Monday, 28 February 2011

Rethink Afghanistan tonight

Later tonight I will be taking part in a Stop the War Coalition film showing and discussion about the war in Afghanistan. I will also be giving a report on my recent trip to Tunisia. The event starts at 7.30pm at Carrs Lane Church Centre, opposite Moor St station.

Yesterday's Big Questions

I quite enjoyed my appearance on the BBC's "The Big Questions". You can watch it here.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Birmingham wins the Carling Cup!

Well done to the players, management and fans of Birmingham City!! They played like heroes to man, refused to accept their underdog status, and got the win they fully deserved! Their victory is a victory for all of Birmingham.

The Big Questions

This morning I will be appearing on “The Big Questions” (BBC1 at 10am). The programme, broadcast from King Edward VI School in Birmingham, debates moral, ethical and religious issues. This week, the topics for debate are:

Should Britain be ashamed of its arms trade?
Should adoption be colour-blind?
And, have we all been here before?

The other panellists are Douglas Murray, Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion; and Alison Ruoff, Lay Member of the General Synod of the Church of England.

If you miss the debate, it will be available to view again for 7 days.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

23 killed in Iraq's democracy protests

Tens of thousands of Iraqis surged into the streets Friday in at least a dozen demonstrations across the country, storming provincial buildings, forcing local officials to resign, freeing prisoners and otherwise demanding more from a government they only recently had a chance to elect. At least 23 protesters were killed as Iraqis braved security forces to vent shared frustrations at the nearest government official. Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians, they shouted for simple dignities made more urgent by war - adequate electricity, clean water, a decent hospital, a fair shot at a job.

Read the full Washington Post here.

Friday, 25 February 2011

10 reasons to oppose the cuts

Opposition to the cuts is building in Birmingham. Last week the council chamber was packed with anti-cuts protesters and on Saturday we will be taking to the streets.

The demonstration assembles at 12 noon, Birmingham Cathedral, St. Philips Place. We will have a short march around Birmingham City Centre, followed by a rally.

Here's 10 reasons why you should take part.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

'Birmingham group which inspired Cameron's Big Society sees funding cut'

The Birmingham group praised by David Cameron for inspiring his Big Society vision is facing a 30 per cent funding drop. The Prime Minister said the drive to turn around Balsall Heath, which was once a crime and prostitution hotspot, was behind his Big Society initiative. But St Paul’s Community Trust, which was set up in the 70s to improve education in the area, will see its budget from Birmingham City Council cut by almost a third this year.
Read the full story here.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Tunisian thoughts

I arrived back from Tunisia last night and have been mulling over the experience today. The people I met there have left a deep impact on me. I was struck by their courage and dignity as they relayed tales of suffering under the disposed dictator Ben Ali.

I heard stories of torture, of systemic rape against men and women, of people being imprisoned for handing out leaflets, for gathering in groups of more than two or just for calling a relative whose name was on a secret police list.

Because the Tunisian people have been through such horrendous repression, the new democracy movement is holding onto its new freedoms like the parents of a new-born child.

There is a determination to prevent the gains of the revolution from being stolen from them, and concern that the interim government is just playing a stalling game while the old guard reconstitute themselves in new clothing.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

'The future is in our hands'

For the next few days I will be in Tunisia.

I am going there as part of a fact finding delegation that includes Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, London Assembly member Murad Qureshi, and Guardian journalist Jonathan Steele.

The purpose of the visit is to meet with senior members of the ‘UGTT’ – Union Generale des Travailleurs; the Tunisan Bar Association; members of the 14th January Coalition – the principal 10 political parties of Tunisia; Senior Government Officials, members of the Tunisian Human Rights League (Ligue Tunisienne de defense des droits de L’Homme); and those engaged in the struggle to democratise Tunisian society.

We will also be exploring mechanisms for cooperation between the UK and Tunisian civil society.

I hope to try and keep this blog updated and will be writing a full account when I come back.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

All in it together?

Barclay's Bank has been forced to admit it paid just £113m in UK corporation tax in 2009 – a year when it rang up a record £11.6bn of profits. 
 More here, if you can bare to read it.

Afghanistan: The Crisis Deepens

The statement below is an extract from the latest Stop the War Coalition newsletter. To subscribe, email office@stopwar.org.uk

Rumours that General Petreaus is quitting  command of the US
forces in Afghanistan are an indication of the turmoil over Afghanistan policy.

The Petraeus' troop "surge" has not led to a military
breakthrough. Attempts to build up anti-Taliban Afghan forces are in tatters, after in-fighting broke out amongst rival groups in Helmand this week.

Meanwhile violence in Afghanistan is at an all time high. Recent figures show civilian casualties have increased by 31 percent since last year. The number of children killed in the war is up 55 percent.

Seven British soldiers have died in the last week -- hardly reported in the media -- bringing the total to 357, almost double the number of those killed in Iraq.

Fighting is due to restart in earnest in the spring and US Admiral Mike Mullen issued a warning this week that 2011 will be even more violent than 2010 -- the worst year of the war so far.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Victory! Government defeated over forests sell-off

The government's u-turn on plans to sell off our forests is testimony to the fact that, when effectively organised, people power can win.

Not only did forestry campaigners get over 533,000 signatures to oppose the sell-offs, they also managed to unite a powerful and diverse array of forces in doing so.

The victory highlights something else; it show that this government can be defeated.

And if they can be overturned on the forests, they can certainly be overturned on issues like their assault the NHS and the rest of the welfare state.

Fighting back against the cuts

Over 120 people attended the Birmingham Against the Cuts meeting last night in the Council House.

It was a really positive and inclusive event.

I found it was refreshing to attend a public meeting with such thoughtful and articulate participation from panel and audience alike, all united in opposing the Tory-Lib Dem attempt to make middle and lower income earners pay for an economic crisis not of our making.

I will be engaging in further discussion about how to resist the cuts tomorrow when I participate in the Progressive London conference.

My session starts at 2pm and I will taking part in a panel discussion alongside  Mehdi Hasan from the New Statesman, Ken Livingstone, and Jon Trickett MP,  Shadow Minister of State Cabinet Office. The session starts at 2pm in Congress Hall, Lower Ground Floor.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Unite to stop the cuts meeting tonight

Tonight I will be speaking at a public meeting organised by Birmingham Against the Cuts, alongside Caroline Johnson (UNISON), Paul McKay (Coalition of Resistance), John Lister
(Heath Emergency) and others.

With the economy stagnating and youth unemployment soaring, Birmingham City Council's  £320 million (28%) cuts to its budget will have a draconian impact, especially on the poorest and most vulnerable in our city.

Come along and join the resistance!

Public Meeting
Birmingham Against the Cuts
7.30pm 
Thursday 17 February
Council House
Victoria Square

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

‘There is an alternative’ – register today for the Progressive London Conference

On Saturday, I will be travelling to London to speak at the Progressive London conference, organised by Ken Livingstone. The conference brings together a very wide range of people to discuss the alternative to the government’s cuts agenda, as well as sessions on opposing racism, and supporting the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.

‘There is an alternative’
Saturday 19th February 2011
10am-5pm
TUC, Congress House, Great Russell St, London


Sessions at the conference include:

London against the cuts • Students lead the way • We are not all in this together — the cuts and equality • Emergency session on the developments in Egypt, Tunisia and the Middle East • Defending multiculturalism — One Society Many Cultures • A green ‘plan B’ — why we need a low-carbon strategy out of recession • Lessons of the Irish economy • Proud London • Tory Mayor — what’s the verdict? • Housing — foundations for the future • Trade unions — under attack • Fighting back against the Tory cuts • The cost of war — the price for people • Grounded — future alternatives to airport expansion • Growth or cuts? • How do we get a fairer voting system? • Unfare — Better transport for all • Arts against the cuts • March for the Alternative

It looks set to be a great conference, and there is still time to register online.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Campaign for BSA memorial grows

Today's print edition of the Birmingham Mail has a big a story highlighting my support the BSA memorial.

It is an issue I highlighted on this blog in November.

The BSA memorial is a really good cause. I am proud to be associated with it, and I hope it now starts to receive the attention it deserves.

The reality of war in Afghanistan

War on Want have produced a new report on the reality of the war in Afghanistan. Its findings challenge the pro-war spin most of our politicians are only too happy to swallow.

The intensified militarisation of Afghanistan over recent months has led not to more security but to greater insecurity, both in Afghanistan itself and increasingly in neighbouring Pakistan as well.

ISAF’s Director of Intelligence notes that “the Afghan insurgency can sustain itself indefinitely”

Women’s rights, which had improved following the ending of the extreme oppression of the Taliban, are also now deteriorating again. A major recent blow to women’s rights was the passing of the Shia Personal Status Law, which gives a husband the right to withdraw basic maintenance for his wife if she refuses to obey his sexual demands.

In Pakistan, the use of 'drones' has caused more than 600 civilian deaths – around 10 civilian deaths for every militant killed.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

'EDL march - not in my name'

The Daily Star reports that Lance Corporal Croucher has 'slammed far-right extremists who claim they will be marching in his name at an anti-Muslim demonstration' in Birmingham.

In the article he also speculates that my action may have been motivated by publicity. I can understand why he thinks this. But I would just like to reassure him, this was not the case.

'Inflammatory slurs have no place in our political dialogue'

The national anti-racist organisation, One Society Many Cultures, have issued a statement on recent events in Birmingham. Read it here.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Letter in today's Guardian

I am have joined with the brave Afghan politician Malalai Joya, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey, Tony Benn, and many others to support War on Want's new report and campaign to 'call for the immediate withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, and a negotiated settlement which guarantees self-determination, security and human rights for the Afghan people'.

You can read our supporting statement which is published in today's Guardian, here.

And you can sign up to support War on Want's call here.

Friday, 11 February 2011

'Freedom of speech – just not in Brum'

Birmingham Mail columnist Maureen Messant, in her own inimitable and no-nonsense style, gives her take on the controversy generated from myself and Cllr Ishtiaq's anti-war protest, and Coun Mullaney's response to it.

Read it in full here.


Mubarak is gone!

I am listening to the breaking news. It is fantastic!! Good riddance to an old tyrant.

The removal of Mubarak from power by a people's revolt, which itself was inspired by a similar uprising in Tunisia, is proof that the best way to remove dictatorships in the Middle East is to leave it to the people there to do so.

It is difficult not to guffaw at comments from Western leaders about how they now welcome and embrace the democratic revolt, after 30 years of propping up military rule.

Or at the Swiss government, who have suddenly discovered a conscience and frozen Mubarak's loot, after their bankers feasting for decades off the billions stashed in their banks which was stolen from the Egyptian people.

But we can deal with Western double standards and hypocrisy another time.

And Mubarak's key allies, complicit in despotic rule, are still very much in power, so the fight for a thoroughgoing revolution is only beginning.

Right now, as one Egyptian commentator said, 'tonight we are celebrating, we will worry about the future tomorrow!'

Mullaney's careless words

In an editorial titled ‘lasting damage of careless words’, the Birmingham Post reflects on David Cameron’s speech about multiculturalism. In it, they highlight the foolishness of Councillor Martin Mullaney’s attack on me:

“Birmingham councillor Martin Mullaney has made a fool of himself with his ill-advised attack on a fellow councillor, who happens to be one of the UK’s most prominent Muslim politicians.

He can criticise Salma Yaqoob for failing to stand up to applaud a decorated British soldier if he disagrees with her decision. There are many who may agree with him.

However, to claim that she supports suicide bombings – without a shred of credible evidence and despite her frequent condemnation of terrorism – is irresponsible at best and provides ammunition for those home-grown extremists who seek to portray Muslims as the enemy within.

Coun Mullaney hasn’t apologised. Lib Dem leaders should release him from his vow of silence so that he can do so – and then explain what disciplinary action, if any, they will be taking.”

It’s a question that many people will be asking. What are the Liberal Democrats going to do about Martin Mullaney?

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Lance Corporal Matt Croucher interviewed

Earlier today, Lance Corporal Matt Croucher was interviewed on BBC WM's Ed Doolan show. (The interview, by Steve Dyson, is available to listen again for the next 7 days).

In view of the controversy of the past week and the heat that has been generated by my actions, I must say that his remarks were very generous and dignified.

He spoke of his support for the mission that British forces are carrying out in Afghanistan. He made it clear that he thought protesting against individual soldiers was wrong, and I am sure he would rather my actions had not embroiled him in this political controversy.

But I was struck by his calm and measured approach.

In the interview, Lance Corporal Croucher expressed some understanding for the difficult position we were put in as councillors who are morally opposed to the war in Afghanistan. He was right to say that we were unaware the tribute was going to take place ‘until the last minute’, and that ‘we had to think on our feet’.

Indeed, if I had been aware that this situation was going to arise, I would have chosen to register my feelings in a different way. I would want to ensure that I delivered a snub to the cowardly politicians in a manner that could not have been construed as an insult to a soldier who had carried out an act of individual bravery.

But, perhaps more importantly, Lance Corporal Croucher volunteered the opinion that some of the responses to our action could be motivated by racism. He felt that we could have been targeted because we were Muslim, and commented that if it was “white Christian councillors that sat down, there would not be the hype that there is now”.

Unfortunately I think he is right. His dignified comments are in sharp contrast to the violently abusive tone struck by some of my opponents, and Councillor Martin Mullaney in particular.

"Moseley Lib Dem warned after labelling rival an Islamic extremist"

Today’s Birmingham Mail reports that Martin Mullaney is in trouble with the local and national Liberal Democrats for his lies about me. As I have said many times, I don't mind sharp and vigorous debate. But lies and slander are another thing entirely. And although the Liberal Democrats have distanced themselves from Mullaney, he is still a Cabinet member, and I am still waiting for him to withdraw his ridiculous allegations. 

You can read the full article here.

A question of conscience

There were a number of supportive letters in yesterday's Birmingham Mail. This one, from Ray Gaston, sensitively captures the issues of conscience that peace activists face in these circumstances:

Well done Cllrs Yaqoob and Ishtiaq for remaining true to your principles despite enormous pressure to do otherwise.

The increasing weight upon us all to conform to supporting the government's invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq by exerting emotional pressure through the parading of 'national' heroes in the public space ( council meetings, football matches) is to be resisted; not out of a disrespect to an individual act of human courage like that of Matt Croucher, but out of a deep conviction that we should resist attempts to use Matt's example of human selflessness to legitimate a war that is so widely questioned both here and internationally.

While Matt's action in falling upon a grenade to save his friends demonstrates the best of our humanity, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan remain examples of the worst of human endeavours.

Salma Yaqoob's and Mohammed Ishtiaq's refusal to rise is directed against the latter and is commendable as an act of moral courage based upon conscience and principle and I for one respect and applaud them for remaining in their seats.

Rev Ray Gaston, Interfaith Enabler,
Birmingham District of the Methodist Church

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Birmingham Muslims against extremism

David Cameron's suggestion that Muslims are not doing enough to tackle religious extremism has caused frustration and offence in Birmingham's Muslim community, especially considering the consistent work that has gone on for years in marginalising extremists in our mosques and neighbourhoods.

The majority of that work is done quietly and out of the spotlight. The recent successful effort to send Anjem Chaudory packing is a case in point. Below is a statement of Muslim councillors, religious leaders and community organisations determined to ensure his message of hate stays out of Brum.

David Cameron should take note.

BIRMINGHAM COALITION OF MUSLIM ORGANIZATIONS AND MOSQUES
Resolution against the presence of Anjem Choudary in Birmingham

We the undersigned wish to express our concern over the recent visits by Anjem Choudary to the city of Birmingham. Mr Choudary has been involved in setting up a number of stalls and study circles. In his endeavor, he has, on occasions, managed to attract a number of local young people.

We categorically wish to express our opposition to the radical preaching of Anjem Choudary, and his small cohort of followers. He does not represent the majority of the Muslim community in Birmingham. His appearances are a means to increasing his support here and to spreading his message of hate and division within our city. We must do all that we can to ensure that his objectives are not achieved. We would urge all members of the wider community to assist and support us in this message.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Save our youth services

Last Saturday I spoke at a rally in Victoria Square opposing drastic cuts to our youth services. Afterwards I was one of a number of people interviewed by Jamie Chapman. You can watch Jamie's film of the event below.

Opposition to the cuts is mounting, and next Saturday the trade union Unite have brought together 27 of the main organisations representing those who work with young people, and the main youth organisations themselves, to hold a rally in Solihull. The event is free. Please show your support. More details here.

Monday, 7 February 2011

'Did David Cameron really mean what he said about multiculturalism?'

The Guardian have posted a piece by me about Cameron's comments on multiculturalism. You can read it here.

Mullaney sinks into the sewer

Over the last few days I have received a lot of reaction to my anti-war protest in the Council Chamber. Some if it, including from ex-servicemen, has been very supportive. Some of it has been pure racist abuse. But a lot of it has been from genuine people upset and hurt by my actions.

As a politician I have to take responsibility for my actions and the messages I convey. My intention was to register my opposition to what I see as the hypocritical actions of our politicians. They refuse to hold our government to account for a decade of failure in Afghanistan, while shedding crocodile tears about those who return from this war injured, maimed or worse. The fact is that for all the talk from politicians about 'our heroes' many soldiers are literally dumped on the scrap heap when they are deemed of no further use.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Support from an ex-soldier who served in Afghanistan

"Hi Salma,

Just thought I'd send you a quick e-mail to express my support after I saw a short video of you on the BBC reference to Matt Croucher.

I'm also an ex Royal Marine Commando who has served in Afghanistan, and I think you really hit the nail on the head when you talk about politicians jumping on the bandwagon to look good in the public eye.

I think you was dead on not to join them in there standing ovation so to speak, as you rightly said it is not acceptable.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The politics of slander

Councillor Mullaney’s claims about me are disgusting lies and I reject them completely. He has every right to forcefully challenge my political stances – but not to employ outrageous smears in doing so.

I am calling for a public apology from Cllr Mullaney and from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties whose administration he represents as a Cabinet member, for his statement that ‘if one of the failed 21/7 London suicide bombers had been in the Council Chamber, Cllr Yaqoob would have been demanding the Council applaud the failed suicide bomber for their past heroic actions’.

I have been a peace activist for many years. Whilst critical of politicians’ support of military intervention abroad, I have been equally consistent in condemning suicide bombing. It is simply a lie and and a deliberate attempt to slander my character to suggest otherwise.

A fuller rebuttal of his smears will follow.

'Respect leader denies soldier standing ovation 'snub''

BBC Midlands Today interview on Afghan war protest

You want watch it here.

Friday, 4 February 2011

My interview on 5 Live

I have been doing interviews all day in relation to myself and Councillor Ishtiaq's actions at this week council meeting. You can listen to this morning's interview on 5 Live here. Click on '06:00 5 Live Breakfast 04/02/2011'. It starts at 2 hours 34 minutes into the programme.

I have been encouraged by the positive response I have received throughout today, as people are getting to see behind the media headlines and better understand the actual intentions behind our actions. Indeed, before the end of the 5 Live programme one of the presenters read out a text from an army veteran who said he agreed with every word I said. 

George Galloway: "Mubarak, you are persona non grata in Egypt!"

Today my thoughts and prayers will be with the demonstrators of Tahir Square. Their bravery and heroism has shaken the Mubarak dictatorship to its core. There is a revolution underway, and its outcome is hanging in the balance. In a fantastic speech to a massive Stop the War meeting in London two days ago, George Galloway captures what is at stake, and offers wise advice too.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Protest at Tory minister's visit to Sparkhill job centre

Ian Duncan Smith, the Tory Minister for Work and Pensions, is coming to Sparkhill Job Centre tomorrow. He and his government are responsible for the devastating cuts to our services, and for the growing unemployment queues. Come and tell him exactly what Sparkbrook and Sparkhill thinks of this Tory-Lib Dem government!

Friday 4th February
10.30am
Job Centre - corner of Stoney Lane and Highgate Road, B12 8AF

‘Councillors snub war hero’

At Tuesday’s council meeting, myself and Councillor Ishtiaq declined to join in the standing ovation for Lance Corporal Matt Croucher, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Today, I am at the centre of a little media storm, as the Birmingham Mail leads with the front page headline ‘Councillors snub war hero’.

Almost ten years of war in Afghanistan has produced nothing but death and destruction on all sides. Any talk of democracy and progress is long forgotten. And the war has plunged neighbouring Pakistan into a hell of daily car bombs and suicide attacks. This disastrous and interminable war is driving more and more people into the arms of the religious extremists.

This disaster is not the fault of the individual soldiers. It is entirely the fault of our hypocritical politicians who cry crocodile tears over the plight of our troops, and do nothing to bring this war to an end.

Of course it is easier to mask the dereliction of their duty to interrogate the flawed premise of the war by awarding medals and platitudes instead. And it is easier to stifle any dissent by portraying it as a lack of respect for troops and patriotic duty.

I have every sympathy with Lance Corporal Croucher and all his comrades serving in Afghanistan. Indeed, I have spoken out before now on the disgraceful lack of support that returning soldiers receive from the very governments that sent them to war (including on BBC's Question Time). But I  refuse to stand with those politicians who lack the moral courage to question sending our soldiers to lose lives and limbs in a war that they know cannot be won.

This war has gone on too long already. If our politicians really want to demonstrate their support for our troops, they should abandon substituting medal pinning and phoney patriotism for rigorous and honest debate. And they could also try reflecting the will of the majority of British people who are opposed to our military presence in Afghanistan, and put their efforts into getting these soldiers home and safe where they belong.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Dangerous when cornered

Watching the desperate manoeuvres of Hosni Mubarak as he tries to avoid the demand for his immediate resignation, I was reminded of the saying that an animal is most dangerous when cornered.

Mubarak’s announcement that he will step down in September is designed to buy time. Until now the diverse opposition movement has been united in its view that no negotiations are possible until Mubarak resigns. He no doubt hopes that as the protests subside, divisions will open up among the movement seeking his removal.

The longer he stays in power, the greater the likelihood his dreaded secret police will harass, arrest and torture his political opponents as so often in the past. The longer he stays in power, the greater the risk of bloodshed.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

'Rise up and sweep away this tyrant Mubarak!'

All eyes are on Egypt today as the movement against the Mubarak dictatorship pours onto the streets in unprecedented numbers. With the declaration from the army that it will never use force against its own people, time is surely running out for the regime.

 
This recording of George Galloway from last year, with its resounding call on the Egyptian army to side with its people, now appears prescient as the democracy movement approaches its final showdown with the dictatorship.