Iraq: 10 Years On, Better or Worse Off?

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by the United States, Britain and their allies. According to former leaders, U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the coalition mission was, “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free the Iraqi people”. However, the UN Security Council did not agree with the American and British justifications to go to war with Iraq. France, China, Russia and a major part of the International Community didn’t believe that an Iraq reeling from 13 years of sanctions posed an imminent threat to its people or to neighbouring countries.

After the invasion the US and its allies committed a number of catastrophic policy blunders, rendering the promise of democracy, human rights and social and economic development into nothing more than empty rhetoric. Firstly, the policy of “winning hearts and minds” was supplanted by the military strategy of ‘shock and awe’. Second, there was direct military rule instead of handing full sovereignty to the new Iraqi leadership. Furthermore, instead of a prudent policy of restructuring the already viable and effective security and military institutions, the standing network of establishments were destroyed, leaving 140 thousand American troops to do the job of policing 30 million people, with catastrophic results.

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The Ramifications of the Channel 4 Documentary on Sri Lanka’s Reconciliation

The Ramifications of the Channel 4 Documentary on Sri Lanka’s Reconciliation

The recently telecast Channel 4 documentary on ‘Killing Fields of Sri Lanka’ sheds no new light (despite claims to the contrary), in terms of groundbreaking evidence, regarding the incidents related to the end of the war in Sri Lanka. If anything, it will seek to entrench already hardened attitudes and decrease the ever reducing space for dialogue and reconciliation.

From the government’s perspective, it will seek to discredit the documentary as fake as it feeds into the insecurity that it surrounds itself with, of a perception that the west has been influenced by a highly successful pro LTTE lobby. The end result will be the securing of its ‘credibility’ especially as a ‘victim of an external conspiracy’ consequently rallying the people’s sympathy, thereby making any genuine attempt to hold the government accountable for anything fruitless.

On the other side, for the pro LTTE lobby (largely represented by their supporters in the UK, US and Canada) this will be a ‘vindication’ of their claims regarding the Government and its conduct of the war, thereby serving to boost their movement and support whilst ignoring the part that they have played in fund raising and supporting the LTTE (despite the proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist group).

Sri Lanka’s Path to Peace

Sri Lanka’s Path to Peace

After 26 years of war that cost thousands of innocent lives, the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has brought Sri Lanka to a crossroads.

Reconstruction, resettlement and rehabilitation will be the immediate postwar challenges and will have to be expertly handled. Reconstruction of infrastructure will be the easiest and most attractive option for donors, but creating an environment of equity and social justice could be relegated to the bottom of the list. There must be a separate effort to ensure reconciliation between people. Many barriers have been erected between Sri Lanka’s communities and special programmes to build bridges, facilitate interfaith interaction and regain intercommunity trust are urgently required.

This is the role that the Sri Lankan diaspora as a whole will need to play to bring about a reconciliation that combines human values with an understanding of the need to move away from apportioning blame

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22 years and still waiting

World Refugee Day took place on June 20. For many it was about remembering the plight of many people worldwide, who today are without rights, a state and an identity. One may picture the plight of Palestinians or Kurds or perhaps the Rohingyas of Myanmar. However, it is often very easy to forget those whose plights do not make the headlines. Cambodia, South Sudan and so on offer us reminders that the plight of people who are without a state and rights are important and need to be at the top of the agenda, which is effectively what World Refugee Day chooses to highlight.

Sri Lanka is no stranger to the issues of refugees. After enduring almost 30 years of war, it has seen its fair share of internal displacements and humanitarian crises. Currently under international scrutiny for not only how the war ended in 2009 but its treatment of nearly 300,000 refugees mainly of Tamil origin, it is easy to forget that there are other communities within Sri Lanka (mainly from the majority Sinhala and minority Muslim community) that have also been victims of the conflict. In light of the current international scrutiny about internally displaced people (IDP) and refugees in Sri Lanka, very little has been said in particular about the Muslim refugees who for the past 22 years, have been consigned to staying in welfare camps in the north west of the country.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.”

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