Blood Diamonds and the BBC – Journalist Ishmahil Blagrove talks about his documentary and his experience with the corporation

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.


Muslim woman turned away from her son’s parents evening

Muslim woman wearing niqabA 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.

Muslim Youth Helpline Closes and CEO Stands Down Amid Police Leak Row

A helpline for Muslim youngsters has been suspended and its CEO has resigned amid a furious row over the apparent forwarding of confidential information to a police anti-terror unit.

Muslim Youth Helpline, which was established in 2004, has been put on ice by bosses after private emails were leaked onto a blog detailing the “disgusting” breach of confidentiality.

Muslim Youth Helpline volunteers say they are “shocked and disgusted” at the incident after details were posted on a blog called MYH Whistleblower and claim it came as part of a “personal vendetta” by the charity boss.

The charity’s former CEO, Akeela Ahmed had claimed those calling for her resignation were “racists”, “homophobes”, and “extremists”.

She allegedly worked with husband Nafeez Ahmed to contact officers in anti-extremism programme “Prevent” to further the complaint after initial attempts to involve police failed to gain traction.

In a private email to Chief Inspector James Spencer in Prevent, Nafeez wrote: “The police officers we have spoken to don’t appreciate the insidious dynamic of what is going on as an extremist attempt to, effectively, forcibly takeover one of this country’s leading progressive Muslim charities.”

The Chief inspector replied, “The fact that you have concerns with your knowledge and experience of these issues does make me genuinely concerned”, adding, “I have already contacted SO15 Counter Terrorism Command and provided details.”

Mr Ahmed, who heads think tank the Institute for Policy Research and Development (IPRD) made no attempt to deny the veracity of the leaked emails, saying: “These emails are confidential and have been unlawfully leaked.”

A statement from 30 signatories involved with the Muslim Youth Helpline published on the MYH Whistleblower blog on Saturday 9th June stated that they were: “Deeply disappointed and dismayed that in today’s current climate of fear and Islamaphobia that these two individuals would go to such an extent.

They claimed there were: “Horrified and shocked”, at the suggestion they were involved in extremist activities, claimed there was no evidence to support her suggestion and claimed it stemmed from an office related dispute. The names of the signatories were not published on the blog.

Solicitors for Mrs Ahmed said in a statement: “As is clear from its content, the blog is founded on confidential information and correspondence, including the report of criminal activity to the police. They also claimed that the confidential information was “obtained illegally, by the hacking of our client’s personal email account.”

One of the staff members that signed the original statement of grievance and statement responding to the leaks, Nasir Sayed said, “I am shocked and disgusted that Akeela did this,” he said he only found out about the leaked emails when they were posted on the blog, “innocent people have been accused of extremism without a shred of evidence against them,” he added.

The board of the Muslim Youth Helpline issued a statement on their website declaring that they had “Taken the unprecedented step of suspending their service whilst they investigated the issues behind the “unlawful campaign”, referring to the allegations of the hacked emails.

Chief Inspector James Spencer declined to comment and the police have yet to make a comment on the incident.

The first Muslim organisation to break the silence on the issue has been the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis) in an open letter from the President, Nabil Ahmed. He said, regarding the handing over of details to the police, “shocking and cannot be justified,” he went forward to ask for an apology to be issued to those whose names had been handed over to the police.

Fosis outlined criticisms and suggested changes for the Muslim Youth Helpline. They condemned the close relationship with the police along with the police themselves, asked for the resignation of the board and support for those whose names were passed on to the anti-terrorism police.

Muslims Celebrating the Diamond Jubilee?

The Queen’s diamond jubilee has exposed Muslims and Muslim organisations as being complicit in the collective amnesia around the crimes of the British Empire.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) sent out a press release stating that British Muslims are “deeply grateful” for the Queen’s long interest in her Muslim subjects. It must have been this interest that kept her silent during the two wars waged against the people of two Muslim countries: Iraq and Afghanistan.  It must be this interest that maintains the Queen’s silence with regards to the complicity of the British in Israel’s destruction of Palestine, or in the face of rising Islamophobic and Fascist groups such as the EDL.

Shockingly, this gratefulness is not reflected on the ground. From London to Birmingham to Manchester, the majority of Muslims have expressed little or no interest in the Queen’s jubilee. I heard of no Imam thanking the Queen or being “deeply grateful” to the Queen during their Friday sermons.  I have seen no street parties in Muslim areas of Birmingham celebrating Her Royal Highness’ 60th year on the throne.

There are a minority of Muslims that are falling over themselves to please the establishment and sign up to a colonial notion of tolerance and integration. Maybe the MCB and these other Muslims have forgotten about the stolen jewels on the Queen’s crown, the British flags that once flew over the lands of their forefathers planted by an occupying British army and how colonialism still lives on in the shape of the occupation of Afghanistan. Maybe they have also forgotten that the last time a diamond jubilee was celebrated by a British monarch, it was an excuse to consolidate British imperialism and the presence in India. Even if the MCB and their friends are blind to history surely they can find it objectionable that a £32 million party is been thrown for someone that lives off tax payers, whilst people across Britain are losing their jobs, facing pay cuts and watching their services disappear. And if they are all blind to this, then surely these Muslims cannot ignore the knighthood of Salman Rushdie, a slap in the face of every Muslim colonial servant that is celebrating this taxpayer funded decadence.

The only major media channel that seems to have shown some sort of context to the Queen’s diamond jubilee is Al Jazeera with a report about members of the West Indian community that first came here that want an apology from the Queen for their treatment.

I spoke to an imam of a Mosque in Birmingham and asked him about his opinion of these Muslim organisations that are celebrating the jubilee. He said simply, “they’ve lost the plot”.

These organisations would be better off, at the very least, demanding that the Queen cut back on her extravagant expenditure, advise her to return her stolen jewels like the Koh-i-noor diamond, for her to apologise for all the blood spilt by the British empire, the rape, the stolen land and resources as well as the decades of subjugation in the name of the crown.

Yet again, these so-called representative Muslim bodies and individuals have shown how out of touch they are with the vast majority of ordinary Muslims on Britain’s streets.  These organisations and individuals prefer to kiss the hand that beats them in the hope of finding a seat at the elitist table asking for government handouts and seeking recognition for themselves. These self-serving interests are worth nothing in their eyes without the rubber-stamped approval of Her Majesty.

Proud and Prejudiced – a critique

‘Proud and Prejudiced’ was a programme that seemed to be about two extremist groups: the English Defence League (EDL) and Al Maharijroun (or whatever name they are currently operating under).  From the outset, it is clear that the programme makers are working within the premise that these are two groups of extremists both of which are as bad as each other. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One is a religious extremist group which represents an extreme minority view amongst the Muslims in Britain. Another is a racist organisation that has displayed its violent tendencies in public on numerous occasions and is backed by sections of the media that perpetuate the racist undertones espoused by the far right.

For all their ills, Al Muhajiroun have only carried out insensitive political protests at inappropriate times.  If white people had carried out the same kind of protests then the reaction would have been very different. There is still a sense that Muslims are not British or that Muslims are not part of our society, part of us.   The majority of British Muslims dislike groups like Al Muhajiroun and their ilk. However, it is important to note the climate in which they have emerged.  Al Muhajiroun use foreign policy and treatment of Muslims worldwide at the hands of the West as a recruiting tool. They target the disenfranchised inner-city youth who are looking for an identity and fill this void with a pseudo-Islamic identity which gives them affiliation to a faith and the reestablishment of the Caliphate.  Al Muhajiroun  is an extreme minority born out of post-colonial conflict and a reaction to the Western occupation, destruction, and division of Muslim lands.

The EDL on the other hand, are a product of Britain post New Labour.  From the football terraces, and racist organisations throughout the country, they use the seemingly acceptable veneer of fighting Islamic extremism to further a much more sinister agenda – racism.  The EDL have gone on racist rampages up and down the country. There is numerous evidence of their links to the BNP and other racist groups as well as videos online of EDL members performing Nazi salutes and singing, “I hate Pakis more than you”.   Their members are violent thugs have been convicted of racist acts: putting a pigs head on a mosque for example. It is no coincidence that the Norwegian mass murderer, Andres Breivik, expressed his desire to attend an EDL demo and cited the EDL as one of his influences. This is not fighting Islamic extremism; it is out and out racism.

This documentary is an example of media organisations commissioning sensationalist film making that masks the reality on the ground and ignores the political, cultural and social history of the development of extremism, because lazy journalism is easier than ethical journalism.  It may be a convenient story to portray this as two men that just don’t get along, almost like a playground scrap.  Journalism is more than simplifying complicated issues, it is about portraying struggles and issues in their appropriate context.  It is not balanced or responsible journalism to merely give the two men half an hour each, it is responsible journalism to ask why are people following Al Muhajiroun, and why has the EDL grown so much?

The programme reduces a serious issue of racism and Islamophobia to a personal vendetta between two men. It furthers the EDL’s agenda and plays into their hands to represent Muslims as extremist terrorists: men with massive beards, women you cannot see and children being indoctrinated.

Instead of highlighting the EDL’s violent racism, the only acts of violence that have been highlighted are Safyul Islam slapping Tommy Robinson and, later, Tommy Robinson headbutting one of his own rivals. The documentary has totally missed out all the acts of violence from EDL’s inception to the present day, including when the EDL smashed up Luton and Stoke.  It is dangerous to ignore this violence. By turning a blind eye to this violence, the programme risks becoming a platform from which Tommy Robinson can spew their bile.  Although some people may laugh them off and say that they are just lunatics with mad ideas, there are those who are disaffected and with whom the EDL’s words and ideas will have resonance.

Although Unite Against Fascism were mentioned a few times on the programme, they were never given any airtime.  It was stated that the EDL have been opposed by UAF wherever they have gone.  Why were they not interviewed for their views on these groups?  To have interviewed UAF for a meaningful argument against the EDL would have meant completely disregarding the foundations that the programme was made on.  It would have meant acknowledging the fact that the EDL are not just made up of Tommy Robinson’s mates out to protect the UK from the mores of extremist Muslims like Sayful Islam, but that they are a violent, far-right organisation who pose a real threat to our society.  Hearing from UAF would also have put up non-Muslim faces of those who oppose the EDL and shown that, contrary to Robinson’s assertions, white people and other ethnic groups like Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Black people actively oppose these racists.  But to do this the programme makers would have to abandon their fantasy and flawed paradigm that this is some kind of scrap between two men with laughable ideas.

The New Colony – Balochistan

The people of Balochistan have the right to self-determination and their own sovereignty, according to the United States House of Representatives Committee on foreign affairs.

The reasoning behind this article is to question the motives of any Western power to support the Balochi independence cause. Not for a moment am I going to excuse the heinous crimes committed by the Pakistani military in Balochistan. The Americans do not care for the freedom of the Baloch people. If the chair of the committee, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, really cared about freedom he would have spoken up for many other people around the world a long time ago.

Wikileaks released cables on Rohrabacher’s trip to Honduras where Rohrabacher promoted business after a military coup had disposed the democratically elected president and installed Porfirio Lobo, a candidate backed by the military and the oligarchy. A quick look at Rohrabacher’s campaign funding tells you that he is a good friend of big business and therefore it should come as no surprise that Balochistan is rich in natural gas, coal and uranium. But it is not just big business backers that drive Rohrabacher, he is also ideologically driven. The Republican Representative voted against supporting democratic institutions in Pakistan but voted for cooperating with India as a nuclear power. An ardent believer of free market economics, he is also opposed to the expansion of the influence of China and has spoken vociferously against communism. His views on Iran are very clear. Rohrabacher supports a potential strike by Israel against Iran – it is worth noting that the Balochistan region also crosses over into Iran.

Another ‘expert’ witness, Ralph Peters, a retired US Lieutenant Colonel, was eager to give his biased opinion. As far back as 2006, he had drawn up maps of Pakistan with Balochistan as a separate state. In 2008 in an article for the New York Post he wrote that, “Pakistan suffers from a flawed founding vision: Islam has not been enough to unite Sindhis and Punjabis, Baluchis and Pashtuns.” He is an expert for Fox News, that bastion of ‘fair and balanced’ reporting, and on there he ranted, that Jullian Assange should be assassinated for being a ‘cyber-terrorist’. Can Peter’s opinions really be taken seriously and can we blame Pakistanis for thinking that he has an ulterior motive here?

Dr Hossein Bor, an American Baloch, sounded like a colonial servant as he pimped himself out to Rohrabacher. Attempting to appeal to the US for support for the independence of Balochistan he cited the rich natural resources of Balochistan, the Iranian oil pipeline, Afghan Taliban, and the Gwadar port. It seems that some in the Baloch freedom movement are happy to be used as US proxies to achieve their freedom. When asked about the Baloch people and the West he replied, “they have welcomed US support with open arms.” He also stated that if Balochistan became independent that they would provide the US with military bases in Gwadar and went on to say that Balochistan “is the most strategically important piece of land in the world”. Dr Bor spoke more like an American hawk than an expert witness, and also warned of the dangers of China’s naval base in Gwadar. He was there to sell the cause of Baloch nationalism to the US and did it through scaremongering about China and talking to the hawks about US strategic interests.

Freedom for the Baloch people is not the primary concern for the US, but countering China is. The Chinese government has invested heavily in the Gwadar port in Balochistan. The port city will be connected to the Karakoram highway, which connects Pakistan and China, and that China has been helping Pakistan to widen. The Gwadar port gives China access to the Arabian Sea, strategically close to the Gulf through which 30% of the world’s oil is shipped. Having China so close to the Strait of Hormuz and access to the shortest route to Central Asia states via Afghanistan makes the US nervous. In a US Department of Defence report the port was referred to as being part of the ‘String of Pearls’ initiative, which sees China strategically placing itself in locations to ensure its energy security. Where do the Balochs and Pakistanis fit into all of this? They are but pawns in the new Great Game being played out by the US.

This article was also published in the Huffington Post on 28 February 2012

FOSIS Are a Good Example of Muslims Engaging With Society

Such is the level of racism and Islamophobia in society that when encountered by a politically active Muslim, people automatically seem to put them in the radical or extremist box.

The main problem here is that there is a set of double standards at play for categorising people with political opinions. There seems to be one set of criteria for Muslims and another for the rest of the human race. I have found a simple but effective method for people to determine if a Muslim’s views are extreme or not. If a white non-Muslim was to express the same view would you think they are an extremist? Would it make you look for the number to the terrorism hotline? Or would you accept their views as a legitimate opinion that has a place in the broad political spectrum of society?

In the majority of cases Muslims have perfectly acceptable opinions, which tells us that there is a problem in the way we look at Muslims in society. This is understandable in some cases, since we have been fed constant reports linking the words ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’ to Muslims. It is only natural that Islamophobia has now become inherent in society.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies is anything but radical or extreme, unless you have a problem with Muslims engaging with political and democratic processes and using those avenues to air their views and get involved with wider society. But, I suspect that the critics of FOSIS disagree with the political opinions aired and campaigned on by the federation. Some even have an issue with Muslims, as an entity, airing political opinions whilst standing on a religious ticket.

No FOSIS member has served for the military in the Islamic Republic of Iran or any other military. But there are student religious groups whose members have served for the IDF or have gone on to serve for them. FOSIS has never justified suicide bombings of any type, but in 2010 at the NUS conference, the Union of Jewish Students invited a Muslim speaker from CENTRI (Counter Extremism Consultancy, Training, Research and Interventions). This speaker openly told me that he accepted and was comfortable with a fatwa from a traditional scholar in Syria that suicide operations against Israeli military targets were permissible. Extreme? Radical? Or an opinion that is prevalent in the Muslim world? Are the UJS now guilty of what FOSIS is being accused of, inviting speakers that have ‘radial’ opinions?

Some may take issue with the fact that FOSIS campaigns on international politics, specifically their anti-war and pro-Palestinian stance. But for FOSIS to ignore these issues would be to ignore their democratic mandate and disregard the issues their members wish for them to campaign on. These are issues which Muslim students hold close to their hearts and many are affected by.

Another argument is that FOSIS members are from the Wahabi/Salafi school of thought – a literalist school of thought emanating from Saudi Arabia. It is true that most FOSIS members I have encountered follow the Wahabi school of thought, however this is not extreme in and of itself. In fact FOSIS’s elected member on the National Union of Students Executive in 2009 was openly a Sufi. Sufis follow a more traditional and spiritual way of Islam and are seen to be more moderate than Wahabis. If anything, FOSIS is more diverse, pluralistic, democratic and representative of Muslims than any other religious grouping within the student movement in the UK.

FOSIS does not have a clandestine radicalisation program that takes students and turns them into extremists. Extremists have political grievances which they choose to air on in illegitimate ways. Extremists will always use examples of victimisation of Muslims engaging in democratic processes as examples of why Muslims engaging in politics is futile and should take up more of an extreme approach. The unfounded targeting of FOSIS plays into the very extremists’ hands that people are so opposed to.

Universities are places where young people become radical. They are radicalised by ideas, politics and life. It is a place where you learn and engage in the battlefield of ideas. The problem is that when non-Muslims get political we put them in the ‘lefty’, ‘eco’ or any other political box, but when Muslims get political we just deem them extremists, now that is extreme!

Racism, they still don’t get it


Many people have weighed into the debate over Dianne Abbot’s comments on twitter. She has quickly apologised, no doubt due to the pressure she has received from within her own party, the Tories and the media.

A wider discussion is required about racism, there are many issues, far more than I can address in this article. One thing is for certain, there is massive ignorance in this country about racism, largely due to a lack of education and understanding of Black history. However, I think I need to clarify that when I use the term Black, I use it as a political term that includes Asians, Muslims etc. When I use the term white I am not referring every single white person –I want to make this clear before I am inundated with messages starting “I’m white and I am not racist”.

Racism has historical roots, it is entrenched in the structures and institutes of society and those that perpetrate it have the power to enact their prejudice and bigotry. Racism is not simply prejudice against people of a particular skin colour. This simplistic definition that journalists, academics and politicians use is not fit for purpose and conveniently ignores the real issues that Black people face in this country and around the world.

Black people are disproportionally stopped and searched, they are up to 26 times more likely to be stopped than white people. Black people are disproportionally represented in the prison system as well as the mental health system. Black people face daily challenges of racism every day of their lives; in the education system, trying to get a job or at airports. White people do not face the same level of discrimination.

Britain colonised countries in the past often using terms as ‘uncivilised’ and ‘savages’ to justify the racist treatment of colonized peoples. It is alarming at how quickly Dianne Abbott was asked to apologise for a statement on Twitter, yet Black people are still waiting for an apology for slavery and colonialism. There are many that say slavery and colonialism are a thing of the past. These people fail to recognise the legacy that this country’s colonialism has left on Black people. We still live with that legacy today, from the division of the sub-continent and Palestine, to the drawing of lines in a map dividing the Arab world or countries in Africa. These issues over borders and territory still remain as sources of tension.

There are no apologies from MPs that have stoked up racism against Muslims, immigrants or anyone else they wish to scapegoat. There are no apologies made to me when I am stopped by security at airports. On one occasion, an officer openly admitted to me that he was using racial profiling.

When issues like this arise, journalists and politicians clamour to find Black people to fit the mainstream opinion and vilify the dissident voice . This is to give legitimacy to their argument, “we’re not racist, look this Black person agrees with us”. On the flip side the colonial mentality left in many Black people is that they will take an argument to have more authority if it comes out the mouth of a white person. The legacy and effects of colonialism are long lasting and hard to shake off.

The presence of Black people in government, police or institutions is pointless if there is no grassroots independent Black voice to hold them to account. Black police officers will carry out the same racist stop-and-search policies as their white counterparts as they are part of the same racist institution. They have no real voice. Many Black leaders are unaware of the challenges Black people face, they are ready to appease their white masters and forget their Black counterparts in the ‘field’.

The media are often seen to be impartial, but in reality are complicit with the establishment and maintaining the status quo. Newsrooms are full of white, middle-class journalists and the few Black journalists they do have are confined to reporting ‘ethnic’ issues- there does seem to be some progress on this issue, but nowhere near fast enough.

Black people face very real challenges every day. Each day if a black person says something or carries out an action, white people hold the entire race to account. If a black child misbehaves in a classroom it is not only that one child but the idea of the misbehaving black child is projected on to the rest of the race. No such reasoning is applied to white people. This is a racist manner of thinking, yet we rarely find these discussions taking place in the mainstream public sphere. Many Black people will be asked about their opinion about Abbott’s comments. This is a racist thing to do – we don’t turn to a random white person in the workplace and ask for their opinion about the statement of a white politician, simply because they are the same colour!

The truth is that the ruling elite in the West is white. Racism is a tool of the ruling elite to divide, conquer and rule people. There will be some Black people in the ruling elite that work to subdue their own people for the sake of profit. Racism is not just a word, it is not just discrimination that white people can also face, it is an entire way of thinking that is entrenched in structures, institutions, has historical routes and most importantly the perpetrators have the power to enforce and enact it. In comparison, white people face nothing of the sort. To those that say that racism is a thing of the past, live the lives we live even for a day and you may understand. Unfortunately the elites of this country, both White and Black, are so far detached that they will never understand what it is like to be called a racist slur that you know has its roots in a colonial soldier that said it to your forefathers thinking him inferior.

Somalis find limited relief in Mogadishu

Somalis in Mogadishu

Somalis in Mogadishu

The look in her eyes tells me all I need to know about what had happened. Even before I ask her, I know she has lost a child. It is a familiar look, one that I have seen, as a journalist, in the eyes of mothers in Pakistan, Bosnia, Palestine and now in this IDP camp in Somalia. But never has it been so raw, so real and so striking.

Jameela Ali lost her two-year-old daughter, Habiba in the morning. Habiba died of measles. Jameela had two children, she tells me that her three-year-old son has also died. Robbiy died in the last month, also of measles. Jameela’s eyes are bloodshot, she has been crying. When I ask Jameela how old she is, she replies, “twenty-two” in a low tone. At the age of twenty-two, Jameela has lost both her children, is living in an IDP camp and has left her home in Bakul, having travelled three days to get to Mogadishu.

The IDP camp is crammed; there is hardly any room to move. Part of the camp is in a derelict building, but the lower walls no longer exsist, the pillars are the only thing that is holding it up. It is a wreck, a destroyed building, but for people without a home it offers a tiny form of cover although it is nowhere near enough. Children lie on the floor asleep for hunger is easier to bear if you sleep. The camp has become the fly capital of the world. There are flies everywhere. A child sleeps on the floor, his face covered with flies; I count at least ten.

How many cases am I to document? I move through the camp, coming across case upon case of malnutrition, measles, chest infections. I do not know what to film, there is too much. There is a constant sound of children crying like the humming of an engine. It becomes normal, the odd sharp, high pitched cry reminding you that it is not normal, it is not meant to be normal and it shouldn’t be normal. The cries are not of children protesting because they do not have toys or cannot watch their favourite cartoon on TV; they are cries of hunger, suffering and pain. I can still hear the cries as I write this, like a constant throbbing sound in the back of my head. The children are probably still crying now, their needs unmet.

Abdul Qadir is not crying. He clings to his grandmother Mumin, tucks his head neatly under her breast and looks, intently, at her face. Only a year old and he is malnourished. After the death of his mother he is now being looked after by his grandmother.

“We lost our animals and had to leave our farm, we have no hope,” says Mumin, looking at her malnourished grandchild. His father Ma’ani looks over him. Mumin now has five children to look after, Abdul Qadir is the weakest. His silence is striking amongst the cries of the camp. It is a sorrowful silence, a silence that can only be understood by a mother, a silence that is looking for his mother, a mother who will never return. The family travelled for three days on foot to reach Mogadishu. They receive a small amount of rice a day from the local community. I have not seen an international NGO here yet; we are the first to arrive. We bring with us hope. But I have only brought a camera and my notepad.

The stories of loss do not stop. Abdi Ibrahim Yunus has lost five children to measles in the space of three days. Abdi looks malnourished, he tells me he is forty-eight but he looks like a little boy, no meat on his body, his skinny arms and legs reveal the extent of his weakness. He has one child left, covered in a flowery cloth, he lies on the floor. The cloth is a barrier to the flies, but it will not offer much protection against measles or hunger.

The camp is a maze of tents, little igloo like structures, made out of wooden sticks that bend and are tied at the top. These tents are tiny; you have to crawl to climb inside. They offer no protection from the rain. There is no sanitation here, there are no toilets. The camp stretches across the road and up a hill, the stench of human faeces hits us as we begin to climb up the maze.

Gabo is sitting on the side of the path in front of her tent. Crouching on the floor, her face rests in her hands. She looks at me, I recognise that look in her eyes, the same look that I had seen in Jameela’s eyes earlier.

“My son died, they have taken him to be buried,” she tells me without moving. Gabo had four children, she has two left. Another son died of hunger on the way to Mogadishu.

“I buried him on the way,” she says before solemnly settling back into her mourning state.

There are over one thousand people in this camp. There will be new arrivals, and there will be more dead children as each day passes. I am set to see the all too familiar look of sorrow in women’s eyes in the days to come as the only visitor in these camps seems to be death.

Another version of the article was published on the Guardian Development page

The end of Al Qaeeda?

Osama Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden

The US has announced the leader of Al Qaeeda, Osama Bin Laden, has been killed. What does this mean? On the ground in terms of the US’s fight against terrorism, it means nothing. Al Qaeeda will continue to function as it is. It is not an organisation in the traditional sense of the word. It is an idea, and there are people that affiliate to that idea, that are inspired by it and give themselves the name of the Al Qaeeda brand. That is not going to change.

America has given Osama Bin Laden what he wanted, martyrdom. He is now a martyr for his cause and there are many have followed, and many others who will follow in his footsteps. You can have someone on the other side of the world, that has never set foot in a training camp, has never met Osama bin Laden, and that has never met anyone proclaiming to be from Al Qaeeda, but can still plan and carry out an attack in the name of Al Qaeeda. The Madrid bombings were carried out by people who had never met Osama Bin Laden. Al Qaeeda is a brand and has become a rallying call for those that are frustrated and angry at Western intervention whilst following the hard line Saudi wahabism. America cannot kill that with a team of special forces.

But as the news spreads out across the world, it raises more questions than it answers. Why was Osama bin Laden in a town north of Islamabad, when he could have had sanctuary in Swat, Waziristan or any other tribal area of Pakistan? Why was his body dumped at sea? Not to create a shrine? But if the Americans knew anything about Osama bin Laden and his followers then they would know that hard line Wahabi Salafis do not go to shrines, are vehemently opposed to them and in the case of Somalia go around and destroy them. What traditional Islamic ritual was performed? Did they bathe the body? Pointless if you are going to drop it in the sea. Did they get somebody to perform the Muslim funeral prayer? In between shooting him and loading him onto a helicopter?

Many will be suspicious of the US narrative. Many believe he was killed years ago since he has not played a major frontline role in recent years. Questions are also raised about the role of Pakistan in this. Did the usually all-knowing ISI not know about Bin Laden’s whereabouts, or did they know and choose not to tell? If it is the latter it raises more questions, did they tip the US off or were they harbouring him?

The media narrative, at least in the American press, has been that Bin Laden has finally been brought to justice via a barrel of a gun. A great message to send out, no doubt. But when the Taleban offered to hand over Osama bin Laden to Pakistan so he could be tried in 2001 America refused. Again, this leads many people across the Muslim world to question the premise that the so called war on terror is actually to fight terror.

The common narrative is that this all started with 9/11. In the real world, a world where people have known imperialism, it started a long time before 9/11. It stems from the conquest of Muslim lands and the division of those lands into individual sheikhdoms for dictators the West supported, armed and loved. Our men in the Middle East. Colonial powers drew lines in maps with complete disregard for the people living in those lands. Then those very people were oppressed, physically, mentally and economically. Is it a wonder that people around the world view the West with suspicion?

Al Qaeeda and similar groups will live on as long as Western governments show double standards, hidden agendas and hopes of empire. Now Osama Bin Laden has gone, who will the next bogeyman be?