Muhammed sits sketching a stick man and then he picks up a green pencil crayon, colouring in the man he has drawn. No one has bothered to ask these children about what they witnessed during last year’s massacre of the Rohingya in Burma. No one seems to care what children have to say.
Ten or so children sit in a bamboo hut, in what is now a make-shift Rohingya village at the end of a dusty road. The village is nothing but a collection of huts and tents put up in sand. This is not where these children are originally from, they were forced here after they were chased to the water amid sword, spear and gun attacks while their homes in the Kyauk Phyu village were burnt down last year.
The sun beats down; the children surround us, wanting to see the foreigners. The American doctor, (I won’t reveal her name for her protection) works with the Rohingya and pays special attention to these children. She seems like the only one that wants to hear what they have to say.
They are all drawing away, boys and girls. Then they hold up their drawings and share their stories with the rest of the class. Some children look-in from outside, through the cracks in the bamboo and the plastic sheeting that covers the outside, peering in to see something and hear something that no-doubt they have heard before. But now, it is being shared in a manner that it has not been shared previously.
Abdul is mute. This is his first time drawing and he is eleven. His drawings are detailed. They show death, houses burning, soldiers, monks and local Rakhine carrying weapons. All the drawings are similar; they all show things that children should not be subjected to.
The children’s accounts are vivid and graphic. They all say they saw people hacked into pieces. In one drawing Hussain draws a stick man, with his heads, arms and legs separated, he says he saw someone chopped to pieces. There are bodies in red water.
“I saw dead people in the water, I saw Rakhine stab them whilst they were trying to swim.”
That’s why the colour of the water is red.
All of the children are still scared, they have been dispelled with deadly force out of their village, and their homes burnt to the ground, all of them told me that they suffer from nightmares. Even in their sleep they cannot escape the horror of what took place. Of how the military, monks and civilians slaughtered Rohingya and drove them out, now forced to live in IDP camps, cut off from the rest of the world. They are not allowed to leave the area. The Rakhine on the other hand have no such restrictions.
He doesn’t smile. Sharp face and defined features, his eyes are striking, they are painful to look into, wise beyond their years and have seen things that no human being should have to see. He explains how they ran from the sword wielding Monks.
“A boat was set on fire. People jumped into the river and tried swimming. The Rakhine came on boats and stabbed people with their spears as they tried swimming away.”
There was one disturbing story that a number of the children drew and explained to me. A mentally ill child, was killed, he was beheaded.
“Did you see it with your own eyes?” I ask. “Yes,” they all reply.
The picture that emerges after speaking to the children is that themilitary, the police, the monks and Rakhines were involved in the massacre last year. The doctor tells me that these children are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress disorder. One child has since saw a Rakhine man and passed out.
In one village, the water buffalos were late coming back. Whilst the children were playing, someone shouted, “they’re coming!” the children began to run and scream, they thought the mobs were returning to finish them off.
“These kids need a child psychiatrist,” the doctor tells me. “I’m doing what I can.”
The children have coloured in the monks orange, green for the military and police, and just black for the Rakhine mobs.
“The Rakhine and the mobs came first, then when some of our family defended themselves and fought back the army came in and shot them,” says Ramina.
She’s 13-years-old and acts like a woman twice her age. She is clearly the one that the children look up to, mature, controlled and has a sense of authority about her.
Abdul draws a bike amongst the death and destruction, he points to himself to indicate it belonged to him, and then rolls his hands forward symbolising the cycling of the feet. “Where is your bike now?” He waves his hand away, and pushes his arms back and forth like he is running; he had to leave it behind, a sullen sadness in his eyes.
The doctor lets the children take one pencil crayon each, their faces light up, smiles beaming, it is the first gift they have received in a while.Their childhood has been interrupted, simply because they are Rohingya. As soon as they were conceived they were destined to be persecuted by this state that professes to be moving towards democracy whilst actively engaging in the brutality and cleansing of the Rohingya.
The Rohingya are not recognised as citizens of Burma and have no rights. I suppose this fact is a mere inconvenience to World leaders and Corporation CEO’s as they compete for Burma’s natural resources. Human rights abuses are not spoken about when you have the potential to sign multi-million dollar deals.
The world has remained silent at the cycle of violence. Rohingya is not just a word, they are real people, with feelings; they are children who want to draw pictures; they are people who just want to be able to live; they are the Abduls and Ramina’s just like the Billys and Janes who just want to be able to ride their bikes.
A burnt property in Meiktila following attacks on Muslims,March 2013. photo by Hein Aung
Following recent attacks in central Myanmar against Muslims, the displaced have been fleeing to the central city of Mandalay. Buildings were burnt down and the ‘official’ death toll stood at 32, as angry mobs roamed the streets. The reality of events is very different from what we have heard on our TV screens. Burmese state media is not the most reliable of sources and very few independent or Western journalists have reported directly from the ground.
The displaced are scattered across the city, accommodated by fellow Muslims and are still very scared to return to their homes in Meiktila, a hundred miles away.
I traversed through side streets to the site of one building housing the displaced. Young men stood guard, looking wary and suspect. After a long discussion we were allowed in to interview some of the refugees, they asked for their faces to be blurred out on camera. The metal gates to the building were unlocked and we were allowed in.
Hafiz, a seventeen-year-old student, had been in school at the time when the violence began. His teacher told him to run,
“we ran, we saw the younger children falling over, the older kids had to help them,” he said, recalling his account. “We hid, and then moved from place to place until we were rescued and brought here. I’m not sure where some of my other friends are.”
He looked around to his classmates in the small open space opposite a mosque in the mainly Muslim district of Mandalay. I showed him some pictures from a local journalist; two of them were of dead teenagers. He put his hand up to the camera touching the screen,
“that’s my friend,” he said.
We showed him another and he struggles to speak
“and this one, those are Osama and Karimullah,”
he paused; his friends surrounded the camera and inspected the pictures of bodies on the ground, in unnatural poses.
Hafiz’s friend. Murdered in Meiktila, March 2013. Photo by Hein Aung
One body, Osama’s, has a massive gash to the back of the neck, which looks like it was caused by a machete. The other boy had a massive laceration in a similar place, both bodies had been there for three days before a local journalist, Hein Aung, took the pictures. They are too graphic to print. The class mates consoled each other, two friends lost. The pictures confirm their fears, but there are still friends unaccounted for, but we have no more pictures that can be identified, the rest are of burnt corpses. Not that that was a comfort to these young men, to anyone. Nearby, one hundred and five year old Kairunbi, laid on the floor, exhausted. Her seventy-one year-old daughter watched over her.
“We had to use a stretcher to get her here,” she told me. “We will go back when it is safe to do so,” she added. “We could be here for a while.”
Muslims have long been an oppressed minority in Myanmar. Last year’s massacre of the Rohingya Muslims caused outrage in the Muslim world but the Western media gave it little attention. The Rohingya are not recognised as Burmese citizens. The darling of the West Aung San Suukyi, a former political prisoner, democracy advocate, and current member of the Burmese Parliament, remained silent when asked about the Rohingya, an action further cementing their fate, as the leader of democracy in Burma refrained to speak out for their freedom.
This time, the Muslims are Burmese citizens, not Rohingya, but this did not stop them from being attacked. Every person interviewed said that the police stood by and did nothing whilst they were being attacked. Many here believe that this was pre-planned and that the official story, that it began with a dispute in a gold shop, is just a cover for violence against Muslims. The extremist Buddhist monk, Wirathu, had only given one of his sermons ten days before the violence. His group, 969, is infamous for their extreme views and protests against Muslims who they call ‘invaders’ and ‘Kalar’ – a racist term used to describe Muslims. He is known in the country for his anti-Muslim stance, he has even published a book called ‘From the jaws of a wolf”, which tells a story of a Buddhist woman married to an abusive Muslim man.
We continued throughout Mandalay, interviewing person after person displaced by the riots. But this violence was different from that in the Arakan state last year, although the anti-Muslim sentiment was the same. This time, local Buddhists and student groups from nearby Mandalay city launched a rescue operation saving hundreds of lives. The local Buddhists from Mandalay city, who have lived side by side with Muslims for centuries, were not prepared to have their neighbours slaughtered.
Myint Myint, who was saved by a Buddhist monk, said she blames the Buddhists in Meiktila, not the ones in Mandalay. Her nephew, Farooq, aged just fourteen, saw people beaten to death and then burnt. His voice crackled recalling the events, he and others hid in some houses and looked on as the slaughter took place. None of the above interviewed wanted their face on camera; they fear reprisals from extremist Buddhists if they are found out to have spoken to a foreign journalist.
Khin Htay Yee, was not afraid, though. She broke down in tears as she recalled how her Buddhist factory manager sheltered them in the factory as the slaughter took place outside. The mob outside threatened the manager that if he did not let the women out that they would break in and rape every last woman. She managed to make a phone call to Mandalay where some Buddhist monks had already left to rescue Muslims from the onslaught of the enraged mob.
The violence took place over three days and only stopped once the army came in and restored order to the streets. The majority of the displaced are still being kept in a sports stadium in Meiktila, guarded by the military.
Muslims in Burma are now afraid that the violence will spread even further and there is even a strong indication, due to protests, leaflets and military movement that a third massacre against the Rohingya Muslims in Arakan is planned for the coming days. The language of propaganda is reminiscent of that in the Balkans before the Bosnian genocide, Muslims are accused of invading, of waging jihad, of acts of violence against Buddhists, but many here believe that the military is behind the increase in violence, something Human Rights Watch pointed out in their report on the violence in Arakan last year accusing the military of complicity in the massacre. The Burmese military junta ruled Burma until recent political reforms, which has opened up the country somewhat to the West.
A Muslim in Yangon told me
“the military want to assert their power, and want to prove they are the ones that can restore order, they are using us to prove their point.”
If this is the case, then we will see more deaths in the coming weeks.
Over the last few days I have been receiving messages about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.Apparently the game shows a hadith (saying of the Prophet Muhammed) on the picture frame in the bathroom. This features in the multiplayer maps, Favela.
The Arabic script said “Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty”.Muslims deem it offensive to have religious text in a bathroom.The paintings having been brought to Activision and Infinity Ward’s attention, the map has been removed until it can be edited.
Muslim gamers complained and spread the news via social media.
We apologize to anyone who found this image offensive. Please be assured we were unaware of this issue and that there was no intent to offend. We are working as quickly as possible to remove this image and any other similar ones we may find from our various game libraries.
We are urgently working to release a Title Update to remove the texture from Modern Warfare 3. We are also working to remove the texture from Modern Warfare 2 through a separate Title Update. Until the TU is ready, we have removed the Favella multiplayer map from online rotation.
Activision and our development studios are respectful of diverse cultures and religious beliefs, and sensitive to concerns raised by its loyal game players. We thank our fans for bringing this to our attention.
A debate I was involved in on the Voice of Russia.
This studio discussion is on the protests that have spread across the Muslim world over a US made video insulting the prophet Muhammad.
Those protests have now been going on for 10 days. The first began in Cairo, then the unrest spread to Libya. That cost the US ambassador Christopher Stevens his life.
Protests engulfed Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia.
More violent scenes have been reported in Pakistan, the Philippines and Malaysia.
Exacerbating the anger is the publication in a French satirical magazine of cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad.
So are we witnessing a fundamental rift between the West and its values, which says free speech is paramount, and the Islamic world which says insults against religion should not be tolerated?
VOR’s Daniel Cinna discusses this with Charlie Wolf, American broadcaster who blogs for the Daily Mail; Rodney Shakespeare, co-founder of the Global Justice Movement; Assed Baig, a freelance journalist and film maker; Dr Robert Barnidge, Professor of Law at the University of Reading.
Demonstrations have spread around the world after an anti-Islam video, made by someone named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, insulting the most revered figure of the Muslim world, the Prophet Muhammed was posted on youtube.
Why is it that this short video, apparently the work of one insignificant individual, can instigate such outrage? While the filmmaker and his ilk may be a global minority, for Muslims, as well as for much of the rest of the world, they epitomise the ignorance, imperialism and arrogance of the West in its dealings with the Muslim world.
The origins of the film itself are very dubious, its production values are such, that it looks like it was made in a basement. The insults to Islam or the Prophet Muhammed are obviously dubbed over the original soundtrack. The film seems to have intended provocation based on some aspect of an apocalyptic ideology.
Today, as in the past, Muslims remain part of a global brotherhood that is unlike anything that exists in the West. This ‘Ummah’, the wider Muslim community, transcends political borders, artificial boundaries and international time zones.Yet, what the West apparently finds so hard to understand is that Muslims continue to have a sense of the sacred along with a respect for the concept of community as well as brother and sisterhood.For these Muslims the Prophet Muhammed is sacred.
As a result of the outrage caused by this video it is now possible to see even the simplest, poorest and non-political Muslim take to the streets, as they would rather see their families shamed by such public behaviour than have their religion, which they continue to hold sacred, insulted.Even the corrupt, pro-Western, Muslim leaders recognise this, accepting that they have to speak out against any attacks on the sanctity of their religion, as their own seat of power would be in grave danger if they did not. It appears that the American establishment has been caught off guard, as is evident by its slow reaction to label the video ‘disgusting’ and ‘reprehensible’.
Middle-class Muslims and non-Muslims alike talk of how Muslims should rise above the prejudice. It is not that simple since most Muslims do not come from the privileged positions necessary for such a stance. One look at the literacy rates for Afghanistan, as well as the rates at which literacy levels have fallen in Iraq since the US invasion, shows that Western intervention results in people having to choose between eating and sending their children to school.The mass education that we receive in the West is not widely available to others around the world, while, in the West we are not usually confronted by an occupational force of foreign troops every time we leave our homes or the daily psychological trauma of imminent death.
While American and British troops continue fighting a war in Afghanistan, which, along with the war in Iraq and the occupation of Palestine, encourages a feeling of helplessness across the Islamic world, many Muslims ask, ‘how can we help each other and unite the Ummah?’ These are the Muslims who feel they are being globally humiliated by the policies of western governments and, with the aid of 24-hour ‘impartial’ news, their humiliation is beamed un-sanitised into homes around the world 24/7, for all to see and none to escape.
Now with Muslim lands not to mention hearts and minds being occupied, along with constant attacks in the press, a perceived loss of Islamic self identity has taken hold. Is it any surprise that Muslims who see the central figure of their religion being insulted and mocked should feel dehumanised even further?
Many of these Muslims feel that they have no option but to take to the streets in order to express their anger and frustration. They are fighting for what they feel is right, for what they believe in and are taking it out on any symbol of Western imperialism – embassies being the primary targets.
These are the same Muslims who felt helpless when images of prisoner abuse emerged from the void of Abu Ghuraib.They are the ones who felt helpless when half a million people, or more, were killed in Iraq with millions more displaced.Helpless as Israel bombed Lebanon and Gaza and their Arab leaders belly danced around the West. Their sense of helplessness compounded as drone attacks plague Pakistan and the international blight of Guantanamo stays open for business.Helpless as the infamous Danish cartoons printed in the name of freedom of expression spread around the world like a virus. Helpless in the face of Kashmir’s continued occupation.Helpless as Bosnian women, violated and brutalised in rape camps, are denied an international forum to voice their anguish.Helpless as a flattened Grozny struggles to its feet. Helpless as America carries out drone attacks, breaching the national sovereignty of independent countries with impunity.Helpless as Switzerland, home to 400,000 Muslims, bans the building of minarets.Helpless as France bans the hijab from schools.These are the Muslims who feel helpless in every way imaginable. Is it any wonder that there is so much anger and frustration across the Islamic world? Is it wrong for humiliated and insulted Muslims to react so passionately? As the most revered figure of their religion is insulted and their lands are stolen. Or should we bring up the United States anti-terrorism,interrogation techniques such as water boarding or the many other forms of state sanctioned torture for good measure?
With the media’s shouts of ‘revolution’ still ringing in our ears when Muslims recently demonstrated against their own oppressive governments, the media now shouts something different as these same Muslims protest.When these Muslims react the media cries ‘barbaric’ and ‘savage’;Eurocentric and orientalist terms that were strangely absent from public discourse during America’s ‘shock and awe’ campaign in Iraq.
Imperialistic wars have seen the Muslim lands divided as arbitrary lines were drawn on maps by the Western powers with no consideration for the local people, while their religious institutions were dismantled and their cultures destroyed. Tyrannical leaders were then imposed on the population with an American or Western seal of approval.History has continually demonstrated that there is only one objective of imperialism, the exploitation of the lands natural resources which is usually facilitated by the facade of stability, democracy and freedom.
The humiliation of the contemporary Muslim world, as some see it, has taken place, largely in the last century. What the imperialistic governments in the West must realise is that occupying countries and killing civilians is one thing, but to attack the religion, the sacred text and the Prophet, will bring out the masses onto the streets to fight. It will ignite the Islamic concept of ‘ghayra’, the idea that Muslims love something so much that they are willing to fight and die for it.
It remains the arrogance of the West, where there is nothing really sacred anymore, to demand that everyone in the world abandon their religious beliefs in the name of civilisation and progress.While it has long been ‘funny’ to joke and mock the Christian prophet and disrespect the holy texts of Christianity, this idea is completely foreign and abhorrent to Muslims. Mocking what is held sacred has not been legitimised and integrated into the culture of the Islamic world.
This video has not come out of nowhere; it is a manifestation of the environment created by the so-called ‘war on terror’. The Islamaphobia used by Western leaders to justify their wars has sparked the flames of this fire. That is why Muslims across the world will find it hard to differentiate between one crazy filmmaker and the American government as a whole. This film is a product of the environment created by America, and maybe the fire, the venom, and intolerance has become uncontrollable.
I am not going to comment directly on the Citizen Khan program. I do not particularly care for so-called ethnic comedy shows that regurgitate out-of-date jokes and reinforce racist stereotypes. They are only sanctioned by the BBC because they lack real diversity in the organisation and are forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel in an ethnic box ticking exercise.
What concerns me is the response the BBC has given to Muslims that have decided to engage with the broadcaster to complain about the program by dismissing them as a ‘lobbying campaign’.
As a journalist that has worked within the Muslim community especially in Birmingham, I know how difficult it is to engage parts of the Muslim community when reporting. The lack of real diversity in the BBC means that the organisation is not seen as representative and international news reported by the BBC reflects badly on the organisation when local reporters hit the streets.
Because of this there is a lack of trust and unwillingness, sometimes, by local communities to talk to the BBC.
There is a wealth of talent at the BBC and there are many individuals who actually want real diversity and representation in the organisation. But, dismissing Muslim viewers who complain just because the BBC thinks there is a ‘lobbying campaign’ is both irresponsible and unfair.
The message the BBC sends out with responses like this is that Muslims do not have a legitimate right, like other groups in the UK, to complain or engage in a civil manner with the organisation.
If the BBC had any sort of contacts on the ground they would have realised that there has been a negative response from Muslims about this program.
Whether people agree with the basis of the complaints or not, they still have a right to be heard and taken seriously; 200 complaints is no small matter.
Unfortunately the BBC only wants to relay on the internet because it maybe lacks people on the ground that can gauge grassroots opinion from ethnic minority communities.
These actions also make it very difficult for BBC staff that are making efforts to engage and involve diverse communities and get real stories out.
Dismissing Muslim complaints sets efforts back in engaging communities.
I suggest the BBC retract their statement that it was a ‘lobbying campaign’, and engage with their viewers that feel upset by the program.
Left to right: Ibraheem aged 10, Yusuf aged 13 and Ieysaa aged 7
A Muslim family representing England in the European Chess Championships in Austria have alleged that they have been the victims of racism, Islamophobia and hate. 13-year-old Yusuf Bin-Suhayl was attacked and left bleeding by the mother of a fellow English competitor.
The situation was so bad for the family that they required a police escort to their hotel and tournament.
Father, Sohale Rahman has made numerous complaints to the English Chess Federation but to no avail.
Throughout the competition the Rahman family who have three children representing England have been subjected to bullying and hate crime, according to Sohale. The youngest member of the family taking part is just 7-years-old.
Mother, Tomasina Contu, was spat on when she asked the father of one English competitor not to bully her son.
“It is of no coincidence that Tomasina wears a hijab,” said husband Sohale.
The problems seem to have started from when the family asked for halal meals for themselves.
Father Sohale Rahman said, “I cannot believe my family has been subjected to so much racism and Islamophobia and the English Chess Federation has just stood by and done nothing.”
When contacted the English Chess Federation said, “We are aware of certain allegations in relation to some members of the English delegation in a youth tournament in Austria,” and that they are taking the allegations, “extremely seriously.”
The ECF also confirmed the involvement of the Austrian police.
Sohale also alleges that even after paying for the trip adequate arrangements were not made for them and no halal food was provided.
“I was just told to change hotel and find a restaurant if I did not like it,” exclaimed Sohale.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission has taken up the campaign for the Rahman family saying that they want to see those responsible for Islamophobia, “brought to justice.”
Chair of IHRC, Massoud Shadjareh, said, “This is a shocking case of racism and Islamophobia and one that should not go unnoticed, the children are so young and should not be subjected to such hate.”
Islamic Relief’s PR machine has now gone into full swing. They have launched a ruthless campaign of character assassination against me, spun with lies and inaccuracies that even Tony Blair would be proud of.
Rather than do the right thing and admit their faults months ago, which could have prevented this entire ‘Relief-Gate’ scandal, they have instead tried to dodge, manipulate and lie their way out of something that is clear as day for anyone to see.
Jehangir clearly asked for the aid to be delayed. If you want to know the truth of the matter, simply ask Islamic Relief if Jehangir asked for the food distribution to be delayed or not? So far they have dodged the matter. However, it might not be necessary to ask them. I have an audio recording of a conversation that took place between Jehangir and myself when he informed me that my contract would not be renewed.
In it, he clearly does not deny that he attempt to delay aid. Instead, he dismisses his attempt to delay aid as ‘operational matters’. He talks about ‘chopping and changing’ things, but IR UK’s statement says that Jehangir had no control over the operations on the ground. Jehangir’s hesitation and fumbling during this recording is that of a man confronted with the truth and looking for a way out – there was a third person in the room with us forcing him to watch his words carefully. You can listen to this recording below.
listen to ‘Islamic Relief UK Director referring to his attempt at delaying emergency food aid as ‘operational matters’’ on Audioboo
I have nothing to gain financially from of this. I do not need or want their money. I have always had three main demands from Islamic Relief. 1) they should accept these things took place, 2) they should put processes in place to ensure that these unethical practices never take place again and 3) they should apologise for their actions. However, some individuals at Islamic Relief seem to think that just because they have the word ‘Islamic’ in their organisation’s name, that this allows them carte blanche to act as they please. This is what has led to ‘Relief-Gate’.
Let’s make something clear. I do not wish to gain financially in any way whatsoever from this debacle. I have emails to prove that I clearly stated that I would not be silenced with a financial settlement, and that I wanted the ethical issues addressed. For Islamic Relief to say that I was looking for a financial settlement in return for my silence is ludicrous. I was out of work for six months and as part of the tribunal process it is required that you put down your financial costs. This was never the primary objective, nor the end. I would rather die than accept money from a charity that continues to cover up corruption and carry out the kinds of unethical practices I have described in my article. My union representative can easily verify what my demands were during the tribunal process.
This email – which I sent to the CEO of Islamic Relief on the 28th of June 2012 – should be enough to prove why I pulled out from the tribunal process:
“Dear Dr Ashmawey,
I regret to inform you that I now feel that I have no other option but to go public with what I know. I am deeply disappointed with your findings and do not think you have taken seriously the ethical issues I raised. Because of your disregard of the serious ethical and moral concerns I will now not be doing this via an employment tribunal because it has become very clear to me that the current management has no desire for a legitimate settlement in this case.”
I raised all these ethical issues as soon as I returned from East Africa. I wrote a report that was emailed out in early August. I was still an employee of Islamic Relief at the time, so the question has to be asked: what did I have to gain from raising these concerns when I did? What I wanted was to make sure the kinds of scenes I witnessed in Somalia were never repeated.
What did Darrell have to gain from co-authoring the report with me and accepting to be a witness during IR’s internal investigation into my complaint about my loss of employment? He was still an employee at Islamic Relief at the time. The answer is nothing; he was simply telling the truth, and as a result, he risked his own job.
I did not have to raise these issues whilst I was at Islamic Relief. I could have remained silent. I chose to speak out whilst I was there and put my position at risk. My contract was ended in October; I raised the ethical concerns I had with some of IR’s actions long before October. What does Islamic Relief think my motivations were? If I raised these issues well before the end of my contract, then how can there be any financial gain for me? IR should stop lying.
The second report back from Libya was written again on my return, and emailed out in September. Islamic Relief have conveniently left out the issues from Libya that I raised in my article. Their star fundraiser, who shall remain anonymous, deliberately tweeted incorrect information prompting a response from the Head of Mission in Libya. Here is the email that was sent to IR’s fundraiser, dated the 1st September:
“As we mentioned before, people are not stupid to know what is going on in the ground and they have connections everywhere. Also as I mentioned before I will not accept you publish anything without my personal approval, as I am the only one in the ground carrying out the work and not IR-UK. The medical supplies you have in that picture is not belong to IR-UK nor IRW. There was plenty of local people donation and if they find out we will be in real trouble.
I am really surprised as it was clearly stated that you have to check with me before anything is published!!”
It’s clear from this example that Islamic Relief UK were putting PR before anything else. Thankfully, on this occasion, the Head of Mission in Libya had the backbone to stand up to them as he clearly saw it as a risk to the work IR aid workers were doing on the ground.
It is very convenient for Islamic Relief to simply dismiss Darrell’s testimony on the basis that he is my friend. However, their own internal investigation was not meant to establish the truth; it was carefully managed throughout to prove me wrong. Under their criteria for dismissing Darrell’s testimony, the investigation itself and its findings can be rubbished because of the tight knit friendships between the Human Resources Director and Jehangir.
Abdullahi, the child Jehangir claimed was immediately saved by Islamic Relief, could have indeed been taken to the hospital immediately . However, Jehangir was deciding IR’s priorities on that day, and he decided that he wanted to go somewhere else rather than save Abdullahi’s life. The video I have published for all to see was filmed once the IR team returned to the camp. IR’s recent statement claims that the ITN cameraman was simply collecting cutaways while we waited for the vehicles to arrive to take Abdullahi to the hospital. This is a lie. Our cars were already there because we had just got out of them when we returned to the camp! You can hear the engines running in the background of the video. And how do they explain Darrell’s comment “Let’s get her in the car, what’s she standing there for?!” Abdullahi’s mother is clearly made to sit down in the middle of the camp with her son in her arms whilst the sun was beating down on them and our vehicles were waiting idly by to take her and Abdullahi to the hospital. Islamic Relief again lies when they attempt to quote me as saying Jehangir “went in search for famine victims”. Nowhere did I say this in my article. I said he was looking for a “malnourished child”. I have further video evidence to prove that he did not just go to – as they call it – the ‘reception’ area to meet new arrivals. Does Islamic Relief really want me to upload more videos to expose their lies?
In an email addressed to me, the head of the Africa region clearly states “
Number of visitors – I think definitely over 100….”. I still have the email.
Relief gate could have been avoided and it can be easily resolved. I offer Islamic Relief a way out of this embarrassing mess that they have put themselves in:
make a public apology, accept your mistakes, and ensure that you will put measures in place so that these mistakes are not repeated. If you do this, I will remove my articles and any other material about Islamic Relief that I have published on the web.
Some humility is required to do this on the part of Islamic Relief, but it will save a great deal of time and effort for their communications team if this is done, and save me putting up further evidence to disprove Islamic Relief’s lies against me.
Islamic Relief should do their duty and stop slandering me.
Statement by Darrell Williams concerning the Director of Islamic Relief UK:
Assed recently wrote an article about corrupt practices he witnessed at Islamic Relief (IR). Now that IR has released a disgusting statement about him I feel I have to say something. I was also an employee of IR and I was with Assed in Somalia. Whilst I was in Kenya, I witnessed Jahangir Malik, the director of IR UK, ask Dr Ifikhar Ahmed, the head of IR’s aid response in Somalia, if a pre-planned distribution of emergency food aid in Somalia could be delayed until he arrived there a few days later.
I also witnessed and filmed the ITN cameraman that Jahangir had brought with him to Somalia as he made a woman and her near death child sit down in the sun while he filmed them, even though we were attempting to take the child to the hospital. I also witnessed Jahangir lie to the media about “immediately” saving the child when we originally left the child to his fate.
I was also in Libya when an IR fundraiser lied in his tweets about the aid that IR was distributing in Tripoli when he knew it wasn’t distributing any aid there.
Assed raised these issues, along with myself, long before he was made unemployed after Jahangir failed to renew his contract. Assed later made a compliant that his employment was not renewed because of what he had said about Jahangir.
During the subsequent investigation into this particular complaint I was called as a witness by IR, but my evidence of what I had seen in Somalia was deemed unreliable because I’m Assed’s friend.
I am Assed’s friend, but I know what I saw, and I also obtained video evidence of one particular incident.
By the way, Jahangir also decided not to renew my contract, despite the fact that my fellow colleagues, including my then manager, wanted my contract to be extended. I did not take them to a tribunal or ask for any money, before anyone tries to ruin this statement of mine by suggesting that I probably did.
I find it shameful that IR’s recent statement on the matter has avoided answering what they dismissively call Assed’s “unmeritorious negative imputations”, and has ignored responding to the video evidence, which is very clear and freely available on YouTube. Instead, they have decided to essentially attack Assed’s character.
Anyone with a clear mind can see that IR’s statement is designed to distract people from the real issue – all the claims Assed has made in his article. And what does this sentence mean in IR’s statement that it’s “ work sometimes necessitates agonising decisions”? Is this an admission that something did happen in Somalia? What “agonising decisions” does it refer to?
I had travelled to East Africa as a journalist working for Islamic Relief, along with another journalist, Darrell Williams, we were responsible for collecting media material for the different Islamic Relief offices and for any news organisations to use. This is my account of what I witnessed during my time with Islamic Relief.
During the devastating famine that struck Somalia last year, the Director of Islamic Relief UK, Jehangir Malik, attempted to delay emergency food distribution to starving Somalis.
Jehangir Malik had traveled to East Africa with an ITN cameraman. His plan was to get coverage of Islamic Relief’s aid work in Somalia broadcast on UK television, to show potential donors that the organisation was doing good work, and to encourage them to give money so that many more Somalis could be saved.
What was essential, as far as Jehangir was concerned, was for him to be present at a pre-planned distribution of food aid. This was so he could be filmed not only to show that Islamic Relief was doing vital work, but so he could also carry the authority of someone who had been to the country and seen the horror first hand. It would be easier to get money from donors if they knew the person asking for their money really knew what they were talking about – or so the thinking went.
But Jehangir faced a dilemma when it was time to leave Nairobi airport in Kenya; the plane had been overbooked, and only one seat remained. The small group of Islamic relief employees stood at the check in, trying to agree who would take the last seat, and who would have to wait and catch the next flight in two days time.
The problem for Jehangir was that the food aid distribution he so desperately wanted to get to was scheduled to take place that very day, whilst he stood, helplessly at the airport. At first, he suggested that out of all of us, he should be the one to take the last seat. We all knew that the head of Islamic Relief’s aid mission in Somalia, Dr Ifikhar Ahmed, should be the one to fly out first – he ran the aid effort after all, whilst Jehangir was merely a fundraiser. It was decided that Dr Iftikhar should be the one to take the final seat.
That is when Jehangir turned to Dr Iftikhar and asked if we could delay the emergency food distribution until he got there. Dr Iftikhar went quiet as he considered Jehangir’s question. Jehangir repeated it, but this time said “delay the food distribution until I get there.” I was shocked by his initial question and stood there in disbelief, watching what was taking place before my very eyes. Dr Iftikhar was clearly under a lot of pressure. He needed money for Islamic Relief’s aid effort in Somalia and Jehangir was the man with his hands on the purse strings – he potentially had access to millions of pounds in fundraising revenue. As the silence lingered, and with Dr Iftikhar contemplating what to do, I had to speak up. My job was to collect media material of the work the organisation was doing in Somalia – but I was not prepared to have vital food aid delayed just to get media material. I told Dr Iftikhar to carry on with the food aid distribution and ignore Jehangir’s outrageous demand. Darrell Williams spoke out too and also added that we would just have to settle for whatever media material we could get. We were not prepared to put lives at risk for the sake of some pictures and video footage of Jehangir, even if it was for his fundraising campaign. After all, there was a famine taking place, and helping people was the primary goal here, not public relations.
To this day, I cannot say with certainty whether the food distribution was delayed or not.
We were shocked by Jehangir’s words, but he seemed unrepentant in his quest for PR. Once we eventually got a flight to Somalia – two days after the Nairobi airport incident – his mission to be seen as the saviour of the Somali people continued.
At the first IDP camp we visited in Mogadishu – which was full of people that had left their homes in the famine effected region – Jehangir set about looking for a malnourished child. It was the kind of image he needed to ram home the message to people in the UK just how bad the famine was. Once he had found an appropriate candidate he sat down, turned to the camera that the ITN cameraman was wielding, and began a monologue about the child’s plight. This first piece of media material was never used.
After walking around the camp we soon came across Abdullahi, a severely malnourished child. Jahangir asked to be filmed and again began another monologue. Abdullahi was in a clearly critical condition. I asked Jehangir and Dr Iftikhar what they were going to do for this child? They had no answer. Saving anyone wasn’t part of the plan. This “trip” was just so we could look around and bear witness to the suffering all around us, and there sure was plenty of suffering for us to see. There were people living in make shift tents and poorly erected huts, no sanitation, no clean water, and very little food.
Later on that day Jehangir would tell the worlds’ media that he saved this child’s life by ‘immediately’ taking him to hospital. But the truth is very different.
Jehangir left Abdullahi in the camp. He still wanted his picture taken at a food aid distribution, and there was another one scheduled to take place that very day, and he wasn’t about to miss it. Abdullahi wasn’t taken to the hospital ‘immediately’ because we were unable to take him. He wasn’t taken because, like I said, we hadn’t come to save anybody.
But on our way to the food aid distribution we were told that the security situation had deteriorated at the location where it was to take place, and that the distribution had been cancelled. Fights had broken out. The sheer desperation of people wanting to feed their families had resulted in violence. That’s when Jehangir said “let’s go back (to the camp) and you can film me saving the child.”
Our team headed back to the camp. When we got there, Abdullahi was not taken to the hospital ‘immediately’. This was Jehangir’s exclusive. For the first time he had managed to get UK news on board for his PR agenda to promote Islamic Relief. But at what cost?
Abdullahi’s mother was taken from her tent with her severely malnourished son in her arms, but instead of taking them straight to our vehicle that was parked in the camp with the doors open, and the engine still running, Abdullahi’s mother was made to sit down in the baking sun as other residents took shelter under the shade.
Jehangir’s ITN cameraman wanted her and Abdullahi to pose for the camera so he could capture the image of their complete and utter desperation. I asked Darrell to start filming this because I found it incredibly unethical and wanted to have a record of it. In our video, you can clearly hear Darrell say “Let’s get her in the car, what have we got her standing there for?!”
You can hear the engines of our vehicles running in the background, waiting, as Jehangir got the vital shots that would allow him to get his exclusive. At the end of our video you can see a member of Islamic Relief’s Board of Trustees, Dr Alfy, a few metres away from this despicable incident. He watched all of this unfold before his very own eyes. Later, he denied all knowledge of the incident. I expected more from a trustee of the organisation, someone who has the responsibility of overseeing and ensuring that it is run properly. But as I was learning very quickly that PR took precedence over everything else. Abdullahi was eventually taken to hospital but not before all the media material had been obtained.
I raised these issues with Jehangir in Somalia and in Kenya. He didn’t seem to care about his actions. He responded dismissively, and instead, preferred to question my role in the organisation.
In Somalia we saw immeasurable suffering. Dead children and others on the brink of death; parents who had sometimes lost all of their children; starving families cramped together in makeshift shelters right next to urine and faeces. As I became acquainted with the Islamic Relief aid workers on the ground in Somalia – the ones who were actually involved in saving lives, as opposed to raising funds – they began to share their thoughts with me. They told me that the constant visitors they were receiving in Somalia from Islamic Relief’s fundraising offices around the world were slowing down the emergency relief effort. Their vital time, which should have been spent doing life saving work, was being wasted taking visitors around, just to take a look at the effects of the famine – a phenomena better known as “disaster tourism”.
I raised all these issues with my boss at the time, the Director of Communications at Islamic Relief Worldwide, when I returned to the UK. Darrell and I also wrote a report detailing what we had seen in Somalia. We sent our report to the then CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide, Saleh Saeed, who is now set to become CEO of the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) in September.
Our report was ignored. Saleh read through it, but did not say anything. The issue was clear; Jehangir, as head of Islamic Relief UK, brought in millions of pounds of fundraising money that helped the organisation to operate. These ethical concerns were nothing in the face of all that cash and Jehangir’s OBE.
In our report we highlighted the suggestion of delaying emergency food aid, the effects of disaster tourism on the aid effort in Somalia and, more importantly, the effect on the very people that the organisation was meant to be helping.
At one point, I asked the head of Islamic Relief Worldwide’s aid response in Africa how many visitors had gone to Somalia since the start of the crisis there. His response? “Definitely over a hundred”. A conservative estimate of how much it cost to send one person to Somalia at the time is £2000. Overall, that comes to £200,000 of donors money, spent on people whose only job was to witness the effects of the famine, and sometimes, to report back what they had seen to others in an attempt to raise more funds for the aid effort. It’s absurd. I’m not sure donors know this, especially when they congratulate themselves on raising £50,000 in one evening, oblivious that they are funding a sort of deranged holiday for disaster tourists.
This however was not the only incident that took place that made me realise how unethical the drive to raise funds could be. After my trip to Libya to collect media material I flagged up another issue. Again I co-authored a report with Darrell which was sent to the CEO Saleh Saeed.
We pointed out that a prominent fundraiser from Islamic Relief UK had tweeted that Islamic Relief had been distributing medical aid and water in Tripoli even though he knew full well that this was not the case. He had been with us in Tripoli and knew that Islamic Relief, at the time, was not distributing any aid in the capital. He lied just to give the impression that Islamic Relief was doing something when in reality it wasn’t. During the conflict in Libya Islamic Relief UK had a large number of Libyans from Tripoli living in Britain who were pressuring them to do something for the people in the city they came from. This pressure must have been too much to bear for someone who had already asked these Libyans for money, and received their donations. Thankfully, staff at Islamic Relief Worldwide complained and had the tweets removed, along with pictures I had taken of the National Transitional Council (NTC) giving out water in Tripoli.
None of the issues I raised were ever addressed. Instead, when Jehangir took over as Director of Communications at Islamic Relief Worldwide ( which effectively made him my boss), he refused to renew mine and Darrell’s contracts, which put an end to our time at Islamic Relief.
After exhausting all the internal channels of raising this issue, before and after the termination of my employment, I was left with no other choice but to go public after the new CEO, Dr Ashmawey, failed to address my ethical concerns.
For some people, the story I have just told may not be shocking; for others, they may not see anything wrong with the actions of Jehangir and his organisation at all, but I did find these actions unethical, and deeply distressing. The media and aid agencies in general have a mutually dependent relationship when it comes to humanitarian disasters: the agencies grant them access to areas and stories, whilst journalists promote the agencies and their work. All the while, journalists turn a blind eye, not only to their own unethical practices, but to the unethical practices of the aid agencies too. One journalist I spoke to remarked that “I am guilty of attending food distributions that felt like a media circus.”
That is why so many in the media will see what I have said as nothing new. People in the media and the humanitarian sector know full well that these kinds of practices are common and widespread. The only thing I can do is share what I have experienced and let people make up their own minds about whether these actions are acceptable or not.