Lawrence and the Arab revolt: 100 years later

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London, The Arab Weekly – One hundred years after the Arab revolt, the Mid­dle East remains in tur­moil and T.E. Lawrence — Lawrence of Arabia — is still making headlines.

Lawrence is the subject of two forthcoming books, a play and a ma­jor archaeological exhibition, and then there is the furore surrounding the British government’s attempts to prevent Lawrence’s iconic robe and dagger — a gift from a Bedouin chieftain — from being sold outside of the country.

The spate of Lawrence-mania comes ahead of the 100th anniver­sary of the start of the Arab revolt, in which Lawrence played a central part. But this pan-Arab nationalist movement — perhaps the first but certainly not the last of its kind — ended in failure following the im­plementation of the secret Sykes- Picot agreement that carved up the Middle East in favour of the Western powers.

Many analysts have linked the historic turmoil in the Middle East, including conflicts playing out in the region today, to the secret agreement between the British and French imperial powers. Despite this, Lawrence remains a figure of fascination in the West as well as across the Middle East as he has ever since his exploits after World War I.

“Lawrence of Arabia can be end­lessly reconfigured as a celebrity and legend. In a sense, there are lots of different Lawrences, each created by different biographers, film-mak­ers, documentary-makers and art­ists,” said Professor Neil Faulkner, the author of a forthcoming book about Lawrence.

“I think that Lawrence is able to play that kind of role because he is such a complex character, such a maverick, so enigmatic and mysteri­ous and therefore very much open to this endless reconfiguration… Lawrence changes in keeping with changing attitudes.”

Faulkner’s book, Lawrence of Ara­bia’s War, is based on fieldwork car­ried out over ten years in southern Jordan deserts by an international team, including archaeologists from the University of Bristol, and looks to “rewrite the history of T.E. Law­rence”.

“Obviously he was very neurotic. Psychologically he was quite a vul­nerable individual,” Faulkner said. “I think he retreated into a kind of romantic orientalism and that was an escape from things in his own life and society and relationships inside his family…

“I think he dealt with all this by retreating into a romantic oriental­istic fantasy world and cast himself as a hero within it. I think he had a hero complex but, unlike the vast majority of people who have that ro­manticism, he actually had the op­portunity to act his out.”.

Another forthcoming book, based on the same research, was written by Bristol University Professor Nich­olas Saunders and will carry out an archaeological-anthropological in­vestigation of World War I and par­ticularly the Arab revolt. Saunders’ book Desert Insurgency: Archaeol­ogy, T.E. Lawrence, and the Great Arab Revolt is the first academic in­vestigation into vast conflicts asso­ciated with the defence of the Hejaz Railway, including some unknown except to Bedouins.

“Britain is again at war in the Mid­dle East. As the region unravels, at­tention refocuses on the conflicts, treaties and carve-ups that gave the Middle East its current form a centu­ry ago. In popular imagination, that history is inextricably associated with Lawrence of Arabia,” Saunders said.

“A misfit and maverick, a roman­tic and orientalist, an archaeologist and wartime intelligence officer, he was a most unlikely war hero… Is the legend a myth? Was Lawrence, as some claim, a liar and a charlatan? Or does the legend reflect reality?” Saunders asked.

Many Arab analysts and historians have sought to downplay the role that Lawrence played in the Arab revolt, criticising his lasting fame as being part of a colonialist fantasy, arguing that Lawrence ultimately served, albeit unwillingly, Britain’s colonial objectives.

Lawrence, a relatively junior offic­er in the British Army, saw Arab at­tempts to unify and gain independ­ence in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman empire fail, with Brit­ain and France taking over as colo­nial masters in the region. Still, few doubt that Lawrence truly identified with the Arabs.

“He was a very interesting char­acter with a real significant level of identification with the Arab cause,” Faulkner said. “He seems to be somebody who was, in some sense, on the right side, or people have a feeling that he was on the right side, and I think there is a strong measure of truth in that.”

“I don’t buy the argument that Lawrence was very much a second-or third-division thinker in the Arab revolt. I don’t think that’s convinc­ing. Lawrence played a very big role in developing a theory of modern guerrilla warfare. He does this in collaboration with Arab leaders but he probably had the clearest view of it in terms of military theory,” Faulkner added.

One hundred years after the start of the Arab revolt, and with the Mid­dle East arguably as divided as it has ever been, many are looking back to the example of Lawrence of Arabia and the dream of the Arab revolt, as a way to combat the Islamic State and other major problems facing the region.

Conservative British MPs work to correct Middle East image problem

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London, The Arab Weekly – At a time when the Middle East is more important and complex than ever, the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) is working to ensure that British con­servative members of parliament and peers can make informed decisions.

CMEC’s mission statement says the group “promotes the discus­sion of UK foreign policy in the Middle East and seeks to ensure that this policy is grounded in a deep understanding of the com­plexities of the region”. In practi­cal terms, that means arranging parliamentary visits to the Middle East so MPs can experience the region first-hand.

“It’s only by first-hand experi­ence that you can really under­stand all the complexities of the region,” CMEC Director Leo Docherty said. “It’s also by having that intensity of exposure that MPs gain a proper understanding.

“Reading gets you a certain way there but until you’ve actually met people face-to-face and had proper discussions and seen what is happening there with your own eyes, that’s when you get a proper understanding.”

This is a sentiment shared by the CMEC vice-chairman, Phil­lip Lee, an MP who represents Bracknell and who has partici­pated in a number of visits to the Middle East. He recently travelled to Jordan where he visited the Zaatari Syrian refugee camp. He is chairman of All-Party Parliament Groups on Kuwait and Qatar.

“You can read about things as much as you like but until you go there, see it, smell it, touch it — that’s how you get to know a place and you get a sense of how people are and what their perspective on the world is,” Lee said. “We have quite an Anglocentric view of the world… but the way we view the world is not necessarily the same view on the street in Amman.

“I think it is important to try and understand different perspectives and what better way to do it than first-hand?”

Lee joined CMEC in 2010, not long after entering parliament. His interest in the Middle East dates to his youth and a trip backpacking across Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel as a medical student in 1998.

His first trip to the Middle East with CMEC was to Syria in 2011 when many of the places he vis­ited as a student — Hama, Palmyra, Deraa, Damascus — would not have changed much following his return as a parliamentarian. How­ever, after five years of war and the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS), the same cannot be said today.

“We were in Syria in Febru­ary 2011, three weeks before the civil war started,” Lee said. “Being entertained by the Assad regime is like being entertained by the ma­fia, being driven around in black cars and so on.

“The lack of regard for the [Assad] government was really etched on the faces of the Syr­ian people. You could detect that anti-establishment mood that was sweeping across North Africa at the time and was about to arrive in Syria, although I wouldn’t have predicted it would have erupted so quickly.”

The West’s response to the “Arab spring” protests that swept the Middle East from 2011 was prema­ture, he said.

“History teaches us that changes to society like this take time and I think that there was a hope, and perhaps a naive expectation, that these countries would then go on to be broadly democratic and secu­lar overnight and everybody would live happily ever after. I think that was rather naive,” Lee said.

It is this kind of naivety that CMEC is trying to eradicate, seek­ing to inform and educate MPs and peers about the realities of the region, in all its complexities.

“The biggest misconception that people have is that the Middle East is similar to the UK or the West in political terms,” Docherty said. “People have a real difficulty understanding the importance of religious and sectarian factors. There is a lack of awareness about the fact that the Middle East is profoundly different.

“When we consider the Middle East in terms of policy, we’ve got to recognise the reality. We have to deal with the Middle East as it is, rather than how we want it to be.”

Lee said that the Middle East has an image problem and one that CMEC — with its policy papers and visits to the region — is trying to correct.

“The problem with the Middle East is that any time it’s in the news it usually involves vio­lence. When did you last hear a story from the Middle East about a scientific discovery or an artistic display?” Lee asked.

“The problem is that in the eyes of the average man on the street, ‘Brand Middle East’ is violence. That’s clearly not an accurate reflection of the Middle East and so for those of us who have an in­terest, and like the Middle East, it’s an uphill battle to persuade people about how things really are and why we should have an interest in helping and making things better there. That’s the problem with the Middle East; the news is always bad news.”

 This article was originally published here.

Meet the Arab social media generation

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London, The Arab Weekly – Twitter hashtag #Arabyouthsurvey was trending following the publication of the eighth Asda’a Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey, aptly demon­strating young Arabs’ close rela­tionship with social media.

The survey indicated that, in the post-“Arab spring” Middle East, so­cial media are more important than ever. For Arab youth, social media are means to communicate with each other, interact with the world and consume and share news.

“Throughout the Middle East, social media have emerged as a replacement for the lack of public space. This is not a complacent and subservient youth that feels con­strained by the governing practices of the past. Rather, it is a youth that actively seeks a broader and deeper role for itself in shaping its own environment and the societies in which they live,” said a report on the survey, titled Inside the Hearts and Minds of Arab Youth.

For Palestinian-Canadian writer Chaker Khazaal, who has more than 250,000 twitter followers and was selected “most influential young Arab” by Arabian Business magazine in 2016, the role of social media could not be more impor­tant. “Arab youth are engaged in social media because it has given them a voice to express their opin­ions on social, political and civic matters directly to their peers and unfiltered from any forms of op­pression,” said Khazaal, who spoke on the Arab Youth Survey panel.

“Social media have become the only independent voice where Arab youth, journalists, [non-gov­ernmental organisations] and ac­tivists can express their individual point of view.”

Instant messaging service What­sApp is, by far, the most popular social media platform with about 60% of young Arabs saying they use it on a daily basis; 55% of re­spondents said they used Facebook daily, compared to 33% who said they used YouTube and 28% who used Twitter or Instagram.

WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, is one of the most popular messag­ing apps in the Middle East and not just for young people. One of the reasons for the app’s popularity is its perceived strong encryption, with WhatsApp recently providing even stronger end-to-end encryp­tion in an update.

“WhatsApp has always priori­tised making your data and com­munication as secure as possible… No one can see inside the message. Not cybercriminals. Not hack­ers. Not oppressive regimes. Not even us,” WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum wrote in a blog post an­nouncing the latest update.

It is in their news consumption that Arab youth habits are chang­ing the most and fastest. The Arab Youth Survey appeared to strike the death knell for print media, with 7% of respondents saying they read newspapers on a daily basis. In 2011, the year that marked the start of the “Arab spring”, 62% of Arabs aged 18-24 said they read newspa­pers on a daily basis.

Overall, most young Arabs con­tinue to get their news from tel­evision (63%) and online sources (45%) but social media are becom­ing increasingly popular ways of consuming and particularly sharing news; 52% of respondents said they used Facebook to share interesting news articles, up from 41% in 2015. About one-third of those asked said they used social media in general — without specifying which plat­forms — to obtain their daily dose of news, with social media and on­line news consumption necessarily going hand-in-hand.

“Newspapers and traditional forms of media need to provide a platform and voice without any re­strictions to Arab youth. This will renew the youth’s faith in these in­stitutions and therefore allow their continuity, rather than it being the end of them,” Khazaal said. “Social media have and will continue to provide a much needed check and balance on the media industry as a whole and I believe society ben­efits from this contrast of points of view.”

Arab youth are following global trends with more people accessing news through social media net­works. A 2015 report by the Pew Research Center said that 63% of Facebook and Twitter users said they get news from the sites, with young people particularly relying on social media as news sources.

The chapter focusing on young Arabs’ use of media, titled The Age of Social, was written by Damian Radcliffe, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication.

“This preference to digest news digitally — and often on the move — is only likely to increase as smart­phones become increasingly af­fordable. The GSMA, a trade body for the global mobile industry, an­ticipates that the number of smart­phone connections in the region will grow by 117 million to 327 mil­lion by the end of the decade,” he wrote.

“For some audiences, social me­dia are the primary means by which news and information are both dis­covered and distributed, a trait that is only going to become more prev­alent,” Radcliffe said in the report.

“As social networks develop further links with publishers, gov­ernment entities and other media providers, their influence — and im­portance — is only going to grow.”

This article was originally published here.

UK’s Prevent programme failing to engage Muslims

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London, The Arab Weekly – Prevent, a controversial British government anti-terrorism programme, appears to be failing to engage the Muslim com­munity, which is largely ignoring it, with some boycotting the initiative amid claims it alienates Muslims and could push some down the path of terrorism.

Prevent, one element of a four-part government counterterrorism strategy, aims to respond to the ide­ological challenge posed by terror­ism and extremism, providing prac­tical assistance to people deemed at risk of radicalisation.

Some form of the programme has been in force in the United Kingdom since 2007, although Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has significantly beefed it up. This cul­minated with the Prevent Duty go­ing into effect July 1, 2015, which made it legally incumbent on key bodies, including schools, universi­ties and hospitals, to “recognise and respond” to any “signs of radicalisa­tion”.

“Prevent is about protecting those who might be vulnerable to the poi­sonous and pernicious influence of radicalisation… We must work with the overwhelming majority of Brit­ish people who abhor the twisted narrative that has seduced some of our people,” UK Security Minister John Hayes said.

But with no lower age limit for those who can be referred to the programme and questions about what “signs of radicalisation” teach­ers and others are supposed to be on the lookout for, many Muslim and non-Muslim organisations, includ­ing the National Union of Teachers and National Union of Students, ex­pressed reservations about Prevent.

Mosques and Muslim associa­tions have reacted with suspicion towards the programme, warning it could increase the sense of isolation and alienation felt by some Muslims and make it more likely they would be radicalised.

“It [Prevent] contains the implicit assumption that Muslims are less able to function in an open democ­racy than other people, more sus­ceptible to totalitarian impulses and that they are more open to be incit­ed to violence. It sends a very nega­tive message to the community and is likely to increase Islamophobia,” former Muslim Council of Britain Secretary-General Farooq Murad said in 2011.

While a number of Muslim associ­ations expressed reservations of the initiative, Waltham Forest Council of Mosques in East London — one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse boroughs in London — an­nounced an outright boycott of Pre­vent.

“Prevent is an ill-conceived and flawed policy. It is racist and overt­ly targets members of the Muslim faith,” a statement from the council said.

According to estimates from the Office for National Statistics, Waltham Forest in East London is home to about 280,000 people, some 60,000 of whom are Muslim. Waltham Forest Council of Mosques spokesman Irfan Akhtar described the borough as a “testing ground” for Prevent, warning of the dangers of the government’s counterterror­ism initiative.

“Prevent is a one-way street that points the finger at Muslims and Islam and ignores dialogue and en­gagement,” he said. “Of course eve­ryone agrees with the buzz words the government throws out about tackling extremism but in practice Prevent opens up a way for discrim­ination against Muslims.”

“There are case studies of fami­lies being harassed based on what a 4- or 5-year-old has said. It is totally unacceptable. Prevent is pushing people to shy away from practic­ing their religion. This policy is dis­criminatory and makes people fear­ful about speaking out about their religion.”

There are also questions regard­ing how teachers or doctors can be expected to differentiate extremists from moderate Muslims, particu­larly when the “signs of radicalisa­tion” used by the government are so broad as to include boys growing a beard, girls wearing the hijab and even students becoming more stu­dious.

“The teachers we spoke to are re­luctant to get involved with Prevent because it is not their job to spy on their students. It breaks down the relationship of trust that is needed in the education sector,” Akhtar said, adding that the Waltham For­est Council of Mosques had been in­vited to talk to the borough’s teach­ers’ union.

While the Waltham Forest Coun­cil of Mosques, which represents at least eight mosques and religious associations, has announced a boy­cott of Prevent, figures from the Na­tional Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) indicate that many other mosques across the country are refusing to engage with the anti-terrorism ini­tiative.

A report published by Britain’s Times newspaper in late December indicated that less than 10% of Pre­vent referrals were from within the Muslim community. Of the 3,288 referrals to Prevent in the first half of 2015, 280 — 8.6% — came from within the Muslim community, data released by the NPCC indicated. The remaining referrals were made by public bodies, such as schools and social services.

But in a complex situation, even these figures are not without con­troversy with the NPCC subse­quently coming out to challenge the report. “The figures may not accurately capture the nature of the original source because in many cases members of the community will report in the first instance to the police,” NPCC spokesman Chief Constable Simon Cole said.

Questions also remain about the narrow scope of the figures, with the NPCC yet to release data for the second half of 2015, which would coincide with the Prevent Order and statements from Prime Minis­ter David Cameron directly linking terrorism and non-violent extrem­ist ideology.

Still, for one East London mosque authority, there is sufficient cause not to cooperate with the govern­ment and boycott its anti-terrorism strategy. “It scares the children about practicing their religion for they think they could be flagged up as an extremist. We want to get rid of the stereotyping,” Akhtar said.

This article was originally published here.

‘Islamic Netflix’ seeks positive representation of Muslims

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London, The Arab Weekly – Alchemiya, an emerg­ing video-on-demand service that has been likened to an “Islamic Netflix”, is seeking to do the seemingly impossible: por­tray Islam and Muslims in a posi­tive light. In the era of the Islamic State (ISIS), of global terrorism and Middle East chaos, that is easier said than done.

“This project is a chance to pre­sent a side of Islam and Muslims that is widely unknown and inject a dose of positivity, with uplifting, heart-warming content,” Alchemi­ya’s manifesto promises. Less than one year into the endeavour, and gearing up for the channel’s sec­ond phase, this is a philosophy that remains at the heart of Al­chemiya.

“That’s a choice we took very early on. We think there is plen­ty of content about extremism and terrorism around. What we are concentrating on is the gap — where are those amazing films about Islamic culture and civili­sation?” Alchemiya founder and Chief Executive Officer Navid Akhtar asked.

There is not just a dearth of con­tent about Islamic history, that en­compasses contemporary issues as well, he said. “We’ve made a conscious choice to look at what’s working, what’s succeeding [in the Islamic world] in terms of creativ­ity, business and social change.”

Alchemiya is far from a one-man show. Akhtar has been joined by well-known British broadcaster, politician and imam Ajmal Mas­roor among others — Muslims and non-Muslims — who are seeking to put forward a more positive, more realistic image of Islam than the one depicted on the nightly news.

“I believe something very sim­ple: We should all be involved in informing people, inspiring peo­ple and influencing change.

Let’s start those changes from within. If the core of our being changes, the world will change. And that’s what we are talking about when we talk about Al­chemiya,” Masroor said.

Alchemiya, a successful ex­ample of crowd-funding, has 52 documentaries on offer. Soon that number will be closer to 500 as the service expands and reaches new subscribers in new ways.

“That’s where the next expan­sion comes. In addition to in­creasing the amount of content on the platform, we’re looking at facilitating how subscribers can watch. We’re looking at things like Chromecast, Apple TV, iOS, An­droid apps and probably Samsung Smart Hub,” Akhtar said.

As for whom Alchemiya is look­ing to target, it is clear the service has done its homework.

“When we started to do research we had a hunch about who our customers would be and that is when we came up with the term Global Urban Muslim. The Global Urban Muslim is in about 19 coun­tries across the world, from Syd­ney, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Istanbul to Berlin, Munich, London, as well as Toronto, New York and Los Ange­les,” Akhtar said.

“They [Global Urban Muslims] are quite highly educated. They travel a lot. They may have been born in the East or live in the West… [but] they don’t really see themselves as Eastern or Western. They move very comfortably be­tween these two spaces. They’re not really religious with a capital ‘r’; they’re more spiritual,” he said.

“They don’t want programmes that are going to tell them how to practice Islam.

What they want is programmes that celebrate aspects of the faith and particularly cultural aspects of Islam,” Akhtar added.

Akhtar has 25 years’ experience in television to draw on, including stints at the BBC and Channel 4. His background is in the arts, his­tory and culture — not news. He has produced documentaries on the haj, on Ramadan and on Mus­lims in Spain. It is content such as this that Alchemiya hopes to pro­cure the rights to and produce it­self.

“One of the most watched [doc­umentaries] on the channel is The Muslim Traveller’s Guide to Grana­da, which looks at the things you should visit if you were to travel to the city of Granada in Spain,” he said.

Other available documentaries include Goal Dreams about the Palestinian national football team; Talking Through Walls, about one man’s mission to build a mosque in suburban America; as well as films looking at Afghan skateboarders and a call-to-prayer competition.

“But we are looking predomi­nately to find talents that we can commission and give them the op­portunity to go out and make con­tent for us,” Akhtar said. “We’ve already found a lot of producers who we know but we also have come across new producers from everything from Pakistan to Tur­key to Cairo.”

As for the Netflix comparison, Akhtar laughs. “Yes, we had a bit of a joke in the office about that,” but he says that he does not dis­courage the media-friendly term.

“When you say ‘Netflix’ people immediately understand that you can go online and watch content so it helps us in that way,” he said. “But at some point we’re looking to just be Alchemiya and for peo­ple to understand what it means. So as the brand develops we don’t have a problem with that compari­son.”

This article was originally published here.

Islamophobia on the rise in Britain

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London, The Arab Weekly – Following a slew of global Islamist terrorist attacks in 2015, Islamophobia is on the rise in Britain, with statistics from London’s police force confirming that report­ed Islamophobic hate crimes in the British capital have nearly doubled over the past two years.

There were 557 Islamophobic hate crimes reported in 2013; 624 in 2014 and 878 as of November 2015, sta­tistics from London’s Metropolitan Police Service revealed, with direct cause and effect between terrorist attacks and Islamophobic incidents.

In the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015, reported assaults against Muslims in London more than tripled. “It is with regret but something that we have come to re­alise, through experience, that hate crime can increase during these dif­ficult times,” a police spokesman said, adding that London police had increased patrols in areas with a high number of Muslim residents.

Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Mus­lim Attacks), a UK-based group that monitors Islamophobic incidents, has documented the link between terrorist attacks and anti-Muslim hate crimes. It revealed there were 115 reported attacks in the wake of the Paris attacks representing a spike of more than 300%.

“There is a rising trend of Islamo­phobia or anti-Muslim hatred and this is, we believe, partly driven by the media, social me­dia, extremism and terrorism… and we have seen that each time there is a major terrorist inci­dent, there is a very large spike in anti- Muslim preju­dice,” Tell MAMA founder Fiyaz Mughal said.

“Sadly, as long as there is extrem­ism and terrorism, and with some inflammatory media headlines and articles, the ‘background noise’ of anti-Muslim prejudice or hatred will continue.”

A total of 3,254 religiously moti­vated crimes were recorded in Eng­land and Wales in 2014-15, out of a total of 52,528 hate crimes, a 43% increase on the previous year. The large majority of these crimes were against Muslims.

That figure could be much high­er. A recent report by criminolo­gists Imran Awan of Birmingham City University and Irene Zempi of Nottingham Trent University re­vealed that many Muslims do not report incidents of Islamophobic abuse.

The report, published in October, conduct­ed in-depth in­terviews with victims and uncovered “worrying levels of fear and intimidation experienced by many Muslims, compounded by a lack of support from the wider public when facing physical threats in the real world and an absence of tough action from social media platforms at the abuse people are receiving online”.

Even London police acknowl­edged that Islamophobic crimes are under-reported but contended that they are being more reported than they were in the past.

“We are acutely aware that all ar­eas of hate crime are still under-re­ported and we are encouraged that more people feel confident to report racial and religious hate crimes… We believe the increase in Islamo­phobic hate crime is due to a range of factions.

This includes a growing willing­ness of victims to report hate crime [and] an improved awareness of staff in identifying these offences,” a police statement said.

“World events can also contribute to a rise in hate crime.”

Labour Party candidate for Lon­don mayor, Sadiq Khan, a Muslim, said he would do more to tackle Is­lamophobia if he becomes mayor. “Every time there is a terrorist in­cident involving evil fanatics who abuse the name of Islam, ordinary, law-abiding Muslims pay a heavy price,” he wrote in an opinion piece in the Guardian.

“We must do more to challenge Islamophobia. As mayor of London, I’ll make tackling hate crimes… a top priority for the Metropolitan police and ensure they get the re­sources they need to make a real dif­ference,” he said.

As for how best to deal with the rise in Islamophobic sentiment, Mughal said: “Education, education and more education.

“We are working in schools to en­sure that young people understand that anti-Muslim prejudice is unac­ceptable.

Just as anti-Semitism is wrong, so anti-Muslim prejudice is also wrong. No-one should be targeted because of their identities.”

“Work in schools is key and this is why training to teachers and educa­tionalists is fundamental,” he add­ed. “This is something that civil so­ciety can do and more groups need to step forward and undertake this work. It is all well and good talk­ing about Islamophobia, the key is about tackling such prejudice whilst ensuring that it is done in partner­ship with other groups.”

This article was originally published here.

Egypt’s TV talk shows are local

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London, The Arab Weekly – In a country where an estimated one-quarter of the population is illiterate, television in Egypt, and particularly television talk shows, hold an oversized grip on public consciousness. Talk show hosts such as Amr and Emad Eddin Adeeb, Mahmoud Saad and Tamer Amin not only reflect on the news of the day, they push and influence the debate.

Egypt’s media, battered and bruised from four years of political turmoil, revolution and counter-revolution, has grown adept at self-censorship. The talk shows, seek­ing to attract and hold viewers who have hundreds of local and interna­tional Arabic satellite TV channels at their disposal, have found that the key lies in engagement. Shows are increasingly focusing on local issues — whether social or politi­cal — and often allow for phone-ins and live tweeting to maximise audi­ence participation.

There is a symbiotic relationship between social media and Egypt’s talk shows, Cairo University media graduate Asma Mohamed agreed: “Yes, we rely on social media but it is linked. The talk shows often find their issues from what is trending on social media and then what ap­pears on the talk shows is discussed via social media as well.”

Egyptian talk show host Doha al- Zohairy said the influence that talk shows have on society in general cannot be overestimated but it is social issues that attract the most attention.

Zohairy hosts the two-hour Al Sharaa Al-Masry (Egyptian Streets) programme for the Al Arabiya Al Hadath channel. The programme is split between a first hour focusing on important news and develop­ments in Egypt and a second hour that contains a field report. She de­scribed it as a “socio-political pro­gramme”.

“Unfortunately in Egypt talks shows are important and very influ­ential. Each category in society fol­lows the talk show presenter who represents his or her views and who is closest to his or her social level,” Zohairy said.

“When something major hap­pens, politically, [Egyptians] turn to pan-Arab news channels. View­ers know that the local channels are full of views, more than news. Foreign policy comes at the end of people’s interests. People follow whatever they feel will affect their bread and butter directly — it could be political or social.”

Recent social reports carried by Al Sharaa Al-Masry include an in­vestigation into car thefts, a look at the state of Egypt’s cafés post-rev­olution, flaws in the construction industry and other socio-political issues, seeking to shed light issues affecting ordinary people.

“The media’s main concern is what is happening in Egypt. Even when it covers international issues, it does this through an Egyptian lens,” Mohamed said.

Zohairy recalled a recent episode which focused on people who have long-term leases on home applianc­es and end up paying much more than the appliance is worth and ac­cumulating huge debts. The report featured a woman, Ratiba, who was imprisoned for more than ten years after being unable to pay her debts.

“The programme is not a charity but when we broadcast this report we received a lot of offers from people who wanted to pay off her debt,” Zohairy said. Things were not so simple though, with Ratiba remaining behind bars even after the debt had been paid.

“The importance of these pro­grammes is that they shed light on these chronic problems and these flawed laws,” Zohairy added. She said public pressure that the report brought on authorities, with the Arabic hashtag Presidential pardon for Ratiba trending on social media, eventually led to her receiving a presidential pardon.

“Thanks to Al Sharaa Al-Masry for bringing this case to public at­tention. How many Ratibas are there languishing in Egyptian jails?” one twitter user asked.

Western coverage of Egyptian media has focused on some of the more outlandish claims made by TV talk show hosts, much of which focuses on insular views and con­spiracy theories.

Tamer Amin hit the headlines in the West in October after a clip from his show Min Al Nihaya (In the End), in which he puts forward a conspir­acy theory that included specula­tion about a “world supreme coun­cil” with the ability to manipulate weather and cause earthquakes, went viral.

But Amin, a former state TV host, is perhaps more well-known among Egyptians for the call-in portion of his show which he dedicates to helping ordinary Egyptians with bureaucratic and legal issues. “Tell us your problems, we will do our best for you,” he sought to reassure viewers.

“Most Egyptians will not call in for help with their problems but they want to hear other people’s problems and they like knowing that there is someone out there doing something to help ordinary people,” Mohamed said.

This article was originally published here.

Can UK Labour Party overcome its divisions?

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London – “The spectre of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya looms over this debate. To oppose another reckless and half-backed intervention isn’t paci­fism. it’s hard-headed common sense,” Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn warned members of his own party, opposing the British govern­ment’s motion to expand UK air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) from Iraq into Syria.

But 67 Labour MPs, including senior members of his shadow cabinet, rejected Corbyn’s “hard-headed common sense” and voted with the government in favour of air strikes. The motion passed com­fortably on a 397-223 vote.

“Britain needs a strong Labour Party. Britain needs a Labour Par­ty that can rebuild after this de­feat so we can have a government that stands up for working people again. Now it’s time for someone else to take forward the leader­ship of this party,” Ed Miliband an­nounced in May, after one of the party’s worst electoral defeats in history. He could scarcely have im­agined that he would be succeeded by Corbyn, a 66-year-old notorious back-bench rebel.

For years divided between ri­val so-called Blairite and Brown­ite camps, the Labour Party gave rise to a new term in September; the Corbynista. The self-described democratic socialist and republican comfortably secured the Labour leadership, thanks in large part to a membership system brought in by Miliband that saw some 100,000 new members sign up to vote in the party’s leadership election. It was a strange and unexpected revitalisa­tion just months after Prime Minis­ter David Cameron’s Conservative Party handed it the disastrous elec­tion defeat.

“Our party has changed. We have grown enormously because of the hopes of so many ordinary people for a different Britain, a better Brit­ain, a more equal Britain, a more decent Britain,” Corbyn said in his first speech as party leader. He took pains to welcome new mem­bers to the party, as well as long-time members who were returning thanks to his focus on “old Labour” values.

During that speech, Corbyn called for a “new politics”. He said: “Let us build a kinder politics, a more caring society together. Let us put our values, the people’s values, back into politics,” distanc­ing himself from the failed Labour leaders who preceded him and the Blair-Brown dynamic of the Labour leadership contenders he beat to the post.

Corbyn, a career politician with a trade union background, is part of the furniture of the Labour Party. He began serving as MP for Isling­ton North in 1983 during the era of prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Four prime ministers and six La­bour leaders later, and still in the same seat, he decided to stand for the leadership post, not out of a desire to reform the party but be­cause it was his “turn” to represent the far left.

Corbyn is a different kind of Labour leader, something that is reflected not only in his unassum­ing demeanour but also by his far left-wing economic policies. He successfully campaigned on an anti-austerity platform, appoint­ing controversial figure John Mc­Donnell as his shadow chancellor. Labour’s new economic policy in­cludes greater taxation of the rich, greater protection of welfare and a move to nationalise major indus­tries.

Blair, who swept to power in 1997 after rebranding the party as “new Labour”, defended his particular blend of politics in a recent article for the Spectator magazine, while taking an implicit swipe at Corbyn­ism, which has been viewed as a step backward in the party’s his­tory.

“Many — especially in today’s La­bour Party — felt we lost our way in government. I feel we found it. But I accept in the process we failed to convince enough people that the true progressives are always the modernisers, not because they discard principle but because they have the courage to adhere to it when confronted with reality,” the former prime minister said.

“We tried to put the moral pur­pose of the Labour Party into prac­tice, the only sort of morality worth very much,” Blair said.

It is in foreign policy, more than anything else, that the difference between Corbyn and his predeces­sors, as well as the Labour leader and the Conservative government, is most stark.

Corbyn, former chairman of the anti-war Stop the War coalition, has taken a far more isolationist role than previous leaders, say­ing he would like to scrap Britain’s Trident programme — the current generation of Britain’s nuclear sub­marines that forms the backbone of the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent — as well as consistently voting against British military in­tervention abroad.

2015 ended with Labour as a par­ty divided, despite the enormous party grass-root support that Cor­byn continues to enjoy as leader. Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary — and son of famed La­bour politician Tony Benn — issued an impassioned speech during the Syria debate, systematically dis­mantling Corbyn’s case for a “no” vote. “As a party, we have always been defined by our internation­alism. We believe that we have a responsibility one to another. We never have — and we never should — walk by on the other side of the road,” he admonished his party during the speech. As he sat down to a resounding round of applause, many wondered what the future holds for Labour.

This article was originally published here.

2015: Europe’s Year of the Migrant

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London, The Arab Weekly – Fluechtlinge — refugees — was chosen the German word of the year for 2015. It was hardly a surprising choice in a country that received an estimated 1 million refugees from Syria, Iraq and other war-torn countries.

2015 has been the year of the mi­grant. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UN­HCR), wars, conflict and persecu­tion forced more people than at any time since record-keeping be­gan to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere.

Widespread conflict in the Mid­dle East, with the rise of the Is­lamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, civil war in Libya and fighting in Yemen, means that a large propor­tion of the refugees were from the Arab world. Millions of Syrian refu­gees sought refuge in neighbouring countries, particularly Lebanon and Jordan. Others looked for ref­uge further afield in Europe and North America.

Europe has seen at least 1 mil­lion refugees make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing from North Africa and Turkey into Europe in 2015, according to the EU border agency Frontex and the Interna­tional Organisation of Migration.

The number of recorded migrant deaths in the Mediterranean for 2015 stood at 3,671, including Aylan Kurdi, the toddler whose image, washed up on a beach in Turkey, sparked an international outcry and renewed efforts by the Euro­pean Union to deal with the crisis.

The majority of refugees who headed towards Europe in 2015 were seeking richer western and northern European countries, par­ticularly Austria and Germany. But reaching Europe’s border-free Schengen zone required desperate refugees to undertake an arduous journey — by train and bus, but mostly on foot — across much of southern Europe.

The most used route saw refu­gees pass through Greece, Macedo­nia and Serbia into the Schengen zone via Hungary. After Budapest dramatically increased border se­curity in the summer, many refu­gees began using an alternate path into the Schengen zone via Croatia and Slovenia.

Germany and its chancellor, An­gela Merkel, received international plaudits for its “open door” policy to Syrian refugees but as the flow of refugees increased, and amid fears of infiltration by terrorists follow­ing the Paris attacks, Europe faces an increasingly complex migrant crisis in 2016.

“We want to, and will, appreci­ably reduce the number of refu­gees, because it’s in everyone’s interests,” Merkel said in Decem­ber, under pressure from more conservative government coalition partners and following the news that 206,101 migrants arrived in Germany in November, breaking the record of 181,166 set in October.

Central European states, poorer and less populous than their north­ern and western European counter­parts, have been hardest hit by the flow of migrants into Europe.

Hungarian Prime Minister Vik­tor Orban warned the migrants represented a threat to Europe’s Christian identity, justifying Bu­dapest’s construction of a fence along its border with Croatia. He later claimed that “all the terrorists are basically migrants” in the after­math of the Paris attack.

In North America, the Canadian and American responses to the ref­ugee crisis were very different.

US Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump consolidat­ed his lead in some polls thanks to his staunch anti-immigration rhetoric, from promising to build a wall on the border with Mexico to calling for a “blackout” of Muslims entering the country. Many Repub­lican governors said they would not allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states.

Although US President Barack Obama called on Americans to welcome Syrian refugees into the country, Washington admitted only a few thousand. Obama has set a target of 10,000 Syrian refu­gees to be allowed into the United States by October 2016.

Canada, which saw liberal Justin Trudeau become prime minister in November, said that it would take in 10,000 refugees by the end of 2015 and an additional 25,000 by October 2016. Trudeau personally welcomed the first Syrians to the country in November.

“This is a wonderful night where we get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada’s all about but we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are flee­ing extraordinarily difficult situa­tions,” he said.

However, with no end in sight for conflicts across the Middle East, analysts expect the refugee crisis to continue into 2016. Problems re­garding the settlement of so many migrants in Europe and questions over integration and assimilation are likely to get louder.

This article was originally published here.

Vast support for drive to ban Trump from entering UK

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London, The Arab Weekly – More than 550,000 peo­ple signed a petition calling for Republican presidential front run­ner Donald Trump to be banned from entering the United Kingdom, making it the most signed petition in British history.

The petition drive started after Trump called for a ban on Mus­lims entering the United States and claimed that British police refuse to enter “radicalised” areas of London.

Trump shocked people across the world when he called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on”, in the wake of the San Bernardino, California, shootings.

Seeking to justify his initial pro­posal, Trump increased the contro­versy by claiming that parts of Lon­don and Paris were so “radicalised” they were effectively out of police control and that US politicians needed to take action to prevent the same happening in their country.

“Paris is no longer the safe city it was. They have sections in Paris that are radicalised, where the police re­fuse to go there.

They’re petrified. We have places in London and other places that are so radicalised that the police are afraid for their own lives,” Trump claimed in an interview with MSN­BC.

More than 550,000 people signed the petition calling for Trump to be barred from the United Kingdom. “The UK has banned entry to many individuals for hate speech. The same principles should apply to eve­ryone who wishes to enter the UK,” the petition said.

“If the UK is to continue the ‘un­acceptable behaviour’ criteria to those who wish to enter its borders, it must be fairly applied to the rich as well as poor and the weak as well as powerful,” it added.

An opposing petition, branding the calls to ban Trump from the United Kingdom as “illogical” and saying Trump should not be barred was signed by fewer than 40,000 people.

However, the second most signed petition on the government web­site appeared to echo Trump’s view, calling on the government to “stop all immigration and close the UK borders until ISIS is defeated”.

That petition, which received more than 450,000 signatures, had been the most signed petition until Trump’s controversial comments.

The UK government is obliged to respond to any petition that garners more than 10,000 signatures, while parliament will consider for debate any petition that garners more than 100,000 signatures.

Responding to the earlier petition, which was issued in September and echoes Trump’s anti-immigration policy, the UK government said it had no intention of closing Britain’s borders. “This would create more problems than it would solve,” the government said.

British Prime Minister David Cam­eron described Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States as “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong” in a statement issued by Downing Street but the government has yet to formally re­spond to the petition to ban Trump.

Commenting on Trump’s claims regarding “radicalised” parts of London being no-go areas for the police, London Mayor Boris John­son described the Republican front runner’s claim as “ill-informed” and “complete and utter nonsense”.

“As a city where more than 300 languages are spoken, London has a proud history of tolerance and di­versity and to suggest there are ar­eas where police officers cannot go because of radicalisation is simply ridiculous,” Johnson said.

But he appeared not to endorse the petition calling for Trump to be banned from the United Kingdom. “I would welcome the opportunity to show Mr Trump first-hand some of the excellent work our police of­ficers do every day in local neigh­bourhoods throughout our city. Crime has been falling steadily both in London and in New York — the only reason I wouldn’t go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump,” the mayor said.

London’s Metropolitan Police issued a statement addressing Trump’s comments: “We would not normally dignify such comments with a response; however on this occasion, we think it’s important to state to Londoners that Mr Trump could not be more wrong.

“Any candidate for the presiden­tial elections of the United States of America is welcome to receive a briefing from the Met Police on the reality of policing London.”

In what was a more predict­able British response, hashtag #TrumpFacts trended on Twit­ter following Trump’s comments, with Britons throwing scorn on the Republican candidate’s claims by tweeting mocking images allegedly showing images of radicalisation. “The queen now wears a hijab in­stead of a crown due to radicalisa­tion #TrumpFacts” read one tweet, accompanied by a genuine picture of Queen Elizabeth II wearing a headscarf.

Trump used the same format to respond: “The United Kingdom is trying hard to disguise their massive Muslim problem. Everybody is wise to what is happening, very sad! Be honest.”

This article was originally published here.