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Scottish Muslims mostly see future outside UK

‘It’s about improving my community, for my people, for Muslims, and mainstream society,’ says ‘Yes’ voter.

On the streets of southern Glasgow, independence posters in Urdu stare from windows, cars – prayer beads hanging from mirrors – beep their horns in support of “Yes,” and kids dribble footballs around women wearing brightly colored salwar kameez dresses.

The district of Pollokshields is “one of the most diverse areas in Scotland,” Scottish National Party Councillor Norman MacLeod proudly tells the Anadolu Agency as he stands on a terrace street corner while campaigning with other members of the country’s Asian population.

He’s dressed in a smart shirt and V-necked jumper, and is waving an ID card to let everyone know who he is. He has “Yes” stickers and “Yes” badges aplenty, and leaflets at the ready.

This area is predominantly South Asian, many of those who live nearby members of Scotland’s 77,000 Muslim population – of which Glasgow has 30,000. They are a minority in the country of more than 5 million, but when it comes to independence they want to make sure their voices are just as loud.

Campaigner Nighet Nasim is speaking to passers-by, stopping to tell AA that she wants to be “governed here in Scotland and not by Westminster [the home of the British parliament].”

“This is really about improving my community, for my people, for Muslims and mainstream society… we have this one chance to create something really positive,” she says.

Around us, grocery shops flog Asian spices, mannequins are adorned with Muslim dress and “Azadi [Freedom] for Scotland” is everywhere. Other than a few red Labour Party “No” posters, the purple and white of the anti-independence campaign is nowhere to be seen.

In the capital – around 40 miles down the M8 motorway – is the Edinburgh Central Mosque, which is surrounded by restaurants, take-aways and cafes. But walk into the Mosque restaurant itself and you’ll find that the majority of people are not even Muslim.

It could be that the food is cheap, that it’s so tasty – the lip-smackingly good sweet smell of chicken curry hangs in the air – but it’s more likely a sign of the level of integration of Muslims and how their food and culture has become a part of local society.

This view is reflected by Zahid Ali, who has been campaigning for “Yes.”

“I’m a Scotsman, Scotland is my home,” he tells AA, but then he no longer makes it about Scotland, he makes it about somewhere else.

“I think Scottish society is more accepting of Muslims,” he says. “As far as the Scottish community is concerned, it doesn’t matter if I’m Muslim or not… It [the independence referendum] is such a broad based issue that everybody is on board.”

He brings up Britain’s colonial legacy – the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries, particularly in Asia, which created the largest empire in history.

“I feel that Scotland is not tied into the colonial values of Britain. I see myself as less British and more Scottish,” he says. “There’s less blood on the Scottish flag than on the British.”

It’s a consensus that appears to be widespread in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and offers some explanation as to why so many Muslims, on both sides of the debate, have actively engaged in the politics of the referendum.

“If anything happens in regards to the Muslim community, First Minister Alex Salmond is ready to meet us at short notice,” says Ali. “He is ready to meet representatives of the Muslim community.”

Mariam Berrada is a 20-year-old student in Edinburgh who refers to herself as “Scottish Muslim.” She is also voting “Yes,” but switched from voting “No.”

“I was ‘No’ by default I think… but after hearing the arguments I changed my mind,” she told AA.

“I feel like British and Muslim are not compatible… I feel like British, it doesn’t really work well with ‘Muslim’,” she says, citing far-right groups such as the English Defence League and the British National Party. “We [Scots] are much more open minded.”

Mazhar Khan lives in Edinburgh. He says he’s undecided, but is leaning towards “yes,” Britain’s foreign policy a dominating factor.

“Westminster does not listen to Muslims when it comes to Iraq, Palestine or any other foreign policy issue,” he says. “In an independent Scotland I feel that we would have more of a say on foreign policy, and the SNP have already shown that they would speak out against Israel.”

In another working class area of Glasgow, AA caught up with the Scottish National Party’s Humza Yousaf.

Yousaf – a member of the Scottish Parliament since 2011 – says he believes that two thirds of the Muslim community is voting “Yes” – Britain’s foreign policy a major factor.

“In the last few years people have been able to see the juxtaposition and difference in approach from the Westminster government and the Scottish government, and that’s probably recently played out in the crisis in Gaza,” he added.

During this year’s blitz on the coastal territory by Israel, Edinburgh’s position was at odds with the U.K. Whereas London announced only a review of arms exports to Israel, Salmond called for an arms embargo – seen as evidence that a “yes” vote would free Scotland to choose a different foreign policy than as part of the U.K.

It’s not purely about foreign policy, though says Yousaf. There are other issues driving Scottish Muslims towards “Yes.”

“I think immigration is an issue, there’s a lot of anti-immigration and xenophobic rhetoric coming from London, driven by UKIP [the United Kingdom Independence party, which advocates pulling Britain out of the European Union and limiting the right of its citizens to enter], and instead of challenging those views the main political parties have been conforming to a lot,” he says.

“We have a different of approach to those issues… Plus the bread and butter issues, the economy, free education, all those things are quite important to the Muslim community,” he adds.

There are always those, though, whose focus is not so much on the short-term benefits, but what could happen in the long term if “Yes” does not lead to the prosperity that its campaign suggests.

Asif Osmani is a Professor at Edinburgh University. For him, talk of separation brings up memories and parallels with the partition of India and Pakistan.

“Nothing good will come of it, history tells us that… If the ‘Yes’ campaign wins, then the economy will be effected, and when that happens people will turn on the minorities, that means us… Muslims… It’s only natural that this will happen,” he says.

“Muslims voting ‘Yes’ is like turkeys voting for Christmas.”

He doesn’t even smile.

His wife, Saadia, a public relations consultant, agrees with him, but does not draw the same sub-continent parallels.

“It’s better to stay united… I’ve lived in England and I see us as the United Kingdom,” she says, adding that if the “Yes” campaign wins, she may think of moving back.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 17 September 2014

UK leaders in pledge to Scotland ‘if’ it stays in union

Labour, Conservative and Liberal leaders promise ‘extensive new powers’ to Scottish parliament if countrymen vote ‘No’.

With just two days left until Scotland goes to the polls in a highly anticipated independence vote, political leaders scrambling to keep the country in the U.K. have pledged to devolve new powers to the Scottish government if its people vote “No.”

On the front page of the Daily Record newspaper, Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour Leader Ed Miliband, and Liberal Leader Nick Clegg are pictured under the headline “The Vow” on Tuesday.

In the event of the country voting “No” Thursday, the three men promised “extensive new powers” to the Scottish parliament “delivered by the process and to the timetable agreed” by the three main parties.

With “No” leaders highlighting a lack of public spending on education and health as a main factor in the territory wishing to break away, the trio promised that “the UK exists to ensure opportunity and security for all by sharing our resources equitably.” They pledged “categorically” that the “final say on how much is spent on the NHS [Britain’s diminishing public-funded national health service] will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament.”

Outsides of the front pages on the damp streets of the Scottish capital, the “Yes” campaign is taking a more prominent role. Pro-independence banners can be seen hanging from Edinburgh windows, locals wear “Yes” badges and it’s the “Yes” campaign’s blue and white literature and followers that deluge the city.

University student Gavin Christy, 19, told the Anadolu Agency that even though he didn’t want to force his opinion on anyone else he’d be voting “Yes” – “mainly because of if we vote no it will stay the same.”

Charity worker Bob Randall told AA that he thought Scotland would be a “freer and more equal society” if people voted “Yes.”

“The referendum is a big opportunity for Scots. I have been a ‘Yes’ voter since I was young. I could never vote ‘No’,” he said.

There was, however, a scattering of “No” campaigners and supporters around, the occasional dash of red among the blues in the early morning gloom.

“I strongly believe we should be in UK,” said a Mrs. Brown. “We are happy and fine as things are.”

With around 500,000 of Scotland’s 4.2 million registered votes still undecided, supporters from both sides were scurrying backwards and forwards in the rain, seeking the unsure out and trying to convince them which way to vote.

Musician Claire Campbell is yet to make up her mind, but hinted that recent announcements by the International Monetary Fund, banks and retailers about the financial implications of independence – some of which have threatened to move South of the border if Scotland goes it alone – may have swayed her opinion.

“I think all the economy stuff is scaremongering,” she told AA, adding that she was leaning towards voting “Yes”.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has called for an inquiry into the warnings, accusing the British treasury of leaking market sensitive material to media.

On Monday, Cameron gave an impassioned speech to the union, outlining what he called “the likely consequences of a ‘Yes’ vote.”

“Independence would not be a trial separation. It would be a painful divorce,” he said. “Head and heart and soul, we want you to stay. Please don’t mix up the temporary and the permanent. Please don’t think: ‘I’m frustrated with politics right now, so I’ll walk out the door and never come back.”

Elsewhere in the Daily Record, Kenyon Wright – one of the architects of Scottish devolution – appealed to voters to say “Yes,” laying out an argument that addresses the economy and the power to make decisions.

“If we vote ‘Yes’ the generations to come will thank us for a proud and caring Scotland in which they live,” wrote Wright.

 The referendum threatens a union that has lasted for 307 years.

If the “yes” vote is successful, Scotland is not expected to entirely leave the UK until 2016, the Scottish National Party proposing March 26, 2016 as its Independence Day.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 16  September 2014


British convert reveals Syria journey

‘The question is, did ’you‘ ever see a wrong and try to change it,’ says UK man on returning home, having fought Assad.

He ignored the warnings, took the risks, and hopped on a plane. Hours later – via Heathrow, Istanbul, and then over land to the border – he arrived in Syria.

A Muslim convert, born and bred in the UK, he was determined to join the fight against Bashar al-Assad.

“Syria is clear cut… People were getting slaughtered on a mass scale,” he told the Anadolu Agency from a London suburb.

He didn’t appear nervous. He was methodical and calm. He frequently paused mid-sentence to think about his answers, tilting his head to one side, his eyes glancing upwards as he contemplated the weight of his words.

“I went over to stop the slaughter.”

He’d agreed to meet and talk to AA on condition of anonymity. Anonymity? Do I really have to explain why?

For years, the British government has been trying to prevent such “homegrown terrorists.” Through its Preventing Violent Extremism program it has attempted to dissuade those it deems at risk from radicalization from traveling overseas and taking part in jihad (holy war). In its latest approach, Prime Minister David Cameron is reengineering this focus to concentrate on not just stopping wannabe fighters from traveling overseas – to Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia… – but also stepping up plans to remove their citizenship and stop them from returning to the U.K. Further strengthening the government’s determination are recent Islamic State videos that appear to show a still unidentified man with what appears to be a British accent beheading two U.S. journalists.

In the London home, the man picked up two chairs from the kitchen and placed them in the garden. He then took our mobile phones – his included – turned them off, and placed them on a wooden stand out of earshot, explaining that he – and others – had to be extra cautious now due to the change in British policy.

As he talked, his voice sometimes dropped to a whisper as if to ensure no one could hear. I looked around expecting to see someone, perhaps just a giveaway flicker of movement at a fence or as a neighbor went indoors. There was no one there.

Sometimes he talked about his journey in the first person, others in the third. One time he talked about “the brother he knew,” and it was only a few minutes later that I realized he was talking about himself. It was almost as if every word, every sentence, was carefully orchestrated so he could tell any court of law that he was talking about somebody else.

And so the journey began.

There’s two ways of getting to Syria, he said. “Pre-planned and freestyle.”

“I went to one place [in transit], and I stuck out like a sore thumb because there are no tourists there. People will approach you and ask you what you are there for.“

He makes his hand into a pistol, wiggling his thumb as if he’s cocking the hammer.

“You don’t have to say that you’ve come to do that,” he says. ”You say that you’ve come to help the brothers.”

He said that he’d heard that al-Assad had people working on Syria’s borders trying to funnel “would be helpers” to their side.

Once in Syria, they “slaughter them,” he added. “It’s from Allah if you make it across or not. There’s wrong been done and people want to stop it.”

In the border towns you wait, he says people cross backwards and forwards all the time. They come for “supplies,” and when they go back you go in with them.

In Syria, “contacts” took him to the rebel-held side of Aleppo where he was given an AK-47 – “I already knew how to use it” – and he joined the fight.

“You see before you a reflection of life – two extremes… You see the normality, because life must continue, and on the other hand you see the destruction that war causes. In any war zone it is the infrastructure – the roads and the buildings – that get hit.”

“You go past a school, you don’t see graffiti on the wall as you may do here in London, but you see bullet holes. People are living on a day-to-day basis.”

He tells AA how the Syrians reacted to him being in their country, because he was obviously a foreigner.

“Some people look at you and it’s like they’re looking at a dead man walking, it’s almost as if they’re saying ‘Why would you want to be here?’ But there are those that are obviously grateful that you have come to fight.”

He explains that in Syria foreigners are grouped depending on their ability, their experience, if they’ve been through “training” and if they know “the tools of the trade.”

“Whether you go to the front line is down to two things… whether they [the rebel group] think you are ready, or you think you are ready.”

Sometimes you don’t even see much action – “it all depends on what group you are with.” You can easily get shot at everyday. But if your idea of action is “operations, then it all depends on what is planned.”

He highlighted the difficulties with communication; most western fighters not knowing the local Arabic tongue.

“You need to relay orders and information to these guys and that needs to be done through a translator,” he says. “In the heat of battle, this can be an issue, so they need competent people.”

He’s tall, toned, and of an athletic build. When he looks you in the eye, his gaze is intense, his eyes clear. He obviously physically looks after himself, but for him there’s more to it.

“You see things clearly [out there],” he says. “You could spend hours praying. You’re freeing yourself from the world. You feel like something is calling you. It’s like waves upon waves of pleasure in everything you do. It’s like a very spiritual thing… you are spiritually high.”

And then – as I steal away from his gaze to consult my notes – a switch is flicked, his calm demeanor suddenly replaced by agitation and what appears to be confusion as I ask him what he thinks of the Islamic State.

“Nah,” he says, shaking his head. “I’m not part of them. I’ve never fought for them. But even if you believe the allegations… How about the people they [the West] kill around the world, the children that starve? How about them? How about the children that we don’t see on TV?”

And then a pause. He’s thinking again.

“Everyone can. Every organization has people that can make mistakes – that does not mean that the organization is bad.”

He veers off into an attack on the “capitalist system,” says that “people die everyday because of the exploitation and oppression.”

His hands are now moving fast, palms towards him, revolving between his knees in a controlled orbit, as if toying with a rubber band.

“What’s wrong with them [the Islamic State] if they have come to eradicate that? If you molest children, then you get a slap on the wrist, but if you dare defend people that are been massacred in Syria then they [the politicians] throw the book at you.”

“These guys, the government, they lie; trying all they can to hold onto power.British interests? – Just tell me the truth, don’t insult my intelligence. Then they try to shut you up, views that do not agree with the government, they try to shut you up,” he exclaims.

“An adult can make his own mind up.  If you tell someone not to do something, they’ll do it.  If you tell someone not to say something, they’ll say it… The government is its own worst enemy.”

He says he’s uncertain if he’ll go back, and attests to the chaos that has descended on Syria since he was there – just ”last year.”

“There are [now] groups that are fighting each other… [along with] groups that are fighting IS and Bashar. If you’re there just to fight Bashar then it’s difficult, as you have to find and join a group that is just doing that and not fighting another group at the same time.”

And then he’s back to Britain.

“Whatever you do [now], when you go out there, you’re going to get tarred with the same brush [by the government]. Whether you went to help people or whether you went to help IS. It’s the same thing to them. Those that went to Bosnia didn’t come back and commit terrorism.  And there were lots of us that went to Bosnia. We were no threat to the UK. I don’t get how those that went to Syria first were not [considered] a threat and now they are.”

He’s not giving me an answer. I ask him if he will go back?

He clasps his hands and leans back in his wooden chair. It’s a good 30 seconds before he answers.

“If I go back, I’m not coming back [to the UK],” he says.

“If you come back you will be humiliated, put in jail and humiliated. That ain’t happening. I’m not naive and think that I’m going to change the world – You may get out there and change nothing.”

 And then he puts me in my place, me sitting here with my comfortable life, judging him for his honesty and actions.

“The question is, did ‘you‘ ever see a wrong and try to change it?”

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 13 September 2014


UK child sexual exploitation report raises racism fears

“There are issues within society, but it [child abuse] is not an Asian or a Muslim problem, it’s a [an all round] problem,” Raza Nadim told AA.

Allegations of institutional racism reared their head in the UK this week on the back of an independent report into child sexual exploitation in Northern England that found that 1,400 children had been the victims of “appalling” abuse between 1997 and 2013 – some of them as young as 11 years old.

Many British media outlets outraged race relations bodies by running stories on the findings with headlines highlighting the ethnicity of the perpetrators, after the report – commissioned by Rotherham council – identified the majority of those alleged to have “sexually groomed” children as of “Pakistani origin.”

Muslim Public Affairs Committee U.K. spokesperson Raza Nadim told the Anadolu Agency that he was “infuriated” by the suggestion that race was an issue in the crime, and the subsequent politicization of ethnicity as a factor.

“There are issues within society, but it [child abuse] is not an Asian or a Muslim problem, it’s a [an all round] problem,” Raza told AA.

“Blaming Asians or Muslims stokes up more tension and takes us away from the discussion we should be having… which is why did this happen in the first place and what can we do to help the children get through this?”

Race “should not” be the issue, he says, but “if we are to look at the wider UK and the race of those committing such crimes, then there are a lot of white pedophiles, there’s a lot of white sex offenders.”

It’s an issue that also concerns writer and journalist Steve Rose, with British society still coming to terms with the outing and charging of prominent white TV presenters from the 1980s for preying on the young.

“We haven’t racialized Jimmy Saville or Rolf Harris, or we haven’t said that there’s an institutional problem with white grooming gangs,” he says. “It’s a factor but it’s not as big as a factor as is being made out.”

The report – released this week – found that gangs of men groomed, abused and trafficked vulnerable children while victims were disregarded by police, and the local council – despite several reports highlighting abuse – had ignored the alleged abductions, beatings and trafficking of children to other towns and cities so that the abuse could continue. Many were also raped by different men.

As a result of the findings, Rotherham council leader Roger Stone resigned acknowledging “historic failings.” The local police and crime commissioner has also resisted calls to leave his post – with allegations of an institutional fear of racism also being leveled.

Among the many charges in the report were those from a previous inquiry in 2006 that said that “Young people in Rotherham believed at that time that the police dared not act against Asian youths for fear of allegations of racism.”

“This perception was echoed at the present time by some young people we met during the [latest] inquiry,” the report stated, but went on to conclude that “The Inquiry team was confident that ethnic issues did not influence professional decision-making in individual cases.”

This has not been reflected in the media coverage, states Rose.

“A fear of racism does not explain why the police viewed someone as promiscuous and being deviant. It’s good old-fashioned victim blaming, and what that does is when institutions fail people it enables the abusers to continue.”

“When you link child sex exploitation to race you undermine the seriousness of the topic. It’s not really about race… It’s about power… Making the issue about race, demonizes communities and ignores the victims who are not white.”

Disagreement, however, comes from the very community at which the finger is being pointed, Mohammed Shafiq – the Chief Executive of the Ramadhan Foundation and himself a British Pakistani saying “there is” a problem within.

“We in the Pakistani community have got a problem, particularly in northern towns where they think white girls are worthless and they think they can use and abuse them in this abhorrent sort of way and have no regard towards the sanctity of life,” he told AA.

“It’s something the community will have to confront, rather than looking for excuses, or rather than looking for other people to blame.”

Race is not the only factor, but it is “certainly quite a factor,” he admits.

Shafiq has come in for criticism for his views – not least from the British Pakistani community – but he remains adamant that he has the right to speak out.

“The fact [is] that this evil exists within our community, and we just have to do more to be outspoken about it,” he says.

He told AA that Pakistani and Kashmir men “tend to go for the white girls because they’re easier to get a hold of and easier to groom.” They are particularly targeted, he says, so the men don’t get any “fallback within the [Pakistani] community.”

But its not just race we should be scrutinizing, he says, but also our cultures.

“Within our [Pakistani] community our children are not around at that time of the morning, but some of these other girls are outside at 2 or 3 o’clock. This is an issue we’ve got to have a look at.”

“As parents, do these people know where their children are? Why are 13-14 year olds wandering around the streets” at this time?

“When you start to see padded bras in shops, and teenage magazines full of sex and the promotion of sexuality, then that all contributes to society where people think it is an acceptable form of behavior to be [a child and hanging out at 2am and] engaged in sexual activity with someone under the age of 16.”

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 28 August 2014

UK government approach to extremism not working, say experts

‘Domestic and foreign policy must be re-examined rather than new laws being introduced,’ specialist in counter-terrorism tells AA.

A leading specialist in counter-terrorism has questioned the British government’s approach to extremism, stating that attempts to further criminalize those taking part is not the answer – that they should be looking at the cause not the crime.

In the wake of a video that appears to show a British citizen beheading an American journalist on behalf of the Islamic State (IS), the government is clamoring to clamp down on nationals travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside militants, many politicians calling for tougher action against those that go and fight for the Islamic State. Home Secretary Theresa May wrote last week that she was preparing to bring in new laws that include an “anti-social behavior order” for extremists.

Dr. Rizwaan Sabir, a specialist in counter-terrorism and political violence at the University of Bath in southwest England told the Anadolu Agency this week that the government is not doing enough to deal with the root causes.

“From those who have been convicted for terrorism, domestic grievances and foreign policy were the main contributing factor, hence it is domestic and foreign policy that must be re-examined rather than new laws being introduced,” he said.

According to the government, 500 British nationals have travelled to Syria to fight for the Islamic State – a “terror” outfit formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant that has seized swathes of Iraq and Syria.

The government, however, has dismissed British foreign policy in the region as a motivating factor in young Muslims travelling overseas to fight; in 2011 Prime Minister David Cameron claiming that the root of the problem was down to the “existence of an ideology, ‘Islamist extremism’.”

“Islam is a religion, observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. Islamist extremism is a political ideology, supported by a minority,” he said during a visit to the German city of Munich.

Jahan Mahmood, a counter-extremism expert and former government adviser, agrees that UK foreign policy is a factor, but adds that a major contribution comes from the moral crisis that many young male Muslims face in Britain today.

Some of these men have been involved in drugs, crime and lived promiscuous lives, all of which are considered sinful within Islam, he told AA. And then, while trying to deal with that guilt and seek forgiveness they are presented with “images of brutalized [Muslim] men, women and children” which “coupled with a desire to make a difference in the world and to get to heaven” leads them to “others” with more militant leanings.

“It’s a mixture of what they see as their duty [and] issues at home such as disempowerment and disillusionment, and… [problems] with their own family and wider society,” he says. “And then of course, verses [from the Quran]… make them feel that they are doing the right thing, [verses that will] secure them a place in heaven, ultimately.”

Mahmood recounts a story of a young man he worked with, who became convinced that he should go abroad and take part in armed conflict.

“He read that as soon as the martyr’s blood touches the ground that he is accepted into heaven. And that was it,” said Mahmood. “He didn’t need anything else more comprehensive… he had no understanding of its context and no idea of anything else. That was all the motivation he needed.”

Mahmood, however, underlines that not everyone that travels to Syria joins such groups as the Islamic State.

“There are other groups as well and there are groups that we [Britain] are supporting. To turn around and tarnish everybody that goes to Syria as joining ISIL is a little bit irresponsible,” he told AA.

Groups such as the UK-based Muslim Public Affairs Committee agree, saying that there are several factors that lead to the radicalization of young British Muslims.

“Some [of those who go off to fight] actually foolishly believe that these people [IS] are on the prophet’s path… They really are that deluded,” spokesperson Raza Nadim spokesperson told AA. “Part of it comes from [the sense] of being disenfranchised [that comes from] living in Britain and other countries.”

But the path should not lead to Islamic State Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he adds. The “caliphate” has no legitimacy “so even though there are some deluded people that are joining, let’s not think that IS has a great deal of support within the UK.”

Premier Cameron and his security chiefs have stated that foreign fighters returning from overseas pose a great threat to the UK, telling parliament in June that the government has stopped people from travelling – taking away their passports – in an effort to stop them being radicalized.

Dr. Sabir finds great fault in this approach.

“There is a lack of empirical evidence to support the claim that British nationals returning from Syria and Iraq pose a direct threat to the UK,” he says.

“Existing evidence shows that nearly all the individuals who have been convicted for terrorism offences since 2001 did not go abroad to fight or train. The issue of ‘blowback’ is therefore difficult to empirically measure at present.”

This view was supported by a report published last month by campaign group Cage, a charity that campaigns on behalf of the victims of the war on terror.

The report – “Blowback – Foreign fighters and the threat they pose” – said that the British government’s policy is “confused and dangerous” and has “created a climate of fear.”

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 27 August 2014

Europe welcomes Gaza ceasefire

Egyptian-brokered cease-fire goes into effect, bringing to a halt 51 days of death and destruction in the blockaded coastal enclave.

The European Union has welcomed the latest cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, bringing to an end 51 days of fighting between Israeli and Palestinian forces that have led to catastrophic death and destruction in the blockaded coastal enclave.

A statement from the European External Action Service “warmly” welcomed the Egypt-brokered agreement which went into effect at 16:00 GMT Tuesday and called “on all to abide by its terms.”

“We commend the efforts of Egypt and others in working towards the cease-fire, and express our sorrow for the loss of life, especially civilians and destruction caused in the last 50 days,” the office said on its official Twitter account, adding that the EU is ready to contribute to consolidating the truce.

For the past seven weeks, Israel has pounded Gaza with the declared aim of halting rocket fire from the territory, claiming at least 2,139 Palestinian — mostly civilian — lives, and leaving nearly 11,000 people injured. Thousands of homes have also been partially or completely destroyed by devastating Israeli bombardments.

At least 69 Israelis — 64 soldiers and five civilians — have also died in the conflict, according to Israeli figures.

Laurent Fabius, the French minister of foreign affairs and international development, also welcomed the cease-fire in an earlier statement saying that France, in coordination with its European partners and as a member of the United Nations Security Council “is committed to contribute to finding solutions through such an agreement.”

It was unclear as to whether by “solutions” Fabius meant an answer to the Palestinian situation, which has seen Palestinian refugees spread all over the world — many confined to refugee camps — since they were expelled by Jewish settlers from their homelands in 1948, or a solution to the latest conflict in Gaza.

“France urges all parties to respect and to continue discussions under the auspices of Egypt to achieve a sustainable solution that answers the requirements of lifting the blockade on Gaza and guaranteeing Israel’s security,” read the statement.

The cease-fire was also backed by Italy, which expressed hope that it would serve as a”turning point we have been waiting for and toward which we have been working with many other countries.”

“The Israelis and Palestinians now need to launch negotiations as soon as possible for a lasting truce and political agreement that finally lead to a stable settlement,” Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said in a written statement.

Britain also welcomed the truce, Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood hailing Egypt’s efforts in securing “this important step.”

“I welcome today’s agreement by all parties to a cease-fire. The cease-fire provides a critical and welcome window of opportunity for reaching a comprehensive agreement that tackles the underlying causes of the conflict,” Ellwood said Tuesday.

 “This should ensure that: Hamas and other militant groups permanently end rocket fire and other attacks against Israel; the Palestinian Authority resumes control of Gaza and restores effective and accountable governance; and that Israel lifts its restrictions in order to ease the suffering of ordinary Palestinians, and allow the Gazan economy to grow,” added Ellwood.

There was no mention of an answer to what many Palestinians call “underlying causes” — the continued misappropriation of lands by Israel, the diaspora of the Palestinian people and control of their livelihoods and borders.

The Palestinian situation began in 1917 when the British Balfour declaration promised a national home for Jewish people in Palestine. By 1948 a newly formed state inside of the Palestine boundary named “Israel” had declared independence, which resulted in 700,000 Palestinians fleeing or being expelled and hundreds of their villages and towns destroyed.

The Palestinian diaspora has since become one of the largest in the world, refugees spread across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and other countries, while many were settled in refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Palestinians commemorate “nakba” — “the day of catastrophe” — on May 15 in memory of the expulsion.

Since 1948, Israel has continued to misappropriate Palestinian land, despite being condemned by the United Nations. The right of return to pre-1948 homes is still a demand for many Palestinians, in particular Hamas, which formed a national unity government with Fatah this year after nearly seven years of feuding.

The number of Palestinian fatalities from Israel’s latest offensive has surpassed the combined death toll from Israel’s two previous operations against Gaza, including Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008/09 in which at least 1,500 Palestinians were killed over the course of three weeks.

*Anadolu Agency correspondents Hale Turkes from Ankara, Hajer M’tiri from Paris, Inci Gundag and Assed Baig from London, and Baris Seckin from Rome contributed to this story.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 27 August 2014

UK Muslims reject notion of ‘collective guilt’ over Foley

‘We don’t expect Christians, nationalists or socialists to apologise for [Adolf] Hitler,’ so why should we apologize for the Islamic State.

Muslim organizations have attacked British media values in the wake of what they see as a clamor to tie their faith to the Islamic State’s (IS) apparent murder of a U.S. journalist in Syria.

Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, told the Anadolu Agency Thursday that a narrative existed among “right-wing media and some politicians” that Muslims are not doing enough to combat extremism.

“But we have been speaking out since 9/11,” underlined Shafiq. “We condemn the murder of James Foley, but not because the British press tells us to, but because our faith tells us to.”

Foley’s death was broadcast in a video on YouTube on Tuesday night, his killer – who claims to be from the Islamic State – blaming U.S. involvement in Iraq in what sounds like a British accent before taking a knife to the 40-year-old’s neck.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has since said it is looking “increasingly likely” that the man was – or is – a British citizen. The government has previously said it believes that there are around 400 British nationals fighting alongside IS – formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) – in Iraq and Syria.

The London Evening Standard newspaper acknowledged Wednesday that young men who have joined the IS are not necessarily representative of the capital’s Muslims, but went on to say “they are nonetheless worshippers at their mosques, members of their families, with friends and relatives privy to their plans.”

It called on Muslim communities to be “far more outspoken” about religious extremism, adding “we look to them, for instance, to organize protests against the Islamic State.”

Shafiq told AA that instead of making such generalizations that all Muslims share the same ideology, media and some politicians should instead be focusing on the root cause of radicalization and extremism.

“Our [British] inaction over Syria, our illegal war in Iraq and our silence over Gaza, and [British] support of the Israelis feeds the misconceptions and shows double standards,” he told AA.

Faith Matters Director Fiyaz Mughal agrees.

“The usual canard that is mentioned is that Muslims are not doing enough and these papers promote such ill-informed ideas,” he told AA.

“In fact, parents, mothers and [guardians] have actively been involved in dissuading young men from going to Syria and the stance of these papers shows how ill-informed their positions are as Muslim communities have been working tirelessly for at least five years on tackling extremism.”

Mughal added that some papers felt that all Muslims share a sense of “collective guilt” over the issue.

“Collective guilt is by itself anti-Muslim in nature since it targets all Muslims by virtue of their identity, when many have nothing to do with or have no control over global situations,” he said.

“We have to call this… exactly what it is – prejudice that targets whole communities.”

Massoud Shadjareh from the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission said to AA that as human beings we “don’t expect Christians, nationalists or socialists to apologise for [Adolf] Hitler.”

“If ISIL self-represents as Islamic or Muslim or any other Islamic term, it neither gives them Islamic credibility, or connection with Muslims around the world; including those who seek political solutions through Islamic political and social organisation.”

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 21 August 2014

Ezidi leader’s son calls on Turkey to intervene in Iraq

Breen Tahseen says Turkey more important than France and Britain because it has more power in Iraq.

The son of an Ezidi leader has called for Turkey to help Ezidi refugees trapped in northern Iraq.

Breen Tahseen, the son of Prince Tahseen Saeed Bek, who is leader of the Ezidi people, said Turkey should open its borders to allow Ezidi refugees in and to deliver humanitarian aid.

Tahseen also said Turkey should arm those fighting the so-called Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Ezidis, an ethnic minority in Iraq, are a religious sect fusing Zoroastrian, Manichaean, Jewish, Nestorian Christian and Islamic elements. Orthodox Islamic scholars regard them as heretical.

Tahseen, 33, works in the Iraqi consulate in Manchester but said he was speaking in a personal capacity.

“Turkey is more important than France and Britain, because Turkey is closer to Iraq and has more power in Iraq, especially northern Iraq,” he said.

He called on Turkey and others to put troops on the ground to push IS back. France has pledged to arm Kurdish peshmerga forces battling Islamic State militants.

“IS is not just dangerous for Ezidi people; it affects everyone,” Tahseen said.

He called on European countries to take in Ezidi refugees. He said thousands of Ezidi were trapped and unless doctors and soldiers were put on the ground there was no way of knowing the exact number.

He said more than 600 Ezidi women and girls had been kidnapped by Islamic State fighters and taken to Mosul.

Mount Sinjar, in northwest Iraq near the border with Syria, has been home to thousands of Ezidis who have fled in fear of being massacred by Islamic State militants, who consider them “devil-worshippers.”

The militants have been blamed for several massacres already. Reports say that hundreds of people have been massacred, including at least 80 Ezidis who refused to convert to Islam.

More than 1 million civilians have been displaced by the clashes in the north and west of the country.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 17 August 2014

US, UK ‘hypocrites’ over Russia verbal attacks

Malaysian goverment minister says US also guilty for supplying war weapons to those killing innocent Palestinians in Gaza.

A top minister in the Malaysian government has accused the United States of hypocrisy in its criticism of Russia for supplying arms to separatist groups, stating that the U.S. is just as guilty in that is supplying war weapons to those killing innocent Palestinians in Gaza.

“A lot of people are making very hypocritical statements, especially in the last week where Western leaders were saying it is obvious the weapons were supplied by the Russians to the rebels in order to shoot down the plane,” Mukhriz Mahathir, the chief minister of the northern state of Kedah told the Anadolu Agency on Wednesday.

“This begs the question, who then supplied weapons that Israel is using against Palestinians? They need to be careful with statements like that.”

Last Thursday, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is believed to have been shot down in the Eastern Ukraine while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, resulting in the death of all 298 on-board.

The U.S. and Britain have since threatened sanctions against Russia for allegedly supplying weapons to the separatists.

Andrei Purgin, a deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, has denied the accusations, saying all its weapons were stolen from the Ukrainian government.

The British government has also been accused of double standards, the head of French President Francois Hollande’s ruling Socialist ruling party calling Prime Minister David Cameron a “hypocrite” Tuesday night over Britain’s arms sales to Russia.

The British government had insisted that any arms licenses granted for equipment to the Russian military had been suspended in the wake of the MH17 disaster, but the Independent newspaper reported Wednesday that at least 251 export licenses for the sale of controlled goods – ranging from sniper rifles to night sights – remain in place despite Cameron’s calls for other countries – in particular France – to halt lucrative arms deals with Moscow.

Cameron had singled out French President Francois Hollande for his refusal to call off a £1 billion ($1.7 billion) deal to sell Moscow two helicopter carriers in the wake of the aircraft being downed.

Malaysian minister Mahathir is the political heir of influential former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who has frequently criticized former U.S. President George W. Bush, Vice-President Al Gore and former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for their countries involvement in the Middle East and their backing of Israel.

He asked Wednesday that the world not speculate on the downing of MH17″ until a formal independent investigation is undertaken that points to the identity of the shooter.”

“[We] and the families of the MH17 victims would like to know the motive of the shooter. What they wanted to achieve by shooting a civilian plane. Was this planned or an accident?” he said.

At least 609 Palestinians and 29 Israelis have died in Israel and Palestine over the last two weeks, most Palestinians dying during Israel’s bombing campaign and subsequent ground invasion in Gaza.

The United Nations office of humanitarian affairs has said that civilians made up at least 75 percent of Palestinian deaths, many of them children.

Meanwhile, the international community has stepped up diplomatic efforts to revive an Egyptian brokered cease-fire proposal that was rejected by Hamas.

Mahathir said that the U.S. has been promising to assist in ceasefires for years, but little had been done to help the Palestinians beyond that.

“Have we ever seen [the U.S. looking for] a possible closure to this?”

The Palestinian situation began in 1917 when the British Balfour declaration promised a national home for Jewish people in Palestine. By 1948 a newly-formed state inside of the Palestine boundary named “Israel” had declared independence, which resulted in 700,000 Palestinians fleeing or being expelled and hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns destroyed.

The diaspora has since become one of the largest in the world, refugees spread across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and other countries, while many were settled in refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians commemorate “nakba” – “the day of catastrophe” – on May 15. in memory of the expulsion.

The right of return to pre-1948 homes is still a demand for many Palestinians, especially Gaza’s Hamas goverment – deemed a terrorist organisation by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union, amongst others – and what many see as fuelling the Palestianin-Israeli crisis.

*Anadolu Agency correspondent Assed Baig contributed to this story from London.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 23 July 2014

100,000 people march in London in support of Palestine

Protesters flock to British capital as Israel escalates its onslaught against Gaza Strip.

About 100,000 protestors from across Britain have rallied in London to protest against Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, according to demonstration organizers Stop the War coalition.

Demonstrators of mixed ethnicities, race and color from across Britain including grandmothers and children, Jews and Muslims, began their march from Downing Street on Saturday amid bright sunshine.

 Protestors chanted: “David Cameron shame on you!” and “Free Palestine!” as they marched under the watch of police officers lining the streets and hovering in helicopters in the skies above the British capital.

As the march started, about 10 members of London’s Hasidic Jewish community posed beneath a banner emblazoned with anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela’s words: “South Africans cannot feel free until the Palestinians are free.”

Stop the War rally organizer Lindsey German told the crowds: “We will demonstrate until Gaza is free,” as she stood on a stage outside the Israeli embassy.

‘Stop arms sales’

Peace activist Kate Hudson asked demonstrators: “Who actually has weapons of mass destruction?”

 “Israel!” the crowds shouted back.

Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn declared: “The very least the UK can do is stop the arms sales to Israel.”

Another demonstrator, 28-year-old Dominic, told Anadolu Agency: “I want Israel to know that killing children is unacceptable, and that we will oppose them every step of the way.”

Police barricades prevented the marchers from reaching the Israeli embassy, where one eight-year-old boy posed on a side street with his face daubed in fake blood next to a poster stating: “Freedom for Palestine.”

‘Joyous disbelief’

The British media has come under attack for its coverage of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, with several demonstrations behind held outside BBC offices around the country over the past week amid criticism the broadcaster’s reportage of the onslaught was biased in favor of Israel.

Channel 4 Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller tweeted from Gaza: “This London protest pic greeted with joyous disbelief here.”

Crispian Balmer, Reuters bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, tweeted: “Much larger protest over Gaza in London than anywhere in the Arab world.”

One marcher said, as he tweeted a picture of the crowds: “It’ll embarrass Arab countries!”

Londoner Michelle said: “We can’t let this continue, we have to stand against oppression, and it looks like tens of thousands of people think the same because just look at the massive turn out.”

‘Free Palestine’ call

Observers said the demonstration would reinforce the reputation of London as a pro-Palestinian activist base.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz said: “The British capital has indeed become the most active center of pro-Palestinian groups, especially those of the BDS (broad pro-Palestinian campaign group) strand.”

All the demonstrators had one message for Israel and the British government: “Free Palestine.”

Police said three people were arrested.

Offensive stepped up

At least 339 Palestinians have been killed and more than 2,390 injured, according to Palestinian health officials, since Israel launched its offensive on 7 July with the ostensible aim of halting rocket fire from Gaza.

One Israeli has been killed as a result of Palestinian rocket fire during the same period.

The Israeli army stepped up its offensive on Thursday, sending troops into the Gaza Strip.

The ongoing offensive, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” is the self-proclaimed Jewish state’s third major assault on the embattled coastal enclave – which is home to 1.8 million Palestinians – in the last six years.

Read the original article published in Anadolu Agency on 19 July 2014

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