3 Years on: A Hurting Stalemate in Sri Lanka

Last month saw the official marking of three years after the end of the 28 year old war that plagued Sri Lanka, killing thousands and setting the country back in terms of development and prosperity.  Yet three years on, it seems that not much has changed.

Whilst Sri Lanka has tried to portray that there has been progress made on the ground largely in infrastructural development, critics have been quick to highlight the lack of tangible progress on reconciliation, in effect  the inertia on implementing internal recommendations for reconciliation, coupled with an ever weakening space for human rights, media expression and democratic freedom.   The recent resolutions at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on Sri Lanka have been testimony to this type of thinking where analysts have not only been critical that progress has been slow on the ground amidst a decline in general rights that are deemed to be core to a functioning democracy, but they have also pointed to the need to keep this on the international agenda.

This is a debatable fact and the Government is not really willing to engage on any real discussion on the issue despite the occurrences as reported in the media of kidnappings and killings. A recent interview between the defence secretary and the BBC is testimony to the extremely sensitive nature of such discussions and criticisms.

Please click here to read more

Victoria and Abdul: A friendship ahead of its time

I am a self-confessed history geek who loves nothing better than to get into a story from the past — especially one that is as relevant to today’s policy discussions and societal concerns as it was when it first occurred.

photos 1.jpgFew stories, however, have managed to tick all the boxes for me as well as the story of Victoria and Abdul.  When I first came across the book Victoria & Abdul: The True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant, written by Shrabani Basu, it was an innocent interest in a historical story that made me venture in, but by the time I was finished, I was convinced that this was something greater.  It is what prompted me to convince our organisation to feature it in the launch of our new Cordoba Heritage Series, which kicked off on the 10th of May 2012.

Even for those of us who have at one stage or another studied Victorian history, this is a relatively unknown story.

In June 1887 two Indian servants were sent to Queen Victoria as a present for her Golden Jubilee. One was the 24-year-old Abdul Karim. Young Karim immediately caught the Queen’s eye and was rapidly promoted to become her Indian Secretary in 1894. He cooked her curries, became her Hindustani tutor and delighted the elderly Queen with his stories about India, especially as she had not visited the sub-continent despite having the grand title of ‘Empress of India’, and soon became the lonely monarch’s closest companion.

Please click here to read more

History in the making, as written by the youth

It might be a cliche and often an elaborate exaggeration to term a particular event “historic”. However, few can doubt that along with the Civil Rights movements, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the revolutions that have swept through the Arab world are no less momentous or historic.

While the first decade of the millennium got off to a bad start with the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the ramifications which resulted in death, destruction, war, conflict, fear, and division across the world, the second decade seems to have started off with an entirely different theme.

The “Arab Spring” fully deserves to be labelled “historic” for two main reasons.

The first is that the sweeping changes and transformations taking place were totally and completely unexpected, and almost without any introductions or preliminary phases.

Speaking to a political analyst from Tunisia, where the tidal wave commenced in January this year, he assured me that despite his expert knowledge and close following of Tunisian politics and society, he could never have predicted what then happened. The same is true for Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and other locations throughout the Arab world.

To read  more, please click here

News Release:Reforming madrassas

Much of the British public’s awareness of madrassas – out-of-hours schools which teach Muslim children about Islam – has been shaped by the media, with high profile programmes such
as BBC Panorama and Channel 4 Dispatches focusing on instances of  violence against children and allegations that extremist views are inculcated in these institutions. Moreover, IPPR analysis of media coverage since 9/11 has shown that national outlets have generally been negative and sometimes hostile. For this reason it is of ever-greater importance that the Muslim community overcomes its hands-off approach, and faces these criticisms by acknowledging it is time for reform of Islamic supplementary schooling. We have witnessed some outrageous incidents that have happened in a small number of madrassas – and these need to stop. But more fundamental changes are needed across madrassas in general.

Madrassas can be doing much more to show young Muslims how being a good Muslim and integrating into mainstream British life are not incompatible. I strongly believe that madrassas can be a force for good in UK society and I have personally benefitted from attending a madrassa. I believe that madrassas in the UK would greatly benefit from a partnership system which includes both the mainstream school and the involvement of parents. This strategy will help reduce some of the limitations that madrassas have.

First, there is a lack of flexibility in adapting to current times; second, there is a lack of engagement with wider society; and third, there is a lack of transparency about how madrassas operate. To tackle these problems we need first to recruit and train more teachers who are British-born, educated to a high level and with a greater insight into the mainstream culture and the challenges facing British youth today. Such people would be in a much better position to implement a structured curriculum that is faithful to Islamic teachings but takes account of day-to-day issues in the UK.  In particular, we must be educating and training far more women to be teachers of Islamic scholarship.

Gender equality in madrassas is no straightforward matter. It is the belief of Muslims that segregation between the sexes should be embedded within Islamic schools and in other situations in life. However, curtailing the entry of Muslim female teachers based on this precept is, in my opinion, illegitimate. There is a long tradition of Muslim female scholarship which stretches back to the beginning of Islamic civilization – the best example being that of the Prophet Muhammad’s wife, Aisha, who herself taught the Muslim intellectuals of her time. The gender equality I subscribe to then is very much aligned with the framework as laid down in the Quran and is also supported by the works of Asma Barlas, Jamal Badawi and Anouar Majid, among others.

Contrary to the views of Cassandra Balchin, it is my view that gender equality in Islam is not to be achieved so much by radically reinterpreting texts to meet people’s ends but to understand how we define the term ‘equality’ of both sexes in Islam. The western definition of ‘equality’ is not the only legitimate one. There are certain functions that men and women perform that are different, but can overlap. This should not be manipulated to fit a patriarchal order but rather we need to understand that this is God’s decree: we don’t submit to man, but to God.

A further issue for madrassas is that they are marginalised from mainstream society, and often almost invisible to the public eye. This can fuel accusations that madrassas are secretive and shadowy, creating an unwarranted fear of what ‘goes on’ in them.  As part of its ‘Madrassas in the UK’ project, IPPR filmed at a madrassa in London earlier in the year and anybody who watches the film will see that the best of these schools are generally happy, positive places, where children can learn and have fun. There is nothing to hide and certainly nothing to worry about in these well-run institutions. Madrassas need to have the courage to be more open, raising awareness of the positive contributions they make to society. For this to occur, madrassas must begin to shift towards a partnership and networking model to gain the confidence of the wider community. This way madrassas can also secure more funding from community sources.

Madrassas are distinctive institutions. Many of them follow different creeds and subscribe to various interpretations of the Quran. Islam and Muslims respect this diversity, so long as it does not lead to abuses. Rather than seeing diversity within the community as an obstacle, Muslims should begin to embrace this difference by uniting behind the cause of bettering the standard of Islamic education. For difference of opinion has been part of Islam’s historical tradition, dating back to the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions. I believe this strategy of unity will minimise the neo-orientalist gaze that is cast upon the community by the media, which also locates them in the backwards ‘other’ category.

Some madrassas are still being reported in the media for failing to carry out Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks. CRB checks are important not only for the safety of the child but also that of the teacher and institution. Madrassas need to begin to see the importance of conducting these checks. One way of supporting madrassas to do this is to network with schools that can lend support in this area as well as train madrassa teachers on child protection policies. This way madrassas would be ensuring a more open approach to their educational service and create a safety net, protecting both child and teacher.

To sum up, madrassa education is and can be a valuable asset to British society. At the same time, the Muslim community needs to act fast and respond to the challenges thrown down by media investigations. Issues such as madrassa inflexibility, disengagement and lack of transparency can be turned around.. Most Muslims I believe would agree that the suggestions made here of encouraging better quality teaching, including more female teachers, implementing a partnership system and carrying out security checks are a step in the right direction. This approach will help to tackle the reductive representations of madrassas, and produce a generation of forward-thinking young British Muslims.

This article originally appeared here

For more information about the project, please click here

Remembering Fred Shuttlesworth : The Fire Brand Preacher

Remembering Fred Shuttlesworth : The Fire Brand Preacher

Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth died as he had lived, fighting strongly yet always in the shadows. His death on October 5, 2011 was not only overshadowed by the passing of another transformational American icon, Apple founder Steve Jobs, but was also later overshadowed by the celebration of the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington on October 16, a scene that is reminiscent of his confrontations with the charismatic civil rights leader.But those who knew Reverend Shuttlesworth say he was not out for recognition, and preferred to play the part of courageous warrior for the civil rights movement.

Yet, it was this blunt-talking preacher who braved beatings, bombings, and fire-hosings to propel the town of Birmingham, Ala., to become a beacon of the civil rights movement. In a magazine article in 1988, he famously declared his desire to shatter the walls of segregation in Birmingham and throughout the South, even if it cost him his life:  “I tried to widow my wife and my children for God`s sake, because I literally believed that scripture that says `…whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.` I had no fear, you understand.”

To read more, please click here

Western Fear of the ‘Islamist Other’

Western Fear of the ‘Islamist Other’

The year 2011 has proven to be quite unique as evidenced by the tumultuous social, political and economic events that have taken place all around the world.

Lenin once said that “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”. This has seldom been more true than in this year.

The Arab Spring saw various Arab nations rise against regimes that had been in power for many decades. They followed in the footsteps of the January uprising of the Tunisian people who succeeded in removing Zein Al-Abideen Ben Ali in under three weeks of sustained and intense demonstrations and protests which spread throughout the country like wild fire.

To read more, please click here

Call for papers – Muslims and Political Participation in Britain

Muslims and Political Participation in Britain

Call for papers

John McIntyre Conference Centre, Edinburgh

20th and 21st April 2012

This conference focuses on the involvement of Muslims in all aspects of
political life in Britain with a particular emphasis on contemporary

Muslims have played prominent roles at all levels of British politics and
have been represented in various elected positions since Bashir Maan became
a member for Glasgow City Council in 1970. Subsequent milestones have
included Muslims first holding posts such as that of Lord Mayor in 1985, MP
in 1997, life peer in 1998, Minister in 2007 and the first female Muslim MPs
were elected in 2010. For many years the Labour party dominated politics in
British Muslim communities and this relationship is still strong. Yet all
the major parties now actively seek to court a Muslim electorate as
evidenced by the establishment of groups such as the Conservative Muslim

Despite the impact that Muslims have had on election campaigns and their
roles in various political institutions, research on this topic remains
scant. Indeed, much of the existing work was couched within the broader
areas of the participation of ethnic minorities or the impact of race on
electoral politics. The conference hopes to address this lacuna and thereby
highlight current research that deals with Muslims and political
participation in Britain, whether at local, regional or national levels. It
seeks to pay particular attention to how this participation has changed over
recent years and identify new trends for the future, although historical
reflections are also welcome.

In addition to electoral politics and representation, the conference also
seeks the submission of papers on other aspects of civil society such as
social movements, trade unions and NGOs as well as papers which give
insights into developments in other European countries. Cross-country
comparisons which include Britain would be especially welcome.

Contributions could focus on (but are not limited to) the following issues:

– Selection of Muslim candidates by political parties and attempts by
parties to reach out to Muslim voters.
– Election campaigns by Muslim candidates including the role of community
organisations, mosques and social networking
– Voting patterns amongst Muslim communities. Is there a ‘Muslim vote’?
– Muslim elected representatives in office.
– Community politics, bloc voting and biraderi networks
– Participation in policymaking and implementation as well as in local and
national processes of governing
– Contentious politics and campaigning groups e.g. environmentalism,
anti-war, global justice movements
– Attitudes to political participation and the political process
– British foreign policy and international conflicts e.g. Kashmir,
– Muslim political organisations and umbrella groups both past and present
e.g. the Muslim Council of Britain, the Muslim Parliament, British Muslim
Forum, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Sufi Muslim Council,
Progressive British Muslims etc.

Please send proposed abstracts of between 200 – 400 words to Dr Timothy
Peace t.peace@ed.ac.uk before 22nd December 2011. Proposals must include a
title, your name and affiliation and an e-mail address. After the conference
and following peer review, selected papers will be published in either an edited volume or a special issue of a journal.

On the evening of Friday 20th April there will be a public debate on the future of Muslim political participation, featuring a number of elected
representatives including Anas Sarwar MP and Humza Yousaf MSP.

Further information about the conference may be found at

The conference is organised by the Alwaleed Centre at the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the Alwaleed Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge and the Muslims in Britain Research Network (MBRN).

Call for papers: 22nd ASEN Annual Conference


The Association for Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism (ASEN) is please to announce the call for papers for the 22nd ASEN Annual Conference:

Nationalism, Ethnicity and Boundaries

The conference will take place from the 27-29th March, 2012 at the London School of Economics.

Confirmed keynote speakers include: Rogers Brubaker, Miguel Centeno, Mary Fulbrook, Richard Jenkins, Michele Lamont and Wendy Pullan. There will also be workshops with Jon Fox and Michael Banton.

Proposals are invited for papers focusing on the following themes:

Partition, succession and irredentism
The legality of boundaries and citizenship rules
Boundary surveillance and enforcement
Border controls, passports and identity documents
Territorial and non-territorial sub-national claims
Social and symbolic boundaries and everyday practices
Symbolic boundaries and identity formation
The mechanisms of boundary formation, transgression and change
Interactions between physical and symbolic boundaries

Abstracts should be submitted online no later than November 6, 2011. To submit your abstract, please follow this link

http://www2.lse.ac.uk/researchAndExpertise/units/ASEN/Conference/Abstract.aspx <https://exchange.lse.ac.uk/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www2.lse.ac.uk/researchAndExpertise/units/ASEN/Conference/Abstract.aspx>

Successful submissions will be announced in December, 2011.

ASEN: The Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism
London School of Economics
Houghton Street,
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom
T:     +44 (0)20 7955 6801
F:     +44 (0)20 7955 6218
E:     asen@lse.ac.uk asen@lse.ac.uk>
W:    www.lse.ac.uk/ASEN/ <http://www.lse.ac.uk/ASEN/>

Please access the attached hyperlink for an important electronic communications disclaimer: http://lse.ac.uk/emailDisclaimer

SEN Online Exclusives: Call for Submissions on ‘Nationalism, Ethnicity and Art’

SEN Journal: Online Exclusives is currently calling for contributions on the theme of nationalism, ethnicity and art as part of a new themed initiative for our website. The aim of this initiative is to stimulate discussion, ideas and research on a particular theme every few months. We are keen to broaden the remit of the website and therefore encourage submissions in a variety of mediums from a diversity of disciplines. In particular, we warmly welcome:

Academic writing on the theme of nationalism, ethnicity and art (1,000 words max.);
artwork, films and photography to be hosted on our website;
news about relevant exhibitions and performances;
exhibition, film and performance reviews; and
responses to articles published in Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism (SEN) volume 9 issue 2 in the themed section on “The Art of Nationalism” (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/sena.2009.9.issue-2/issuetoc).

In keeping with SEN’s editorial policy, SEN Journal: Online Exclusives encourages submissions from a broad range of disciplines with particular attention to up-and-coming scholars, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students working in the field. All submissions and enquiries should be sent to sen@lse.ac.uk .

Please note that we will post submissions on a rolling basis and there is no official deadline for submissions on this theme. We will however have a new theme at the beginning of Novermber. SEN Journal: Online Exclusives also continues to welcome submissions relevant to the study of ethnicity and nationalism that fall outside of this theme. For guidelines on submissions, please visit our website.

Please access the attached hyperlink for an important electronic communications disclaimer: http://lse.ac.uk/emailDisclaimer