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.