Anti-Muslim hate has gone mainstream in Europe



London, The Arab Weekly – Describing itself as the “most authoritative and comprehensive explo­ration of extremism” in Britain and Europe, the annual report by the British-based advocacy group Hope not Hate paints a bleak picture for the post- Brexit and Trump world.

“2016 was a year where a new far-right threat became more evi­dent, one played out largely on so­cial media and to an international audience,” Hope not Hate Chief Ex­ecutive Officer Nick Lowles said in the report.

“It is this same new-style far right that has been at the heart of the global fake news phenomenon and that can engage and mobilise greater numbers of people across Europe and North America than ever before,” he added.

The report points to the emer­gence of a new generation of far-right activists across Europe who are active on the internet and social media in an unprecedented way. This is a generation of far-right political activists who, for the first time, is witnessing some of their own views seeping into the main­stream, particularly fears regarding a clash of civilisations between the Judeo-Christian West and Islam.

“Trump’s election was a catalyst for the international anti-Muslim movement. After many years of slowly and painstakingly edging their way out of the political wil­derness, the ‘counter-jihadists’ suddenly have an apparent ad­vocate in the White House who echoes some of their positions on Islam and Muslims,” said Joe Mul­hall, co-author of the report.

While there has been clear politi­cal fallout from US President Don­ald Trump’s election in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, traditional far-right activists have generally remained “marginal and controver­sial,” although their “core ideas” have moved into the mainstream, Mulhall said.

“Often conspiratorial anti-Mus­lim views are adopted by suppos­edly mainstream politicians and media outlets,” he added.

The 75-page report includes de­tailed sections looking at political groups such as Britain First and the British National Party, defence leagues, groups that specialised in counter-jihadism as well as the alt-right and even major parties such as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the ruling Conservatives.

“In the last decade, talk of a Mus­lim invasion and a threat to West­ern civilisation has moved from so­cial media and the blogosphere to media-grabbing street demonstra­tions and into the parliamentary chambers of Europe,” Mulhall said.

“This mainstreaming process has rapidly accelerated over the last few years as a result of the refugee crisis and the spate of terrorist at­tacks that has shaken the conti­nent.”

A 2016 report by the Pew Re­search Center in the United States showed that unfavourable views about Muslims had surged in a number of European countries, including Hungary (72%), Italy (69%) and Poland (66%). Even Ger­many and the Netherlands, which had traditionally been more open towards immigrants, had seen a hardening of right-wing views.

“While this is all likely to en­courage anti-Muslim attitudes in society it is also likely to create resentment and a backlash among Muslims who will understandably feel persecuted and targeted,” Mul­hall said.

In the wake of the report, British Muslim activists seemed less likely to come together to figure out ways to address rising anti-Muslim senti­ment than to become bogged down in their own internal issues, as in­dicated by an article in the report focusing on Muslim extremism by British human rights activist Sara Khan.

Khan’s article cited a number of British Muslim groups and figures, including Hizb ut-Tahrir, MEND (Muslim Engagement and Develop­ment), CAGE and others for promot­ing “Salafi-Islamist” propaganda.

“Government-backed Sara Khan and her ‘We Will Inspire’ organisa­tion are at the forefront of promot­ing the government’s controversial Prevent counter-terror strategy, which all the major mainstream Muslim organisations have con­demned as a massive monitoring, spying and profiling exercise on the Muslim community,” said an article on popular British Muslim news website 5pillars. Khan’s report had described 5pillars as a “propagan­da” news site.

The London-based advocacy organisation CAGE, which was criticised in the report for ties to Salafist-Islamists, also criticised Khan’s analysis.

“Khan’s article… is a govern­ment-sponsored smear directed at dissenting Muslim individuals and organisations. The tactics to smear by association cheaply disguises the reality of how CAGE operates. CAGE has always defended prin­ciples, regardless of people, in ac­cordance with the rule of law,” a CAGE statement said.

At a time when right-wing views, particularly anti-Muslim senti­ment, are gaining traction in the mainstream, many observers are calling for British Muslims to put aside their differences to confront this new threat.

This article was originally published here.

Britons #VisitMyMosque one day after Trump protest


London, The Arab Weekly – “We were protesting against the Mus­lim ban at the an­ti-Trump rally [in London] yester­day. Today we are here,” said Jen­nifer White, a retired teacher from south London, gesturing around the courtyard of London’s Regent’s Park Mosque.

Located next to the park, in the heart of London, the mosque is known for its prominent golden dome. It was one of more than 150 across the United Kingdom that welcomed thousands of non-Mus­lim visitors on February 5th.

This was part of what has become an annual community bridge-build­ing event — known as #VisitMy­Mosque — organised by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Britain’s largest Muslim umbrella body with more than 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities and schools.

“We want to show that whatever might be happening in America or anywhere else in the world, we don’t accept that here,” White add­ed.

One day earlier thousands of protesters marched from the US embassy in London to 10 Down­ing Street calling on British Prime Minister Theresa May to withdraw an invitation to US President Don­ald Trump for a state visit and de­nounce his ban of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries entering the United States as rac­ist. “No to Trump, no to War,” and “Stop Trump’s Muslim ban” plac­ards read.

The protest, organised by a coa­lition of Muslim and anti-racist groups, including the MCB, ex­pressed dismay at the emerging anti-Muslim sentiment across the Atlantic. “What Trump is doing is damaging the whole social fabric of our society,” Dilowar Khan, ex­ecutive director of the East London mosque, told the crowd.

One day later, #VisitMyMosque was in full swing, with organisers saying they wanted to showcase “how mosques are great British institutions”, highlighting how lo­cal mosques are not just a spiritual focal point but also vital for people of all faiths by running food banks, feed-the-homeless projects, neigh­bourhood street clean-ups and much more.

“As the world recoils at President Trump’s so-called Muslim ban and now the mass killing at a mosque in Canada, #VisitMyMosque is a much-needed antidote to the poi­sonous atmosphere we find our­selves in,” said Harun Khan, secre­tary-general of the MCB.

He said the event was an oppor­tunity for the British public, Muslim and non-Muslim alike to “come to­gether and renew bonds of friend­ship” in a changing world.

“People as far away as Malaysia and the USA are asking for similar local events. And no wonder — gen­uine, decent and ordinary people have come out in the knowledge that we need to get to know each other better,” said British-Muslim author Shelina Janmohamed in an opinion piece in Britain’s Inde­pendent newspaper.

“This is why events like #Visit­MyMosque day are so important. We are all — irrespective of faith and background — fed up of dema­gogues and hate peddlers dividing us… In a fortnight when Trump has shut his doors to Muslims, we are opening ours. People coming together to learn more about each other is a wonderful sight to be­hold,” said Janmohamed, author of the memoir Love in a Headscarf.

More MPs, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who visited his local Finsbury Park mosque, than ever before attended this year’s #VisitMyMosque gatherings, the third such event. “A gentle mes­sage to Trump: Drinking tea togeth­er is far better than building walls to keep us apart,” Corbyn posted on Twitter. “The Muslim community makes an enormous contribution to Britain,” he told event-goers.

The Labour MP for Slough, Fio­na Mactaggart, visiting her local mosque Al Jannah, told visitors and Muslim volunteers that “we have more in common than what sepa­rates us”.

“It’s great that this mosque has opened its doors today but the cir­cumstances in the world in which it has [are] unfriendly. We have just observed America targeting citizens of mainly Muslim countries [with] a ban on entry… that has come out of ignorance and fear and hostility,” she said.

This article was originally published here.

‘Integration’ remains key British migration issue


London – “Integration” has become a watchword in British poli­tics with government and parliamentary reviews into it being issued within a month of each other.

A landmark government review into integration, which pointed to a lack of it among Britain’s more than 3 million Muslims, was issued December 5th, the same week that a third-party survey revealed that British Muslims support “full in­tegration” and broadly shared the views and priorities of the wider population.

A 200-page report by British gov­ernment official Louise Casey into “opportunity and integration” in Britain painted a bleak picture of segregated British Muslim commu­nities and called for immigrants to take “an oath of integration with British values and society”.

The report said there were “high levels of social and economic isola­tion in some places and cultural and religious practices in communities that are not only holding some of our citizens back but run contrary to British values and sometimes our laws”. It called for increased focus on promoting the English language and on “women’s emancipation” in communities in which they are be­ing held back by “regressive cultural practices”.

A parliamentary report into inte­gration, issued on January 5th by the all-party parliamentary group on social integration, did not strike the same bleak tone regarding a divided Britain, although it did en­dorse the government’s recommen­dation that all immigrants be made to learn English.

“All immigrants should be expect­ed to have either learned English be­fore coming to the UK or be enrolled in compulsory ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] class­es upon arrival,” the study advised.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who heads the parliamentary committee on social integration, outlined the difficulty of treating “integration” as a monolithic and easy-to-solve is­sue. “It’s clear that immigration has impacted on different communities in different ways and the pace of change has alarmed many,” he said.

“The government has a duty to address the lack of integration of immigrants… Failing to do so has left a vacuum for extremists and peddlers of hate to exploit,” said Umunna, who represents an ethni­cally and religiously diverse north London constituency.

However, a third-party poll pub­lished on December 2nd and billed as “the most extensive research of British Muslims ever conducted” put forward a far less bleak view of “integration”, asserting that British Muslims “broadly share the same views as the rest of the population”.

“Despite the greater religios­ity and social conservatism [among British Muslims]… their lifestyles are largely secular with only limited interest in sharia finance or separate religious education,” a report on the poll stated.

The poll, conducted by the Policy Exchange think-tank in conjunc­tion with the ICM polling company, surveyed more than 3,000 British Muslims. It revealed that 53% of re­spondents said they wanted to “ful­ly integrate with non-Muslims in all aspects of life”. Another 37% said they favoured integration on “most things” while 6% expressed support for leading “a separate Islamic life as far as possible” and 1% said they favoured a “fully separate” Islamic life.

The poll revealed that 93% of Brit­ish Muslims asked said they felt a fairly or very strong attachment to Britain and that British Muslims were more likely than the general population to condemn terrorism.

The three reports — one issued by a conservative-led government, one by a bipartisan parliamentary com­mittee and the other by a third-par­ty polling company — paint wildly contrasting views of British-Muslim integration. Many Muslim organisa­tions particularly criticised the re­proachful tone of the government report.

Harun Khan, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), dubbed the Casey review a “missed opportunity”, adding that the tone of the report seemed to in­ordinately blame Muslims.

“We need to improve integration and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslims. As former prime minister David Cameron has stated, ‘Integra­tion is a two-way street’,” Khan said.

As for the all-party parliamentary report, Khan said: “Unlike recently published deliberations, this re­port includes a number of sensible recommendations, including local integration plans, training and Eng­lish learning classes for economic migrants…, community mentor­ing programmes, encouragement of social mixing and cutting natu­ralisation fees, as well as automatic pathways to citizenship for new ar­rivals.”

Mohammed Shafiq, chief execu­tive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim lobby group, condemned the Casey report as “inflammatory and divisive”.

“Sadly, in today’s Britain, Mus­lims are seen as an easy target to attack by politicians, commentators and parts of the media without any regard for the impact this has on communities,” he said.

Questions of integration have only been on the rise since the Brex­it vote, with many observers ex­pressing concern at the spike in race and religious hate crime reported following the June referendum. However, most British Muslims, the poll indicated, do seek integration.

“I grew up in Britain, I would class myself as British. My values are the same as any ordinary British person, I just happen to be from a particular faith,” answered one Birmingham-based British Muslim to the ICM poll.

 This article was originally published here.

Tunisian ambassador renews call for Britain to lift travel ban


London, The Arab Weekly – Tunisian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Nabil Ammar renewed calls for the British government to lift its travel ban on flights to Tunisia, a measure that has been in place since the June 2015 terror­ist attack in the eastern Tunisian city of Sousse.

“Eighteen months after the tragic events at Sousse, we think it is more than time to at least ad­just the travel ban,” Ammar said. “There has been a lot of change in terms of improving security and so it’s past time now to readjust this travel ban, which is not only hurt­ing the tourism sector but also af­fecting the image of our country.”

Since the attack, Tunisia has adopted stringent anti-terrorism measures, including the review of security procedures at hotel and travel installations. They an­nounced the dismantling of many jihadist cells and the prevention of a number of attacks.

“There is a gap between what the advice is saying and the reality on the ground in Tunisia,” Ammar said.

The British Foreign Office has ad­vised against “all but essential trav­el” to Tunisia since the attack at the Sousse beach resort, which resulted in the death of 38 tourists, includ­ing 30 Britons. A state of emergen­cy, which has been extended nu­merous times, remains in effect in Tunisia. It is set to end on January 19th, although many observers ex­pect it to be renewed again.

“The threat from terrorism in Tu­nisia is high. Further attacks remain highly likely, including against for­eigners. Security forces remain on a high state of alert in Tunis and other locations,” the Foreign Office warned in a statement.

“Although we have had good co­operation from the Tunisian gov­ernment, including putting in place additional security measures, the intelligence and threat picture had developed considerably, reinforc­ing our view that a further terrorist attack is highly likely.”

Ammar said that, given the cur­rent international climate, there can be no travel destination that is 100% safe from a terrorist attack.

“There is nowhere where it is zero risk. Is there any need for me to recall what happened in Paris or Turkey or Brussels?” he said. “So it is not a technical question. It has more to do with political courage, long-term vision and solidarity.”

“What we are saying is that there has been a lot of progress and the level of threat is comparable to any big city in Europe, including Lon­don,” he added.

Ammar’s views echo comments issued by Tunisian Interior Minister Hedi Majdoub, who recently visited London. “The threat exists eve­rywhere. The question is: Do you trust the Tunisians or not?” he told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

“We are not saying to Europeans: ‘Please come to Tunisia; there are no threats’. There are threats, as there are all round the world, but we are ready to cooperate continu­ously on any security issue to as­sure the British and to ameliorate the situation and build confidence in us,” Majdoub said.

Spain and Sweden recently lift­ed their travel bans to Tunisia but restrictions continue to apply in Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Belgium. Despite facing such restrictions, Tunisia has sought to make up for the shortfall of tour­ists from elsewhere, particularly neighbouring countries and newer markets such as Russia and China.

China’s National Tourist Admin­istration said that four times as many Chinese tourists visited Tu­nisia in 2016 than in 2015, owing largely to rising income levels and easing of visa requirements, mean­ing more Chinese tourists than ever before are travelling abroad.

“This is good but it should not be at the cost of other tourists,” Am­mar said. “We want to add more people coming and visiting Tunisia. We want to improve our tourist sec­tor. Tunisia is a beautiful country, a land of culture and communica­tion, and we want this identity to endure.”

Ammar, who is originally from Sousse, said the most important thing is not the effect on Tunisia’s tourist economy but the global struggle against terrorism.

“By this travel ban, we are only fulfilling the terrorists’ objectives,” he said. “They want Tunisia to be cut off [from the rest of the world]… If we really want to fight against ter­rorism, we should say, ‘Yes, we are here. You will not win.’”

As for his message to British tour­ists, historically among the most numerous visitors to Tunisia, Am­mar said: “On the same beaches our blood — Tunisians and Britons — were mixed to fight against Nazism. Today, it’s almost the same kind of struggle.

“For those who know the coun­try, we know that you love our country as the country loves you so the real challenge today is to in­crease understanding between our people and to improve communica­tion. I believe, very much, in com­munication at the level of peoples. We need to work together to over­come this challenge.”

This article was originally published here.

First Brexit, then Trump. What next?


Not long after the sur­prise election victory of Donald Trump, UK In­dependence Party lead­er and leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage met with the United States’ next president in New York.

A populist campaigner for Brexit, Farage posed for a picture with one of America’s unlikeliest presidents against the backdrop of the opu­lent gold-and-diamond-studded doors of Trump’s penthouse suite. Trump flashed a thumbs-up, Far­age grinned broadly and gestured to Trump as if to say: “Can you be­lieve this?”

For many, the answer to that unspoken question is “No”. There are many parallels to be drawn be­tween Brexit and Trump’s election, not least how the so-called main­stream media and the polls failed to predict them. These are parallels that Trump was keen to embrace. “They will soon be calling me Mr Brexit,” he posted on Twitter in Au­gust. He riffed on the idea at rallies, saying his election would be “Brexit plus” and “Brexit times five”.

In both votes, immigration was a main issue in the campaign, fol­lowed closely by terrorism and the economy. In both votes, fears were on the rise, stoked largely by those who ended up victors. In both votes, the political establishment and the mainstream media failed to accurately understand ordinary people’s concerns.

So, just who voted for Trump? And who voted for Brexit? And why?

Voting data indicate 58% of white voters (52% of white women and 63% of white men) voted for Trump. While he won a clear major­ity of voters of all ethnicities aged 45 or over; 88% of black voters and 65% of Latinos voted for former US secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The vote was evenly split among high school and college graduates but only 37% of post-graduate de­gree holders voted Trump.

Similar figures were borne out by Brexit: White voters voted to leave the European Union with 53% of the tally. A majority (56%) of those aged 45 or over voted “Leave”; the figure rose to 60% of those aged 65 or over. The most dramatic split was educational: 70% of those with a General Certificate of Education — educated until age 16 — or lower voting “Leave” and 68% of those with a university degree voted “Re­main”.

One interpretation is that the whiter one is or the older one is or the less formal education one has — or some combination of all three — the more likely the person was to vote for Brexit or Trump. Another is that the poorer one is, the less hope one has for the future, the more one looks to past glories rather than new horizons, the more likely one was to vote for Brexit or Trump. The answer is not to demonise these voters but speak to their is­sues and try to win them back.

Ultimately, Trump spoke to most of the issues that mattered to more of the people. More important, he differentiated himself from Clin­ton, who was viewed as being part of the establishment that brought about the status quo that has failed so many voters.

It was those voters — who per­ceive themselves to be disenfran­chised even if that is not necessar­ily the case — Trump spoke to when he decried special interests and talked about “draining the swamp”.

While many of those who voted for Brexit did so for similar reasons, for a hazy desire for change, even if they were not sure what that change would look like precisely. Change is preferable to the status quo.

Both Brexit and Trump repre­sented a victory for nativism over the forces of globalisation. Those who voted for Brexit in Britain and Trump in the United States were, for the most part, those most left behind by globalisation. Why would they not vote for change?

More dangerous is what comes after Brexit and Trump, particu­larly with elections set for France, Germany, Hungary and the Nether­lands in 2017. Is Brexit and Trump just the beginning? There has been a rise of right-wing rhetoric across Europe due to rising fears of im­migration and terrorism. While the right-wing have firm, if flawed, answers to these questions, mod­erates and the left appear flum­moxed.

Speaking about his meeting with Trump, Farage said the two had discussed “freedom and winning”. There can be no doubt that Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France and Geert Wilders in Hol­land, among others, would like to join the party.

This article was originally published here.

British Labour Middle East policy focuses on Palestinians


London, The Arab Weekly – The Middle East foreign policy of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party seems to centre on Pal­estinians. However, at a time when the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere is ongoing and the repercussions of the “Arab spring” continue to be felt, is this focus short-sighted?

The Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East (LFPME) is a Labour Party group that “cam­paigns for peace and justice in the Middle East” but with particular focus on the Palestinian territories.

“Achieving justice for the Pal­estinians remains one of the most pressing international issues of our time. LFPME supports a viable two-state solution that delivers justice and freedom for the Pales­tinian people,” the group says on its website.

The LFPME, like other intra-party groups, aims to bring people with shared views and interests together, working like any other “friend of” party political group. In terms of regional interests, there is the Labour Friends of Israel, La­bour Friends of Iraq and a Muslim Friends of Labour. However, the LFPME is the only Labour Party group that includes a wider focus on the Middle East.

“We focus on Palestine. We haven’t had many opportunities to focus on the wider Middle East but it’s purely a pragmatic thing because Palestine is one of the ma­jor areas of foreign policy discus­sion so we have tended to focus on that,” said LFPME Acting Director Shazia Arshad.

“Although our name indicates that we would talk about the wider Middle East, and our MPs do talk about the wider Middle East, as a group we tend to focus on Pales­tine.”

The LFPME has more than 130 parliamentary supporters, more than half the number of Labour MPs, including senior figures such as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry and members of par­liament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee Yasmin Qureshi and Mike Gapes.

Corbyn, who recently easily overcame a leadership challenge, is a well-known campaigner on Palestinian issues. Speaking at the LFPME fringe meeting at the an­nual Labour Party conference in Liverpool earlier this year, Corbyn said: “I’ve campaigned for decades in support of the rights of Palestin­ian people, including refugees, for an end to the occupation of Pales­tinian land and for the two-state solution.”

LFPME Vice-Chairman MP An­drew Slaughter, who is also sec­retary of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group, acknowledged the perceived fo­cus on Palestinians but denied this came at the expense of other for­eign policy issues.

“Whereas other issues have a more urgent or emergency status at a particular time, like Syria for example, what’s different about Palestine is that this is a matter that’s been going on for a long time with very little change or improve­ment,” he said.

“If you look at issues that are raised in parliament or foreign of­fice questions, it is probably the single most raised foreign policy issue over time. I think that’s be­cause it is something which has been a real injustice that needs to be addressed and also because it is perceived as primary a politi­cal problem [and] it’s something that could and should have been resolved through diplomacy and political means before now.”

Questions regarding the Pales­tinian territories, compared with other Middle East issues, make an area of relative consensus for a fractured Labour Party. A 2014 par­liamentary vote on recognising the state of Palestine was put forward by the LFPME chairman, MP Gra­hame Morris, and was backed by 195 Labour MPs, although 63 La­bour MPs abstained.

Although purely symbolic, the 2014 vote demonstrated far more unity than recent Labour votes on Middle East issues, including a highly tense 2015 vote on Brit­ain carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria in which most Labour MPs fell in line with Corbyn to oppose the mo­tion. However, 66, including some LFPME supporters, voted in favour of air strikes.

“Currently, there’s an under­standable movement of attention to what’s happening not just in Syria but also many other coun­tries in the region, to Egypt and what’s happening [in] Yemen and Libya,” Slaughter said.

It is for this reason that the LFPME’s work on the Palestinian territories remains so important, he said.

“We were already moving in 2011 towards a stalemate or worse than a stalemate situation, where there was much more overt colonisation projects by the Israelis,” Slaughter warned. “There has been a pro­gression [in settlement building] since 1967 that has accelerated over time under all Israeli govern­ments.”

 This article was originally published here.

Live-streaming the Mosul offensive


London, The Arab Weekly – The revolution will not be televised, American jazz musician Gil Scott-Heron famously said, it will be live. As for the Mosul of­fensive in Iraq, it seems that it will be live-streamed to smartphones.

The live-streaming of the Mosul offensive, which analysts say could last months, is a first for digital war coverage and has raised questions about the intersection between news and entertainment.

Major news networks such as Al Jazeera and Britain’s Channel 4 have faced criticism for live-streaming the offensive, which aims to push the Islamic State (ISIS) out of Iraq.

“The battle for Mosul live-stream has become reality TV for the so­cial media generation,” Al Jazeera’s Alexander Lerche posted on Twit­ter. On the third day of the Mosul offensive, Channel 4’s Facebook live-stream of the Mosul offen­sive had been accessed more than 500,000 times.

“We wanted to bring one of the most significant stories of our time to our viewers as it happened. Given the nature of conflict, we are cautious and vigilant that the material is appropriate at all times and have measures in place to stop the stream when necessary,” digital editor of Channel 4 News Jon Lau­rence told the Guardian.

“We apply the same editorial standards to Facebook Lives that we do to our award-winning pro­gramme and that means ensuring that they are effectively supervised at all times.”

The actual livestream is being carried out on the ground by local Kurdish news stations Rudaw and Kurdistan 24, switching between fixed camera positions, reporters and camera crews. It is less clear what measures those channels have in place to restrict or censor content before broadcast, whether in terms of not providing real-time intelligence to ISIS or not broad­casting people being killed as it happens.

A lively debate features in the comments section alongside the live images touching on a variety of issues and topics, from the expect­ed insults hurled among support­ers of the Turks, Kurds and Arabs to jokes about the similarity between the Hungarian and Kurdish flags to Lord of the Rings references.

Rudaw, in particular, has sought to become the “leading source of news and recognisable brand” of the Mosul offensive, deploying ten camera crews to cover the war. “If CNN took the news of the Gulf War into every household, Rudaw took the Mosul battle to every hand-held device across the globe,” boasted Hemin Lihony, head of Rudaw’s digital media.

In an opinion article on the Rudaw website headlined Rudaw: A pioneer in war coverage through Livestream, Lihony confirmed that the Mosul offensive was being re­ported in a different way from any previous conflict thanks to new technology, particularly lives­tream.

Rudaw has said it was committed to not censoring the livestream, whatever happens. Even when a Rudaw camera crew embedded with Kurdish peshmerga fight­ers came under attack by an ISIS car bomb, the stream kept rolling. “With racing hearts and trembling hands, we were glued to the screen, wondering if we were going to see the death of our own colleagues live on TV,” Lihony recounted.

“The car bomb reached them and detonated. The screen was covered in dust and our reporter went si­lent… The smoke cleared and soon we saw our crew safe and sound. Without a moment’s pause, they restarted their live coverage.”

“In this battle we broke tradi­tional coverage of news. Our view­ers watched the battle live on air [at] the same time as our camera­men and studio crews behind the scene,” he added.

As for the ethics of watching scenes of death and destruction, Rudaw’s YouTube viewers are san­guine. “I don’t know if it’s ethical but it’s cool,” responded one view­er in the comments section before returning to a discussion about possible troop movements.

 This article was originally published here.

Islamicates: A new chapter in the intersection between Islam and sci-fi


London, The Arab Weekly – The intersection of Islam and science fiction goes back centuries but, at a time when Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world with more than 1.5 billion followers, representation of Muslims in the genre is in short supply, a point one project is trying to reverse.

The first of several planned an­thologies, Islamicates is a free-to-download release of 12 short stories inspired by Islamic culture. Edited by Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad, it is the culmination of the Islam and Science Fiction project.

Ahmad highlighted the impor­tance of Muslims engaging with science fiction, a genre that has never been more mainstream than in 2016. “The representation of Muslims [in sci-fi] has gradually in­creased but it is still nowhere close to representative of their global population… [but] in the last few years, we are also seeing some great science fiction and fantasy being produced by Muslims,” he said.

“With respect to the characteri­sation of Muslims, there isn’t any single way to describe how Mus­lims are portrayed in science fic­tion. There are many cases in which Muslims are cast in somewhat neg­ative light in sci-fi stories that are set in the near future. On the other hand, stories set in the distant fu­ture have rather positive portrayal of Muslims,” he added.

The stories in Islamicates were chosen from more than 70 submis­sions to the Islamicate Science Fic­tion Short Story Contest organised by the Islam and Science Fiction website. The offerings include tales of alien invasions, time travel and mathematical algorithms that allow humans to predict the future. “The response has been quite good. The anthology was downloaded 4,000 times in the first three days,” Ah­mad said. “Its release was covered by Tor and io9, which are the pre­mier science fiction websites.

“The best thing, of course, is to see the fan reactions when we re­ceive e-mail from people who love the stories and commend us for the effort.”

“Awesome! I really want to read the book. In the north of my coun­try, there is an Islamic population,” commented Colombian Sebastian Quintero Santacruz in the news story announcing Islamicates’ pub­lication. “Excited about the grow­ing diversity in science fiction,” tweeted Anand Madhvani.

Islamicates is billed as volume one in a series.

“This volume had a broad focus on science fiction in general that is set or inspired from Muslim cul­tures or the Islamic civilisation,” Ahmad said. “Future volumes will be more thematic in nature, e.g. al­ternate history, distant future, bio­tech. As with the first volume, they will have a cash prize competition for inclusion in the anthology.”

Despite being under-represented in the genre, there is a long history of intersection between Islam and science fiction. True History, writ­ten by Syrian satirist Lucian of Sa­mosata in the 2nd century, is con­sidered one of the first examples of science fiction, dealing with travel­ling to outer space, meeting alien lifeforms and interplanetary war­fare, staples of what would become the sci-fi genre.

Hayy ibn Yaqhdan by Ibn Tufail and Al-Risala Al-Kamiliyya fil-Sira Al-Nabawiyya by Ibn al-Nafis, both written in the 12th century, deal with science fiction themes.

As for criticism of Islam’s treat­ment of women, one of the first feminist sci-fi books, published in 1906, was written by a Muslim. Sultana’s Dream by Rokeya Sakha­wat Hossain has been described as a “gender-based Planet of the Apes” and has influenced many subse­quent female sci-fi writers.

Islamicates, a term that refers to the cultural output of predomi­nantly Islamic cultures or polity, hopes to increase Muslim represen­tation in science fiction.

“I deliberately chose the term ‘Islamicates’ to highlight the fact that the Muslim world is a vast col­lection of people and cultures of varying backgrounds and beliefs. While the core of these cultures is Islamic, people regardless of their religion are part of this civilisation and everyone should be celebrated as such,” Ahmad said.

“I think science fiction can help the Muslim world reimagine its fu­ture and provide hope in an other­wise abysmal environment.”

 This article was originally published here.

Virtual reality shows Syria war in different light


London, The Arab Weekly – 2016 is set to be the year of virtual reality (VR). With the release of the Oculus Rift, Vive HTC and Sony Playstation VR, among others, some 15 million VR head­sets are expected to be sold by the end of the year.

While most virtual reality VR will focus on games and other enter­tainment sectors, this exciting new technology also creates a new kind of immersive journalism.

Euronews, a multilingual news media company based in France, is the latest media outlet to look into VR, launching its No Comment 360 service, which includes interactive and immersive video reports.

“We are delighted to be implant­ing this new interactive video pro­duction method, giving our audi­ence the power to view the story from their own perspective” said Duncan Hooper, editor-in-chief of digital platforms at Euronews.

The New York Times entered the VR field by creating a series of VR films to wow visitors to its website and distributing more than 1 mil­lion Google Cardboard headsets to subscribers. As VR gear becomes more commercially available, more media outlets will no doubt jump on the VR bandwagon.

“After all the hype, this is the year when consumers will start to get their hands on new headsets and experience fully immersive con­tent,” the Journalism, Media and Technology Predictions 2016 re­port by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism forecast.

Amnesty International UK in March launched, a VR experience that allows users to go on a virtual tour and witness devastation caused by Syrian gov­ernment bombing of Aleppo. Mak­ing use of 360-degree photography, narration, sound recordings, 3D data graphs and videos gathered by Syrian activists on the ground, the aim is produce an “immersive experience”.

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a virtual reality expe­rience is worth a whole book. This truly frightening virtual tour takes a person sitting at their computer in Aldershot or Aberystwyth straight to the bombed-out streets of Alep­po,” Amnesty International UK Di­rector Kate Allen said in a release.

“Many of us might think we know what’s been happening with the Syrian government’s barrel bombing of places like Aleppo but viewing these apocalyptic scenes from 360 degrees provides a new level of understanding.”

Syria, in its sixth year of civil war, has been the subject of other immersive journalism attempts, including Project Syria — launched in 2014 — which was commissioned by the World Economic Forum to tell the plight of Syrian children.

The VR experience allows us­ers to “explore” the street scene before, during and after a bomb blast. Project Syria demonstrates the difficult middle ground that VR journalism must inhabit, halfway between traditional journalism and narrative.

Speaking during the Symposium on Virtual Reality Journalism in Vancouver in June, documentary producer Cassandra Herrman ac­knowledged that VR documentary makers have a difficult task in mar­rying non-fiction with narrative.

“What I often see is just a col­lection of scenes. Just because it’s immersive, it doesn’t mean it has a narrative. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to guide the audience with traditional storytelling tech­niques. You can find a marriage be­tween the two,” she said.

Nonny de la Pena, who wrote and directed Project Syria, concurs. “Immersive journalism is about us­ing the unique qualities of VR — its power to generate empathy and its ability to convey the spatial, physi­cal dimensions of a story — to shine a new, different kind of light on ma­jor issues. There are some stories that are better told in this medium than in any other,” she said.

Known as the godmother of vir­tual reality, de la Pena said: “VR can generate an incredible sense of empathy with characters and situa­tions because of that sense of pres­ence, of really being there on the scene.”

“VR is absolutely becoming much more of a phenomenon. There are a lot of companies springing up mak­ing this kind of content and a lot of big media organisations are now getting into it and the technology is getting cheaper and easier to use,” she said.

 This article was originally published here.

Yusuf Islam raises plight of child refugees


London, The Arab Weekly – “He was alone when he was 12, only his thoughts, which he kept to himself, but he had a wish that one day he’d fly over the wall up through the sky,” Yusuf Islam sings in his latest single, about a Syrian refugee making the desperate jour­ney to Europe.

Islam, once known as Cat Ste­vens, has launched the You Are Not Alone campaign to raise money for Syrian child refugees after return­ing to Britain from a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border in Ga­ziantep.

“People there have lost their homes and are waiting for peace to return but the children still remain bright and hopeful. The visit was much appreciated and they sang for me, a beautiful human experi­ence,” Islam said in a posting about the song.

Islam, 67, famously converted to Islam in 1977 after having a reli­gious experience following an inci­dent in which he almost drowned. He withdrew from the music indus­try for almost 30 years before re­turning with a focus on Islamic and humanitarian themes.

The You Are Not Alone campaign is based on a statement made by Pope Francis during a visit to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos in April. The message of unity and openness is one that Islam is trying to spread at a time when the European immigration crisis is worsening and the public response to migrants and refugees in some countries is becoming in­creasingly unfriendly.

“My hope is to open people’s hearts to the sadness experienced by thousands of young souls whose voices are not heard in the clam­our created by the politicians and the media in the midst of the refu­gee crisis, generated by the wars and conflicts blazing through their homelands,” he added in a state­ment that accompanied the launch of the campaign.

His new single, He Was Alone, fea­tures a video that follows a young Syrian refugee who loses his family before dying on the road. His grave­stone bears a single word — walad — Arabic for “boy”.

Through its haunting lyrics and stark imagery, He Was Alone tells the tragic story of one child refu­gee and through this seeks to tell the story of all refugees. “While the world faces incomprehensible numbers and statistics created by the refugee crisis, the tragedy and story of a single soul gets missed,” Islam said.

Islam’s charity, Small Kindness, is working with the Save the Children and Penny Appeal UK to raise funds for child refugees who have made the perilous journey to Europe. Save the Children estimates that 95,000 refugees and migrant chil­dren travelled to Europe on their own or lost their families on the journey in 2015.

Proceeds from the single and an intimate charity event June 14th in London will be combined with an online campaign to assist child refugees.

“It was difficult to stand by just watching this tragedy without try­ing to do something,” Islam said. “I simply decided to help humanise the narrative and lend my voice to the call for keeping hearts and doors open to every refugee, es­pecially youngsters, who have lost what future they might have once hoped for.”

The charity event saw Islam, wearing a white shirt, strumming an acoustic guitar and backed with a five-piece band, serenade the au­dience with classics such as Father and Son, Moon Shadow and Peace Train, as well as his newer offer­ings, including He Was Alone.

The tone of the concert was re­strained, with representatives from Save the Children and Penny Ap­peal UK addressing the audience about the plight of displaced chil­dren.

Islam also delivered a soulful cover of Curtis Mayfield’s anthem for change People Get Ready, which resonates with the refugee crisis gripping Europe. “People get ready, there’s a-train a-coming. You don’t need no baggage. You just get on board,” Islam sang.

Given that the concert took place during Ramadan, proceedings end­ed at 8.30pm, about an hour before iftar.

“A beautiful converging of hearts. Thanks to all that came out tonight in aid of refugee children,” Islam tweeted after the concert.

This article was originally published here.