, and is set to hit £1 billion by September. More here.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Justice for Stephen Lawrence

After 18 long years, the family and friends of Stephen Lawrence can now hope that a new trial will uncover who was responsible for his murder.

In the face of a terrible personal tragedy, his family fought for justice. Their campaign exposed a disastrous police investigation, and revealed just how much racism had infected the criminal justice system. But, as Sabby Dhalu from One Society Many Cultures explains, real reform is still needed to root out racism:

“Today’s decision would not have been possible, if not for the commitment of the family of Stephen Lawrence, who have had to overcome tragedy, heartbreak and institutional racism, and who are still pursuing justice which should be a basic human right

“The Lawrence family have had to contend with the racism both from Stephen’s murderers and from a police and criminal justice system that failed to appropriately investigate Stephen’s murder and pursue his killers.

“11 years ago the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry was a watershed moment for the anti-racist movement in Britain. It highlighted the depth of institutional racism in Britain’s criminal justice system, including the way the racial murder of a Black person was not treated with the same seriousness as other murders.

“However 11 years on, many of the recommendations in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report have not been implemented. The proposals were deemed necessary to reduce the inequalities of the criminal justice system, so should all be implemented.

“One Society Many Cultures calls on the government to take action to ensure the Stephen Lawrence report recommendations are carried out in full. We hope that today’s announcement of a new trial will lead to justice. Our thoughts are with the family of Stephen Lawrence. “

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

"Does the BBC have a problem with Muslims?"

I have been thinking about my appearance on the BBC Big Questions programme on Sunday to discuss the ‘future of British Islam’. I am not afraid of sharp debate, and don’t mind a bit of an argument.  But I had hoped for a positive discussion; one that tried to engage with the real lives of British Muslims, rather than dealing with endless stereotypes and slanders.

That’s a bit difficult, though, when the debate is summed up in the question, “does Britain have a problem with Muslims?” Islamophobia Watch take up this point in their review of the programme. (Does the BBC have a problem with Muslims?).

They argue that “...the very title illustrates how Islamophobic discourse has entered the mainstream. Can anyone imagine the BBC broadcasting a programme that addressed the question "Does Britain have a problem with Jews?" or "Does Britain have a problem with Blacks?"”.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Future of British Islam

As expected, yesterday's Big Questions debate about the future of British Islam got a bit lively at times! You can watch a recording here. It will be available online for another six days.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

I'm on The Big Questions, BBC 1 at 10am today

I will be contributing to a special debate on the future of British Islam. The other guests are Maajid Nawaz from Quilliam, Dr Taj Hargey and the journalist and broadcaster, Dame Ann Leslie.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Support the petition to halve household rubbish in Birmingham

Birmingham Friends of the Earth have recently launched an online petition calling on the city council to plan to halve the amount of household rubbish for disposal by 2020, through effective recycling and digestion of food waste. You can add your name to the petition here.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

'Ugandan parliament drops bill that would jail gay people for life'

Fantastic news! Lets keep the pressure on though by ensuring the online petition gets over 2 million signatures. Full story here.

12 hours to stop Uganda's anti-gay bill

The Uganidan Parliament could pass a law that imposes the death penalty for homosexuality.  An international outcry shelved this bill last year -- if we can ramp up the pressure again and keep the gay death penalty law from reaching a vote this week, it will die when Parliament closes. Click here to sign the petition.

Monday, 9 May 2011

"Post Osama bin Laden & the War on Terror"

I will be on my way to London shortly to record my weekly Politics & Media show for the Islam Channel. Not surprisingly, this week's topic will be looking at the wider implications of Osama bin Laden's death. Taking part in the discussion will be Dr Marie Breen-Smyth (Chair in International Politics, University of Surrey), Jonathan Birdwell (Violence & Extremism Programme, DEMOS), Murtaza Ali Shah (Geo TV and Jeng Newspapers) and Dr Sarah Ansari (Head of History Department at Royal Holloway, University of London). The programme is normally boadcast around 7pm.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Voters want Labour to step up anti-cuts fight

Birmingham voters delivered a strong message of opposition to the cuts last night, clearly rejecting the Tory-Lib Dem coalition that runs the city. Across the city, voters turned back to the Labour Party, which saw a massive gain of 14 seats.

Unfortunately one of those gains was in my own Sparkbrook ward. Mohammed Ishtiaq, who had held the seat for Respect since 2007, lost out to Labour.

We were well aware that there would be a big swing back to Labour once the Tories were in power, but it was still a very disappointing result.

That said, Ishtiaq’s vote still held up very strongly. With 3,413 votes he was only 100 short of the total that saw him elected in 2007.  In the context of the national Labour landslide, he really should be proud of the support he received.

Labour will take back control of the council in a year’s time. In opposition, they would only abstain on Tory budget proposals, while Respect councillors were the only ones to vote against. Many thousands of people voted Labour because they want them to step up the fight against Tory cuts. I hope they rise to this challenge, and we will support them if they do.

It was a long night, and any more analysis will have to wait. This morning, all I want to do is pay tribute to Mohammed Ishtiaq. He was an excellent councillor, hardworking and genuinely respected in the area for his commitment.  There will be many people in the ward who will be as sorry as we are that he was not re-elected.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Robert Fisk: 'Bin Laden died a failure, outstripped by history'

From today's Independent. Read it here.

'Birmingham reacts to bin Laden killing'

Read the Birmingham Post's article here.

George on bin Laden's death

"I despise Osama Bin Laden, the mediaeval obscurantist savage. The difference is I have always despised him, even when Britain and America were giving him weapons money diplomatic and political support."

That speech which won me the parliamentary debater of the year award was given on the recall of the commons after 9/11. Younger readers may be unaware that the Osama Bin Laden killed yesterday was once a key member of the western coalition fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. In fact one of the Rambo movies carried a dedication at it’s end saluting the “freedom fighters” he recruited and led.

It turns out that he was living a surprisingly comfortable life in a million dollar home near Islamabad where yesterday he met his end. As he had lived, by the sword, so he perished and could have had no complaints at being gunned down by Americans having inspired the slaughter of so many of them.

Monday, 2 May 2011

The death of Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden was an evil man. He directed and encouraged the killing of thousands of innocent people from many faiths and backgrounds. He claimed to defend Muslims, but his actions simply brought devastation and misery to countless Muslims across the world. His death should not be mourned.

The movement he created, Al-Qaeda, is marginalised and despised the world over. The wave of rebellion sweeping the Arab world owed nothing to a man who led his followers into a dead-end of nihilistic destruction and religious bigotry. For the millions struggling for freedom from dictatorship and foreign oppression, bin Laden offered nothing.

But, by his deeds, bin Laden aimed to drive a wedge between the Muslim and non-Muslim world. He set out to provoke a bloody reaction, and Bush and Blair played right into his hands. Bin Laden would have perversely seen this as a victory of sorts.

Instead of responding to the events of 9-11 as an act of criminality, focusing all resources on pursuing the culprits, Bush and Blair invaded two countries, destabilised many more, and provoked an ugly tide of anti-Muslim racism. All of this gave succour to bin Laden’s narrative that the West was really engaged in a war against Islam.

The consequence has been to destabilise the world to a degree that bin Laden could not have imagined in his wildest dreams. How many more bin Laden’s have been created by this disastrous ‘war on terror’?

Sunday, 1 May 2011

George Galloway condemns NATO's murder of innocent children in Libya

George Galloway this morning expressed his outrage at the NATO air attack which killed Gaddafi's youngest son, Saif Al Arab, and three of Gaddafi's grandchildren in a Tripoli suburb.

"This was a cold-blooded targeted attack on a residential house in the suburbs of Tripoli," said George Galloway who is campaigning in Glasgow for election to the Scottish Parliament. "It beggars belief that this was not a deliberate attempt to assassinate Gaddafi, in the full knowledge that innocent children would be killed in the process. This is a total breach of UN resolution 1973 which authorised action to protect civilians - not kill them.

"NATO sorties are now being used to commit war crimes. Both nationally and internationally the cry must go up for NATO's military actions to be halted immediately and a ceasefire declared. And David Cameron must answer straight, not fudge as he has been doing all day, whether attacking so-called command and control facilities allows the deliberate targeting of Gadaffi and his family, with no regard whatever to the innocent men, women and children who are incinerated as a consequence."

My appearance on C4's 10 O'Clock Live

I took part in a discussion with Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's ex-chief of staff, about whether we should leave politics to the professional politicians. The item is 14 minutes into the show. You can watch it here.

'Who will reshape the Arab world: its people, or the US?'

A sober assessment of the Arab revolutions from Tariq Ali, here.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Balsall Heath hustings tonight

With the local elections in full swing, my colleague Mohammed Ishtiaq is campaigning hard to retain his council seat in Sparkbrook. He is a really hardworking and effective councillor, and is very well known across the ward. We are getting a very good response to our campaign as many people have seen just how much Ishtiaq has done for the area since he was first elected.

The Balsall Heath hustings meeting takes place tonight, with all election candidates invited. The meeting is at the Balsall Heath Church Centre on Edward Road. There is a women-only session at 6pm, and a session open to all from 7pm.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Tonight's Politics and Media show

Tonight Politics and Media show which I present on the Islam Channel (Sky 813) will be discussing the alleged ‘Islamification of Tower Hamlets’. It was recorded earlier in the week and features a good discussion with guests Dilwar Hussian from East London Mosque, Lina Jamoul from London Citizens and Charles Kelly from Immigration Matters. The programme will be broadcast at 7pm.

Friday, 22 April 2011

The attacks on multiculturalism are linked to the economic crisis

Earlier this week the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) published Understanding the European-wide assault on multiculturalism - a detailed analysis by Executive Director, Liz Fekete, of key speeches made over the past six months by leading centre-right politicians from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom.

These speeches attack multiculturalism and immigration and link them to the economic crisis. The IRR finds that:

* In singling out multiculturalism as a threat to national identity, the leaders of Europe's centre-right parties are using the same kind of rhetoric and specious arguments as Enoch Powell did forty years ago. Only this time, it is not one rogue European politician carrying the flag, but the leaders of centre-right parties now replacing race and immigration with culture and religion as the watch words.

* As multiculturalism becomes code for discussing the 'Muslim problem', the language, terms and metaphors used by centre-right politicians subtly (and in some cases crudely) convey a sense of national victimhood, of a majority culture under threat from Muslim minorities and new migrants who demand special privileges and group rights and refuse to learn the language.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Parliament should be recalled as Libya threatens to become the new Iraq

In 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq began, Tony Blair insisted that oil had nothing to do with it:

"...the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it...It's not the oil that is the issue, it is the weapons..."

Of course there were no weapons, just a great deal of oil.

Government papers now reveal just how much the oil industry was licking its lips at the prospects in Iraq. The Independent reports:

“The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq "post regime change". Its minutes state: "Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.... Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had "no strategic interest" in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was "more important than anything we've seen for a long time".”

Yet all the time we were told this was really a humanitarian venture, motivated by the deepest of concerns about the victims of an evil dictator.

Fast forward to 2011, and the United Nations has passed another resolution authorising military action to ‘protect civilians’. Once again, this country is rich in oil and gas.

And once again, the mission that was supposed to be humanitarian becomes an attempt by former colonial powers to overthrow one government and impose another one.

As Simon Jenkins put it in The Guardian:

“Throughout the west there is a desire to relieve people in distress, but when humanitarians arrive with screaming missiles and a clear political agenda, those being attacked are understandably suspicious of motive... The first humanitarian duty to those who are suffering should be to relieve that suffering, not to fight their civil wars, suppress their dictators, partition their countries and destroy their infrastructure. Something has polluted foreign policy.”

It is quite clear that the original decision to establish a ‘no fly zone’ in Libya has become something else entirely. British ‘advisers’ are now on the ground. Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama are calling for ‘regime change’. This is not what the United Nations, nor our own parliament, decided.

Parliament should be recalled and the government held to account.

Monday, 18 April 2011

This week's Media and Politics show

I am on my way to London shortly to record an edition of my Media & Politics show for the Islam Channel. My guests this week are the French journalist and researcher Naima Bouteldja, who will be speaking about the situation in France in light of the recent niqab ban. Also on the show is the journalist Dame Ann Leslie. It will be broadcast at 8pm tonight.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Why there should be a left challenge in the GLA elections

The Respect party announced today they will be standing for the London Assembly and approaching others to form an anti-cuts slate for the May 2012 election.

Party Leader Salma Yaqoob said:

"There is a democratic deficit in London. There is a large constituency who want to see Ken beat Boris but are deeply uncomfortable with the Labour party choices for the assembly, marked as they are by a tepid opposition to the spending cuts, support for a decade long war in Afghanistan and now a new war in Libya.

There are many fronts on which this governments military wars abroad and economic war at home can be contested. The forthcoming GLA elections is one arena. We will be approaching others in the student and anti-cuts movement, those opposed to war and the tide of Islamophobia it has generated, and others on the left, to discuss standing a united slate with the aim of defeating the Tories in City Hall and putting into the assembly the strongest anti-cuts, anti-racist and pro-peace voices".

Statement from the RESPECT Party Officers Group
Why there should be a left challenge in the GLA elections

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Cameron’s Enoch Powell moment

David Cameron complains about people coming to this country who don’t speak the language. It is nothing more than hypocrisy from a government that is closing the door on the very classes that help people to learn English.

From September, spending on ESOL classes (English as a second language) is being slashed. They are hugely popular, with over 180,000 students attending classes in England alone. Up to 100,000 people will now lose the chance to learn the language.

Of course, Cameron’s speech is not really directed at immigrants. It is not meant to welcome, or encourage, or point the way towards getting the language skills that people need.

No, for all his talk about integration, his words are directed at those who don’t like immigrants at all, whether or not they speak English. His speech means to press the xenophobic buttons of parts of the electorate.

As Rebecca Galbraith and Mel Cooke from Action for ESOL note:

‘From Jewish workers arriving in London’s East End in the late nineteenth century to the diverse groups of people migrating to the UK today, the ability of migrants to speak English has long been a preoccupation of politicians and the right-wing press. And blaming migrants for social and economic problems is nothing new and is always more heightened in times of economic depression”.

Three weeks before an election, with opinion poll ratings falling, the health reforms in crisis, and the economic looking ever more fragile, David Cameron has conjured up the ghost of Enoch Powell.

Unions call for Libya ceasefire

I am really pleased to see that the two largest trade unions in the country are calling for a ceasefire to the bombing of Libya. You can read the statements from Unite and Unison here and here.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Speaking for herself

The French ‘burqa ban’, which comes into force tomorrow, has sparked a lot of debate in this country, much of it completely uninformed by the opinions of the small number of women who wear it.

I’ve already said, many times, that their decision to wear a niqab is not one I would make. But these women have a right to their own voice. 

A new report from the At Home in Europe project examines the views and experiences of 32 women in France who wear a full-face veil – and finds that the vast majority took the decision for themselves.

Today’s Observer carries an interview with Kenza Drider, one of the women who now faces arrest for her decision to dress in this way. She is very clear that it is a personal choice:

“There was no mosque involved, no pressure from anyone. It is not a religious constraint since it is not laid down in Islam or the Qur'an that I have to wear a full veil. It is my personal choice...I would never encourage others to do it just because I do. That is their choice. My daughters can do what they like. As I tell them, this is my choice, not theirs."

She is equally clear about the effect that this law will have in France.

"When President Sarkozy said: 'The burqa is not welcome in France', the president, my president, opened the door for racism, aggression and attacks on Islam. This is an attempt to stigmatise Islam and it has created enormous racism and Islamophobia that wasn't there before."

Women like Kenza Drider can clearly speak for themselves.They should have the same right to choose how they dress.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Round 2 of my debate with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Tomorrow morning I will be on the BBC One Breakfast Show continuing my debate with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown over the French ban on the niqab. The item should be broadcast at around 0740.  

Yasmin has now published “Sixteen reasons why I object to thisdangerous cover-up”, and there is a useful point-by-point response to her on the iEngage website.

I am sure we will have a robust debate tomorrow, but I would just draw attention to the opening two paragraphs of Yasmin’s article. She says:

The French government has banned burkas. There, tis done. The law is patently dictatorial and discriminatory. In democratic societies governments do not and should not interfere to this extent in private lives and personal preferences. France lays bare again its cultural supremacy and arrogance and hateful attitudes towards Muslims. I have not holidayed there since being subjected to racial contempt meted out by ignoramus Gallic folk to anyone who looks "Arab". Unlike other colonial nations, the French have never sombrely reassessed their history. During some periods they systematically degraded humans in their own country and around the world. When the children of the latter came to stay, they too were, and are, maligned and despised.

In Britain, in spite of racism, people of colour have in general progressed and millions have joined the middle classes. France has not opened up those opportunities. It keeps most incomers and their children within deprived banlieues, out of sight and mind and criminalised.

It is a powerful and heartfelt attack on racism and the particular form it takes in France. 

It is also the context in which Yasmin is working overtime to come up with reason after reason to explain her defence of the French policy on the veil. I hope we have time to discuss this tomorrow.