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Tackling Islamist extremism must be an issue for the British Left

posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Wednesday, 20 August 2014, 22:43


The awful murder of photojournalist James Foley, supposedly at the hands of a British jihadist, is just the latest outrage from a group that is seeking to impose its Islamist extremism on all around them.

While ISIS is currently operating just in the Middle East, the ideology that underpins it is found throughout the world and so must be combated wherever it raises its head.

Our opposition to ISIS, and its supporters in the UK, is not down to the terrorist threat they pose but of a rejection of their politics of hate and a worldview that we do not share. They want to impose a system that is totally at odds with one that respects human rights, diversity and equality and we have to oppose it.

It is no surprise to find Anjem Choudary and his al-Muhajiroun network cheerleading for ISIS. For too long he and his group have been dismissed for their clownish antics but the society they want to impose on us is the same as what is being carried out in the supposed 'Islamic State'.

The al-Muhajiroun network is unquestionably the single largest recruiter for ISIS in this country and, as recent videos have made abundantly clear, many of their activists have been involved in some of the worst atrocities being carried out by the group.

For too long, much of the British left has remained silent on the threat from Islamist extremism, partly out of ignorance but also because fear that opposing it will stoke Islamophobia. This has to change. Islamist extremism stands in opposition to our belief in equality, fairness and tolerance and it is in fact the left's unwillingness to confront this threat that leaves a vacuum for Islamophobes and racists to spread their poison.

ISIS represent the most terrifying force in the world today. It is not good enough to shake our head and deplore their actions abroad whilst staying silent on its supporters in the UK.

Above all, the failure to develop a progressive opposition to Islamist extremism, that is based on our values and principles, is letting down the very people and communities that are now under attack.

 Posted: 20 Aug 2014 | There are 6 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Let's help Abu Rumaysah live out his dream

posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Monday, 18 August 2014, 11:52


Poor old Abu Rumaysah. Last Friday he sadly told Channel 4 News that he would like nothing more than to go and live in the so-called Islamic State but was prevented from doing so by the British security services. He even offered to renounce his citizenship if that would help facilitate his move to the caliphate.

For those who have not heard of Abu Rumaysah before, he is a leading follower of Anjem Choudary, a key figure in the l Muhajiroun network and the front man for the now banned 'Shariah Project'.

Now, despite his protestations, I really don't believe Abu Rumaysah has tried very hard to get to the caliphate. Given that 5-700 others have made the trip to Syria without much hassle it is hard to see how a man with his links to such a network could not make it.

But let's take Rumaysah at his word and believe that he really does want to go, I think it would be really bad of us to prevent him from living out his dream. I, for one, would be willing to write to the authorities pleading with them to make an exception for this man and his friends. After all, our communities would be a safer place without him so everyone is a winner.

 Posted: 18 Aug 2014 | There are 8 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Tilbury tragedy highlights the persecution of Sikhs in Afghanistan

posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Monday, 18 August 2014, 09:44


The death of one man and the rescue of 30 others from a container at Tilbury Docks is a personal and political tragedy, which highlights the growing persecution of the small Sikh community in Afghanistan. While much of the media has focused on the human trafficking aspect of this story what is not covered is why these people were fleeing Afghanistan (and Northern Pakistan) in the first place.

As recently as 1992 Afghanistan had a vibrant and strong Sikh community with numbers estimated at 75,000. Now this is down to just 4,000. The declining numbers have been the result of systematic persecution by the mujahideen and Taleban which, if anything, has increased in recent years. According to the Sikh Council UK, the Afghan Sikh community has had property and businesses forcibly taken over, been prey to kidnappings and ransoms, had a special tax imposed on them and other non-Muslims and several have been killed, including some by beheadings.

Spokesperson for the Sikh Council UK, Kulwant Singh Dhesi said, "The suffering being experienced by Sikhs in this part of the world is extremely distressing and appears to have led to these refugees taking desperate measures to seek safety. We would urge the authorities to treat them sensitively following the trauma they have experienced. We would also urge the British Government to use its influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan to try and protect the very vulnerable Sikh minority community that remains there.”

He added, “The plight of these Sikhs led to them taking desperate measures to seek safety and has resulted in the death of one person. Those who are involved in people trafficking would have known of the risks and danger involved in transporting people in a shipping container. They have taken advantage of the desperate situation of these vulnerable people and the authorities should do everything in their power to bring them to justice.”

While there is considerable media and political attention of the treatment of Christians and Yazidi communities at the hand of ISIS in Iraq, let us not forget that religious persecution is occurring in many different parts of the world.

 Posted: 18 Aug 2014 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics

posted by: Guest blog by Joelle Chess | on: Monday, 11 August 2014, 10:22


As political parties like UKIP become more popular there is more pressure to control immigration. This is part of an effort to define the country’s identity. It suggests that immigrants remain foreign once they arrive, that there is a limit to how British they can be.

This month marks 78 years since the 1936 Olympics and the story of Jesse Owens describes a similar identity crisis that occurred in America and shows how sport can help us define who we consider to be British.

Jesse Owens was a black American athlete. He was born in Alabama but spent most of his life in Ohio.

In the 1936 Summer Olympic Games Jesse Owens won four gold medals: the 100m and 200m dash, the 400m relay and long jump.

The Olympics were being held in Berlin, Germany soon after the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, came to power. Hitler wanted to use the Olympics to show the world how powerful and successful Germany was under his rule. He also wanted to promote the idea that Aryans, white Germans, were superior to other races.

By winning the gold medals Jesse Owens countered Hitler’s intended message. He showed that black people can be as successful as white people.

Hitler’s response to Owen’s success was: “People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive… their physiques were stronger than those of civilised whites and hence should be excluded from future games”.

Owens’ success highlighted how ridiculous Hitler’s claims about race were. But this is the not the only message his story sends. Owens also suffered discrimination in his home country, the USA.

In the 1930s, black people in the USA were not treated as equals. Black people were segregated by law. In many areas they could not vote. They could not sit in the same parts of restaurants or buses as white people. And in many areas, black people were not permitted to walk in the front door of buildings.

The economic situation in the USA in the 1930s added to this discrimination. The USA was suffering from an economic recession called the Great Depression. As levels of unemployment increased drastically, racial violence became more common, especially in the south of the country. Groups of white people attacked blacks as they felt they threated the security of their jobs.

Owens suffered from this discrimination when he returned to the USA from Berlin. Even though he had made history by being the first American to win four gold medals in an Olympic Games, Owens was ignored by the political establishment. President Franklin D Roosevelt did not contact him to congratulate him on his success.

The separation of black people from whites continued until the mid-1950s. At this time services such as schools began to become integrated. But it wasn’t until 1964 that the Civil Rights act was passed in the USA. This banned any discrimination based on race, colour, religion or national origin. Owens’ success was finally credited in 1955 when President Eisenhower named him “Ambassador of Sports”.

Modern day USA embraces black citizens as being part of the country’s success. In 1976, Owens was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. After his death, in 1990 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bush.

The USA is very different to how it was in the 1930s. Considering how Jesse Owens was treated only 78 years ago there has been an extraordinary transformation, just ask President Barack Obama!

The world has changed beyond recognition and we need only to look at the heroes of the 2012 London Olympics, from Jessica Ennis to Bradley Wiggins & Chris Hoy!

But Mo Farah is the embodiment of the change in sport and in society more generally. After he won his two gold medals at the 2012 Olympics. A reporter asked Mo Farah if his medal would have meant more is he had won it for his country of birth, Somalia. He replied: “Not at all, mate. This is my country since I was eight years old this is where I grew up. This is where I started life. This is where I went to Uni. This is where the people I know are, this is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I’m proud, very proud, that it’s my country”.

Mo Farah embodies the new reality that “British” should not be defined by how long someone has lived here. Identity is chosen by the individual and how they feel about where they live and their experiences.

From Jessie Owens to Mo Farah in less than a lifetime shows how far we have come. We now embrace our national identity as being varied and colourful and something to celebrate. Questioning how British someone is based on the colour of their skin and how long they have resided here is not progress but reminiscent of a past we need to make sure is long forgotten!

 Posted: 11 Aug 2014 | There are 2 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Time to stand in solidarity with Britain’s Jewish community

posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Thursday, 24 July 2014, 16:56


Last summer HOPE not hate launched the #WeAreTheMany initiative to give people the opportunity to show solidarity with Britain’s Muslim communities, who at the time were suffering a violent backlash following the murder of Lee Rigby. Mosques had been firebombed, woman wearing the niqab attacked and there had been an outpouring of hatred on social media.

HOPE not hate, like many other organisations, went into overdrive to defend and support our Muslim friends and neighbours. We did all this because it was the right thing to do. Britain’s Muslim communities should not have been held responsible for the actions of others and we needed to stand together in solidarity.

That there wasn’t a greater backlash in the wake of the murder was partly down to the great work of local interfaith networks and community groups, who did an amazing job to engage positively with their own audiences and come together to show solidarity with a community under attack.

Now, a year on, it is Britain’s Jewish community under attack but this same solidarity appears sadly less lacking.

The conflict in Gaza has led to a huge spike in antisemitic incidents in this country. A synagogue has been attacked in Belfast, a bomb threat made against a synagogue in London, Jewish people abused and threatened on the streets, and there has been an outpouring of anti-Jewish hatred on the social media. The Community Security Trust, which offers protection to the Jewish community in Britain, reports 70 incidents in the last few weeks alone.

Fear is gripping Britain’s Jewish community but sadly few organisations have stepped forward to offer support, and some of those who have made statements have only done so after they have been asked.

Whatever one’s views on the Gaza conflict, taking it out on Britain’s Jewish community is clearly wrong and more people need to start saying it.

The appalling scenes coming out of France should act as a reminder to where this all could lead. Synagogues and Jewish-owned shops have been attacked, cars set alight and Jewish people assaulted. It is estimated that 1,000 Jewish people are leaving France every week and this pre-dates the Gaza conflict.

In the Netherlands, the home of the Chief Rabbi has been attacked twice in one week, while only yesterday, in northern Germany, 14 men were arrested for planning to attack a Jewish museum. At a recent pro-Palestinian demonstration in Berlin there were posters urging demonstrators to join ‘a raid on the Jewish district’, stating: ‘Come equipped with hammers, fire extinguishers and batons.’

This outpouring of anti-Jewish hatred is shocking and inexcusable. Antisemitism is just as appalling as racism and Islamophobia and we should not allow events in the Middle East to be used as a pretext for antisemitism, Holocaust denial and other outrageous conspiracy theories.

I understand that many people are angry by the media images coming out of Gaza, and I share much of that anger, but to target British Jews for something they are not responsible for or have no control over is inexcusable and, in some instances, clearly antisemitic.

I do believe that some people say and do thing out of ignorance or in anger, but for many others it is quite calculated and deliberate. Sadly, antisemitism remains acceptable for some and consciously ignored by others.

It is precisely because of this that there is a need for community and faith leaders to step up and show their solidarity with Britain’s Jewish community. We need our leaders to educate the ignorant and speak out against those who are deliberately encouraging antisemitism. We need our leaders to lead.

A year ago we stood together in solidarity with Britain’s Muslim communities when they were being unfairly attacked and proclaimed that #WeAreTheMany. Perhaps now it is time to revisit that campaign and stand together with Britain’s Jewish community as they face hostility, abuse and attacks.

 Posted: 24 Jul 2014 | There are 9 comments | make a comment/view comments

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More HOPE than hate please

posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Wednesday, 23 July 2014, 16:23


Yesterday, I sent out an email to our supporters asking them for their views on the news that Nick Griffin had resigned as leader of the BNP. As part of our on-going review about what HOPE not hate should be prioritising over the next year, I asked them a few questions about whether Griffin's resignation signalled the end of the far right in Britain, the threat from UKIP, countering other violent extremists and whether we needed to broaden out our work.

An astonishing 6,621 people have so far sent in their views, an amazing amount especially given that we are now in the school holidays and many people are away.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, only 5% of respondents agreed with the notion that the far right was dead and 94.2% thought it was still important for us to monitor such groups even if they did not currently pose a major threat. The overwhelming majority of people, 84.6%, said that HOPE not hate should campaign to stop UKIP winning parliamentary seats next year and 74% saying we should do more to combat other forms of violent extremism, with 20.7% against this and 5.5% not answering.

Perhaps most interestingly of all, three-quarters of people said that HOPE not hate should focus more on tackling racism in society and building community cohesion than simply focusing on hate groups. Clearly, people want more HOPE than hate!

 Posted: 23 Jul 2014 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Games bringing people together

posted by: Guest blog by Aoife Glynn | on: Wednesday, 23 July 2014, 12:04


Photo from flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gerardferryimages/14391030886

Photo from flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gerardferryimages/14391030886

Today marks the beginning of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, hosted this year in Glasgow. This marks not only the 20th occurrence of the Commonwealth Games, but also falls within the centenary of the First World War. This is a wonderful time for Britons and citizens of the Commonwealth to come together not only to enjoy this great sporting event, but also to remember those who fought in the First World War. It is important to remember those from the Commonwealth who sacrificed their lives in the past, working alongside British soldiers.

Seeing people from many nations come together and compete in sporting comradery is something that can make us proud as Britons. Although far right parties wish to ruin the buzzing atmosphere, they cannot succeed. The Commonwealth Games serve as a means to highlight talented athletes from around the world, from many different nations and backgrounds.

Both Britain and the Commonwealth share a common history and their multicultural and multi-ethnic societies. This, however, does not mean that everything you see at the Games will be your average Olympic sport. The Commonwealth Games include a diverse range of sports that are played primarily in certain Commonwealth countries, such as netball. This variation of sports is yet another display of multiculturalism and the wonderful pastimes that these nations partake in is shared not only with the rest of the Commonwealth, but with the world.

In other aspects, the Glasgow Games marks a milestone for paralympians: these Games will host more Para-Sports events than any of the preceding Commonwealth Games. Across five sports there will be 22 Para-Sports medals to be won. The five Para-Sports chosen to take part at these Games are: powerlifting, athletics, lawn bowls, swimming and track cycling.

Glasgow has highly inclusive plans for the Games and the legacy they will leave behind. Much like the Olympics got people together in London, Glasgow is looking to create a multicultural event which showcases the talents of people from all around the Commonwealth. The Games will bring together people of all nations and will remind those taking part and those looking on what it means to be an active member of a vibrant and cultural society.

 Posted: 23 Jul 2014 | There are 1 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Saturday Stop By

posted by: Nick Lowles | on: Monday, 21 July 2014, 09:23


The city of Leicester is rightly famed for being a cultural melting pot. A wonder down Avenue Road in leafy Clarendon Park will take you past a Church, Synagogue, Hindu Temple and a Mosque; a beacon of how people from different ethnicities and backgrounds can live side-by-side in peace and harmony. A bit further into the city centre and you stumble across the Church of St. James the Greater, where I spent a Saturday morning with the Saturday Stop By team helping Leicester’s most in need.

A joint venture between the Islamic Society of Britain’s Eat ’n’ Meet project and St James the Greater Church, Saturday Stop By offers the local homeless community a lot more than just a chance for a warm meal. People arrived hours before the food was due to be served to meet their friends and play pool, chess and a surprisingly high standard of table tennis. As a mere novice from HOPE not hate, I completely underestimated the demand for coffee and the time it took to boil an urn full of water resulted in large queues, but a chance to have a chat with some of the attendees.

“It’s like a youth club, but for older people” one person told me, and that pretty much summed it up. As I stood in a hall underneath the Church, testing if staring at the kettle really would make it boil faster, I was in awe of how smoothly all the various cultural groups before me we interacting and mingling. While the Muslim ladies prepared the parcels of food donated from the school where the Vicar’s wife worked, people from all walks of life and parts of the world chatted about football or gardening.

Salma, from the Islamic Society, said: “What we’ve found is that it’s the social interaction they get that’s really important, because a lot of the homeless are socially isolated. We get people who come in off the street, people in hostels and people who are vulnerable housed.” She believes that the fact that it is an alliance between Muslims and Christians strengthens the work the volunteers do.

“It’s really important because it show two different faith communities with the same values working together to do something to benefit the homeless in our society. It brings something extra to those sessions and it’s really nice to see volunteers develop really good friendships and rapport with each other.” A view not only shared by Salma but also the local Vicar, Glyn, who echoed this, saying “The project gives a great socialising opportunity for people coming out of isolation as well as poverty. It’s a safe setting where people can find warmth and a good meal.”

“It’s the culmination really of a long background at this Church of relating to Muslims in our locality.” After hearing such touching comments I had a sudden wave or warmth come over me, that is when I realised the water had finally boiled....

Anyone wishing to help with donations should visit http://www.isb.org.uk/category/localities/leicester

 Posted: 21 Jul 2014 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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The Big Iftar in Leicester

posted by: Guest blog | on: Thursday, 17 July 2014, 15:00


Photo: http://www.iaw.org.uk/charitybeginsathome/projects/item/eatnmeet

Photo: http://www.iaw.org.uk/charitybeginsathome/projects/item/eatnmeet

Not much will entice me to break my usual Saturday morning ritual of coffee, crossword and a date with the lovely James Martin but when I received an e mail about the Saturday Stop By I was intrigued and excited in equal measure. I am aware of other initiatives which support homeless people in Leicester but the opportunity to be involved in a multi faith project was very appealing. The venture is run jointly by the Islamic Society of Great Britain’s Eat ‘n’ Meet project and St James the Greater Church, supported by Action Homeless and funded by the Near Neighbours Fund.

Volunteers ranged in age from their twenties to sixties, men and women, and were managed with calm and finesse by Farhana who gave me a potted history of the project, which celebrates its fourth birthday later this year. Most volunteers give up one or two Saturday mornings a month to help at the project. All worked together with a slickness that most food outlets merely aspire to.

The service users, many of whom were waiting eagerly as we volunteers arrived, praised the fantastic hot meal provided. Additionally, they were provided with hot and cold drinks, a selection of fruit, cakes and biscuits throughout the two and a half hour session. They were also dispatched with enough leftover food, milk and fresh fruit to feed them for at least the rest of the day. It was a beautiful day outside but nobody seemed keen to leave the session where they were also playing pool, table tennis, chess and chatting amongst themselves and with the volunteers. They obviously value the time and effort which goes in to their time at the project.

What struck me most as I was welcomed into the kitchen was how great the similarities were between me and the other women volunteers. As we sorted through the huge array of donated food, conversation was easy; newly born grandchildren, graduated children, news about the progress of an impending wedding, happenings at school and our busy lives. Our paths through life may have been very different but we are united by our many shared experiences.

The people involved in Saturday Stop By may have bought into the concept of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ but I would wager that their motivations are pretty different from what he had in mind; rather than justifying the wholesale slashing of the welfare budget, they do something practical to support those in their community who are less fortunate than themselves. And they do it quietly, humbly and with great dignity. Whether their motivations are religious or simply moral is irrelevant – they are making a big difference to the lives of those who use the service and are yet another example of how easily people of different race, gender, ethnicity and religion can and do work together for the common good.

Gill

Would you like to host or attend an iftar? HOPE not hate is linking up with the organisers of the Ramadan Festival to offer people the chance to have a meal at the home of a Muslim family. If you would like to take part, or if you could host an event please sign up below.

http://action.hopenothate.org.uk/page/s/dine-at-mine-2014

 Posted: 17 Jul 2014 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments

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Why Srebrenica matters

posted by: Guest blog by Muddassar Ahmed | on: Friday, 11 July 2014, 22:06


This week is Remembering Srebrenica Week, which commemorates the loss of over 100,000 lives in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, and more specifically the massacre of over 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica. Despite Srebrenica being declared a United Nations “safe area” over 25,000 people were made to flee their homes by Serbian ultra-nationalist Ratko Mladic and his army in an attempt to secure a territorial hold on the area. It was the most brutal campaign of ethnic violence in Europe seen since World War II.

The European continent is becoming an increasingly polarised place, from wars in Ukraine to the rise of the far right in Greece and elsewhere in mainland Europe. The political discourse is becoming increasingly peppered with xenophobic, racist and extreme nationalist rhetoric. It’s important, in this context, to remember the lessons of the ethnic conflict in Bosnia.

With the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I also falling this year, the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, has been catapulted even further into the media spotlight. Yet on the 19th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, we cannot ignore the subtle yet obvious lessons to be learnt from a region seared by the scourge of inter-ethnic violence. The legacy of the brutal civil war of the 90s still leaves bitterness amongst Muslim Bosniaks and Bosnian Serbs.

In 2009, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that invites member states to mark 11th July as a day to remember the victims of Srebrenica. The crimes against humanity suffered by Bosnians cannot, of course, be forgotten. But the failure of the international community to prevent the Srebrenica atrocity will remain a shameful scar on the conscience of the world and a powerful reminder for the need for early intervention situations where genocide is a likely outcome.

Recently, I visited Bosnia and Herzegovina as a delegate of an educational initiative called “Lessons from Srebrenica”, created by the British charity Remembering Srebrenica. Funded by the British Government, its aim is to raise awareness of the Bosnian genocide. High profile delegates from the UK, including parliamentarians, took part in the visit, which was intended to keep the memory of those killed alive. It was an emotional trip and one that underlined the importance of peace in this region for the rest of Europe.

The UK is one of the few countries to actively commemorate the victims of this genocide. This week, the British government in association with Remembering Srebrenica also hosted a memorial service at Lancaster House. Guests included the Bosnian president, various British ministers and mothers of the victims of Srebrenica. I feel proud that the UK is ensuring Srebrenica is not simply left as a page in history with little relevance to the world today.

Given recent social unrest in Bosnia-Herzegovina, there is a need for the UK and Europe to secure longer-term solutions for peace in the region. Europe’s history shows that economic activity is a powerful driver for sustainable long-term peace. That provides an area of mutual benefit and cooperation that brings communities together and fosters the stability that buffers against extremist narratives.

This year alone, Bosnia has faced unprecedented economic hardship. In May, the country suffered some of the worst floods to hit the region in more than 100 years. Gripped with 44% unemployment, masses of people took to the streets earlier this year rebelling against harsh austerity measures set out by the government and the near collapse of the welfare state.

Whatever we think of the speed and nature of political and economic integration in Europe, it is economic cooperation and integration that have made Europe a safer place then before. Ensuring the Serbia and Bosnia are on track for EU accession, encouraging international investment into the Balkans, and promoting more infrastructure projects in the country must remain a priority for the international community.

Still, it is only stronger relations of all kinds between the affected countries themselves, between former combatants and their supporters, that can help prevent ethnic rivalry being passed to future generations in this part of Europe. As we remember the lessons of Srebrenica, Europe’s governments must continue to commemorate the memory of the war and work towards promoting trade between the countries of the Balkans. Europe’s destiny will be determined in part by the result.

‎This article originally appeared in Le Monde Diplomatique

 Posted: 11 Jul 2014 | There are 0 comments | make a comment/view comments