A debate I was involved in on the Voice of Russia.
This studio discussion is on the protests that have spread across the Muslim world over a US made video insulting the prophet Muhammad.
Those protests have now been going on for 10 days. The first began in Cairo, then the unrest spread to Libya. That cost the US ambassador Christopher Stevens his life.
Protests engulfed Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia.
More violent scenes have been reported in Pakistan, the Philippines and Malaysia.
Exacerbating the anger is the publication in a French satirical magazine of cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad.
So are we witnessing a fundamental rift between the West and its values, which says free speech is paramount, and the Islamic world which says insults against religion should not be tolerated?
VOR’s Daniel Cinna discusses this with Charlie Wolf, American broadcaster who blogs for the Daily Mail; Rodney Shakespeare, co-founder of the Global Justice Movement; Assed Baig, a freelance journalist and film maker; Dr Robert Barnidge, Professor of Law at the University of Reading.
Demonstrations have spread around the world after an anti-Islam video, made by someone named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, insulting the most revered figure of the Muslim world, the Prophet Muhammed was posted on youtube.
Why is it that this short video, apparently the work of one insignificant individual, can instigate such outrage? While the filmmaker and his ilk may be a global minority, for Muslims, as well as for much of the rest of the world, they epitomise the ignorance, imperialism and arrogance of the West in its dealings with the Muslim world.
The origins of the film itself are very dubious, its production values are such, that it looks like it was made in a basement. The insults to Islam or the Prophet Muhammed are obviously dubbed over the original soundtrack. The film seems to have intended provocation based on some aspect of an apocalyptic ideology.
Today, as in the past, Muslims remain part of a global brotherhood that is unlike anything that exists in the West. This ‘Ummah’, the wider Muslim community, transcends political borders, artificial boundaries and international time zones.Yet, what the West apparently finds so hard to understand is that Muslims continue to have a sense of the sacred along with a respect for the concept of community as well as brother and sisterhood.For these Muslims the Prophet Muhammed is sacred.
As a result of the outrage caused by this video it is now possible to see even the simplest, poorest and non-political Muslim take to the streets, as they would rather see their families shamed by such public behaviour than have their religion, which they continue to hold sacred, insulted.Even the corrupt, pro-Western, Muslim leaders recognise this, accepting that they have to speak out against any attacks on the sanctity of their religion, as their own seat of power would be in grave danger if they did not. It appears that the American establishment has been caught off guard, as is evident by its slow reaction to label the video ‘disgusting’ and ‘reprehensible’.
Middle-class Muslims and non-Muslims alike talk of how Muslims should rise above the prejudice. It is not that simple since most Muslims do not come from the privileged positions necessary for such a stance. One look at the literacy rates for Afghanistan, as well as the rates at which literacy levels have fallen in Iraq since the US invasion, shows that Western intervention results in people having to choose between eating and sending their children to school.The mass education that we receive in the West is not widely available to others around the world, while, in the West we are not usually confronted by an occupational force of foreign troops every time we leave our homes or the daily psychological trauma of imminent death.
While American and British troops continue fighting a war in Afghanistan, which, along with the war in Iraq and the occupation of Palestine, encourages a feeling of helplessness across the Islamic world, many Muslims ask, ‘how can we help each other and unite the Ummah?’ These are the Muslims who feel they are being globally humiliated by the policies of western governments and, with the aid of 24-hour ‘impartial’ news, their humiliation is beamed un-sanitised into homes around the world 24/7, for all to see and none to escape.
Now with Muslim lands not to mention hearts and minds being occupied, along with constant attacks in the press, a perceived loss of Islamic self identity has taken hold. Is it any surprise that Muslims who see the central figure of their religion being insulted and mocked should feel dehumanised even further?
Many of these Muslims feel that they have no option but to take to the streets in order to express their anger and frustration. They are fighting for what they feel is right, for what they believe in and are taking it out on any symbol of Western imperialism – embassies being the primary targets.
These are the same Muslims who felt helpless when images of prisoner abuse emerged from the void of Abu Ghuraib.They are the ones who felt helpless when half a million people, or more, were killed in Iraq with millions more displaced.Helpless as Israel bombed Lebanon and Gaza and their Arab leaders belly danced around the West. Their sense of helplessness compounded as drone attacks plague Pakistan and the international blight of Guantanamo stays open for business.Helpless as the infamous Danish cartoons printed in the name of freedom of expression spread around the world like a virus. Helpless in the face of Kashmir’s continued occupation.Helpless as Bosnian women, violated and brutalised in rape camps, are denied an international forum to voice their anguish.Helpless as a flattened Grozny struggles to its feet. Helpless as America carries out drone attacks, breaching the national sovereignty of independent countries with impunity.Helpless as Switzerland, home to 400,000 Muslims, bans the building of minarets.Helpless as France bans the hijab from schools.These are the Muslims who feel helpless in every way imaginable. Is it any wonder that there is so much anger and frustration across the Islamic world? Is it wrong for humiliated and insulted Muslims to react so passionately? As the most revered figure of their religion is insulted and their lands are stolen. Or should we bring up the United States anti-terrorism,interrogation techniques such as water boarding or the many other forms of state sanctioned torture for good measure?
With the media’s shouts of ‘revolution’ still ringing in our ears when Muslims recently demonstrated against their own oppressive governments, the media now shouts something different as these same Muslims protest.When these Muslims react the media cries ‘barbaric’ and ‘savage’;Eurocentric and orientalist terms that were strangely absent from public discourse during America’s ‘shock and awe’ campaign in Iraq.
Imperialistic wars have seen the Muslim lands divided as arbitrary lines were drawn on maps by the Western powers with no consideration for the local people, while their religious institutions were dismantled and their cultures destroyed. Tyrannical leaders were then imposed on the population with an American or Western seal of approval.History has continually demonstrated that there is only one objective of imperialism, the exploitation of the lands natural resources which is usually facilitated by the facade of stability, democracy and freedom.
The humiliation of the contemporary Muslim world, as some see it, has taken place, largely in the last century. What the imperialistic governments in the West must realise is that occupying countries and killing civilians is one thing, but to attack the religion, the sacred text and the Prophet, will bring out the masses onto the streets to fight. It will ignite the Islamic concept of ‘ghayra’, the idea that Muslims love something so much that they are willing to fight and die for it.
It remains the arrogance of the West, where there is nothing really sacred anymore, to demand that everyone in the world abandon their religious beliefs in the name of civilisation and progress.While it has long been ‘funny’ to joke and mock the Christian prophet and disrespect the holy texts of Christianity, this idea is completely foreign and abhorrent to Muslims. Mocking what is held sacred has not been legitimised and integrated into the culture of the Islamic world.
This video has not come out of nowhere; it is a manifestation of the environment created by the so-called ‘war on terror’. The Islamaphobia used by Western leaders to justify their wars has sparked the flames of this fire. That is why Muslims across the world will find it hard to differentiate between one crazy filmmaker and the American government as a whole. This film is a product of the environment created by America, and maybe the fire, the venom, and intolerance has become uncontrollable.
I am not going to comment directly on the Citizen Khan program. I do not particularly care for so-called ethnic comedy shows that regurgitate out-of-date jokes and reinforce racist stereotypes. They are only sanctioned by the BBC because they lack real diversity in the organisation and are forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel in an ethnic box ticking exercise.
What concerns me is the response the BBC has given to Muslims that have decided to engage with the broadcaster to complain about the program by dismissing them as a ‘lobbying campaign’.
As a journalist that has worked within the Muslim community especially in Birmingham, I know how difficult it is to engage parts of the Muslim community when reporting. The lack of real diversity in the BBC means that the organisation is not seen as representative and international news reported by the BBC reflects badly on the organisation when local reporters hit the streets.
Because of this there is a lack of trust and unwillingness, sometimes, by local communities to talk to the BBC.
There is a wealth of talent at the BBC and there are many individuals who actually want real diversity and representation in the organisation. But, dismissing Muslim viewers who complain just because the BBC thinks there is a ‘lobbying campaign’ is both irresponsible and unfair.
The message the BBC sends out with responses like this is that Muslims do not have a legitimate right, like other groups in the UK, to complain or engage in a civil manner with the organisation.
If the BBC had any sort of contacts on the ground they would have realised that there has been a negative response from Muslims about this program.
Whether people agree with the basis of the complaints or not, they still have a right to be heard and taken seriously; 200 complaints is no small matter.
Unfortunately the BBC only wants to relay on the internet because it maybe lacks people on the ground that can gauge grassroots opinion from ethnic minority communities.
These actions also make it very difficult for BBC staff that are making efforts to engage and involve diverse communities and get real stories out.
Dismissing Muslim complaints sets efforts back in engaging communities.
I suggest the BBC retract their statement that it was a ‘lobbying campaign’, and engage with their viewers that feel upset by the program.
Left to right: Ibraheem aged 10, Yusuf aged 13 and Ieysaa aged 7
A Muslim family representing England in the European Chess Championships in Austria have alleged that they have been the victims of racism, Islamophobia and hate. 13-year-old Yusuf Bin-Suhayl was attacked and left bleeding by the mother of a fellow English competitor.
The situation was so bad for the family that they required a police escort to their hotel and tournament.
Father, Sohale Rahman has made numerous complaints to the English Chess Federation but to no avail.
Throughout the competition the Rahman family who have three children representing England have been subjected to bullying and hate crime, according to Sohale. The youngest member of the family taking part is just 7-years-old.
Mother, Tomasina Contu, was spat on when she asked the father of one English competitor not to bully her son.
“It is of no coincidence that Tomasina wears a hijab,” said husband Sohale.
The problems seem to have started from when the family asked for halal meals for themselves.
Father Sohale Rahman said, “I cannot believe my family has been subjected to so much racism and Islamophobia and the English Chess Federation has just stood by and done nothing.”
When contacted the English Chess Federation said, “We are aware of certain allegations in relation to some members of the English delegation in a youth tournament in Austria,” and that they are taking the allegations, “extremely seriously.”
The ECF also confirmed the involvement of the Austrian police.
Sohale also alleges that even after paying for the trip adequate arrangements were not made for them and no halal food was provided.
“I was just told to change hotel and find a restaurant if I did not like it,” exclaimed Sohale.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission has taken up the campaign for the Rahman family saying that they want to see those responsible for Islamophobia, “brought to justice.”
Chair of IHRC, Massoud Shadjareh, said, “This is a shocking case of racism and Islamophobia and one that should not go unnoticed, the children are so young and should not be subjected to such hate.”
Islamic Relief’s PR machine has now gone into full swing. They have launched a ruthless campaign of character assassination against me, spun with lies and inaccuracies that even Tony Blair would be proud of.
Rather than do the right thing and admit their faults months ago, which could have prevented this entire ‘Relief-Gate’ scandal, they have instead tried to dodge, manipulate and lie their way out of something that is clear as day for anyone to see.
Jehangir clearly asked for the aid to be delayed. If you want to know the truth of the matter, simply ask Islamic Relief if Jehangir asked for the food distribution to be delayed or not? So far they have dodged the matter. However, it might not be necessary to ask them. I have an audio recording of a conversation that took place between Jehangir and myself when he informed me that my contract would not be renewed.
In it, he clearly does not deny that he attempt to delay aid. Instead, he dismisses his attempt to delay aid as ‘operational matters’. He talks about ‘chopping and changing’ things, but IR UK’s statement says that Jehangir had no control over the operations on the ground. Jehangir’s hesitation and fumbling during this recording is that of a man confronted with the truth and looking for a way out – there was a third person in the room with us forcing him to watch his words carefully. You can listen to this recording below.
listen to ‘Islamic Relief UK Director referring to his attempt at delaying emergency food aid as ‘operational matters’’ on Audioboo
I have nothing to gain financially from of this. I do not need or want their money. I have always had three main demands from Islamic Relief. 1) they should accept these things took place, 2) they should put processes in place to ensure that these unethical practices never take place again and 3) they should apologise for their actions. However, some individuals at Islamic Relief seem to think that just because they have the word ‘Islamic’ in their organisation’s name, that this allows them carte blanche to act as they please. This is what has led to ‘Relief-Gate’.
Let’s make something clear. I do not wish to gain financially in any way whatsoever from this debacle. I have emails to prove that I clearly stated that I would not be silenced with a financial settlement, and that I wanted the ethical issues addressed. For Islamic Relief to say that I was looking for a financial settlement in return for my silence is ludicrous. I was out of work for six months and as part of the tribunal process it is required that you put down your financial costs. This was never the primary objective, nor the end. I would rather die than accept money from a charity that continues to cover up corruption and carry out the kinds of unethical practices I have described in my article. My union representative can easily verify what my demands were during the tribunal process.
This email – which I sent to the CEO of Islamic Relief on the 28th of June 2012 – should be enough to prove why I pulled out from the tribunal process:
“Dear Dr Ashmawey,
I regret to inform you that I now feel that I have no other option but to go public with what I know. I am deeply disappointed with your findings and do not think you have taken seriously the ethical issues I raised. Because of your disregard of the serious ethical and moral concerns I will now not be doing this via an employment tribunal because it has become very clear to me that the current management has no desire for a legitimate settlement in this case.”
I raised all these ethical issues as soon as I returned from East Africa. I wrote a report that was emailed out in early August. I was still an employee of Islamic Relief at the time, so the question has to be asked: what did I have to gain from raising these concerns when I did? What I wanted was to make sure the kinds of scenes I witnessed in Somalia were never repeated.
What did Darrell have to gain from co-authoring the report with me and accepting to be a witness during IR’s internal investigation into my complaint about my loss of employment? He was still an employee at Islamic Relief at the time. The answer is nothing; he was simply telling the truth, and as a result, he risked his own job.
I did not have to raise these issues whilst I was at Islamic Relief. I could have remained silent. I chose to speak out whilst I was there and put my position at risk. My contract was ended in October; I raised the ethical concerns I had with some of IR’s actions long before October. What does Islamic Relief think my motivations were? If I raised these issues well before the end of my contract, then how can there be any financial gain for me? IR should stop lying.
The second report back from Libya was written again on my return, and emailed out in September. Islamic Relief have conveniently left out the issues from Libya that I raised in my article. Their star fundraiser, who shall remain anonymous, deliberately tweeted incorrect information prompting a response from the Head of Mission in Libya. Here is the email that was sent to IR’s fundraiser, dated the 1st September:
“As we mentioned before, people are not stupid to know what is going on in the ground and they have connections everywhere. Also as I mentioned before I will not accept you publish anything without my personal approval, as I am the only one in the ground carrying out the work and not IR-UK. The medical supplies you have in that picture is not belong to IR-UK nor IRW. There was plenty of local people donation and if they find out we will be in real trouble.
I am really surprised as it was clearly stated that you have to check with me before anything is published!!”
It’s clear from this example that Islamic Relief UK were putting PR before anything else. Thankfully, on this occasion, the Head of Mission in Libya had the backbone to stand up to them as he clearly saw it as a risk to the work IR aid workers were doing on the ground.
It is very convenient for Islamic Relief to simply dismiss Darrell’s testimony on the basis that he is my friend. However, their own internal investigation was not meant to establish the truth; it was carefully managed throughout to prove me wrong. Under their criteria for dismissing Darrell’s testimony, the investigation itself and its findings can be rubbished because of the tight knit friendships between the Human Resources Director and Jehangir.
Abdullahi, the child Jehangir claimed was immediately saved by Islamic Relief, could have indeed been taken to the hospital immediately . However, Jehangir was deciding IR’s priorities on that day, and he decided that he wanted to go somewhere else rather than save Abdullahi’s life. The video I have published for all to see was filmed once the IR team returned to the camp. IR’s recent statement claims that the ITN cameraman was simply collecting cutaways while we waited for the vehicles to arrive to take Abdullahi to the hospital. This is a lie. Our cars were already there because we had just got out of them when we returned to the camp! You can hear the engines running in the background of the video. And how do they explain Darrell’s comment “Let’s get her in the car, what’s she standing there for?!” Abdullahi’s mother is clearly made to sit down in the middle of the camp with her son in her arms whilst the sun was beating down on them and our vehicles were waiting idly by to take her and Abdullahi to the hospital. Islamic Relief again lies when they attempt to quote me as saying Jehangir “went in search for famine victims”. Nowhere did I say this in my article. I said he was looking for a “malnourished child”. I have further video evidence to prove that he did not just go to – as they call it – the ‘reception’ area to meet new arrivals. Does Islamic Relief really want me to upload more videos to expose their lies?
In an email addressed to me, the head of the Africa region clearly states “
Number of visitors – I think definitely over 100….”. I still have the email.
Relief gate could have been avoided and it can be easily resolved. I offer Islamic Relief a way out of this embarrassing mess that they have put themselves in:
make a public apology, accept your mistakes, and ensure that you will put measures in place so that these mistakes are not repeated. If you do this, I will remove my articles and any other material about Islamic Relief that I have published on the web.
Some humility is required to do this on the part of Islamic Relief, but it will save a great deal of time and effort for their communications team if this is done, and save me putting up further evidence to disprove Islamic Relief’s lies against me.
Islamic Relief should do their duty and stop slandering me.
Statement by Darrell Williams concerning the Director of Islamic Relief UK:
Assed recently wrote an article about corrupt practices he witnessed at Islamic Relief (IR). Now that IR has released a disgusting statement about him I feel I have to say something. I was also an employee of IR and I was with Assed in Somalia. Whilst I was in Kenya, I witnessed Jahangir Malik, the director of IR UK, ask Dr Ifikhar Ahmed, the head of IR’s aid response in Somalia, if a pre-planned distribution of emergency food aid in Somalia could be delayed until he arrived there a few days later.
I also witnessed and filmed the ITN cameraman that Jahangir had brought with him to Somalia as he made a woman and her near death child sit down in the sun while he filmed them, even though we were attempting to take the child to the hospital. I also witnessed Jahangir lie to the media about “immediately” saving the child when we originally left the child to his fate.
I was also in Libya when an IR fundraiser lied in his tweets about the aid that IR was distributing in Tripoli when he knew it wasn’t distributing any aid there.
Assed raised these issues, along with myself, long before he was made unemployed after Jahangir failed to renew his contract. Assed later made a compliant that his employment was not renewed because of what he had said about Jahangir.
During the subsequent investigation into this particular complaint I was called as a witness by IR, but my evidence of what I had seen in Somalia was deemed unreliable because I’m Assed’s friend.
I am Assed’s friend, but I know what I saw, and I also obtained video evidence of one particular incident.
By the way, Jahangir also decided not to renew my contract, despite the fact that my fellow colleagues, including my then manager, wanted my contract to be extended. I did not take them to a tribunal or ask for any money, before anyone tries to ruin this statement of mine by suggesting that I probably did.
I find it shameful that IR’s recent statement on the matter has avoided answering what they dismissively call Assed’s “unmeritorious negative imputations”, and has ignored responding to the video evidence, which is very clear and freely available on YouTube. Instead, they have decided to essentially attack Assed’s character.
Anyone with a clear mind can see that IR’s statement is designed to distract people from the real issue – all the claims Assed has made in his article. And what does this sentence mean in IR’s statement that it’s “ work sometimes necessitates agonising decisions”? Is this an admission that something did happen in Somalia? What “agonising decisions” does it refer to?
I had travelled to East Africa as a journalist working for Islamic Relief, along with another journalist, Darrell Williams, we were responsible for collecting media material for the different Islamic Relief offices and for any news organisations to use. This is my account of what I witnessed during my time with Islamic Relief.
During the devastating famine that struck Somalia last year, the Director of Islamic Relief UK, Jehangir Malik, attempted to delay emergency food distribution to starving Somalis.
Jehangir Malik had traveled to East Africa with an ITN cameraman. His plan was to get coverage of Islamic Relief’s aid work in Somalia broadcast on UK television, to show potential donors that the organisation was doing good work, and to encourage them to give money so that many more Somalis could be saved.
What was essential, as far as Jehangir was concerned, was for him to be present at a pre-planned distribution of food aid. This was so he could be filmed not only to show that Islamic Relief was doing vital work, but so he could also carry the authority of someone who had been to the country and seen the horror first hand. It would be easier to get money from donors if they knew the person asking for their money really knew what they were talking about – or so the thinking went.
But Jehangir faced a dilemma when it was time to leave Nairobi airport in Kenya; the plane had been overbooked, and only one seat remained. The small group of Islamic relief employees stood at the check in, trying to agree who would take the last seat, and who would have to wait and catch the next flight in two days time.
The problem for Jehangir was that the food aid distribution he so desperately wanted to get to was scheduled to take place that very day, whilst he stood, helplessly at the airport. At first, he suggested that out of all of us, he should be the one to take the last seat. We all knew that the head of Islamic Relief’s aid mission in Somalia, Dr Ifikhar Ahmed, should be the one to fly out first – he ran the aid effort after all, whilst Jehangir was merely a fundraiser. It was decided that Dr Iftikhar should be the one to take the final seat.
That is when Jehangir turned to Dr Iftikhar and asked if we could delay the emergency food distribution until he got there. Dr Iftikhar went quiet as he considered Jehangir’s question. Jehangir repeated it, but this time said “delay the food distribution until I get there.” I was shocked by his initial question and stood there in disbelief, watching what was taking place before my very eyes. Dr Iftikhar was clearly under a lot of pressure. He needed money for Islamic Relief’s aid effort in Somalia and Jehangir was the man with his hands on the purse strings – he potentially had access to millions of pounds in fundraising revenue. As the silence lingered, and with Dr Iftikhar contemplating what to do, I had to speak up. My job was to collect media material of the work the organisation was doing in Somalia – but I was not prepared to have vital food aid delayed just to get media material. I told Dr Iftikhar to carry on with the food aid distribution and ignore Jehangir’s outrageous demand. Darrell Williams spoke out too and also added that we would just have to settle for whatever media material we could get. We were not prepared to put lives at risk for the sake of some pictures and video footage of Jehangir, even if it was for his fundraising campaign. After all, there was a famine taking place, and helping people was the primary goal here, not public relations.
To this day, I cannot say with certainty whether the food distribution was delayed or not.
We were shocked by Jehangir’s words, but he seemed unrepentant in his quest for PR. Once we eventually got a flight to Somalia – two days after the Nairobi airport incident – his mission to be seen as the saviour of the Somali people continued.
At the first IDP camp we visited in Mogadishu – which was full of people that had left their homes in the famine effected region – Jehangir set about looking for a malnourished child. It was the kind of image he needed to ram home the message to people in the UK just how bad the famine was. Once he had found an appropriate candidate he sat down, turned to the camera that the ITN cameraman was wielding, and began a monologue about the child’s plight. This first piece of media material was never used.
After walking around the camp we soon came across Abdullahi, a severely malnourished child. Jahangir asked to be filmed and again began another monologue. Abdullahi was in a clearly critical condition. I asked Jehangir and Dr Iftikhar what they were going to do for this child? They had no answer. Saving anyone wasn’t part of the plan. This “trip” was just so we could look around and bear witness to the suffering all around us, and there sure was plenty of suffering for us to see. There were people living in make shift tents and poorly erected huts, no sanitation, no clean water, and very little food.
Later on that day Jehangir would tell the worlds’ media that he saved this child’s life by ‘immediately’ taking him to hospital. But the truth is very different.
Jehangir left Abdullahi in the camp. He still wanted his picture taken at a food aid distribution, and there was another one scheduled to take place that very day, and he wasn’t about to miss it. Abdullahi wasn’t taken to the hospital ‘immediately’ because we were unable to take him. He wasn’t taken because, like I said, we hadn’t come to save anybody.
But on our way to the food aid distribution we were told that the security situation had deteriorated at the location where it was to take place, and that the distribution had been cancelled. Fights had broken out. The sheer desperation of people wanting to feed their families had resulted in violence. That’s when Jehangir said “let’s go back (to the camp) and you can film me saving the child.”
Our team headed back to the camp. When we got there, Abdullahi was not taken to the hospital ‘immediately’. This was Jehangir’s exclusive. For the first time he had managed to get UK news on board for his PR agenda to promote Islamic Relief. But at what cost?
Abdullahi’s mother was taken from her tent with her severely malnourished son in her arms, but instead of taking them straight to our vehicle that was parked in the camp with the doors open, and the engine still running, Abdullahi’s mother was made to sit down in the baking sun as other residents took shelter under the shade.
Jehangir’s ITN cameraman wanted her and Abdullahi to pose for the camera so he could capture the image of their complete and utter desperation. I asked Darrell to start filming this because I found it incredibly unethical and wanted to have a record of it. In our video, you can clearly hear Darrell say “Let’s get her in the car, what have we got her standing there for?!”
You can hear the engines of our vehicles running in the background, waiting, as Jehangir got the vital shots that would allow him to get his exclusive. At the end of our video you can see a member of Islamic Relief’s Board of Trustees, Dr Alfy, a few metres away from this despicable incident. He watched all of this unfold before his very own eyes. Later, he denied all knowledge of the incident. I expected more from a trustee of the organisation, someone who has the responsibility of overseeing and ensuring that it is run properly. But as I was learning very quickly that PR took precedence over everything else. Abdullahi was eventually taken to hospital but not before all the media material had been obtained.
I raised these issues with Jehangir in Somalia and in Kenya. He didn’t seem to care about his actions. He responded dismissively, and instead, preferred to question my role in the organisation.
In Somalia we saw immeasurable suffering. Dead children and others on the brink of death; parents who had sometimes lost all of their children; starving families cramped together in makeshift shelters right next to urine and faeces. As I became acquainted with the Islamic Relief aid workers on the ground in Somalia – the ones who were actually involved in saving lives, as opposed to raising funds – they began to share their thoughts with me. They told me that the constant visitors they were receiving in Somalia from Islamic Relief’s fundraising offices around the world were slowing down the emergency relief effort. Their vital time, which should have been spent doing life saving work, was being wasted taking visitors around, just to take a look at the effects of the famine – a phenomena better known as “disaster tourism”.
I raised all these issues with my boss at the time, the Director of Communications at Islamic Relief Worldwide, when I returned to the UK. Darrell and I also wrote a report detailing what we had seen in Somalia. We sent our report to the then CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide, Saleh Saeed, who is now set to become CEO of the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) in September.
Our report was ignored. Saleh read through it, but did not say anything. The issue was clear; Jehangir, as head of Islamic Relief UK, brought in millions of pounds of fundraising money that helped the organisation to operate. These ethical concerns were nothing in the face of all that cash and Jehangir’s OBE.
In our report we highlighted the suggestion of delaying emergency food aid, the effects of disaster tourism on the aid effort in Somalia and, more importantly, the effect on the very people that the organisation was meant to be helping.
At one point, I asked the head of Islamic Relief Worldwide’s aid response in Africa how many visitors had gone to Somalia since the start of the crisis there. His response? “Definitely over a hundred”. A conservative estimate of how much it cost to send one person to Somalia at the time is £2000. Overall, that comes to £200,000 of donors money, spent on people whose only job was to witness the effects of the famine, and sometimes, to report back what they had seen to others in an attempt to raise more funds for the aid effort. It’s absurd. I’m not sure donors know this, especially when they congratulate themselves on raising £50,000 in one evening, oblivious that they are funding a sort of deranged holiday for disaster tourists.
This however was not the only incident that took place that made me realise how unethical the drive to raise funds could be. After my trip to Libya to collect media material I flagged up another issue. Again I co-authored a report with Darrell which was sent to the CEO Saleh Saeed.
We pointed out that a prominent fundraiser from Islamic Relief UK had tweeted that Islamic Relief had been distributing medical aid and water in Tripoli even though he knew full well that this was not the case. He had been with us in Tripoli and knew that Islamic Relief, at the time, was not distributing any aid in the capital. He lied just to give the impression that Islamic Relief was doing something when in reality it wasn’t. During the conflict in Libya Islamic Relief UK had a large number of Libyans from Tripoli living in Britain who were pressuring them to do something for the people in the city they came from. This pressure must have been too much to bear for someone who had already asked these Libyans for money, and received their donations. Thankfully, staff at Islamic Relief Worldwide complained and had the tweets removed, along with pictures I had taken of the National Transitional Council (NTC) giving out water in Tripoli.
None of the issues I raised were ever addressed. Instead, when Jehangir took over as Director of Communications at Islamic Relief Worldwide ( which effectively made him my boss), he refused to renew mine and Darrell’s contracts, which put an end to our time at Islamic Relief.
After exhausting all the internal channels of raising this issue, before and after the termination of my employment, I was left with no other choice but to go public after the new CEO, Dr Ashmawey, failed to address my ethical concerns.
For some people, the story I have just told may not be shocking; for others, they may not see anything wrong with the actions of Jehangir and his organisation at all, but I did find these actions unethical, and deeply distressing. The media and aid agencies in general have a mutually dependent relationship when it comes to humanitarian disasters: the agencies grant them access to areas and stories, whilst journalists promote the agencies and their work. All the while, journalists turn a blind eye, not only to their own unethical practices, but to the unethical practices of the aid agencies too. One journalist I spoke to remarked that “I am guilty of attending food distributions that felt like a media circus.”
That is why so many in the media will see what I have said as nothing new. People in the media and the humanitarian sector know full well that these kinds of practices are common and widespread. The only thing I can do is share what I have experienced and let people make up their own minds about whether these actions are acceptable or not.
Is the BBC as impartial, free and fair as they claim. I choose to disagree!
Guest post by Ishmahil Blagrove
After I initiated an inquiry into the way in which the BBC distorted my documentary “Blood Diamonds (2001)”, deceitfully reneged on a signed contract and jeopardised the lives of several contacts on the ground, the BBC’s internal investigation overseen by Mark Damazer, ruled in their own favour against the overwhelming physical evidence and witnesses that I had. Before initiating the inquiry they attempted to bribe me into accepting the distorted narrative of the story, “Don’t worry Ishmahil, there will be more work for you.” When I insisted that I wanted to stick to my contract, someone came and told me “If you rock the boat, as a freelancer you will be black listed”. I still have all the evidence and correspondences with the BBC and perhaps one day I will post it up. I had to decide if I wanted future employment or to stick with my values and principles – I chose to stick with my principles. I have no confidence in the BBC or their impartiality in conducting or commissioning such investigations. THEY ARE CORRUPT!
When the BBC approached me and asked if I could get into the rebel controlled territories during the war to expose slave labour in the diamond mines controlled by the RUF, I agreed on the basis that we would explain how the war started. The war began as a result of a lack of resources and government spending in the East of the country, hospitals, schools etc…
The BBC agreed that we would be able to fuse the two stories, explain the history of the war and that diamonds were being used to fund the conflict. The BBC were obsessed, as were most of the Western media with this patronising view that the people were simply fighting over diamonds. In every conflict protagonists will use the resources at their disposal to acquire weapons, but the Western media were only obsessed with diamonds. The rebels sold cocoa, timber or what have you, but “Blood Cocoa” or “Blood Timber” just wasn’t as catchy as “BLOOD DIAMONDS”.
The BBC cameraman who accompanied me at times refused to film certain scenes, such as when we were coming out of the rebel held territory of Tongo and bumped into a patrol of British soldiers hundreds of miles away from their zone and in an area where they had no mandate to be. We had heard rumours that the British had been training the CDF (a militia) in contravention of the Abujah Agreement which insisted that both sides desisted from fighting. I told him film! He ran into the bush made a satellite phone call back to the BBC and then came back and said, I’m told we need to get more diamond stuff first.
The BBC continually frustrated me. On another occasion one of my informants at the UN called me and said that 4 CDF fighters had been killed and beheaded by the Rebels and that I should get to the region because they had British made weapons (I’m sure some of you may remember the arms to Sierra Leone scandal). The informant at the UN was a senior figure who was angry with the way in which the British had strolled into the arena of war and refused to come under the control of the UN and were using propaganda to steal the glory from the good works that the UN had done. My contact was an American, but i will not name her for her own protection. She offered to put on a helicopter and fly us to the scene where we could investigate the scene – of course the BBC objected.
I had known the former President, Captain Valentine Strasser who had been overthrown and was living on the fringe of Freetown. I visited him and convinced him to talk and to explain the deal behind using the mercenary company ‘Executive Outcome’ to prosecute the war and some of the other under table deals he had done with the Americans and the British – the BBC didn’t want it.
When I returned to the UK, the BBC said I should stay at home for a couple of weeks and write the story – When I returned back into the office, the BBC had deceitfully cut and arranged the material for the film they wanted and had excluded the material and direction I wanted to take the story. I was contracted as the Producer of the story and therefore it should have been my vision, however, when I began to raise objections the Editor of BBC Correspondent, Farah Durani, a dishonourable and dishonest woman who rose to the position of Deputy Editor solely on the basis of some minorities fast track scheme, came to me and said that my contract had been issued in error, that I was not the Producer of the programme, that I was simply the reporter. I asked her, “If I didn’t produce the programme, then who did? Did it produce itself out of thin air?” Such was the deceptive and dishonest nature of the BBC that caused me to take them to an inquiry. They put out the documentary omitted the credit of Producer. (I have never been able to tell this story, as at the time the internet was not as ubiquitous as it is now. There was no forum to explain how criminal and deceitful the BBC had been. I am glad for this opportunity to unburden myself. Anyone from the BBC who wishes to sue me for defamation, or perhaps FARAH DURANI, please feel free to contact me you bunch of fraudsters.)
Even now the British are seen as the ones who brought peace to Sierra Leone. The UN are rightfully criticised in the often dismal efforts at peace keeping, but in the final years of the Sierra Leone conflict they did an outstanding job. The United Nations Bangladeshi Forces of Battalion 7, were the first soldiers to get into the main rebel stronghold of Kono. The fact that the Bangladeshi’s were humble and came from a culture similar to many in the region who are muslim, made it easier for them to get along with the rebels. They had a laid back attitude and the rebels were often hanging out and chilling at the Bangladeshi’s outpost. They ate with their hands and slept outdoors in bivouacs. (The rebels continually praised the Bangladeshi’s and I know of several instances where the Bangladeshis under the command of a brave Colonel, whom I can’t remember his name but I do have it recorded in my notes of the time, they averted massacres of hundreds of people and put themselves in the middle of raging gun battles.) During peace talks the rebels insisted that they did not want any British soldiers or officials present, as they believed that the British were not impartial but were involved in training the government militia and encouraging the war.
IT WAS THE UN THAT BROUGHT PEACE TO SIERRA LEONE, THE BRITISH CAN REMIX HISTORY AS MUCH AS THEY LIKE, ANYONE WHO WAS INVOLVED IN THE PEACE PROCESS WOULD KNOW OTHERWISE!
A Muslim women wearing the niqab has been turned away from her son’s parents evening because of security concerns.
Maroon Rafique was told by college staff that she could not come to the parents evening unless she removed her niqab. The 40-year-old from Manchester has visited the college on previous occasions and there never seemed to be a problem, but on this occasion she was stopped in the lobby. The College staff told her that her face veil was a security risk.She was then forced to ring her husband who attended for her.
The media has jumped on this story but rather than see Maroon Rafique as the victim, the debate has yet again,moved to Muslims and integration.No one seems to ask the real questions about how a few inches of cloth over someone’s face can be a threat to British society.
If a woman wishes to wear a niqab then surely it is her choice to do so. An educational institute that is supposed to be a bastion of free speech, diversity and acceptance, should not be turning away parents on the basis of how they chose to dress.
Unfortunately, there has been an increased number of these actions since the UK went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.The actions of the UK abroad are directly linked to the increase of racism and Islamaphobia in this country.You cannot kill Muslims abroad whilst not attacking Muslims at home, whether it is in the form of targeting women for a few inches of cloth or expecting Muslims to adhere to an imaginary notion of Britishness invented by the elite.What is clear to many is that talk of ‘security’ and ‘Britishness’ is just a veneer for xenophobia and scapegoating.At a time of government cuts and recession politicians turn on the most vulnerable in society to distract people from the real issues.
Maroon has defended herself admirably; she phoned in live to the BBC Asian Network and came across as articulate and composed unlike the bigoted voices that opposed her.Most of all it is clear that she is a mother that cares about her son’s education.The college have said that they are looking into the concerns raised by Mrs Rafique, but it does not excuse the fact that they treated her in a degrading manner.
She is yet to receive a formal apology for her treatment at the hands of the college staff.