Monday, December 29, 2008

Remember Saturday 27 December 2008

We must not let Saturday pass. Israel crossed a line on that day and it must be held to account for it. At least fifty civilians have been killed and there must be some justice for them. They can not be forgotten in this pathetic, endless search for peace in the Middle East. Ehud Barak has some questions to answer, as do the Rabbis who justify this kind of action. Two aphorisms come to mind. The first is the line at the beginning of Schindler's List: 'Whoever saves a life, it is as if he has saved the whole of humanity'. And the second is from a Rabbi I heard at an interfaith conference about twenty years ago who said that the Golden Rule of Judaic law is 'deal with others as you would expect to be dealt with yourself'. I asked him then if this meant that Israelis were not living up to the teachings of their faith and he agreed. Come on Rabbis, speak out.

Even if the others were wearing uniform, I cannot but notice the resemblance between sending a missile into a police station in which fifty policemen are instantly killed (were they all supporters of Hamas? Can one be a supporter of Hamas and disagree with their policies? Does being a supporter of Hamas mean that you can be killed? Does this logic sound familiar?) and the suicide bombers in Iraq who kill Iraqis training to be policemen. This is indiscriminate slaughter and approximately 200 were killed on Saturday and Ehud Barak has some questions to answer.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Is Ehud Barak a war criminal?

It is shameful that the British government can't find the moral fortitude to condemn a massacre.

I am not too clued up on international law but here are some questions for experts in international law and war crimes:

a) what is the position in international law on a government firing missiles into civilian areas if the action has not been sanctioned by the United Nations?

b) what is the position in international law on a government that fires missiles into civilian areas and this results in the deaths of civilians including women and children?

c) what is the position in international law on the defence minister, in this case Ehud Barak, who has spent months preparing this attack and then argues for its commission?

It would be useful to get on record all the buildings destroyed in yesterday's attack and the names and occupations of all those killed.

These are some questions that come to mind and I hope that there is justice available within international law for the innocents who were murdered yesterday.

There has been an ongoing debate within the Muslim community about the permissibility of suicide bombing within Israel. Scholars like Shaykh Qaradawi amongst others have stated that it is permissible and people like myself and others have questioned this ruling because there does not seem to be any clear shariah justification for the exception that has been made for actions carried out within Israel. And this is why I have asked questions of the British Board of Deputies in my previous post. It is time for the Board of Deputies to provide answers to the questions around moral and religious justification for assassinations and massacres according to Hebrew law. I cannot imagine how yesterday's actions could be permitted. One analyst has suggested that for every 1 Israeli death from the rockets there have been 150 Palestinian deaths in the last three years. I am against comparing deaths in this manner but this figure does give the lie to the Israeli spin on this being some kind of revenge for rocket attacks. It is about the peace process, the forthcoming Israeli elections and the new American administration. And this is why it is all the more shameful for Israel because it carried out this massacre. We look to senior Rabbis in this country to offer some moral leadership.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

'You see this fist...'

'You see this fist. This is my moral authority'. This is Harold Pinter on American hegemony in his speech of 2005 upon receiving the Nobel Prize in literature. Hearing today that Israel has assassinated about 200 people without a judge, a jury or a case for the prosecution for any of the individuals involved, I call for the condemnation of the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza who have already been subject to another form of collective punishment, the blockade. One rule for one, one rule for all. It is astonishing and totally unacceptable that this is being described as the beginning, as if it is somehow not enough - that we can tolerate it and tolerate more - and can perhaps be explained again by Pinter when describing the US in the same speech:

'It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis'.

It is time for the Board of Deputies to make a statement on its moral view on the using of airplanes to launch missiles into civilian areas. Is this allowed? Is it morally justifiable to kill seven Palestinians in order to kill one Palestinian?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A suggested response to the Moral Maze

I've put the following together as a response to the Moral Maze's letter in response to our initial complaint (see earlier posts). I'd appreciate any advice on this and if you would like to add your name to this letter that I will send them in early January then please e-mail me on bradfordmuslimatyahoodotcouk.

Dear Moral Maze,

Thank you for your response to our complaint about the appearance of Melanie Phillips and Kenan Malik on the Moral Maze. We raised the point with you that Melanie Phillips has called for the ‘taming’ of Muslims and that therefore we regarded your continued patronage of her as a panellist as unacceptable in that you are allowing her the privilege of state-sanctioned power. We also raised the point of Kenan Malik’s recent involvement in the Moral Maze. It saddens us that the first Asian that you have chosen as a panellist on the Moral Maze is someone who publicly asserts that anti-Muslim prejudice is severely exaggerated.

In your response, you stated:

a) That you have only covered Muslims and Islam on three occasions in the last two years.

b) That the programme achieves balance through the invitation of Muslims as witnesses.

c) That Melanie Phillips’s views were not broadcast by the BBC

We wish to take you to task on these three aspects of your response.

First of all, you have stated that the Moral Maze has only covered Muslims and Islam on three occasions in the last two years. You mention the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech on the Sharia, the government’s approach to language in counter-terrorism and the counter-terrorism approach in general as three themes that have been covered. But this is the central ‘conceit’ of your programme and the fundamental moment in which you are discriminatory in the most powerful of ways against us. These moments are times of national debate and conversation: the debate is heated and serious and has huge consequences for everyone including us Muslims as the objects of this discussion. At this moment, you stage a debate in which you have empowered one person who holds extreme perspectives in this debate to act as a regular panellist – inquisitor – of us who have to represent ourselves, and can only represent ourselves, as witnesses. The closest analogy is the court, and because of the way you have set up the debate, we can only appear on one side of it. The side which is guilty or not guilty. The inquisitor is someone who has publicly stated that the problem is with our religion itself and that we should be ‘tamed’. You state in your response:

It is indeed true that at the moment we do not have a Muslim panellist on the programme, but that is not unfair, nor does it amount to discrimination against Muslims because when we do discuss subjects that affect Muslims in Britain, we have Muslim witnesses.

And in doing so, you miss the above point. You have set up a panel which is unfair and discriminatory towards us. We feel it strongly and are telling you that it is the case.

Secondly, while remaining on this first point. You have mentioned three occasions in the last couple of years in which you have directly discussed Islam and Muslims. But some of us remember that you have also discussed the legitimacy of torture at the end of the last season in which Melanie Phillips argued for the legality of torture as part of the war on terror. You have not included this programme in your list. It was around this time that Melanie Phillips called for the ‘taming’ of Muslims.

You have also only gone back to the beginning of 2007. We feel that it would be more appropriate to go back to 2001 and count the number of programmes that discuss Islam and Muslims and then the number of times that Melanie Phillips has participated in these programmes. We also feel that it would be more appropriate for an independent person to analyse the topics, indeed, we think it would be most appropriate for an independent person to conduct a discursive analysis on all of your programmes that have discussed Islam and Muslims since 2001 as this would provide the most objective and fair analysis of the data. We are willing to recommend some academics to you whom we regard as fair.

Combined, we are suggesting that the number of times that you have discussed us would be more than you suggest, and even if proven otherwise, the act of representation that is ‘The Moral Maze’ is not a matter to be belittled.

Finally, you state in brackets that Melanie Phillips did not broadcast her remark on ‘taming’ Muslims on the BBC. We remind you that the BBC cancelled ‘Kilroy’ because of Kilroy-Silk’s comments made about Arabs that were published elsewhere. So we do not hold to this point and wonder what BBC editorial policy is on this?

To conclude, we do not accept your points. We still regard your programme as discriminatory towards us, in fact your choice of Kenan Malik seems to confirm this. We certainly feel that your programme is unfair. But in the first instance, we wish to provide you with the opportunity to make the programme fairer than it is at present.

In summary:

We do not believe that your programme is balanced as a whole because of the power difference between the panellist and the witness.

We do not believe that you have accounted for the frequency of your coverage of matters that affect us directly as a community in the most transparent of ways.

We seek to call in an independent academic to study the programme since 2001.

We ask you to change the structure of the programme in order to make it fairer in its treatment of us.

We look forward to hearing from you,

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Moral Maze's response on Melanie Phillips

This is the response from the Moral Maze on the complaint that was previously sent by some of us to them about the inclusion of Melanie Phillips and now Kenan Malik as a panellist:

"Thank you for your letter about the Moral Maze and I'm sorry that you feel unhappy about the series. I too feel that the best way to answer your concerns is to look at the editorial decision making process behind the series.

The conceit of the programme (broadcast live 25 times a year) is that the panellists are NOT objective about the subjects of the week. They are chosen because they come with clear positions, passionately held. However, balance is achieved over the 43 minutes of each programme and over the run of a series because of the differing views of the panellists and of course the conflicting views of the witnesses. In addition, Michael Buerk, as chairman, is allowed to take the panellists to task if he believes they are over-stepping the mark. You may passionately disagree with Melanie Phillips's or Kenan Malik's views, and indeed the views of any of our panellists, but they are entitled to hold them and express them, just as you are free to object to them. (I notice that the quotes of Melanie Philips that you cite were not broadcast on the Moral Maze).

It is indeed true that at the moment we do not have a Muslim panellist on the programme, but that is not unfair, nor does it amount to discrimination against Muslims because when we do discuss subjects that affect Muslims in Britain, we have Muslim witnesses. It would be wrong for the programme not to discuss a subject unless we have a member of the panel who has direct experience of the issue. I feel your argument over representation might have had more merit if the Moral Maze did, as you say, "spend a considerable amount of time discussing Muslims in Britain" but going back nearly 2 years to the beginning of 2007 the Moral Maze has discussed subjects which touch on this issue only 3 times in a total of 55 programmes. For your records those editions were: 13/2/08 after the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech on Sharia Law, 6/2/08 on new Home Office guidelines for civil servants and police advising them not to use phrases such as "Islamist extremism" or "jihadi-fundamentalist" and on 4/7/07 after the Glasgow Airport bombing on how far is it morally right to engage with those who plan and carry out atrocities in an effort to understand their causes".

I'll be posting up a preliminary response that I am putting together in a few days. Any advice would be most appreciated: bradfordmuslimatyahoodotcodotuk.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Religion and the public sector duty

Calling all bloggers! There is a piece of legislation which I would hazard to suggest is more important in its implication to the Muslim community than any counter-terrorism bill. This is because counter-terrorism law affects in the main a few individuals - and though I do not wish to denigrate the seriousness of any flouting of basic human rights such as the right to a fair trial etc. I don't think that a comparison against this forthcoming bill would find that counter-terrorism legislation is more deserving of attention.

I am of course referring to the Equality Bill which was announced in the Queen's Speech this week. This Bill follows on from the equalities review and the discrimination law review. The intent of this Bill is to declutter the law - that is to simplify all equality legislation and hence make it easier and hopefully more effective for public sector organisations to meet their equality duties.

I should provide some brief history: The Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 moved race relations law in the direction of tacking institutional discrimination. That is, what is it about public sector organisations like Councils or the Police that prevents them from providing a good enough service to ethnic minorities in employment practice and service delivery? The DDA 2005 and the Equality Act 2006 made similar improvements to disability law and law in relation to gender. Three further 'strands' began to request for inclusion as public sector duties - that is that tax-funded organisations should show how they are dealing institutionally with these strands: sexual orientation, age and religion.

The Equality Bill is about extending the public sector duty from race, gender and disability to include religion, sexual orientation and age. However, there has been a real behind-the-scenes debate about whether the public sector duty should include religion at all. The main campaigners for the extention of the duty to include religion have been from the Muslim community because they have suggested that there has been a distinct deficit that Muslims have experienced because of their religion. Including religion in the public sector duty is therefore very important if discrimination against Muslims is to be prevented and more importantly if there is to be a form of public and legal accountability on discrimination against Muslims. In fact, the prevent strand of the government's counter-terrorism strategy would be rendered useless in one moment if there was to be no accountability on discrimination against Muslims. In fact, it would be plain stupid. A massive campaign to win hearts and minds through symbolic, community development type projects while simultaneously permitting any form of service delivery or employment discrimination across all public sector organisations. How's that for joined-up government? (Could all members of the Young Muslims Advisory Group and Muslim Womens Advisory Group raise this issue at their next meeting?)

At this moment in time, religion is still being considered as a strand for the public sector duty. This means that if somebody were to be stigmatised at work because of his/her faith, then they could under this duty hold the organisation to account. Examples include all those instances when somebody has discriminated against you because of your faith in the past. I can quote a few in relation to myself. However, the Equality and Human Rights Commission that is charged to protect our rights has shown that it is wavering on this issue and I have some serious concerns:

a) the Commission has paid for some research to be extended to be conducted on 'Religion and faith in employment, education and services' by Marie Macey, Alan Carling and Sheila Furness from Bradford university. Who is Marie Macey? Well, her publications include: ''Class, Gender and Religious Influences on Changing Patterns of Pakistani Muslim Male Violence in Bradford". Would the Commission have funded a researcher to examine the case for race as a public sector duty if they had previously written on 'class, gender and racial influences on changing patterns on African-Caribbean male violence'? There are no Muslim academics in this country.

b) the Commission and the Government Equalities Office (which is the govt department that funds the Commission) have organised a conference on the implications of the public sector duty for the civil service. Guess who is giving the speech on respecting religion in public service delivery. Try three names and then click here to find the answer.

c) The joke is most definately on us. But it's not over yet. The Commission is funding a series of conferences on religion and human rights, especially 'what happens when rights appear to conflict and what sort of accommodation for religious practice is acceptable in the workplace'. Which organisation has been funded to organise these conferences? Click here for more information. And who is the only person with a Muslim sounding name speaking at these conferences? Maryam Namazie of the Council of Ex-Muslims.

The Bill is due to go through the Lords and Lord Lester is one of the main architects of the Bill. One of the main problems that we face in the Lords is that we are under-represented in it. Lord Lester said in the House of Lords on 26 June 2008 that 'All the strands, as we now call them, of discrimination are very well represented in this House'. As a campaigner, I do not hold this to be true. Here is an example of an unequal debate. There are hardly any equivalent Muslim voices in the House of Lords. We are under-represented and this means that as a community we are unable to defend ourselves as equals which we most certainly can. Please, keep an eye on this bill and get in touch with anyone you know in the House of Commons and the House of Lords to make them aware of the religion section of the equality bill and to work to ensure that the religion section is not diluted. Also, please ask the Equality and Human Rights Commission about what it is doing in relation to discrimination against Muslims.