The Taliban: Islam, opium and the current conflict in Afghanistan. Understanding why the Taliban fight

By Moneeb Hafeez

This research is an attempt to understand the cause of the current insurgency in Afghanistan. The Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic movement, are fighting a foreign occupation on what is perceived as a war on religious grounds. However when analysing the Taliban’s beliefs and actions such a notion does not hold.

Firstly the Islam versus the West paradigm that forged the theoretical underpinning of the War on terror is not as applicable to the Taliban. The idea the Taliban is an anarchistic movement that is a threat to Western civilisation is short-sighted. Understanding the group’s beliefs and ideology reveals their true objective.

Secondly the Taliban are involved with the Opium economy of Afghanistan this given the Islamic ideology of the Taliban seems rather contradictory. Many theories support the idea that the cause of conflict is often motivated by economic benefit and not ideology. As well as being motivated by economic benefit, the other aspects of war given the breakdown of legitimate sources of funds is the need to fund the war. Hence insurgents resort to criminality to fund their activities.

After analysing the Taliban to find the Taliban are a hybrid unique group motivated by a combination of beliefs and self interests these cannot be categorised amongst broader Islamic movements.

The Taliban: Islam, opium and the current conflict in Afghanistan – Understanding why the Taliban fight

AA witnesses tragedy of migrants in Libya

AA correspondent sheds light on the difficult journey of undocumented migrants from Libya to Europe via Italy.
By Assed Baig

TRIPOLI (AA) – Anadolu Agency (AA) correspondent investigates into migration and smuggling in Libya by traveling 640 km south of the capital Tripoli to Sabha, the largest city in the south.

Migrants from across Africa make their way from country to country, finally entering Libya. Here they try to reach Sabha, where they can either find work or locate smugglers that can take them to Tripoli.

Mukhtar, a 30-year-old local of Sabha who did not want to give his last name, smuggled migrants to Tripoli for eight years. He knows the routes and the process well, but now says that he has stopped.

He is a big man with a dark complexion, sports a short beard and has a very firm handshake. He stops occasionally to scribble in his notebook.

“Human smuggling is unethical and immoral, I don’t want to do it anymore,” he says.

Southern Libya is marred by lack of security and I was advised upon my arrival not to go out after dark.

Traveling outside of Sabha is even more difficult and we have to be especially careful when trying to visit the stations where migrants are dropped off in order to find local smugglers to take them to Tripoli.

Mukhtar tells me about the poor security situation. He has an AK-47 automatic rifle in the corner of the room. He sees that my eyes have fallen upon it, and suddenly stops mid conversation, walks over picks it up and heads straight for the door. He fires a round into the air whilst standing in the doorway. With a big smile on his face he looks at me and says, “Mia bi mia,” a common phrase used in Libya roughly translated as ‘100 out of 100.’

He tells me that he has to be armed. “It’s my security,” he says.

“I sometimes used to pick the migrants up from Qatrun, a village 300km south of Sabha on the main road to Chad and Niger.

“But the majority of the time I took them from Sabha,” he tells me as he lights up a cigarette.

He says he used to charge migrants 350 dinars (roughly $300) to take them to Tripoli. He took ten people at a time and did about ten journeys a month, making $3,000 a month.

He says he sometimes smuggled cigarettes and on rare occasions weapons.

“I was caught once with migrants in my car and they kept me for three months, they beat me badly, but I didn’t speak. After that they let me go, and I carried on smuggling,” he says. Another time he was caught with tobacco and was let out after a week.

Mukhtar tells me that they used expensive houses in affluent areas to hide migrants in between smuggling runs. This way, they were less likely to get caught, rather than keeping migrants in run-down derelict buildings.

Mukhtar was a smuggler during Gaddafi’s rule and he says that they drove throughout the night to get to Tripoli avoiding checkpoints.

“We drove with our headlights off,” he recalls.

“I was good at what I did, I knew the route,” almost boasting as he explained the details to me.

Mukhtar dubs the people-smuggling gangs as ‘mafia’ indicating their wealth and organizational capabilities. When I ask him about smuggling to Italy he simply says, “That’s a different mafia that deals with that, it is not us.”

Mukhtar was known as a seasoned smuggler and has a reputation as a strong man. He left his previous life and now runs a successful business making bricks.

After speaking to Mukhtar I head to a location where I am to meet a smuggler who still operates. I am told to wait in a room before he comes in.

A well built young man shakes my hand and then pulls out a handgun that is tucked into his jeans. He hands it to his friend before sitting down. Everyone carries guns here, especially smugglers. They can sometimes be the targets of other criminals because of the handsome money they make.

“There was no work for me so I started smuggling. It was difficult at first but it then became easy for me,” says the 22-year-old man who goes by the name “Akbar”.

He joined a group, or a ‘mafia’, when he first started smuggling. The first time he smuggled migrants to Tripoli he went with a friend, but after that he transported them on his own. He started smuggling people when he was 19.

“The first time I smuggled I was slightly fearful and afraid. ‘What happens if I have an accident or am caught by police?’ he voices. But after the first time my confidence grew and now I take it easy,” he says sitting crossed-leg on the floor.

Akbar used to study economics at university but dropped out because of poor family finances. He sometimes just acts as a broker passing people on to other smugglers and making a commission of 20 to 30 dinars ($20) on top. He only does this when he does not want to drive the migrants to Tripoli himself. As a ‘people dealer’ he can make $800 a month, much less than he earns when he does the job on his own.

“I switch the lights off and just drive through the desert. I don’t stop, it’s a 9-10 hour journey,” he says.

I ask what happens if a migrant falls off the back of the pickup truck. He laughs and says, “You just keep going.”

This is a common story. Migrants are often left in the desert to die if they fall off the trucks. The most hazardous journey is from Niger to Libya. Migrants often tie themselves with rope to the top of big trucks carrying other cargo. I am told that the Toubou militia are the ones that transport migrants into Libya on big cargo trucks.

The Toubou are an indigenous black people native to Libya. They were persecuted under Gaddafi and denied citizenship.

Migrants are picked up from the Al Manshia district of Sabha city by smugglers taking them to Tripoli.

“I smuggle men, women and children,” Akbar tells me whilst lighting up another cigarette.

I ask him if he feels sorry for the migrants.

He smiles, “I don’t feel sorry, this is my work.”

It is easier to smuggle now then it was under Gaddafi. However, the road is unsafe for everyone; there are militias and gangs of criminals that rob people along the route. Akbar, too, carries an AK-47 rifle with him when he is smuggling.

I ask him if he will ever leave this work, whether he will settle down and get married. He tells me that he is not even thinking about marriage at the moment as he is too busy working. Smuggling is not exactly a career you can boast about to your prospective wife or parents-in-law.

Akbar won’t let me take a picture of his face; he lets me take a picture of the back of his head. There is still a fear that the government may begin to clamp down on smugglers should law and order be implemented in the country.

Akbar needs another job before he will give up on people smuggling but there are no such prospects in the foreseeable future.

Cameron: British fighters in Iraq pose threat to UK

Prime Minister tells Parliament that militant Britons are a threat to the UK.

LONDON 

The militants currently advancing on Baghdad are planning terrorist attacks in the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament on Wednesday.

He said: “I would also disagree with those people who think that this is nothing to do with us and if they want to have some sort of extreme Islamist regime in the middle of Iraq that won’t affect us. It will. The people in that regime, as well as trying to take territory, are also planning to attack us here at home in the United Kingdom.”

Calling for robust action from the Iraqi government, he said the right approach was to “be long term, hard-headed, patient and intelligent with the interventions that we make and the most important intervention of all is to make sure that these governments are fully representative of the people who live in their countries, that they close down the ungoverned space and that they remove the support for the extremists.”

During a long exchange about Iraq during Prime Minister’s questions, Cameron said that he had had meetings to discuss the threat posed by Britons people travelling abroad to fight in Iraq and Syria. The government, he told MPs, has already stopped people from travelling and has taken away individuals’ passports. He also said the government intended to make illegal to plan overseas terrorist attacks from the UK.

Cameron said: “The estimates are now that this is a greater threat to the UK than the return of foreign jihadis and fighters from the Afghanistan or Pakistan region and we need to be doing everything we can to keep our country safe.”

He added: “We will continue to do everything we can to keep our country safe.”

The UK has ruled out military intervention in Iraq, Cameron said aid for Iraqi refugees would be increased from £3 million to £5 million.

ISIL, which already controls parts of Syria, has extended its reach into Iraq since June 10, when it seized Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul and several other towns amid allegations of atrocities against prisoners. Iraq has seen a marked increase in sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims in recent months, which the Iraqi government blames on ISIL.

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 18 June 2014

No proof of Islamist plot at UK schools: leaked report

Investigations into 21 schools in Birmingham do not provide evidence of an Islamist plot, according to the leaked ‘Trojan Horse’ report

LONDON

There is no evidence of an alleged Islamist plot to take over schools in Birmingham, the U.K.’s second-largest city, according to reports to be published by the country’s main educational authority Monday.

The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) said, however, six of the 21 schools investigated are not doing enough to protect children from extremism.

“The academy’s work to keep students safe is inadequate. Key safeguarding procedures are not followed. Too little is done to keep students safe from the risks associated with extremist views,” said a leaked copy of a report obtained by the Anadolu Agency. The findings were rejected by the Park View Educational Trust, which operates three schools.

The Ofsted investigation into 21 schools was prompted by an anonymous letter sent to Birmingham city council — made public in March — claiming there was a secret “Trojan Horse” plot by “Islamists” to take over Muslim-majority schools.

It claimed that Muslims were taking control of school governing bodies and replacing head teachers with ones who adhered to a specific Muslim ideology. The leaked copy report made no indication of such a plot.

Vice-chair of the Park View Trust, David Hughes, confirmed that three of the trust’s schools had been placed under special measures by Ofsted.

“Our Ofsted inspections were ordered in a climate of suspicion created by the hoax Trojan letter and by the anonymous, unproven allegations about our schools in the media,” he told the media outside Park View School.

“Ofsted inspectors came to our schools looking for extremism, looking for segregation, looking for proof that our children have religion forced upon them as part of an Islamic plot. The Ofsted reports find absolutely no evidence of this because this is categorically not what is happening at our schools.”

Hughes said that the “knee-jerk reactions” of politicians had damaged community relations in Birmingham and could lead to discrimination against Muslim children.

British Prime Minister David Cameron earlier said that the government would look into changes that would allow inspector to carry out snap inspections.

“Protecting our children is one of the first duties of government and that is why the issue of alleged Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools demands a robust response,” said Cameron. “The education secretary will now ask (Ofsted’s chairman) Sir Michael Wilshaw to look into allowing any school to be inspected at no notice, stopping schools having the opportunity to cover up activities which have no place in our society.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove also mentioned the possibility of unannounced school inspections. “Evidence uncovered in Birmingham clearly indicates that schools have used the notice they have been given of inspections to evade proper scrutiny,” he said in a statement.

Gove has previously been criticized for having links to right-wing conservative think-tanks and some critics accused him of Islamophobia following the publication of his own book on Islamism, “Celsius 7/7.”

Park View School is a 98 percent Muslim school situated in a deprived majority Muslim area. In defence of the school, Assistant Principal Lee Donaghy said, “Park View is part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

The debate over extremism in schools has caused a public row within the government — between Home Secretary Theresa May and Education Secretary Michael Gove — which forced the prime minister to order an internal investigation.

Gove had accused the Home Office of not doing enough to stop extremism but May in return questioned the Department of Education over reports that there had been concerns raised about Birmingham schools in 2010.

The Ofsted reports will be officially released later today.

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 9 June 2014

UK ‘anti-terror’ law indiscriminate, says rights groups

Only about one percent of 46,000 people were stopped under Schedule 7 powers were arrested, according to UK government statistics

LONDON 

Government figures reveal that only about one percent of people questioned under powers that allow police to stop individuals at ports were detained in 2013.

More than 46,000 people were stopped at Britain’s ports under Schedule 7 powers, which deem a refusal to answer police officers’ questions a criminal offence, according to figures published by the Home Office on Thursday.

The same power was used to stop and detain journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda for nine hours at Heathrow airport.

The figures reveal that the stops only resulted in 1.19 percent of people being detained, and out of those only two people were convicted – or 0.0043 percent of those stopped.

The London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission expressed “grave concern about the ethnic makeup of those examined and detained,” adding: “It is clear that non-whites are disproportionately and unnecessarily targeted by officers with the power to stop and search under Schedule 7.”

According to the figures, 55 percent of those stopped under schedule 7 were non-white, while they make up 14 percent of the population.

However, out of those detained under the power, 82 percent were non-white.

However, the number of individuals stopped under the power has dropped by 23 percent.

‘Indiscriminate power’

Their religious background is not currently recorded, but rights organizations have argued that Muslims are disproportionally targeted.

Overall, there were 222 arrests for terrorism-related offences, which were down on the previous year.

A total of 22 people, or 10 percent, were convicted of a terrorism offence.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission said that the figures demonstrated “that the vast majority of those subject to arrest are not guilty of any charge. This figure has remained consistent over the years, and thus should be a clear indicator to the government that this is an indiscriminate power”.

In April this year, British counter-terrorism officials appealed to Muslim women to persuade their relatives not to travel to Syria.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron urged people to contact authorities if they knew of someone planning to travel to the war-torn state.

The government has said that it fears people travelling to Syria may become “radicalized” and pose a risk to the UK.

There have been several arrests this year relating to individuals travelling to or returning from Syria.

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 5 June 2013

Indian Kashmir: A mother’s fight for missing son

‘My son was picked up by security forces in 1990, I have not seen him since,’ said Parveena Ahanger, the head of ‘the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons’ in Indian-held Kashmir.

LONDON

It’s been 24 years since she last saw her son. An arduous 24 years during which Parveena has struggled to find out what happened to 16-year-old Javid Ahmad Ahanger after Indian security forces picked him up in Kashmir.

“My son was picked up by security forces in 1990, I have not seen him since, she said. I looked for him at the police station, hospitals and detention centers but I did not find him.”

Parveena Ahanger, the head of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons in Indian-held Kashmir that she started in 1994, pled Monday for the British people to lobby their government to put pressure on India over human rights abuses in Kashmir.

“I request you approach the British Parliament and ask them to put pressure on the Indian government,” she urged participants at a conference in London called ‘Kashmiris: Contested present, possible futures’.

She burst into tears as she conveyed her 24-year struggle and the similar stories of other families of conflict-riddled Kashmir to the London audience.

“[My son] committed no crime, they just took him,” she continued. “Many others have also been taken and the families have no idea what happened to their loved ones.”

“I went to the courts that are supposed to give justice, but I found no justice there,” she added.

Parveena has traveled across Kashmir and gained support from other families whose loved ones have also been taken by Indian security forces, never to be seen again. In 2005, she was nominated for a Nobel Prize.

Her association organizes protests every month in Srinagar, located in the Kashmir valley, over the issue of enforced disappearances.

“I will only call myself a mother on the day I find out what happened to my son,” she lamented as she wondered aloud who would campaign for the children that have disappeared, once their mothers died.

Independent human rights groups have estimated that 8,000 to 10,000 such disappearances have occurred in Indian-administered Kashmir over the last 24 years.

She said: “There have been people who have been killed in Kashmir, but they have graves for them.

“We don’t have any graves because we do not know what happened to our loved ones.”

Since independence from the British colonial rule in 1947, both Pakistan and India have been engaged in a bitter conflict over Kashmir, which is split between the two countries. The two nuclear powers have already fought two wars over the region, of which two thirds are now controlled by India.

India estimates the death toll of the Kashmir conflict over the past two decades to be around 48,000. However, the region’s main separatist group, the All Parties Hurriyat [freedom] Conference speaks of 100,000 casualties. Amnesty International has repeatedly called for forensic experts, in line with UN protocol to investigate mass grave sites, which the human rights organization numbers in the hundreds.

One of the conference organizers, Goldie Osuri, assistant professor in sociology at the University of Warwick, whose latest book published in 2013 is called “Religious Freedom in India,” described the current situation in Kashmir as “not just colonization and occupation, […] we can use the term genocide.”

Parveena told the Anadolu Agency that she did not expect much from newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“He did not do enough in Gujarat” she told the AA, referring to his alleged role in the three-day Gujarat riots of 2002 in western India, where more than a thousand people were killed, most of them Muslims. Narendra Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister at the time.

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 2 June 2014

UK counter-terrorism report criticized

Counter-terrorism report by MPs from UK’s main parties criticized for policy recommendations

LONDON 

A counter-terrorism report produced on Friday by MPs from the U.K.’s three main political parties has been criticized for its recommendations on how to deal with U.K. nationals returning from Syria.

The proposals are similar to the de-radicalization programme Channel, which tries to “identify individuals at risk of being drawn into terrorism.” U.K. counter-terrorism policies have long been contentious, with many organizations claiming laws have eroded civil liberties and disproportionally targeted the Muslim community.

The report highlights powers used to withdraw passports and revoke citizenship from U.K. nationals returning from Syria and recommends greater oversight of the tool – including the Home secretary’s provision of a quarterly report on its use. It also stated that if someone is to be made stateless it should happen while they are not in the U.K.

Cage, an independent advocacy organisation helping victims of the so-called “war on terror”, said the power to remove citizenship was “a clear indication that concerns for due process and human rights have been jettisoned.” Asim Qureshi, research director at Cage called the power to remove passports “despotic.”

“These proposals are a sure sign that values this country once held dear are being eroded at an ever-quickening pace,” Qureshi said.

Counter-terrorism expert Rizwaan Sabir at the University of Bath, questioned how the police would decide which individuals would be mentored and which individuals would be prosecuted for fighting in Syria.

“Taking such a decision will be based on an arbitrary process as opposed to an assessment of the risk posed to the UK’s security and interests,” said Sabir. He also criticized Prevent, an existing programme for countering violent extremism. “It is largely discredited within large segments of the Muslim community and thus engagement with the programme, or any variant of it, is likely to be minimal.”

Sabir told AA that the policy of revoking citizenship is flawed because it denies an individual the possibility to reintegrate into the U.K., if they decide to return.

“The U.K. might therefore be creating a process whereby more individuals become disenchanted with the U.K. for the way they are treated and perceive the UK to be targeting those individuals who stand against dictators and despots,” he said. “This is therefore a counterproductive policy that has a significant potential to backfire.”

The Islamic Human Rights Commission also criticised the policy and said that the focus on the Muslim community is, “disproportionate, inconsistent and discriminatory.” The commission’s chair Massoud Shadjareh told AA: “The report misses the point, recent attacks against mosques in the UK, shows that Muslims are more likely to be victims of terrorism rather than participants in it.”

The policy was amended last year to make it easier for the Home Secretary to confiscate passports and has since been used 14 times – in contrast, the committee believes the policy was used only 16 times between 1947 and 1976.

“The number of Muslims fighting in Syria is probably no more or less than the number of Britons who fought in Libya to depose Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, during which time British politicians said little if anything about their alleged exposure to extremist ideology and military training,” the Islamic Human Rights Commission said.

Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Select Committee said it is “vital” to stop British citizens fighting in foreign conflicts. “Whether in classrooms, local community centres, or through the global reach of the internet and social media, a clear message needs to be sent to those at risk.”

The report does however suggest transferring powers from London’s Metropolitan Police to the National Crime Agency. Sabir said the move would be “a step in the right direction” because of the Metropolitan Police’s damaged reputation.

The report also said that weak oversight of intelligence agencies has damaged their credibility and recommended greater international cooperation in intercepting foreign fighters before they enter Syria and in countering international terrorism.

“Recent events involving Boko Haram, Al-Shabab and Al Qaeda show that the terrorist threat to the UK is as grave as at any point in the past thirteen years,” said Vaz. “The international community must act as one to tackle this global problem.”

The proposals have done little to assure Muslims that they are not being unduly targeted in the UK, Shadjareh said. “The continuing focus on Muslims in Britain as a terrorism threat forms part of a wider discourse of demonization based on racial, religious tropes.  These tropes create disunity and division and also foster hatred against minority communities.  This report only contributes to the material and policies demonising Muslims.”

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 9 May 2014

Kashmiris want to vote on future, not Indian parliament

Kashmiris mostly chose to boycott India election, but say they will vote in a referendum

SRINAGAR, Indian-held Kashmir 

Showkat Ahmad Bhat, a middle-aged grocery store owner in Indian-held Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, has never cast a vote in the 46 years of his life. On April 30, when polls were held in Srinagar, Bhat sat with his two friends near his closed grocery shop — a few meters from the old city’s Khanyar polling booth. Like the majority of Kashmiris living under Indian rule, Bhat was once again boycotting the elections.

More than 800 million people are eligible to participate in India’s largest ever elections but for many Kashmiris opposing the Indian rule in the Himalayan valley, their decades-long boycott continued. Other Indian voters are considering which candidate for the next prime minister can kick-start the country’s slow growth rate, improve internal security and alleviate poverty but in Kashmir, a region disputed by Pakistan and India, most are concerned more about their status as part of India.

“These elections mean nothing at all,” says Bhat, displaying his index finger, unstained by the ink used to identify voters. “The one option that I would walk a hundred miles to vote for, they haven’t kept it on the voting machine.”

“Independence. Independence from Indian rule,” adds Bhat and his two friends, who both joined him in the boycott. “If Independence from the Indian rule was an option, every Kashmiri would vote and that would be a democratic election. Rest is just a farce.”

The first phase of voting in Jammu & Kashmir on April 24 saw almost three-quarters of eligible voters boycott the polls. The day was characterized by pro-independence protests and stone-throwing clashes between protesters and the Indian police. Militants had killed three people in south Kashmir, including two village leaders, in the run-up to the elections and on the day of voting killed a polling official and wounded three soldiers.

Though the Indian Army’s counter-insurgency operations have almost wiped out the militancy — the military claims less than 300 militants remain active in the region — resistance to Indian rule continues and is instead manifested in the form of street protests and stone-throwing clashes with police.

To avoid similar protests and clashes in the Srinagar constituency’s elections, police launched a massive crackdown on youth and arrested more than 600 across Kashmir; local newspapers and human rights organizations believe the number to be more than 1,000.

One of the arrested boys was Waseem Ahmad Sofi, a 15 year old student who the police say is a regular “stone-thrower.” Sofi was wounded during the April 24 clashes and recuperating in the hospital when the police arrested him under the dreaded Public Safety Act, which allows imprisonment without trial for three years.

“Is this the country that they expect us to vote for where they take a minor and put them in a prison without the right to a trial?” Showkat Ahmad, Sofi’s brother, tells the Anadolu Agency.

On April 30, the day of elections in Srinagar, thousands of army personnel were deployed to ensure voting was undisrupted. The city’s winding streets and alleyways were dotted with political banners promising “peace” and “progress” but emptied of residents, the large military presence darkening its desolation.

According to the Election Commission, only a quarter of the 1.2 million electorate voted that day. By the time the voting in the state of Jammu and Kashmir had been completed Wednesday, the turnout had only rarely peeked above 50 percent.

The poll boycott happened despite most leaders of the pro-independence movement being arrested before the election began. The leaders had been calling for a plebiscite on whether Kashmir should be independent or join either India or Pakistan.

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had promised Kashmiris the right to self-determination and when the conflict over Kashmir escalated between India and Pakistan, soon after the partition, the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions favoring a plebiscite. India withdrew its support for the plebiscite however, when it became clear that a majority of Kashmiris wanted independence from India.

Mirwaiz Umar, a leader in the pro-independence Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference who has been under house arrest for more than three weeks, called the elections “undemocratic” and “meaningless.”

“While the pro-India leaders are campaigning for the people to vote, we have been put under arrest and still the people of Kashmir have showed that they won’t be part of this illegitimate elections,” Umar tells the Anadolu Agency.

Umar said Kashmir’s representatives in India’s parliament rarely speak about the realities of Kashmir. “It is telling that there have been more interventions in the parliament by a parliamentarian from Hyderabad than all of Kashmiri parliamentarians put together,” he says.

Muhammad Faysal, who also campaigns for a referendum on Kashmir’s future, condemned the election in stronger terms. “Basically elections are a facade of the Indian occupation to give it a democratic look by installing its puppets,” says Faysal.

“Kashmiris have been against this occupation since 1947. For Kashmir, their only worry and the biggest issue is the occupation and its horrific cost on lives of Kashmiris. That’s why majority of Kashmiris boycott elections.”

The boycott was not observed by everyone in Kashmir however, despite militant threats and social pressure, because of personal concerns about jobs, roads and electricity.

Abdul Ahad Cheken, a 53 year old motor mechanic, voted in Srinagar, after voting for the first time only in 2008. “If my two sons got a job and we could get out of poverty, I would feel I have got freedom,” Cheken said. Voter turnout was also higher in the Jammu part of the Jammu & Kashmir state, where Muslims are a minority.

The ascendance of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi has also contributed to a new political landscape. Modi’s controversial presence as the favored prime ministerial candidate has given many Kashmiris greater desire for independence.

Modi has been criticized for his alleged role in 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, where he is chief minister, and has spoken aggressively about both Kashmir and neighboring Pakistan during the election campaign. For many Kashmiris, Modi coming to power will simply expose the Indian policies they feel they have suffered from for decades.

By Zahid Rafiq (Additional reporting by Assed Baig)

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 8 May 2014

An ideological war against UK Muslims in schools?

The UK government investigation into Muslim majority schools set off by an anonymous letter

LONDON

A so-called ‘Islamist’ school plot, government leaks, off-the-record briefings, a media scramble and a government-ordered investigation of 25 schools has gripped the U.K.’s second city Birmingham in the last month.

An anonymous letter alleging a secret ‘Trojan horse’ plot to take over Muslim majority schools by ‘Islamists’ was sent to Birmingham city council in March. The letter claimed the supposed secret plot by Muslims was to take over school governing bodies and replace head teachers with ones that agreed with a specific Muslim ideology. Muslims make up 22% of the population of Birmingham.

Investigators from educational watchdog Ofsted were sent into the named schools, followed by investigators from the Department of Education (DfE).

However, the narrative and accusations have rarely been challenged by the British press, and have fuelled the language of Islamophobia against the U.K.’s Muslim community, which makes up 4.8 percent of the population.

The schools in question are based in inner-city Muslim majority areas of Birmingham and therefore have a majority Muslim membership. Anadolu Agency has gained exclusive evidence about the investigations prompted by the letter, which is now believed to be fake.

The Department of Education’s (DfE) response has alarmed many, including West Midlands police. The police called the government’s assignment of a former head of counter-terrorism, Peter Clarke, to the investigation a “desperately unfortunate appointment”.

“Peter Clarke has many qualities but people will inevitably draw unwarranted conclusions from his former role as National Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism,” said Chief Constable Chris Sims.

A list of DfE investigators passed to AA revealed that one of the leading inspectors sent into investigate the schools, Isthiaq Hussain, was a former member of the controversial Quilliam foundation.  The organization brands itself as a counter-extremism think tank and is run by former members of Hizb ul-Tahrir; a group working to establish an Islamic state. However, Quilliam has been criticized by much of the British Muslim community for feeding anti-Muslim prejudice by marginalizing other Muslim groups.  A 2010 list of groups with terrorist ideologies, drawn up by the Quilliam foundation, included East London Mosque, the Muslim Council of Britain, and a group that worked with the police to improve community relations, the Muslim Safety Forum.  The move was seen as an attempt to malign Muslim groups and individuals. Ishtiaq Hussain was with the controversial think tank until 2009 and now works for the Department of Education.  The DfE did not wish to comment on Hussain’s involvement in the investigation or his connection with the Quilliam foundation.

AA sources at one of the investigated schools said the investigation was “very aggressive” and they believed “the outcome has already been decided.”

“They are asking girls if they are forced to wear the headscarf and if we force them to sit separately to boys,” a source at one of the schools said.

“They asked children how they felt that their school was now inadequate?” a teacher at Park View School told AA. “They asked teachers if they were homophobic.  All the questions were very leading and with a clear agenda behind them,” he added.

Roger King, the National Union of Teachers executive member for Birmingham, has said that he has recieved complaints from NUT members whose schools were been investigated that inspectors had asked inappropriate questions, the Guardian reported.

One of the schools in question, Park View, was rated outstanding by Ofsted in 2012. Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said he had had seen “remarkable improvements in outcomes for some of the city’s most deprived young people.”

He said the head Lindsey Clark had shown “inspirational leadership” and “Like all great heads, Clark has put her heart and soul into the school, and the pride and respect of the pupils shines through in everything they do.”

“I reflected on the moral purpose at the heart of schools such as Park View in my speech to the Association of School and College Leaders conference the same day,” he added.

Ofsted investigators have reportedly told school staff that it will now be downgraded to inadequate following the allegations.

There are currently three separate investigations taking place, by Ofsted, DfE, and Birmingham city council.  All this based on a letter that Birmingham city council’s head said was not genuine. Mark Rogers told website Chamberline files, “The letter that sparked all this off is almost certainly spurious. ”

“I think the letter reflects some concerns and potential issues in our communities. I don’t think it is a narrative of historical fact,” he said. “I don’t believe there is a conspiracy. Conspiracy is such a damaging and loaded word. Easy to use, and difficult to prove.”

The DfE report was leaked to the Telegraph and with no apparent mention of the so-called Islamist plot; the media reports discussed Muslim conservatism.

In an article in the Times on 13 April they reported a DfE official saying, “religious conservatism is getting in the way of learning and a balanced curriculum”.

“Extreme religious conservatism often acts as an entry to later problems,” a DfE source said. “A child who is brought up, age eight, nine, 10, believing that you should segregate the sexes and hand out Islamic textbooks is more likely to be radicalized in later life.”

The DfE report was leaked to Andrew Gilligan from the Telegraph.  A journalist on record for denying there was an anti-Muslim backlash following the public murder of a soldier in London in 2013, he has consistently targeted the first elected Muslim Mayor of Tower Hamlets, and says he is opposed to what he calls “Islamism.” The DfE refused to comment on the leaks that are attributed to their department.

The Park View Education Trust said in a statement “We do not know where the ‘leaks’ and ‘briefings’ around these inspections are coming from. However, the fact that they are being attributed to Ofsted (as well as the Department for Education) should be as much a cause for concern for Mr Wilshaw as it is for us, The Park View Education Trust said in a statement. “The credibility of both Ofsted and its inspections is seriously undermined by the suggestion that the agency may be colluding with the media and breaching confidentiality. This would constitute a serious breach of protocol.”

AA sources at the school have called the investigation a “witch hunt” and the term was also used in an online petition asking Michael Gove to ‘stop the racist witch hunt in Birmingham schools’ which has reached more than 1500 signatures.

Observers have felt that Gove’s response to the allegation has owed more to his personal, ideological persuasions about Islam than to upholding standards in education. In 2006 Gove wrote a book entitled Celsius 7/7 in which he argued that Europe should do more to tackle ‘Islamism’.  Arun Kundani, author of ‘The Muslims are coming! Islamophobia, extremism and the domestic war on terror’, told  AA Gove’s “cranky 2006 book Celsius 7/7 recommended Britain carry out assassinations of terrorist suspects to send “a vital signal of resolution”, and said a “temporary curtailment of liberties” would be needed to prevent “Islamism” from destroying Western civilization.”

“Someone with those views cannot be trusted to take a balanced approach to the allegations of a “Muslim takeover” of schools in Birmingham,” Kundani told AA.

William Dalrymple a writer and historian launched a much more scathing attack on Gove when the book was published.

He criticized Gove for having a lack of knowledge and experience in the subject, “Gove has never lived in the Middle East, indeed has barely set foot in a Muslim country. He has little knowledge of Islamic history, theology or culture,” Dalrymple wrote.

He accused the Education Secretary of being “ill-informed” and writing “to fit pre-existing prejudices.”

“Gove’s book is a confused epic of simplistic incomprehension, riddled with more factual errors and misconceptions than any other text I have come across in two decades of reviewing books on this subject,” writes Dalrymple.

Speaking with AA on Michael Gove and the investigation, Dalymple said, “He’s an out and out Islamophobe whose ignorance about the religion is matched only by his hostility.”

In 2002 Michael Gove was the founding chairman of the centre-right conservative think-tank Policy Exchange. In 2007 the organization published a report entitled ‘The Hijacking of British Islam: How extremist literature is subverting mosques in the UK, the report claimed that 26 out of 100 mosques were found to be selling extremist literature.  However, a BBC newsnight report found that some of the receipts used to prove that the books were purchased from mosques had been forged.

Gove is also a founder member of the Henry Jackson Society a controversial think-tank that Muslim organizations have accused of spreading anti-Muslim bigotry.  The think tank’s associate director Douglas Murray recently wrote about how the rise in Muslim birthrate in the UK was a negative thing.  MPs have resigned from the Henry Jackson society after Islamophobic and xenophobic outbursts of Douglas Murray and Alan Mendoza.  In 2013 Murray said that Britain had become a foreign country and that white Britons were a minority.

Department of Education employees have gone onto work for the Henry Jackson Society. In 2012 Emily Dyer joined the Henry Jackson Society leaving the DfE where she worked Higher Executive Officer for the Preventing Extremism Unit, where she wrote several papers on extremism within educational settings.  Before working at the DfE she worked at Policy Exchange where Gove was a founding chairman. In February this year the UK press reported that sources close to close to liberal Democrats schools minister, David Laws accused Gove of a “blatant” attempt to politicize Ofsted after sacking the watchdog’s chairman, Baroness Morgan, the Labour peer. The source said: “David is absolutely furious at the blatant attempts by the Tories to politicize Ofsted.”

It is not only Gove’s connections with Policy Exchange and the Henry Jackson society that has raised concerns, but the choice of advisors to the DfE on the issue of the investigation into the schools has also raised concerns.

On 11 April Maryam Namazie tweeted, “Met with Department for Education advisor about Islamist school in Birmingham and tackling Islamism in schools. No faith schools the answer”.  Namazie is the co-founder of the council of Ex-Muslims, which opposes Islam and Muslims.

Gove’s office refused to comment on why Namazie, an atheist and political campaigner against Muslim organizations, was consulted on an issue of school standards.

Whilst media attentions has been focused on the so-called plot, the fact that 72 percent of the schools’ children are on free school meals in a school with a 75 percent pass rate, one of the highest in the city, has been ignored.  “There has been absolutely no evidence at all of extremism,” a teacher at the school told AA.  “The decision has been made before the inspection.  They will remove the governing body, this is a witch hunt,” said one of the schools governors speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The Ofsted report is due out next month, but in the meantime the school has been receiving racist hate mail.

“How can this even be allowed to happen in this day and age, WE ARE ENGLAND!  If people want to go to school run by Muslims perhaps they should move to a Muslim country. Oh my god close this school and deport you all!” said one email.

On the day the story broke in the media, one school received a phone call asking the school if they wanted to receive a delivery of bacon sandwiches.  The school serves halal meals to 90 percent Muslim students that attend it.

AA contacted the Department of Education but did not receive a response to the specific questions asked in relation to the investigation and links of inspectors and advisors.  Instead AA was presented with the following statement attributed to a DfE spokesperson: “The allegations made in relation to some schools in Birmingham are very serious and we are investigating all evidence put to us in conjunction with Ofsted, Birmingham City Council and the police. It is absolutely vital these investigations are carried out impartially, without pre-judgement. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

The findings of the investigation are expected to be published next month, but for many the damage has already been done with the leaks in the British press.

One parent told AA, “No one cared when the school was underperforming, now our kids are doing well they want to shut us down.  Everyone in the country thinks that we’re some sort of extremists, we’re not, we just want our kids to have the same chances as everybody else.”

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 25 April 2014

UK mosque row increases community suspicion of police

Police donations to UK mosque raises suspicion about intentions.

LONDON 

Birmingham is the United Kingdom’s second city and home to a sizeable Muslim community — one that has, at times, had a tense relationship with the city’s police.

In recent years, Birmingham has seen some high-profile terrorism cases: a plot to behead a British soldier; a terror cell that planned 7/7-style attacks and several other convictions for the funding and supporting of terrorism. Many of those arrested, from the Muslim population that makes a fifth of the city’s whole, have been released without charge.

That and the tactics used by the police in these investigations have become a source of controversy and suspicion. ‘Project Champion’ was an initiative to install over 200 cameras, some of them hidden, around mainly Muslim parts of Birmingham and was paid for with a fund earmarked for tackling terrorism. They were later removed after a community outcry against the clandestine and surreptitious nature of the operation.

Such a controversial history means worshippers at Birmingham Central Mosque were shocked when they found out about the mosque’s involvement with West Midlands Police’s counter-terrorism unit. The police donated £5,000 used to buy 50 transmitters the mosque uses to broadcast the call to prayer, sermons and question and answer sessions to people at home or work.

The decision, according to the unit’s Chief Inspector Dale Randle, was made as part of the UK government’s controversial program for tackling violent extremism, Prevent, which was launched after the 7/7 bomb attacks in London. Though Prevent has been seen as a method for spying on communities, Randle says it is actually a way of building engagement within them — which is why he agreed to fund the transmitters when asked by the mosque.

“In return we are given a little bit of air time, previously we’ve worked with radio stations and purchased airtime and advertising time, and this is a little bit similar,” said Randle. “We can work with the mosque and do some Q&A sessions and talk through some of what we do, and hopefully break down any barriers.”

Muhammad Ali, the mosque administrator, said it has a good relationship with the police. “There are many organizations involved and we have many sponsors, the police is just one of them.”

“We have not told our congregation yet,” admitted Ali.

When told about the program, several mosque attendees said they were shocked. One of them, Faisal, told the Anadolu Agency: “It’s a concern to me, why are the police involved in the first place?”

Jahan Mahmood, a historian who has advised authorities on radicalization at a local and national level told the AA that many Muslims view Prevent with suspicion. “Many Muslims were deeply annoyed by the fact that the Prevent agenda appeared to be entirely focused on Muslims,” he said, adding, “West Midlands Police have a history of mishaps when it comes to dealing with Prevent and the Muslim matters.”

“In the early stages of Prevent in Birmingham, West Midlands Police seconded one of their officers to Birmingham City Council to head outreach projects. This aroused suspicion. Then there were rumors that West Midlands Police were visiting nurseries looking for early signs of radicalization in children as young as 5,” he told the AA, adding that after the fallout from Project Champion “West Midlands Police and Muslim relations haven’t quite been the same.”

Randall said that suspicion is why his counter-terrorism unit invested in the transmitters.

“If we can help explain why we do things, as best as we can, it sometimes helps communities understand what we do,” he said.

One of the issues they want to talk about is humanitarian aid trips to Syria, after the government revealed its concerns about UK nationals fighting in Syria’s civil war.

“It gives us a good space to talk around Syria, which is a real issue at the moment. Which is certainly having an impact on the local community, regionally and nationally,” said Randall.

Steve Jolly a leading campaigner and activist against Project Champion still views the police with suspicion, claiming that “listening is a main feature” of the project. “What are police doing in mosques?” he said. “I’m surprised that mosques have been so friendly and co-opted by the police, they are beginning to resemble police stations.”

“Mosques are so keen to cooperate with police and prove that they are not terrorists, or terrorist sympathizers that they are willing to do anything, I don’t think it will do them any good,” he added.

Though Randle insisted that the program was transparent, he admitted that the decision to donate was initially made with a view to listening to the subjects being discussed but they did not pursue that option, believing it would raise suspicion within the community.

Mahmood said that while there is concern among residents, some of the blame for the controversy lies with the mosque. “This latest move has triggered criticism among some Muslims who feel West Midlands Police are once again invading their privacy but the truth is all this could have been avoided had the Mosque requested the money from elsewhere.”

Read the original article published in Andalou Agency on 8 April 2014