Islamophobia on newsapaper front pages

The definition of Islamophobia put forward last year by Westminster’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims has been criticised by police chiefs, who claim that it could impede their Islamophobic counter-terrorism policies. It has been rejected by the Tory party and the British Government. With credentials like that it might be thought that the work of the APPG deserves vigorous support. Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.

The definition is supported by the Muslim Council of Britain, a wide range of other Muslim organisations, the Labour Party and Plaid Cymru. But organisations signing up to the definition need to be very clear and explicit about exactly what they are supporting. The problem lies in an apparent attempt by the APPG – or at least by  a tendency within it – to use the definition of Islamophobia as a Trojan horse to promote the controversial IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-semitism, which equates criticism of Israel with anti-semitism.

The APPG’s Co-Chair, Wes Streeting, recently put himself in the front line of the Labour Party’s wrangle over the anti-semitism by signing a statement calling on Jeremy Corbyn to re-impose the recently lifted suspension of left-winger Chris Williamson. Williamson had been suspended for saying that the party had done more than any to stand up to racism and had “backed off too much” in the face of allegations of anti-semitism

Vigil for Christchurch, Edinburgh Central Mosque

Text of the speech I gave at the vigil for Christchurch held on the steps of Edinburgh Central Mosque, Sunday 17 March 2019

There is nowhere else to begin than with the dead and injured, their friends and families, their work colleagues, the wider community in Christchurch, the relatives and acqaintances all around the world, all now grappling with shock and grief.

The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has become a tired cliché. But truly, I don’t believe that’s a weak phrase if you really mean it, and I don’t have any better words to cover the loss. So now let me turn to something that I think I do have words for. Because what starts with thoughts and prayers can’t end with them.

I’m usually very, very cautious about what I say immediately after a terrorist incident because the facts are usually very unclear. But this time there seems to be no doubt at all about what the killer thought he was doing, and why. It’s all there in his manif

Anti-semitism is a crime, anti-Zionism is aduty

Earlier this month the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party drew fire for adopting the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-semitism without adopting all the examples including in the IHRA guidance. It’s no surprise that supporters of Israel are enraged by this approach.

The IHRA definition, taken together with its examples, institutionalises the conflation of anti-semitism with anti-zionism and robust criticism of Israel. It wedges a propaganda foot in the door of liberal democracy as firmly as if it had been crafted to do so. It is at least as much an intervention in international relations as a contribution to the global struggle against racism. Because of that, supporters of the IHRA definition have had to bypass UN structures and instead create the appearance of international acceptance through a series of unilateral decisions by friendly governments. That fact alone should be a strong hint that the IHRA definition is a poor place to start in defining anti-semi

Stand Up to Racism Scotland refused to keep Friends of Israel off its anti-racism march in Glasgow. In the end, supporters of the people of Palestine did Stand Up to Racism’s job for it. But Stand Up to Racism still argues that unity against racism means at least arms-length unity with the Israel lobby. And it still argues for resisting “those who would divide us” without saying who, or how. In fact, Stand Up to Racism is encouraging a division between acceptable and unacceptable kinds of anti-racism. Anti-racism that’s willing to name and shame Israeli apartheid is apparently unacceptable. It would be bad enough that this position has gained a grip on Stand Up to Racism Scotland. What’s worse is the way that it happened. Palestine activists keep Friends of Israel behind an aprtheif wall

On Saturday 10 March the steering committee of Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) Scotland overwhelmingly voted down an emergency motion calling for the Confederation of Friends of Israel in Scotland (COFIS) – an organisation that works with the Israeli government to undermine Scottish solidarity with Palestine – to be told that it would not be welcome on the anti-racism march being held in Glasgow the following Saturday. How did that happen

Revulsion over British complicity in Saudi war crimes has put Britain’s relationship  with Saudi Arabia under welcome scrutiny. But government and business links between the countries are deep-rooted and will not easily be loosened. Attention is likely to be deflected onto Britain’s Muslim communities. They are at risk, yet again, of being scapegoated from the outside and de-politicised from the inside. A Scottish initiative is a world leader at doing just that.

Stop Arming Saudi
Stop Arming Saudi. Downing St, London, 11 July 2016

Saudi Arabia’s use of British arms to commit war crimes in Yemen is the latest in a long line of scandals afflicting the UK-Saudi relationship.

In July the High Court dismissed a claim by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) and other organisations that arms sales should be suspended. Part of the hearing was held in secret. The judgment – which CAAT says it will appeal – is instructive. It combines masterly legal fudge with some breathtaking statements. For example, it says: “The UK is a bystander in this volatile conflict”.

The judgment takes for granted the Government’s position that it is not a party to the Yemen war. At the same time, it argues that the UK’s strong links with Saudi Arabia and the support given to the Saudis by UK personnel mean that the Government is well placed to decide whether there is risk that war crimes are being committed. The judges say:

“The reality of the position is that the Secretary of State has available to him and his advisers a significant amount of information relating to the conflict in Yemen and the conduct of Saudi Arabia as part of the Coalition.”

My speech at the public meeting held by Stand Up to Racism at Edinburgh University on Thursday 9 March.

Free Gaza demo

I’m an extremist. Government policy is that people like me should only speak on university campuses if special measures are in place to marginalise us.

It’s great to be speaking here in Edinburgh university. It’s great because published guidance to universities, which may or may not be in effect in Scotland, says that people who oppose the racist state in Israel, who support Palestine, who oppose the racist Prevent strategy here in Britain, are extremists. If they speak on university campuses, they are a risk that needs to be managed, perhaps by having other speakers to mitigate the

Text of my talk at the public meeting “Prevent: Racist and Islamophobic”, held at the Augustine United Church, Edinburgh on Saturday 30th April 2016. It may differ slightly from the talk as delivered.

Scrap Prevent placards
Placards from a Scrap Prevent demo

Just a few months ago, very few people In Scotland knew anything about Prevent, even in institutions like schools and local authorities where Prevent was being implemented.

That’s beginning to change. If you are a student at Edinburgh University, or if you belong to and organisation  – the Edinburgh May Day Committee for instance – that wants to book a room there, you will have to fill in a Prevent risk assessment form.

If you are a guidance teacher in many parts of Scotland, you will have had or will soon be sent on Prevent training. If you are a school teacher in Glasgow, and probably in other areas too, you’ll get your Prevent training at the end of the summer break.

In local authorities people who told me not long ago that Prevent wasn’t happening in their workplace have found themselves attending Prevent training.

So what is Prevent? …

Anatomy of a Media Counter-Terror Operation

Police at glasgow airport
Armed police pose at Glasgow Airport, 2012

Earlier this month, the Sunday Herald invited me to write a guest column taking a critical look at ‘Prevent’, the controversial government scheme that is supposedly intended to stop people turning to terrorism.

The article was published a couple of days later, on 9 August. The Sunday Herald didn’t change what I’d written, and they gave it a headline that accurately reflected the article. That puts the Sunday Herald way ahead of a lot of papers.

It might be good manners to stop there, but  it only seems like that because the bar for the media has been set so very, very low.  Screw good manners.

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LampedusaDoes the NUJ really want the STUC to commit itself to pressing for a change in the law to protect Katie Hopkins and the Editor of the Sun?

Anti-immigrant hysteria is the magic carpet that might fly British voters rightwards, where they need to be if bankers and corporate executives are to keep syphoning money from the poor to the rich.

Nigel Farage does a great job at piloting the carpet, so long as there are only far-right fan-boys on board. But his position as party leader has forced him into the more or less grown-up forum of the leadership debates, where the Greens and the SNP have flamed all his attempts to push Cameron and Miliband into bigotry-envy.

Last Tuesday,  Ed Miliband tweeted support for a renewal of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, to prevent migrants drowning. He’d very likely have done that even if human decency hadn’t already turned out to be a vote-winner in the leadership debates. He’d have to, if he didn’t want to take a place in history alongside East German leaders jailed for having authorised a shoot-to-kill policy to deter people from crossing the Berlin Wall to the

Paris demo in response to the Charlie Hebdo attackThe Charlie Hebdo attack is still serving as a hook on which to hang discussions about freedom of speech.  So I’m posting here the text of a talk I gave (not quite word for word) at a meeting of the Edinburgh Branch of the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) on 16 February. 

A couple of days before the meeting, a gunman had opened fire on an event in Copenhagen entitled “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression”, killing one person, and had then opened fire again the following day outside a synagogue in Copenhagen, killing another person. The suspected gunman was subsequently shot dead by police.

Freedom of speech is a precious and complicated thing and warrants discussion. But the demonstrations that followed the Charlie Hebdo attack, and the images and slogans that went with them, didn’t have anything to do with freedom of speech at all.

When I was asked to speak at this meeting, I thought that the passage of time since the attack in Paris would help to give some perspective on it. The murders in Copenhagen over the weekend mean on the contrary that the issue is still a raw one. The background to the Copenhagen incident remains unclear and the repercussions are still to be seen, so I’m going to focus on the Paris attack last month