Saturday, July 02 2016


Blair on religion and conflict

The Observer published a comment piece by former PM Tony Blair on the role of religious differences in conflicts around the world.

Reflecting upon various wars and terrorist attacks across the world, Blair writes “We can either see all of these acts of killing as separate – produced by various political contexts – or we can start to see the clear common theme and start to produce a genuine global strategy to deal with it.

“The fact is that… there is one thing self-evidently in common: the acts of terrorism are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith.”

Blair points out that extremism is “taught sometimes in the formal education system; sometimes in the informal religious schools; sometimes in places of worship and it is promoted by a vast network of internet communications.”

It would seem the Taskforce on Tackling Extremism agrees with this premise with its report focussing on schools, prisons, universities and the internet.

However, Blair recognises that extremism is not limited solely to Islam as is clearly illustrated by the fact that Muslims are also victims of religiously motivated violence perpetrated by those from other faiths. In this regard, he calls for respect for all faiths and “not to allow faith to divide us but instead to embody the true values of compassion and humanity common to all faiths.”

Blair goes on to explain that extremism is something to be countenanced and defeated “not only by arms but by ideas” and that the Middle East in central to this feat because “It is here in the centre of Islam that so many of the issues around how religion and politics coexist peacefully will be determined.”

Blair outlines a joint venture between the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and Harvard Divinity School on mapping religious conflict around the world in the hope that it will effect change in policy making and policymakers “start[ing] to treat this issue of religious extremism as an issue that is about religion as well as politics”.

An interesting perspective indeed when one thinks of the persistent denial that Britain’s misadventure in Iraq and Afghanistan had any impact on radicalisation at home.

Elsewhere in the paper, Toby Helm looks at the shadow of Iraq over Blair’s latest intervention. On the Chilcot Inquiry and Blair’s role, Helm says the final report “is expected to contain damning evidence of how President Bush and Blair jointly engaged in a rush to war to topple Saddam Hussein in the face of warnings of the risks of triggering sectarian divisions across the region.”

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 14:11

Taking liberties

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in her column in the Independent yesterday returns to the topic of gender segregation in universities relaying the protest that is to take place in opposition to guidelines published a couple of weeks ago by Universities UK.

The guidelines deal with the subject of external speakers in higher education institutions following controversies and witchhunts sparked by vested ideological interest groups.

Alibhai-Brown picks up on the reference in the guidelines to the permissibility of segregated events on university campuses: “concerns…[for the] beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief systems”. Deriding the provision as a ‘capitulation’ and a ‘disaster for feminism, for university life, for modernism and progressive ideals and for Muslims most of all’, Alibhai Brown argues that "Sexist dress codes and other behaviours are being spread and pushed in British universities by retrograde Islamic societies and individuals, most of them men – though there are always willing maidens who say “yes, yes, yes” to such diktats”.

With echoes of her remarks of niqab and burqa wearers being 'proxy maidens to the Taliban’ on account of their choice of dress, Alibhai Brown offers ‘Saudi Arabian obscurantism’ as the reason behind segregation opted for by some Muslims.

Indeed, Alibhai-Brown decries the ignominy these ‘obscurantist Muslims’ are left to wallow in because “our educators do not liberate them from dark age interpretations of Islam but rather encourage them.”

“…reactionary religious practices stealthily enter heads, homes, citadels and national institutions” and “our noblest sanctuaries have been infiltrated, our faiths corrupted by zealots abetted by Western liberals, our so-called friends,” she writes.

Alibhai-Brown fails to see her own betrayal of liberal values with her uncompromising stance against accepting the right of others to practice religious as they choose, liberal or conservative, as long as it remains within the law. To set the normative standard on Islam as a parochial understanding of ‘moderate’ or ‘progressive’, to the exclusion of all other forms of practicing religion, is hardly the mark of a ‘liberal’, much less a ‘progressive’.

Nor is the claim that such practices are ‘reactionary’ or ‘retrograde’ in the least bit accurate. Muslims who choose the burqa or niqab, or who opt for segregated seating at events, display the tendencies of a modern subject exercising choice and agency.

Alibhai-Brown would do well to reflect on the words of President Obama, in his Cairo speech, when he said:

“We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism."’

Leveson one year on - press urged to embrace Royal Charter regulation

On the first anniversary of the publication of Lord Justice Leveson's report, following the Inquiry into the Culture, Practices and Ethics of the Press, The Guardian on Friday featured a full page advertisement by Hacked Off with a 100 public personalities who have signed the Leveson Royal Charter Declaration.

The declaration states:

"We believe that a free press is a cornerstone of democracy. It should be fearless in exposing corruption, holding the powerful to account and championing the powerless. It has nothing to lose, and can only be enhanced, by acknowledging unethical practice in its midst and acting firmly to ensure it is not repeated.

We also believe that editors and journalists will rise in public esteem when they accept a form of self-regulation that is independently audited on the lines recommended by Lord Justice Leveson and laid down in the Royal Charter of 30 October 2013.

It is our view that this Charter safeguards the press from political interference while also giving vital protection to the vulnerable. That is why we support it and that is why we urge newspaper publishers to embrace it."

Among the signatories are Professor Julian Petley, Professor Greg Philo, Richard Peppiatt, Sir Geoffery Bindman QC and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

To add your name to the list of supporters, click here.

Last Updated on Saturday, 30 November 2013 22:57

Burqa as a fashion statement

Drawing on the recent controversies sparked by Muslim women’s dress and its adoption in marketing campaigns, journalist Elizabeth Day, in a feature article in Observer magazine last weekend, spoke to Muslim women who criticise the ‘"patronising" western attitude that assumes a woman must be incapable of acting assertively if she is wearing the abaya or the niqab’.

Read the feature article here.

BBC Complaints Unit partly upholds complaint over non-neutral commentator

The BBC Editorial Complaints Unit has partly upheld a complaint lodged by two viewers on the misleading attribution of a studio guest’s affiliation during appearances on news programmes last year.

Jonathan Sacerdoti was introduced onto several news programmes discussing Israel and Gaza as the director of the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy. Sacerdoti, as Spinwatch carefully dissected, had a background in pro-Israeli advocacy, something viewers were not told.

The BBC Editorial Complaints Unit ruled on the complaints to say:

“Mr Sacerdoti was introduced as the Director of the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy, and it was not made clear that he is an active proponent of the Israeli viewpoint.  What he said in the course of the interview was a legitimate expression of that viewpoint, and in keeping with the requirements of due impartiality in such matters.  However, viewers should have been made aware that he was not a neutral commentator."

Further action

“The production team have been reminded of the importance of clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organisation.”

One of the complainants, Hilary Aked, wrote an essay at the time for Open Democracy looking at the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

ENGAGE’s letter to the BBC complaining about the same can be found here, and the BBC’s response here.

More on this on Electronic Intifada.

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