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. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Quiet multiculturalism

Thanks to everybody at Balsall Heath Forum for organising Monday's wonderful communal meal.

There must have been at least 250 local residents present and a great time was had by all!

Monday, 4 April 2011

Marching for the Alternative

Philosophy Football follow a group of campaigners as they travel from Northampton to London to join the March for the Alternative on March 26th.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Debating the French 'Burqa Ban'

In today’s Guardian I debate the issue of the French law banning the wearing of the niqab (veil) with journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Yasmin does not ignore the obvious racism that surrounds this debate in France.  “I don't want to ban the veil in the French way”, she says, “The French are racist. They're doing it for the wrong reasons.” But she still concludes that “...they're doing the right thing.”

I have always opposed those who think they have the right to force women to dress in a particular way. It is not right for this choice to be taken away from women in Saudi Arabia or Iran. And it is not right in Europe either. This is even more the case when measures like these are cynically used to exploit prejudice and encourage fear and suspicion of minorities.

As I said to Yasmin,

“Some women find it liberating and emancipatory to uncover themselves – and some find it oppressive. A ban is saying that Muslims don't belong. It's not about encouraging a sense of belonging, forging multicultural relationships. It's the opposite. It's a thinly veiled disguise for patronising, for racism. This isn't about emancipating women. It's doing the very opposite. It doesn't promote cohesion and respect – it promotes fear.”

It was an interesting conversation, and you can read it all here.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Stopping the rise of the far right - Birmingham conference tomorrow

At the last election the BNP failed to make the gains they had hoped for, which is a tribute to the success of anti-fascist campaigners. But we are still living in a climate where racism is increasingly respectable, and where the multicultural nature of our society is under attack.

Unite Against Facism are holding a morning conference in Birmingham tomorrow. The conference will discuss the campaign against the BNP, the threat posed by the violent racists of the EDL, and the need to defend our diverse multicultural society.

I will be one of the speakers, and I hope to see you there:

Stopping the Rise of the Far Right 
Saturday 2nd April
Transport House, 211 Broad Street, Birmingham B15 1AY
10:00- 1:00 pm.

Speakers: Jack Dromey MP, Cllr Salma Yaqoob, Weyman Bennett (Joint Gen Sec UAF), John Partridge (Midlands Asst Gen Sec Unite), Paul Scarrat (Yorks & Humber UAF), Speaker from Muslim Association of Britain, Sabby Dhalu (Joint Gen Sec UAF), Gary McNally North Staffs Campaign Against Racism & Fascism, Neelam Rose Diversity Officer Worcester University Students Union, Tony Conway Chair Midlands Region PCS, John Hemmingway Sec Birmingham NASUWT

For more information, ring 07949 622903